Thoughts on Madha: A case of ‘could have been’

The title sequence of Madha is coated with spookiness and is dedicated to instilling fear in the viewer with the potent use of music and imagery. Suffused with eerie images and anxiety-inducing background score, the sequence succeeds in creating the ominous mood that film carries in totality. The film, though, lacks the inflection that’s apparent in its title sequence.

The very first scene is set in what’s supposedly a classroom. The staging resembles a theatrical production, with light focussed on the speaker who introduces himself as a psychiatrist – “I’m a psychiatrist”, he says – as the students sit in the dark. The scene had me curious for two reasons. First, aren’t students aware of who the professor of their class is? Second, where can I find a classroom with such lucid lighting?

Moving on, the speaker asks a question, “What’s the most powerful weapon in the world?”

“Human brain, it has to be”, I said to my father, who was accompanying me in watching the film.

“Nuclear weapon”, says a timid student.

“Come on! You are talking to a bloody psychiatrist”, I said to myself. 

After some moments, the professor goes to the board and writes “the human mind”.

“I told you”, I exclaimed in joy, taking pride in staying ahead of the filmmaker, while my father hardly gave a damn.

With interesting staging and a promising foundation, the opening scene exhibits the filmmaker’s awareness regarding what he/she signed up for, despite the evident artificiality. The muddle lies in the artificiality, both visual and narrative. I discern that that film was produced in a shoestring budget. Sadly, the lack of privilege translates into amateurish filmmaking. Perhaps, they couldn’t shoot adequate scenes in the first act which comprises scenes that delude people around the protagonist, Nisha, that she is schizophrenic. It’s arduous to convince yourself with little exposure to the character. Although the narrative reaches where we wanted it to and it intended to, mental asylum, the path is bumpy. The first act, which is primarily dedicated to Nisha’s blossoming relationship with Arjun, a cinematographer with evil written on a face that creepily suggests, “I’m up to something, and you (Nisha) won’t see it coming”, coupled with bad acting.

Once again, I understand that a romantic plot is not of the utmost priority when the filmmaker is predominantly formulating the foundation for making a thriller, but if the diminutive romantic thread is the boat that sails the protagonist to the destination, the boat needs to be better. Madha heavily relies on ‘Tell. Don’t show’, instead of the opposite. The majority of the effectiveness is diluted, owing to this facet. When Nisha freaks out after seeing a ‘udumbu’ (monitor lizard) in her bathroom*, she reaches out to her neighbors for help. Post checking the area and not finding any such creature, the neighbors (a bunch of poor background actors) conclude that she has problems and that she has been troubling them for a long time. Wait! Has she created such an issue prior to this? I’m being told so. Exactly two more freak outs later, a cop informs her of the complaint Nisha’s neighbors lodged against her due to continual nuisance. By now, I surmised the filmmaker’s need to get straight to point.

“Police complained to a neighbor for one instance when she asked for help?”



“Didn’t you hear them saying she has always been trouble?”


Trishna Mukherjee as Nisha gives a competent physical performance as Nisha.

Nisha is branded schizophrenic and put in the mental asylum, yet, there is utterly no sense of fear nor anxiety. Mental Asylums are a gold mine for horror films. The place is a gift that keeps giving to scare the viewers. In this case, though, in spite of the frightful atmosphere it succeeds in building, neither tension nor the emotional disturbance exist. Despite the cruel treatment the inmates are receiving, none of the scenes hit hard as these people are merely flesh & blood and not humans. That’s how they are treated, both by the authorities of the asylum and the film’s writer. A little bit of burnish to the fellow inmates, had we been allowed to see what these ill-fated people are, the film would have disturbed the viewer. ‘Disturbing’ in this context stands for ‘impact’, and that’s one among what Madha primarily lacks.

On a completely related note, coming from an industry which has churned out comedy in the name of ‘mental health’ and ‘mental hospitals’, Madha finds itself on the completely another end of the ‘accurate portrayal of mental asylum’ spectrum, and we are yet to get a movie that accurately portrays the complicated place. 

Undoubtedly, Madha is a well-intentioned, ambitious film that dared to push the boundaries, and deserves to be applauded for striving to be different. Sadly, the ambition is marred by amateurish filmmaking, which by itself could a limitation of the budget. Srividya Basawa, who makes her feature debut as a filmmaker, is a voice to watch out for, and I look forward to the stories I she wants to tell.


A bunch of questions out of the dozens I had after finishing watching the film:

*The bathroom thing: If the whole ‘lizard’ idea by Nisha was to project herself like a maniac, why would they show the lizard to us, the audience? If her neighbors were not intended to see it, Nisha could have conveniently fake the screaming (which she was already doing), without even planting a lizard. The repercussion would have been the same.

Also, if Ravi Varma really wanted to torture Nisha to death, why did he help her by calling Arjun (the hero, duh) and asking him for help?

Why does the film emphasize on ‘human mind’, when it is clearly the ‘immune system’ that serves as the plot point?

While the film certainly pins a ton of hopes on the final reveal, it cheats the audience by making it a different film. The protagonist enters a place where death wafts to achieve something, and we learn only in the end that it was a completely conscious choice. That’s KGF for you!

Madha by Srividya Basawa is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Watch the trailer of Madha:

Further reading:

15 best films set in mental asylums

Opinion: The problem with Karthick Naren’s Mafia

From an audience standpoint, Mafia is fun, but that’s not enough. It was supposed to be more than an engaging watch. Maybe- had any other filmmaker or a debutant made this film, it would have been labeled a fairly entertaining thriller with a promising voice to look out for, but considering Karthick Naren is associated with the film, it is an remarkably disappointing affair. This may be a classic case of hype bringing down the content. Karthick Naren, the filmmaker who debuted at 22, created a trademark for himself with Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru, a sleek, edge-of-the-seat mystery, but I feel that he mistook the success of his first film. Yes, Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru was an extremely stylish film. But it’s not just its style that craved a niche for itself. The stylish and svelte making was only the garnish of a strong and deeply investing story. While Mafia scores high on the style front, it lags by miles on the writing front, which actually made Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru what it is, and branded Karthick Naren with the kind of filmmaking that he is associated with. 

I say this again, Mafia is not terrible. Repeating myself, had someone else made this, it would have been called a reasonably enjoyable film. It still is. Some might still find it entertaining. The problem with Mafia starts here: It’s extremely basic. Despite the disguise of a gangster crime thriller, it is quite generic with oversimplified writing. A plain and simple narrative is not what it aspires to be. The ambition, energy, and enthusiasm are indisputable. It longes to be enormous both on ideas and scale, but sadly, falls drastically short on both the fronts. 

From plot to dialogue, from visual language to the screenplay, everything is pretty simple yet tolerable but misses the layering or grandeur. Do note that by grandeur, I do not mean the glossy visuals or display of high budget. It is about how rich the film is with its writing and layering. Looking back at Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru, you can decipher it as a film about a father trying to protect his son. Free of its brilliantly done murder mystery, there were emotional highs in that film the kept us invested in the story. Let it be Deepak explaining Delhi Ganesh’s characters that his son is dead, or the complete final confrontation between Deepak and Gautam, the film had high stakes given that the atmosphere it relies on, is quite lean on the scale. 

Coming to Mafia, there is absolutely no hindrance when it comes to the scale but there is a severe lack of depth and layering. The character motivations never transcend beyond one-line descriptions. The core subject itself is not novel in Tamil cinema. Drug smuggling has been a subplot in various masala films so far. So, when you mount an entire script around it, there should be something new and exciting, and here, there is absolutely none. Students being addicts, the narco officers chasing the sellers and the ones above in the hierarchy, is quite hackneyed. Also, mind it-predictability is the thriller’s biggest antagonist. Terms like ‘consignment’, ‘syndicate’ network’ and ‘code’ names serve no purpose other than the writer striving to paint an international feel to subject. 

The villain.

The complete second half of the film wheels around the protagonist, Aryan, trying to protect his family members, who are kidnapped by the designer-suit-wearing-antagonist, who to the world appears as a businessman but indeed is a crime lord. His name is Siddharth Abhimanyu. I’m sorry, Diwakar Kumaran, it is. Although the stakes seem high in the initial few moments of the second half, you get a sense that when the sequence is being prolonged beyond a period, eventually the hero will save them. Where is the tension? 

There is a terrible shortage of originality in Mafia. The film wants to be cool but it’s too much in the face. Let it be the usage of colors which are evidently red when the villain is on screen, or the t-shirts worn by drug addicts, they are too cringy intended to give you a trippy feel. Do drug addicts really where t-shirts that have designs printed on them which look like a cross between eye illusions and weed-art? I don’t know.

This is exactly how their shirts look.

Even Aryan’s ringtone is Narcos’ theme music. Is that supposed to be an homage or a joke? I found it unintentionally funny. I mean, come on! A police officer wouldn’t set Singham’s theme as his phone’s ring tone. That’d be a bloody joke.

Karthick Naren’s ambition is visible. He wants to create a universe but that universe has nothing unique about it, and that’s the issue. I guess that’s the issue or I should stop comparing every filmmaker’s work to their best work.

31st January, 2020: A Truly EPIC Day For Indian Cinephiles

Some days are monumental when it comes to the films releasing on that date. December 20, 2019 was one such when The Rise of Skywalker and Cats locked horns at the global box-office. While the latter emerged the winner on both the critical and commercial fronts, it did give the indie original, TROS, a run for its money. And recently, January 17th, 2020 saw the Indian releases of Just Mercy, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and 1917. All three critically acclaimed and the A Beautiful Day and 1917 with Oscar nominations under their belt.

Similarly, the coming Friday 31st January 2020 is going to be one such glorious day for Indian cinephile, should they chose to savour it. Indian cinephiles are late to the party; nevertheless, it’s sure to be a blasting one!

So, what exactly is coming?

First, Taika Waititi’s anti-hate Satire, Jojo Rabbit, which has 6 Oscar Nominations, namely- Best Picture (Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi, and Chelsea Winstanley), Best Supporting Actress(Scarlett Johansson), Best Adapted Screenplay(Taika Waititi), Best Production Design(Ra Vincent and Nora Sopková), Best Costume Design(Mayes C. Rubeo), and Best Film Editing(Tom Eagles). The film, which released in the US back in October, finally waves hello to us, Indians. The film also won Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF last year. Keeping the awards and acclaim aside, it has Taika Waititi playing Hitler himself, and Hitler is funny here!

The second significant film slated for Indian release is the Spanish Drama, Pain & Glory, which TIME called the best film of the year. Plus, it sits with two Oscar Nominations, namely- Best International Feature Film, and Best Actor(Antonio Banderas). I missed the film at MAMI 19, but will make it up this weekend. The film has Banderas playing a filmmaker reflecting the choices he made over his past.

The third is a tiny film called Parasite, guess its from North Korea from the director who made the Polar Express live-action remake starring Captain America. Not many major award nominations and mediocre reviews. But I say, support indie cinema by watching this film in a theatre.

And the fourth film is Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen that comes with a fresh cast of up and coming actors like Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, and Hugh Grant among others in a light-hearted buddy travel film.

The Fifth and the most awaited release, which is already being considered to be the front runner in next year’s award race is the cop-drama Bad Boys For Lives. This is the film I’ve been waiting for since its announcement.

This could have been a tweet, but I elongated because I care!

Crux of the story- Indians, have a great time at the movies.

My issues with Bombshell

I have a firm belief. While reviewing documentaries and (authentic) films based on real-life events, our critique unknowingly becomes our outlook of the subject. I’ve learnt this from multiple cases. I’m unsure it is fair, though, it is quite easy to get carried away and impose personal opinions on the real-life matters. This singular reason makes it quite challenging to be objective towards such films and view them solely as films separating them from the subjects they are based on. And, Bombshell is one such experience, despite me not being the demography it is supposed to represent or cater to. Very recently, I saw a tweet telling critics not to review films that are not meant for them. The film in the discussion was ‘Little Women’, which as clearly indicated by the title, is about women. So, it is obvious that women will empathise more with ‘Little Women’ than men will, I can ensure you that. I find myself in one such odd place where I’m unsure whether it is fair to review Bombshell because of the very same reason which I wasted an entire paragraph on. But, let me try to view it as a film which didn’t work for me for cinematic reasons. I’ll tell the issues which I had with the film.

My problems with the film begin even before getting into the film. I chose not to see the trailer, because, you know how much they give away. I knew it was written by academy-award winning writer Charles Randolph, had a star cast boasting of talent at its desposition, and best of all, it is based on a true story, or shall we call it, real scandal? And this is what the synopsis of the film says- BOMBSHELL is a revealing look inside the most powerful and controversial media empire of all time; Fox News, and the explosive story of the women who brought down the infamous man who created it.

Have a look at the video, it kind of serves as a base for what’s going to come up. 

If you haven’t seen the video, let me sum it up. Megyn Kelly, in the March of 2016, questioned Donald Trump, the then-president candidate about the comments he made on women. Long story short, it didn’t end quite well. And Megyn being the less powerful one had to deal with what comes along. And the film takes most of its first-half dramatising these course of events with Megyn at the centre. Do you see the disconnect between the synopsis the film? Yes. What happens before the film begins and after the end of the credits, should not be taken into consideration and should not influence the perspective. But correct me if I’m wrong- aren’t trailers designed to make up our mind of what is going to come our way? Hell yes! And that is where the film faltered for me. Throughout the first act and for most of the second act, I was waiting for the actual story to begin. I was waiting for it to dwell into the scandal zone. 

Most of the time is spent on formulating Fox News as a sinister corporation, scene after scene. When it is not doing that, the focus is on Megyn. I get it. Megyn is the most popular one. But the real hero of the story is Gretchen Carlson, also a Fox anchor, who was the first one to call out the boss Roger Ailes, of sexual harassment. Gretchen is vulnerable and humanistic, whereas Megyn is quite the flawless and confident woman. Don’t doubt it; both of them are incredibly strong. But that doesn’t quite reflect in the way Gretchen is written. She is made to look quite the opposite of what I just said. Gretchen has a brilliant dialogue when a passerby harshly says “I can’t stand your show.”, she responds with “the way to treat those who you disagree with, tells everything about you”. That’s how strong-headed she is, and the film never treats her as the ‘hero’. Why? Is it because she is not as popular as Megyn? I guess so. And that, I felt is incredibly saddening, primarily when the film is marketed with a #MeToo brand on it.

What the film gets right is Kayla Pospisil, one of the leading women, she is innocent, ambitious and flawed, like a real woman. Even though she doesn’t change the course of events, the events change her, and I bought it despite the fact that it is quite cinematic.

More than that, Bombshell lacks depth. The internet already has everything. I’m sorry. Coming from the man who wrote The Big Short, this film is quite ineffective in making you care for the characters. There is no punch in the gut even when the film gets to the final act, it all gets light.

I’ll still be glad if you like it.

A video that might give an understanding of the whole story-

Trailer of the film-

October – Favourite Hindi Film – 2018

The protagonist of Shoojit Sircar’s October is Dan, a hotel management intern, who is described by his friends as ‘always irritated’. An emotionally distant Dan is, indeed, continually agitated, and shows little to no interest in others’ lives. When Shuili, Dan’s colleague, has a freak accident, he is quite intrigued when he learns that the last words Shuili spoke, seconds before the accident, were ‘Where is Dan?’. Then begins his quest to find why she asked about him. With Shuili slipping into coma, the doors are shut. We know that the question has no significance, they were, at most, a part of the casual talk. It’s not the same for Dan, though. We see that he is not finding the answer to this question, but he is finding himself. Yes, it is a sort of coming of age story that chronicles this boy’s transformation into a man. But not in the ways I expected to. The movie is primarily set in a star hotel, where Dan works and hospital, where Shuili is hospitalized. All we can do is hope that she gets well and patiently wait till then, which is very difficult for an irritable and impatient person, that Dan is. But contrasting to his regular friends, Dan is the only one who appears to be hugely swayed by this situation, or maybe he is only one who is human enough, I feel. Even when a friend of his asks him why is he highly affected, he replies to her, “how can you be unaffected?” 

Is Dan ‘growing up’ or bringing out the real person in him?

When a person is in a coma, fighting for life, the emotional anguish their loved ones go through is indescribable. It’s the harshest challenge life can throw at one. That’s exactly what Shuili’s family goes through. I cannot imagine the agony of Shuili’s mother, Vidya Iyer. The single mother, who never gives up on her daughter’s life, is one of the strongest women characters I’ve seen in Cinema. Vidya is a professor, she works at a college, she also has a daughter who is immovable in hospital since months, Vidya can do nothing but face this situation and keep up with life. And she does. That is why she is a strong woman. Just by the subject of the film, one can take an easy guess about the tone of the film. It has the potential to drench the audience in melodrama, but it doesn’t, willfully. Writer Juhi Chaturvedi masterfully balances the sadness of this family and Dan’s character growth.

Proceeding to Dan’s character, his strife is internal, you never apprehend what’s going on this unpredictable guy’s mind. Dan is by no means an expressive person, but Varun Dhawan’s performance as Dan is free of all the physical acting and brilliantly conveys this internal transformation. Banita Sandhu’s Shuili has little ground to play in, but as Dan gets to know we get to know Shuili, just the image of her face is heart-breaking.

All said and done, it’s Geetanjali Rao’s Vidya Iyer, the helpless mother whose performance crushed my heart as I could feel her pain, this is what happens when a good performer gets proper material.

I remember choosing Ready Player One over October, last April. Ready Player One with all the spectacle, doesn’t occupy a byte in my memory currently. But October, which I saw more than a year ago on my 13-inch laptop screen, is frozen in mind, frame by frame. The image of Dan and Shuili in a wheelchair, sitting in a park, is my favourite shot in my film. The hope that Shuili is recovering, and Dan becoming a responsible man, both of these are evident in addition to being the most unconventional love story between two broken people, one literally and the other figuratively. I’ve seen the film only once, I want to watch it again, but I know I can’t. This is what happens when a film disturns you for the right reasons.

This is it.

Haider – Favourite Hindi Film – 2014

Being an adaptation of Shapspearan tragedy, Hamlet, it is an arduous effort for me to write about the film as there is more to what facades the veneer. Even when espied on the shallows, it is a pulchritudinously agonising tale of loss, love and a crumbled family. The setting here is the beautiful yet turmoiled Kashmir, that is suffused with animosity. When Haider(Shahid Kapoor), returns to Srinagar to pursue answers for his father’s disappearance, what awaits him is a comprehensively contrasting home he knew before being forced by his mother, for his own good. Haider grapples with the world around him, where the trouble begins right from his home. His mother, just like Kashmir, is now different and the worse of all, she is now with the person Haider loathes. Writer-Director Vishal Bhardwaj builds Kashmir as a world that not just serves as a stage for his narrative to flow, but to a greater extent, its is an essential character that drives the character befittingly throwing obstacles time after time. Discard Kashmir from Haider or vice-versa; it is a film I cannot imagine. Such is the significance the location possesses. Pankaj Kumar’s visuals are breathtaking; in addition to capturing the panoramic beauty of Kashmir, he also confiscates the horrors deep down. The close-ups, accompanied by terrific acting performances, reveal how flawed these humans are.

Vishal Bharadwaj, who also composed the film’s music, endowed two tracks that are among the most potent and exceptionally choreographed music set pieces of Hindi cinema. For the duration of these songs, you feel the film is musical. And it puts music to the right employment. To express what the characters feel about others and actually conveying it on their faces. Bismil by Sukhwinder has abundant substance repleted in it to make a whole film out of it, had the song been adapted. But wait, it’s the other way. Bismil actually tells the whole story, it’s no Om Shanti Om, though! And, So Jao, employes the sound of shovels hitting the ground to dig a grave, as background beats. Sung by Bashir Lone, Muzamil Bhawani, and Bashir Bhawani, So Jao is a spooky and haunting piece of music, that expresses the human’s death and the uncertainty in what lies ahead. Shahid Kapoor as Haider makes you watch him as he walks a path whose endpoint is significantly different from the starting point. Throughout his implosive journey, the actor will make you feel what he is going through, even though we are distant and evidently parted by the screen. It is Tabu’s Ghazala, Haider’s mother, who is the heart of the film, and she could be the most erratic antagonist ever in Hindi cinema. But is she the antagonist, though? After all, she is the protagonist’s mother. Haider lets you think of the aftermath of the climax, which only great films do.

5 years later, Haider remains my favourite work of Vishal Bharadwaj and the favourite acting performance of Shahid Kapoor.