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Dark, Narcos, Trapped: These TV shows are proof Netflix is acing foreign language programming

This article is part of our 2017: A Year In Review series; and the second of three stories that examine the Netflix phenomenon.

Es beginnt mit Deutschland 83.
(It started with Deutschland 83.)

A divided Germany in 1983, on the brink of an atomic war. The Berlin Wall still stands, the Cold War is at its peak. An East German spy is sent across the wall to extract secrets by infiltrating the West German intelligence agency — this is the premise of Deutschland 83. The eight-episode series wonderfully re-created that era, had the costumes and decor down pat, with brilliant performances by the majority of the cast. Its soundtrack was also sprinkled with popular international hits from the era: from Nena’s ‘99 Luftballons‘ to Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These‘ and Aha’s ‘Take On Me‘.

For me, an additional bonus was improving my German language comprehension. (I was — and still am — learning German.)

Having binge-watched mostly American and British TV dramas, doing the same with a German TV show was as refreshing as biting into a warm croissant on a cold, rainy Berlin morning. This was one show that really set the ball rolling as far as exploring non-English language shows goes. And Netflix seems to have taken seriously the potential that foreign TV shows can have in a multilingual country such as ours.

The finest example of that — Narcos.

Still from Narcos season 3. Images via Netflix

Still from Narcos season 3. Images via Netflix

When you see life-size billboard posters of a Spanish language drama showing up at Bandra and Andheri, you know this show has really arrived in India. Narcos is easily the greatest endorsement a foreign language show could have got. Agreed, it is an American production, but the language used is predominantly Spanish. (And I’m sure a lot of Indians are now familiar with a certain four-letter Spanish word beginning with ‘P’. I’ll stop there.) Narcos was even parodied by a lot of Indian comedians. For all practical purposes, it has achieved the kind of cultural currency that only English-language shows such as Game of Thrones or Sherlock or Stranger Things have.

I have always been keen on world cinema, but this year I decided to give world TV shows a fair chance. If there is one trend I have seen in my TV viewing patterns this year, it is this: Language is the least of my concerns. And there is a goldmine of good TV content outside your traditional American and British fare. Thank you, Netflix.

The shows I loved watching this year were Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, Samurai Gourmet (Japanese); Let’s Eat (Korean); Suburra (Italian); Narcos, El Chapo, Las Chicas des Cables (Spanish); Trapped (Icelandic); Same Sky (German) and I have just finished binge-watching Dark (German) as I am writing this piece. As much as I love Stranger Things, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Dark runs circles around it. It is easily the best mystery thriller of 2017. Just wait for the TV awards next year.

Dark review: This German mystery thriller is the best Netflix original series of the year

Thanks to this habit of watching foreign language TV, Netflix’s recommendation engine keeps rewarding me with shows, and movies, which are quite different from what some of my friends, still stuck to US and UK TV shows, get on their list. As compared to Prime Video and Hotstar, the foreign language catalogue of Netflix is just getting better every day. (Of course, when it comes to Indian regional content, Netflix has nothing on Prime Video — which also launched with close to eight Indian web series announcements — as well as Hotstar.)

There is a goldmine of good TV content outside your traditional American and British fare, on Netflix

There is a goldmine of good TV content outside your traditional American and British fare, on Netflix

Netflix does give you the option to watch most of the foreign-language shows in English, but I just switch to the native language. The only foreign language I can understand and speak to an extent is German. While my aim is to become a polyglot someday, so far the only categorisation I can fit into is a glossophile. I love hearing different languages and listening to the sounds, their intonations and pronunciations. Trying to figure out things from expressions and gestures and getting at least the context right is a game I try and play as much as possible. At times, that’s as close as I can get to that same state of mind as a child who is still trying to comprehend language.

A lot of the shows mentioned above have been shot outdoors (well, Midnight Diner not so much), and it is rejuvenating to not see the same old American or British skylines. With some of the shows, the place is also character. Suburra, for instance, would just not work anywhere outside Rome. It’s engrossing to see gang politics play out amidst church politics in the ancient and modern city of Rome. Same Sky, although it tries to recreate pre-1990s Germany, was actually shot in parts of the Czech Republic which still resemble East Germany. Samurai Gourmet takes us through the non-glitzy streets of Tokyo and some small no-name seaside towns in Japan. Las Chicas del Cables explores 1920s-era Madrid. Trapped is set on an Icelandic island, enough said!

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories on Netflix serves up tales as delightful as Japanese cuisine

Watching a foreign language show is like taking a virtual tour through that city or country. I love travelling, so this aspect of watching non-English TV shows resonates with me. I do believe getting to know a place that’s the setting for a story eases the familiarisation process in the real world as well. Doesn’t New York seem familiar, thanks to the gazillion shows taking place in that city? Wouldn’t Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul fans feel like visiting New Mexico in the US? Would fans of Sherlock feel absolutely lost in London?

Why limit yourself to just the US and UK?

Netflix does give you the option to watch most of the foreign-language shows in English

Netflix does give you the option to watch most of the foreign-language shows in English

You also pick up on cultural nuances which would otherwise take ages, in some cases. Or a lot of reading. (Or a lot of foreign trips). Suburra, for instance, tries to show the discrimination faced by the Sinti Roma communities and how that plays into the hierarchicy in gangland. Both Midnight Diner and Samurai Gourmet show the reverence the Japanese have for food and their eye for aesthetics when it comes to serving it. The dramatically different youth culture which was separated by a Wall between East and West Germany and the German obsession for documentation is wonderfully depicted in both Deutschland 83 and Same Sky. The feeling of being trapped due to the vagaries of nature, something people living in Arctic villages must be experiencing in winters, is portrayed wonderfully in Trapped. I could go on.

An argument I have oft heard against any foreign language movies or TV shows, is that no one wants to bother reading the subtitles. Well, I have no counter-argument for that. At most, you can switch the audio to English. But I avoid it, as with English shows, I do end up multitasking a lot with the phone. With foreign languages, I have to read the subtitles if I want to follow the show. Other distractions have to take a break.

It’s not just about the visuals and the glossophilia. It would be foolish to watch rubbish online when there is so much good content. The audience (approval) rating for Deutschland 83 is 92 percent, Suburra‘s is 91 percent, Las Chicas del Cables is at 93 percent, Samurai Gourmet stands at 97 percent. See the trend?

I am not saying there is a paucity of good English language content online. Far from it. TV’s streaming revolution has certainly brought us some excellent shows — we really are living in a golden age of TV. But this same revolution has also exposed us to some great TV content from other parts of the world. And that should definitely be given a shot too. Think of it as going to a multi-cuisine buffet: you don’t just want to limit yourself to the familiar dishes.

David Schwimmer’s ‘Feed The Beast’ proves what we’ve known: ‘Nordic noir’ is in

If 2017 is any indication, foreign language dramas can hold their own in front of American and British series. Dark is the most recent example and hopefully it will open the floodgates for other good German TV dramas. Deutschland 86, the sequel to Deutschland 83 will be out in 2018.

My wishlist for 2018: A boat-load of Scandinavian noir TV shows please! Look up Forbrydelsen (Danish) and Broen (Danish/Swedish) and you’ll know what I mean.

Do let me know which foreign language shows you’ve been hooked on to — wir können mit einander reden!

Also read:

Part I — 2017: Netflix’s year of triumphs

Part III — 2017’s best shows on Netflix


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Diljit Dosanjh on picking projects in Hindi films: ‘Unlike in Punjab, I’m not in a position to choose roles in Bollywood’

A few years ago people would wonder whether a turbaned sikh guy could be a mainstream Bollywood hero but Diljit Dosanjh has put those doubts to rest. Not only is the singer-actor having back to back releases in Bollywood but is also being cast opposite A-list heroines. After making a promising debut and an earnest performance in Udta Punjab opposite Kareena Kapoor, he was seen with Anushka Sharma in Phillauri. In his upcoming release, Welcome To New York, he will be seen with Sonakshi Sinha and then with Taapsee Pannu in Soorma, a biopic on hockey player Sandeep Singh, which will hit the theatres in June. He is currently shooting with Kriti Sanon for Arjun Patiala.

Diljit Dosanjh. Image from Twitter/@diljitdosanjh

Diljit Dosanjh. Image from Twitter/@diljitdosanjh

Naturally, Diljit’s confidence has taken a boost. In his initial days, he would have probably wondered in self doubt when asked if there was a limitation to the kind of roles offered to him, but today he confidently states in a mix of Hindi and Punjabi, “Isn’t there a turbanator in every field? Sikhs are there in Navy, Army, the police force…there is no profession left where there is no sikh. So how can I have any such limitations?”

He further adds, “In the beginning when I started with music in Punjab and was keen on acting as well, people would dismiss me saying it wasn’t possible as no sikh had ever been seen as a Punjabi film hero and that I should be restricted to music. My first Punjabi film didn’t but I slowly started delivering hits, some of which even became top grossers. (Diljit has been appreciated for his versatile performances in Punjabi films like the Jatt & Juliet series, Punjab 1984 and Ambarsariya). Later, people said that I won’t be successful in Bollywood because I wear a turban, but my turban helped me get films here.”

Not easily accessible and also considered media-shy, Firstpost tracks him down on the sets of the singing reality show, Rising Star, where the jovial and happy go lucky jatt is the centre of attention. He is in the midst of young singers and some big names from the music industry – Shankar Mahadevan and Monali Thakur. Sporting a shiny yellow jacket and black turban, Diljit seems to be enjoying every bit of it. “I am enjoying both, acting as well as singing, I just wanted to do some good work which I am doing, let’s see where my life takes me. I enjoy each day of my life. Sometimes I have my mood swings but I still try to maintain a balance,” says the singing star, who candidly talks about his upcoming stage-show reality film, Welcome To New York which is based on an award show. “There are so many actors in it, and I, too, have a small part. But if you ask me the experience of doing the film, I really didn’t understand anything. I don’t know how they shot the film in so much chaos. I have no idea. It was difficult to shoot but I kept taking orders from the director and went on doing what I was told,” he laughs.

Known for his rustic charm and simplicity, Diljit might have a lot in the pipeline, but he isn’t someone who would succumb to stereotypes. He wants to do roles that are integral to the story. “I won’t do as many films now. It is just that I had lesser commitments and hence I can be seen in so many films. Last year I refused three to four films. If I don’t like anything I say no to it. Even in Punjab, I did just one film a year and I will follow the same in Bollywood provided I am offered one. I am in no hurry, no greed, as I am getting more than what I am capable of. I would like to use the remaining time on my singing and churn out more Punjabi films for my fans. I also have fans in the US, UK, Canada and I would like to continue doing stage shows for them. Whatever I have to say from my heart, I do it through Punjabi music,” he says without displaying an ounce of stardom.

“I enjoy making music more because there are no limitations as compared to movies. You have a team with who you gel and make music. But the film is not under your control. You listen to the story and script but what finally comes on the canvas could be different, whereas in music you can reject your own composition if you don’t like it and try something different. But films are huge projects; a lot of money is invested and directors have their own point of view,” he adds.

Secondly, Diljit says, he finds more freedom in the choice of movies back home. “I am not in a position to choose roles right now in Bollywood but in Punjabi films I have that choice. Producers are friends there but in Bollywood whatever is being offered I am taking up. My upcoming Punjabi film, Rangroot is on World War I which was something I was passionate about,” he says.

Considering the fact that Diljit never played any sport earlier in his life, one would expect the Shaad Ali-directed Soorma to be one of his most challenging roles of that of a hockey champion. Diljit says jokingly, “When I was a kid, I didn’t get the opportunity to play much sports as my parents would tell me to study. And now when I am getting paid to play so why not? (laughs) But I didn’t face any difficulty while shooting for Soorma. I didn’t have to do much training in the sport, I just had to play the game. I am very happy that in the second year of my acting career in Bollywood I got to do a biopic. Actually, I don’t find my work difficult. Just that when I am acting, I try to feel for the character I’m portraying but every take of mine tends to be different. I don’t treat myself as an actor who has a process, I perform with instinct.”

And even as Bollywood is showering love on him, Diljit prefers to meet people only for work as he doesn’t like “bothering people unnecessarily”. “I don’t stay in touch with industry folks much. I am here only to work. I never got work because of networking or meeting producers in parties. I don’t believe in PR,” signs off the endearing star.

Published Date: Feb 22, 2018 08:57 AM | Updated Date: Feb 22, 2018 08:57 AM


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The Joker origin film, directed by Todd Philips and produced by Martin Scorsese, to roll from 1 May


Feb,22 2018 09:29 23 IST

Los Angeles: Filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s untitled The Joker origin film is scheduled to start production in May.

Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Image courtesy: Facebook

Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Image courtesy: Facebook

The production house Tracking Board’s Jeff Sneider announced the news on social media. Sneider posted what appears to be a part of a press release which featured the project’s logline and listed a start date of 1 May, reports

The post, which was shared by him on Wednesday, also revealed the status of three-time Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix, who was recently revealed to be in talks with the studio for the role of the Clown Prince of Crime, as “interested”.

Sneider, however, wrote that the details are subject to change. Details on the upcoming Joker origin movie’s plot are currently unknown though the film is set in Gotham City in the early 1980s and has more of the look of a gritty crime drama than comic book movie.

It is also said that the film will be separate from the DC Extended Universe in an effort to create new and unique storylines.

Acclaimed filmmaker Scorsese will serve as a producer for the project. Todd Phillips is set to direct the standalone film from a script he co-wrote with Scott Silver. Release date has not been locked for the Joker stand-alone film yet.

Published Date: Feb 22, 2018 09:29 AM | Updated Date: Feb 22, 2018 09:29 AM


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‘Beyonce needs to auto-tune’, says TV host Wendy Williams; Twitterati roast her for remark

Los Angeles: American TV host Wendy Williams has faced backlash from fans for criticising singer-actress Beyonce Knowles and saying she needs auto-tune.

Beyonce. Image from Twitter.

Beyonce. Image from Twitter.

Williams criticised the singer on her show on Tuesday, where she said, “There are only a few people who can sing raw dog and Fergie is not one, she needs autotune. Jennifer Lopez needs autotune. Janet Jackson needs autotune. Beyonce needs auto-tune.”

Her remarks sparked rage on social media. While one user tweeted, “Wendy Williams, Beyonce has autotune where?”; another posted along with a clip of Beyonce flawlessly hitting high notes during a live performance.

Another shared a clip of the singer at a cappella performance of ‘Halo‘ and wrote, “Wendy Williams: ‘Beyonce needs auto-tune to sing.”

Beyoncé the ONLY!! And I repeat ONLY bitch we got that sounds better than her studio recordings live. And NO I DONT want to hear about your out of breath ass, throat surgery needing, can’t hold a note for dear life faves!!!! I SAID WHAT I FUCKING SAID!!!!

— 💎 (@KnowlesCarta) February 21, 2018

With inputs from IANS.


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