Thoughts on Soorarai Pottru

Should go without saying, but this article contains spoilers for Soorarai Pottru.

Midway in Soorarai Pottru, there is a long stretch in which Nedumaaran Rajangam aka Maara, a trainee in Indian Air Force, receives a phone call from his lamenting mother, informing about the deteriorating health of his father, Rajangam. Rajangam is a teacher who lives by the rules. Maara, on the other hand, believes in revolution and doesn’t spare a single minute if he feels it will go in vain. Owing to the conflict of ideologies, their relationship is strained, and they are no longer on talking terms. As Maara, stationed far from his hometown in rural Tamil Nadu, rushes to visit his ailing father, he is unable to afford a flight ticket. By the time he swerves different modes of transportation and arrives at the destination, his father’s last journey has ended, too. The life-affirmative experience leaves Maara heartbroken and humiliated by shedding light on his financial constraints, and forges his life mission: to make flying an affordable transportation.

Source: Prime Video

This is the defining sequence of the film, where character motivation and core challenge materialize. What’s interesting, though, is the classical treatment. The sequence is designed to tug the heartstrings, but it is neither in the excessively melodramatic zone often found in the works of Atlee or Samuthrakani nor does it try to underplay the emotion to keep it light like in Maharshi. This is a director’s film, for the most part, despite the presence of a major star in its center, and this will remain the factor I’ll be referring to while noting what worked and what didn’t.

The narrative clearly establishes aircraft as a status symbol distinguishing classes in Indian society and uses Maara’s character to erase the lines of social strata. A man belonging to the socioeconomic demographic that yearns to fly in a lifetime, aspires to start his own airline. It’s not subtext and is in your face, to an extent that Maara’s dialogues coincide with images of the working-class population. After a point, it feels redundant, but is nevertheless, significant.

It seems a lot of criticism is being directed towards the lack of depth in the antagonist, Paresh Goswami’s character, and I don’t feel the same way. The story is told from the perspective of Maara, who idolized Goswami. Maara knows little about Goswami, besides the public image that has been carved in his mind. Goswami is a stranger who treats Maara as an outsider, and it perfectly explains why we, the viewers, know equally little about him. Likewise, people closest to the protagonist – his mother, wife, and father – are the ones we get to know the most. That says something. However, Goswami’s character is revealed to us, in the washroom, much before Maara learns about it. I wonder whether Maara knows that his idol suffers from anxiety attacks.

In contrast, the relationship of Maara and Bommi, his wife, felt like a device to fall back on to and juggle between the conflicts of the film with an intention to keep it engaging. For instance, there are two points where the protagonist hits the rock bottom. One, when he has to let go of aircrafts – on which he spent a fortune procuring – after failing to abide by the new government norms. At the culmination of this sequence, his face is pressed against the ground, as Goswami wears a wily smile on his face, standing on the higher floor. The very next scene detracts the conflict from Maara’s professional life to personal life as he gets into an argument with his wife, causing her to leave. Maara then goes searching for his wife, leaving behind the mammoth setback he experienced on the professional front. As the couple resolves their squabble, a new chapter starts on the aspirational front.

Source: Prime Video

Secondly, having launched his airline, he comes inches close to his goal, but the inaugural flight fails to take-off due to a serious malfunction, bringing him back to square one. In fact, has much more at stake to lose this time around. Once again, the screenplay uses the relationship tool, to subvert his challenge as Bommi gives birth to their first child in the very next scene.

It feels like the screenplay is designed to alleviate the tension and sadness every time Maara is on the verge of breaking, rendering the relationship a feeble getaway from the film’s main conflict. I understand it is a conscious creative choice and is backed by enough writing that builds the relationship but it certainly comes off as a mere bridge from one chapter to another in the protagonist’s life.

Also, having spent 2.5 hours building the protagonist’s longing for success, wouldn’t it be rewarding to spend a few more minutes celebreating when finally achieves it? The film ends on rush, leaving the viewer craving to cherish Maara’s success.

However, it’s a film that asserts to you to overlook its flaws – I’m unsure they can be called flaws, though – majorly due to its mainstream approach it takes while critiquing the socioeconomic barriers. In one of the most profound moments of the film, two people belonging to different classes – a barber and a major businessman – talk about their professions. The conversation ends with the businessman rejecting the thesis that one profession is bigger than the other. Likewise, a recurring question Maara is faced with through the film is the need for air transport – deemed luxury – in a village that is yet to catch up with the world in terms of other amenities.

If you have a similar question, watch the film for Maara’s resounding answer.

Soorarai Pottru by Sudha Kongara is streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Watch the trailer:

Thoughts of Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya: Beauty in Normality

Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya (UMUR) is a film I’ve been eagerly looking forward to catching on the big screen post-pandemic. The pandemic’s far from over but UMUR is here, making our lives less suffocating for a while, and it is everything I expected it to be and even more. There are multiple facets I adored about the film. First, there’s a Srikakulam dialect and there is a Srikakulam dialect according to Telugu films, just like the stereotypical Telangana dialect we were accustomed to before Fida and Pelli Choopulu normalized the actual one. Usually, characters that have strong dialects seamlessly let go of it during certain scenes to avoid the risk of sounding odd. It’s only in Mallesham, in recent times, that we heard the perfect Telangana. 

Likewise, UMUR perfects the Vizag-Srikakulam dialect, furthering Palasa 1978 early this year, because none of them sound like ‘dialects’. For instance, a thriller like Dhrusyam, also set in the surroundings of Araku, steers clear of the dialect game, and it doesn’t work against the film. However, for a film like UMUR, the dialect invigorates the film’s universe. While masala films build a universe with their own rules, pertaining to both physics and emotions, slice-of-life films like UMUR strive to metamorphose realism onto the screen. The dialect of the film is a clear indication of it’s treatment, which is somewhere between a lifestyle documentary and a light-weight masala film, shaped like a coming-of-age story. On all fronts, the film works supremely well.

Source: Netflix

The film sucked me into the laid-back world for the time being. Probably the prevailing self-isolation worked very much in favor of the film. Mahesh takes bath on the riverside, spends time in the open nature surrounding him, enjoys the rain alongside his father with a cup of tea, goes on clambakes with his family-friends, is friends with almost everyone in the village, and surprisingly almost every one of them is kind. Even his girlfriend’s father is polite while asking Mahesh to let go of his daughter. Nobody’s in a rush. Everyone’s content. These are things which we can only dream of. Of late, normality has become dream-like. In a way, the laid-backness of Araku and its people reminded me of the fictional-town Tambury from After Life. Back to people, Jognath, the antagonist of sorts, is not a bad guy either. Besides, Jognath’s sister, Jyothi is the other propeller of this coming-of-age story, asserting Mahesh to reanalyze his craft that he is habituated to. For instance, at a point, Mahesh almost gives up his pact of not wearing footwear until he gets his revenge, and proceeds to buy footwear. As he begins to take stairs down, Jyoti, who is there to get her photo clicked, interrupts him. Then, he climbs up the stairs and goes back to his studio, and there is no turning back since. Mahesh walking down the stairs can be perceived as him gradually leaving his self-respect behind and Jyoti refrains him from doing that, both literally and figuratively, acting as a catalyst for his change.

I wonder how the character dynamics would have played out had the story been set in a city like Hyderabad. Deviating from the original’s physical setting (also a peaceful town surrounded by greenery), would have made it a completely different film. The locale is the soul of the story. These characters draw their nonchalance from the place they live in. A concrete city would have compressed the story, squashing these characters in congested and polluted streets. Had it not been Araku, not for the hills, greenery, and open space, UMUR wouldn’t remain the same.

On the other hand, ethnicity is seamlessly infused into the narrative and the film thrives on the normality of life. There’s a joke about bamboo chicken, a traditional cuisine synonymous with Araku Valley. Fruits from panasa pandu (jack fruit) to arati pandu (banana) set things in motion for bigger consequences. A Telugu weekly magazine plays a crucial role in bringing together Mahesh and Jyothi for the first time, and both the ladies are named after Telugu magazines. None of them are stressed. They just flow. Even Twitter trolls – who fuel the celebrity culture – are acknowledged. What is Telugu celebrity culture without the real people behind those hashtags? 

Source: Netflix

Sathya Dev, unlike Fahad Faasil who essayed the role in the original, has the build of a mass-Telugu-hero™, making this a very interesting casting choice in an industry that fetishes mustaches and biceps. This Mahesh is a testament that one can look rugged and still be soft as a petal, while the other Mahesh I know does the opposite. Even his photo studio is named Komali, meaning sensitive and soft. Most importantly, the ‘hero’ thanks the things and people around him. Anyone who says “thanks” is kind.

Over and out, Nancharayya, a relative of Mahesh says, “I’ve decided not to intervene in issues that don’t concern me”. That’s it. There you have the solution to every conflict, political, geographical, and mental. Multiple instances portray how interested people are about things that do not matter to them. It’s subtle but drives home the point. Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya is indeed mutually rewarding to those behind the camera and the ones in front of the screen. Let go of the dialect, the sheer laid-backness, the breezy panoramas, and the comedy. Even if none of those work for you, Bijibal’s album will make way into your tracklist and you’ll probably listen to Ningi Chutte for the years to come.

Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopsya is now streaming on Netflix.

Enjoy the film’s vibe with his pleasing song:

MUDBOUND: Rooted in Dirt

This is a modified version of the piece that appeared in Ultimate Choice #14 by Film For Thought

Among all the American films that depict racism in its ugliness, Mudbound takes it to a notch higher, pointing to the sheer purposelessness of it. Set in Mississippi, a geography that has been an emanating point of the issue in several films – Free State of Jones, Freedom Song, and Ghosts of Mississippi, to name a few – the Dee Rees-directorial draws parallels between a war-torn Europe and America amid WW2, alluding how the former region was a relatively comforting place for its black protagonist, mentally.

The horrors for Ronsel, the elder son of the Jackson family, exist at home, not the battlefield where he comes face-to-face with death. Ronsel is freed from racial inequality during the war, far from home, fighting shoulder to shoulder with his American brothers. It is only after returning home, Ronsel grapples to adjust to the prevailing racism in his homeland, where the distance between white household (The McAllan Family) and their tenants on their farm, the black household (The Jackson Family) is evident, both physically and figuratively.

Farming being a major part of the characters’ lives, the title, Mudbound, has dual implications. One, both the families are reliant on the farm for their livelihood, and nature exhibits no prejudice to any human whatsoever. Two, the bigotry among the ‘superiors’ is deeply rooted in, that it feels they grew up feeding off racism. Hence, the resultant attitude is bound to their upbringing and the world around them. It comes naturally.

Pappy McAllan, the film’s antagonist, is only the human form of racism, representing a negligible fraction of the belief that a person of a different race is inferior. I couldn’t help but wonder about the purposelessness of the character’s hatred towards the Jackson family, especially after Ronsel returns as a war hero. He goes to the extent of warning Ronsel that he is still an inferior being in Mississippi, regardless of what he achieved as a soldier. However, Jamie, the younger son of the McAllen family is the only person who empathizes with Ronsel, having experienced the trauma of war first-hand. Being war heroes, Jamie and Ronsel form a bonding, but it’s almost like an illicit one, a friendship disapproved of by the time they live in. 

Mudbound’s portrayal of racism boils your blood, while you sit helplessly watching the horrors and heartbreak unravel. We can’t change what happened in the past, but now is the time to ensure the future generations do not feel ashamed of us, the same way we do while looking back at our history. A mirror of history, Mudbound asserts you to ameliorate the present.

Arjun Reddy is a Landmark of Telugu Cinema, Regardless of Its Moral Incorrectness

Originally appeared in Baradwaj Rangan’s blog.

If you’re a non-Telugu-speaking movie-viewer who discovered Telugu cinema during the lockdown, relying on the multitude of OTT services, it is highly likely that your cinematic comprehension of Telugu cinema is confined to OTT hits, which mostly represent the tiny good side of the Telugu cinema. For instance, the majority of cinephiles from different parts of the country I interacted with have watched Agent Sai Sreenivas Athreya, Fida, Pellichoopulu, Jersey, and the elephant in the room, Arjun Reddy, in common. Now, leaving aside people who think Bahubali is a Tamil film and refer every South-Indian as Keralite, most of the cinephiles must be aware of the fact that Arjun Reddy is a Telugu film directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, who also remade the film as Kabir Singh in Hindi. Kabir Singh, in addition to being one of the most successful films of 2019, also ignited a conversation about ‘toxic masculinity’, which was further fuelled by a very (in) famous interview the filmmaker gave post the release, as the audience continued to throng theatres and writers added pieces to the archival of toxic masculinity.

One thing which everyone, especially the native Telugu-audience during the release of Arjun Reddy in 2017, seemed to have taken no note of is that the post-viewing discussions transcended the usual

“cinematography is excellent”

“Music was awesome dude”

“hero entry next-level babai!”

Perhaps, we – the generation that grew feeding on mass masala Telugu entertainers – for the first time saw Telugu films coming close to what Martin Scorsese would elegantly define 2 years later as Cinema.

Continue reading in Baradwaj Rangan’s blog.

Further reading:

Martin Scorsese’s opinion piece in NYT


Dial M for films | The Narrative Spine | Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti

Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s infamous interview:

Thoughts on Bulbbul: Turns the Fables Around

The word chudail (female demon) has an archive of its own in Indian pop-culture. Beyond novels and films, the folklore of a female supernatural entity that predominantly haunts men has penetrated into children’s stories as well. After all, Indian films, especially Tamil and Telugu language films, have metamorphosed the genre into wholesome entertainment, capitalizing our engrossment in fear and the nervous laughter that follows. Seldom do we witness films that use the supernatural facet of the story to study character traits and human reactions. Tumbbad for instance, is a landmark not just for its eerie yet alluring atmosphere, but for its infectious story-telling that emanates from the core concept of greed, which acts as the fuel impelling the narrative. 

The back story of chudail is as old as the hills: Once upon a time, there lived a young lady – the most beautiful woman one can lay eyes on – who was brutally killed by a few men who lusted her. Driven by rage coupled with unfulfilled desires, her blood-thirsty soul now seeks revenge and torments men to address her plight. From the cheesy Pyaasi Aatma to well-intentioned, self-aware Stree, this has been the one-line explanation for the chudail’s existence (or non-existence).

Here is a worthy update to the age-old chudail hypothesis that reboots the entire notion (read: cliché) surrounding the thought. In Bulbbul, the horror doesn’t emerge from the violence that instigates the fantasy, but from the grimmer reality that precedes the violence. The regular pattern in Indian supernatural films is that the first and second act drench the viewer in horror/fantasy, while the reason and resolution are proffered at the beginning of the final act or end of the second act. The jump to the past timeline generally offers a break from the proceedings. For instance, if it’s a haunted house movie, we see the house in its normal state, or if the film is about a spooky ghost, we see the man/woman before they became the ghost. This is usually the part that has the least horror. Bulbbul turns the tables around. It’s the backstory of the protagonist that is suffused with sadness and horror, while the present is quite empowering. I repeat, it’s empowering. The majority of the film’s success is attributed to the fact that it’s a woman telling a woman story, that enables the film to surge past the male gaze that we are accustomed to.

Anvita Dutt’s script seamlessly amalgamates symbolism with the narrative. The first scene of the film has the titular character, aged 5, sitting on a tree, observing the bridegroom’s palanquin approach. It’s her wedding day. Her aunt then grabs her by the leg and pulls her down, literally.

Sorce: Netflix

There begins Bulbbul’s confinement as she is pushed into a permanent state of continual control in the pretext of marriage and bondage. In the very next scene, the young Bulbbul asks her aunt why should she wear a toe ring. After beating around the bush for a few moments, she spills the beans saying that it’s meant to keep her in control. Controlling, dominative, commanding, possessive, and all the associated synonyms befit Bulbbul’s husband, Indranil, who is visibly 30 years older than her. Although the film’s not primarily about child marriage or its adverse effects, it illustrates the loneliness women were subjected to dissented marriages with baneful spouses. The lonliness instills horror in this fairy tale. Not the chudail.

Sorce: Netflix

The film makes a staggering point that women who seek freedom are labeled chudail, just because they refuse to abide by society’s norms, which I’m sure have been set up by the majority to benefit them. Bulbbul never goes into the activist mode. 

The saturated red tone in the present indicates Bulbbul’s supremacy, liberated from the restriction called marriage, while the cold blue tone in the past stands for her helplessness and the sense of imprisonment. There is a shot in which Bulbbul stands near the window, staring at the empty exteriors that are as empty as her. The frame replicates the inside of a prison cell, using her physical state to speak about her emotional captivity.

Sorce: Netflix

The film’s a perfect, consensual marriage of craft and story, Sidharth Diwan’s arresting, highly saturated frames and Amit Trivedi’s melancholic melodies go hand-in-hand, ensuring the film’s a feast of sight and sound, with an equally enriching story. The red color, though, kept me nudging about Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala (1987)a film where women use the eponymous red chilli powder to fight their perpetrators. When guaged against Bulbbul’s time frame – early 1900s – Mirch Masala is fairly modern, but both the films reflect the prevailing times. Any film that succeeds in representing the society, or stands high on cinematic aesthetics, is an important film, and on this premise, Bulbbul is a double win.

Bulbbul, written and directed by Anvita Dutt is now streaming on Netflix.


Further reading:

Knowledge sharing:

According to UNICEF’s June 2019 report, 12 million girls are married before they turn 18 every year, and in the developing world, one in nine girls is married before they turn 15. Around the world, 650 million girls and women alive today were married before they were 18.


1 – One more child marriage stopped in Madurai

2 – Child marriages spike in lockdown around Bengal

3 – Officials stop two child marriages in two days

Filmmaker’s interviews:

1 – In conversation with Bulbbul director Anvita Dutt

2 – Anushka Sharma, Karnesh Sharma & Anvita Dutt interview | Bulbbul | Netflix | Rajeev Masand

Watch the trailer of Bulbbul here:

Miscellaneous: There are tons of videos about chudail made for children. My 4-year old neighbor is a fan of this partcular video!

Five Telugu Films to Look Forward to Post Pandemic and Why

Full piece published in Film Companion

As we continue to savor existing content on OTT platforms, it is certain that they cannot fill the void that the lack of new theatrical releases has created. Staying optimistic that the day cinephiles return to theatres is not a millennium away, here are five Telugu films that are worth crossing off calendar dates for. There are a ton of big-ticket films at various stages of production, however, I believe these five films have the potential to substantially bolster the trajectory that the Telugu film industry is headed in.

Read the full feature here.

Is the Snowpiercer Reboot Needed?

Set to premier on May 25th, Netflix & TNT dropped the trailer of their new show Snowpeircer, which is, if the name didn’t give it away, a reboot of the 2013 Bong Joon-Ho’s film of the same name, and is also based on the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. Although the 2013’s film was also based on the graphic novel, it was purely the concept that Bong Joon-Ho borrowed, while he wrote two additional drafts of the script to add the “cinematic exhilaration”. Post that, Kelly Masterson (who had written Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead), re-wrote the screenplay, bringing a fresh tone to the story. It’s vital to know this writing process because it underlines how much the final film diverged from the graphic novel.

However, the new take by Josh Friedman (best known for creating Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Emerald City), appears like an easy way to capitalize on the source material. Shows based on movies have worked tremendously well, take the case of Westworld or Netflix’s own Fargo.

Why transform a popular film into a show?


I understand, but is there a need to do so?

The need and intent is the problem here. The 2013 film is fresh in memory because of its social criticism, not because of how spectacular the film looked, which is where the emphasis seems to be on. Snowpiercer was the perfect marriage between staggering social commentary and compelling storytelling, where neither of the facets dominates one other. It’s a happy marriage. No doubt the reboot looks beautiful, and the whole ‘rich vs poor’ factor will also be underlined, thanks to the sledgehammer-esque storyline. But do we need a TV show which merely is a reimagination (?) of a story we have already witnessed? Both Westworld and Fargo borrow the concept/storyline/skeleton from the films they are based on and create new characters and storylines to make progress. In other words, those shows do not mirror their source materials. Snowpiercer (TV Show) is mirroring its source material, with the primary difference being the bigger scale (1001 cars, hmm), or at least that’s what the trailer tells.

Snowpiercer is a universal story, which can effortlessly traverse geographical barriers, and viewers don’t even have to fear the one-inch subtitles. The story’s mundane setting is the representation of the world and is not specific to countries or continents. I seriously wonder what new layer the show adds to the story that the original film fell short of. Bong Joon-Ho once said that he scrapped the idea of a romantic subplot, early in the writing. That could find a spot here. Could. I’m not fronting the idea of rebooting, but to do without adding substance is not fair.

On a positive note, David Fincher in a recent interview with Empire said television allows the characters to grow, owing to the ample time it bestows the creators to explore, which the runtime for a feature film restrains. In his own words:

“In trying to take something that probably would’ve been a pretty good five-hour movie and get it down to two hours and 45 minutes, we kind of made it too long on one hand and not deep enough on another. I think the criteria for me is if something is very narratively focused it’s probably good, fertile ground for growing a movie. And if something is much more about getting to know the people and seeing their hypocrisies and foibles and strengths and weaknesses, then probably television.”

Drawing from the master’s words, the longer runtime of the TV show, could empower Snowpiercer to dwell into zones, which were restricted in the original film. The longer format could bolster in fleshing out characters, adding more nuances to the straightforward narrative. 

Provided the show completely leverages the freedom, both time and lack of censorship, the answer to the question would be, yes. There is a need for a Snowpiercer reboot. 

Let’s find the answer from May 25th.

Moreover, in the age of binge-watching, Snowpiercer is bringing back glory to weekly episodes! (No. Haven’t seen Watchmen and The Mandalorian. Wonder how they are similar to Snowpiercer.)

Trailer of Snowpiercer (2013)

Trailer of Snowpiercer (2020)

Jersey, one year later…

Note: This piece is more about the film’s impact on me, and less about the film itself.

A year ago, Jersey hit me like a truck. I wasn’t prepared for something like that. A light-hearted, sports-backed family drama is what I had expected. It is that movie, but with an exponentially higher effect, and hard-hitting than a conventional movie that falls under the aforementioned umbrella. I longed to express my thoughts as soon as viewing it, but my heavy heart restrained the emotional catharsis. 

Jersey is full of heart. Cricket, which plays a crucial role in driving the narrative forward, is merely a medium for the protagonist, Arjun, to overcome his fall – which his life has become synonymous with – after quitting it. This is not a movie about cricket. It’s about a man who dares everything, I repeat, everything, to wipe the failure that’s painted all over his face and life.

The father-son dynamic works like a charm because it’s not appended to the film, but is rather the foundation on which the character motivation, choices and the eventual consequences rest on. I firmly believe that the film’s attempt at portraying the innocence, warmth, and love between the father and son, is superior to every other film that has preceded and succeeded it.

Is it melodrama? Sure.

Is it a little too serious? Unarguably.

Is it forced, though? Not one bit.

Looking back at the film, a year later, does raise some questions that pose a check to the story’s alignment with general human choices.

Would a father still choose to prove himself, even though it means he would not be there for his son?

Wouldn’t it mean everything to the son to have his father alongside him throughout his life, instead of not having a ‘successful’ father?

We, mere spectators, are not the befitting ones to answer these questions, though. 

Perhaps, when put in Arjun’s shoes we will make the appropriate choice. Like Arjun.

Jersey is one film I cherish, but don’t wish to revisit anytime soon. I have seen it only once. My fragile heart, which invokes tears at the slightest of the sorrows in life,  refrains me from going back to it. Viewing it for the second time, completely aware that Arjun clearly knows the fate that awaits, yet doing what he does, would be harder than the first viewing, I suppose. Would prefer revisiting it only when I feel it’s slipping through my memory, which of course, with the impact it left, is not anytime sooner.

Despite knowing that Nani – the actor who portrayed the fictional Arjun – is alive and fine, I felt a sigh of relief after watching him on screen in his following film, Gang Leader. 

“Sigh! The dude’s alive! Thank God!”

That’s the force Jersey jolted me with. 

After it settles down in my mind, that’s when I would talk about the film, instead of raving how it affected me.

It’s a story I’ll remember. You will, too.


Watch Jersey on Zee 5.

The film’s trailer: