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Pushpavalli review: Sumukhi Suresh creates a show you cannot turn your head away from

When Biswa Kalyan Rath came out with Laakhon Mein Ek two months ago, I was flummoxed. “Is this the same guy from Biswa Mast Aadmi?” I asked myself. Then I began to put the pieces together. Many comedians, all over the world, have showed great flair for tragedy. They walk on the cobblestoned path of tragicomedy flamboyantly. They mix three parts of humor and two parts of unblemished sadness in their stories.

BoJack Horseman, an animated show that discusses suicidal thoughts with sarcastic remarks; Togetherness, a series about a couple who cheat on each other and find the silver-lining in forgiving and sticking together somehow; You’re the Worst, a show featuring four damaged individuals climbing the ladder of friendship and romance and falling off every now and then, are all bathed in the light of everyday lessons. And these lessons are funny and gut-wrenching.

Sumukhi Suresh in the trailer of Pushpavalli. YouTube screengrab

Sumukhi Suresh in the trailer of Pushpavalli. YouTube screengrab

Sumukhi Suresh, likewise, throws her hat into the ring with Pushpavalli. Though, her latest venture doesn’t touch any of the extremes I mentioned above, it creates something similar in terms of the parts of humor and sadness. Unlike many other recent web series targeted at the youth with relatable content that scratch the surface of relationship dramas, this show is a relationship mismatch. It’s a mismatch simply because Sumukhi’s character, Pushpavalli, lives in her own empty bubble.

The eight-episode series follows Pushpavalli’s journey from Bhopal to Bangalore to stalk the man of her dreams; a man who once thanked her for giving him company. His advances, she feels, are amorous, and, hence, she packs her bags to move to the city he lives in. If this sounds like a stupid idea, it’s just the beginning of the end of Pushpavalli’s sanity.

Sumukhi has mostly played the role of an angry woman in her YouTube outings. In many of her collaborations with the show’s co-writer, Naveen Richard, she exchanges the mask of the tantrum-thrower. If Naveen is the angry bird in one sketch, then Sumukhi is, obviously, the red-faced one in the next.

In Pushpavalli, Naveen Richard gets rid of the naïve boy-next-door character he played in Better Life Foundation, and goes back to his loudmouth avatar where he orders everybody around. He stars as Pankaj, the head of the children’s library Pushpavalli works at, who brings a certain amount of quirky wit and acid-tongued honesty. He doesn’t care a damn about pushing the buttons on the F-word despite being amidst kids all day.

The scenes that bring Sumukhi and Naveen together are cleverly written, and they sometimes burned the roof with the sounds of my laughter. With a runtime of around twenty minutes per episode, Pushpavalli deals with some other people including the paying guest accommodation owner Vasu (Shraddha). The writing centering on the way Vasu behaves is extremely hilarious. Her broken English is peppered with meaty words from Kannada, and she does a wonderful job in sticking to a stereotype of a nighty-wearing woman who’s in complete control of her actions and words. However, the same doesn’t hold true when it comes to Pushpavalli’s mother (Latha Sathyamurthy).

There are about a handful of scenes featuring Pushpavalli and her mother, and they are usually having a phone conversation since both of them live in different cities. But, this is where the stereotype doesn’t work. The mother — like in every goddamn Indian soap opera — is pestering her daughter to get married by blackmailing her, and asking her to meet the boys she’s arranged for. Isn’t this particular vignette one of the reasons for shunning television serials in favor of web shows? Why does this trope have to make a snarky comeback then? I’m not saying it doesn’t have to be there, but the way it is presented is definitely an irritable factor. And, also, the mother seems to frequent the balcony while she’s on the phone (Did the production team shoot all of her portions in one day? There could have at least been a room/garden for her to move around).

The entire show revolves around one focal point — Pushpavalli stalking Nikhil Rao (Manish Anand). Nikhil is a handsome gentleman who keeps giving friendly semi-hugs to Pushpavalli. If this seemingly harmless act is enough to give her romantic dreams, what kind of a jerk is she?

Most of the Indian films and series show a man following a woman (or women). Hell, that’s how 90% of the romance films are made in our country. The hero falls in love with the heroine and shows his large-heartedness in a song or two; a couple of misunderstandings later, the heroine and hero are dancing under a moonlit tree.

Thankfully, Pushpavalli doesn’t go that far. It stops at the idea of a woman who’s hopelessly stumbled into love with a man who appreciates her for who she is (not the stalking quality; he doesn’t know that yet) without ever talking about her “chubbiness”.

Even her mother looks for grooms who are okay with her body weight. There isn’t any conversation regarding her job, or intelligence. It’s just an “aayah velai” (maid’s job), she declares. When this kind of a line comes from a mother, it’s pretty devastating. And, this is exactly why she finds Nikhil endearing. He looks beyond her body, and into her soul, thereby making her feel comfortable in her own skin.
Sumukhi, in the season finale, delivers a monologue which answers all the questions viewers would have conjured up while watching the show. It’s a poignant tearjerker. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t be able to sympathize with her state of mind as we know her intentions (and the means to achieve them) aren’t right.

Pushpavalli, in the end, becomes a show about a creepy woman whose name means a creeper. It isn’t a laugh-riot like Sumukhi’s other sketches. It flounders a bit (example: the bit about two women who act like Siamese twins) and dances around the themes of morality and obsessiveness. Still, Sumukhi creates a show you cannot turn your head away from.


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ASC Awards: Roger Deakins wins top cinematography honour for sci-fi film Blade Runner 2049

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins has won the top award for a theatrical release at the 32nd annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards, for his fantastic and surreal imagery of Denis Villeneuve’s film Blade Runner 2049, as reported by Variety.

Roger Deakins. Image from Twitter/@TalkFilmSoc

Roger Deakins. Image from Twitter/@TalkFilmSoc

This is the fifth honour for the cinematographer by the prestigious body, including a Lifetime Achievement award in 2011. Deakins has already won the Golden Globe for Blade Runner 2049 this award season, and is the current favourite for an Oscar, an achievement that has eluded the veteran cameraman, known for his work in The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, and The Assassination of Jesse James. Traditionally, in the 32 year long history of ASC Awards, thirteen winners have gone on to win the Oscar as per the same report.

Blade Runner 2049, saw Deakins build on Ridley Scott’s original and influential neo-noir futuristic world. The film was marked with giant, intensely illuminated holograms advertisement interact with the lead actor, and a glitch-ridden virtual Elvis Presley performance in a low-lit abandoned Las Vegas auditorium. The dusty, apocalyptic vision of the Blade Runner universe was deftly crafted by Deakins for the 2017 sequel.

“He has to be Roger Deakins on every shot. He has all the pressure of the world on his shoulders. He’s very, very focused. He doesn’t talk very loud. He doesn’t like to repeat. And his crew…his crew would die for him,” Villeneuve, who has collaborated with Deakins on his two earlier films, Prisoners and Sicario, told Vanity Fair.

ASC Awards also honoured lensman Mart Taniel with the spotlight award for November. The honour focuses on excellence in world cinema. Taniel beat the exquisite Hungarian movie On Body and Soul, which is also up for an Academy Award this year.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02 PM


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North India’s angry young men: Snigdha Poonam examines a generation’s anxieties in her new book, Dreamers

Upon reading Dreamers, Snigdha Poonam’s splendid cultural study of a generation’s appetite for ruthless ambitions and change, it’s apparent that India’s young men from the north are driven by a peculiar hunger. They chase fame, fortune, power and lofty dreams just like every other millennial but these small town youth are unlike their city counterparts. It’s an unquenchable anger that sets them apart — anger that their country was spoilt by the Congress, anger that corruption was at its peak, anger over their lost izzat, anger over the lack of jobs… Enough anger to make them want to be famous, important and rich beyond their dreams. And while some of them are lucky enough to realise their dreams, some others are stuck in an illusion forever.

Poonam, who writes for Hindustan Times, travelled to India’s towns and villages in the north, besides her own hometown of Ranchi, to find out what these young Indians wanted. “The idea was to [go to a small town] find out four or five people whose stories stood out and follow them for a year to see how close they get to their dreams. As I progressed with that brief, it became a larger project,” she says. Initially, Poonam chose four people in and around Ranchi, but as she travelled to other places, it became 6-7 people in 3 or 4 locations, to whom she kept going back for anywhere between a year and three years.

Snigdha Poonam

Snigdha Poonam

South India and its millennial population feel like a glaring omission from the book, but Poonam says she chose north India for a reason — that it was “representative of the frustrations of this generation because it does more badly than south India; its level of education and employment is poorer. More logistically, the book was never meant to be a sequel to Butter Chicken in Ludhiana [Pankaj Mishra’s travelogue on small-town India]. I was doing the opposite thing; I wanted to limit the number of people and places,” she says.

Among the people Poonam meets is Pankaj Prasad or ‘The Fixer’, an entrepreneurial young man in southern Jharkhand, who is a small-time lobbyist and liaison — an important link between the  state administration and citizens — or rather a go-to man for villagers ready to pay him for sarkari services. Then there’s the founder of WittyFeed or ‘The Click-Baiter’, a startup that thrives on American obsessions from Kim Kardashian and lip-sync battles to banal listicles on Katy Perry’s weirdest faces. To match success stories, Dreamers also has a chapter on the disputers — the angry young men complaining about the future of this country and turning to various Hindu groups who tend to their anxiety. Like Vikas Thakur, with his funky tattoo and beach sandals, who wants to become a politician because he wanted to stand up for Hindus. Or 19-year-old Arjun Kumar who cannot wait for Valentine’s Day year after year because it’s the only day he can deal with couples the way he wants, with an iron rod.

Poonam also gifts us with a rare chapter on an angry young woman — Richa Singh, who fought the Allahabad University elections and won and moved on to mainstream politics. Just like the south Indians who are absent from this book, women too are very obviously missing. But it wasn’t intentional, says Poonam. “I met young women too who had dreams, but when you talk to young men about their dreams, they’re not just talking about their own dreams but also what they want for their country and what they want from the world.” For many young women dreamers, “it was about changing their own lives and in some sense that itself was a huge leap for them to take and they weren’t going to talk about how India should go back to becoming the glory of world civilisation. A lot of the anxiety about their place in India and India’s place in the world was very manly,” she says.

To round off, Poonam has the strugglers as well — men who dream big, plan elaborate and push hard but still remain at the lowest possible level, men like Mohammad Azhar who dream of becoming Bollywood superstars but instead get exploited.

The underbelly of Dreamers not just gives us a peek into toxic masculinity and anger, but also uncovers the appeal of religion, specifically Hinduism, to these men. What does it offer them in a way of appeasing anger or giving them something to move forward? According to Poonam, it offers them a basic sense of identity, honour, and masculinity. “When I spoke to these young men, they were not speaking about religion per se because I knew more about religion than they did and they didn’t connect with any texts, they didn’t have the most basic understanding of what they were fighting for, starting with cows,” she says. And most of the angry men just ended up being Hindu. “I was looking for anger in general, but what I found was that the minorities — young Muslim and Dalit men — were busier looking ahead in terms of opportunities, whereas the Hindu men were looking at the past, at what they had lost, and wanted to restore the old order. Religion had very little meaning in their lives…”

Book cover for Dreamers

Book cover for Dreamers

Essentially, these men always saw a society that’s constantly conspiring against them and their Hindu heritage. They also saw a leader in Narendra Modi — someone like them who’d made it, from tea vendor to Prime Minister — who promised them the India they wanted, whose politics aligned with theirs and whose rhetoric reeked of Hindu nationalism. Modi would transform their beloved India back to its glorious past, they believed. Poonam says that the growing young population she talked to were political in an ambitious, idealistic way in that that there should be smooth roads, no corruption, and trains running on time. “But there was a general hope in Narendra Modi and a lot of disappointment in how Congress had steered the country since independence. That is very common and a lot of that was borrowed perception,” she says.

Poonam writes that less than 17 percent of India’s graduates are immediately employable and only 2.3 percent of the workforce has undergone formal skills training, which means that the country needs to educate about 100 million young people over the next 10 years, “a task never before undertaken in history”. Yet these young Indians, who have grown up with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and “cultural values of their grandparents”, are creating opportunities for themselves in various fields with the help of the ubiquitous internet. Facebook especially, Poonam says, is a tool through which young people are able to manage how other people see them. “The sense that they can manage their perception is very common among young people even in the villages. Even if you want to have the slightest of part to play in politics — and these are the people who are doing this at the block, tehsil level — Facebook and WhatsApp is where they like to do that and they’re becoming really good and smart at it.”

Perhaps this is how young Indians will change the world, one status at a time.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM


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Jayam Ravi on upcoming space film Tik Tik Tik: ‘It’ll be a milestone in the history of Tamil cinema’

Actor Jayam Ravi, who established his career by starring in Tamil remakes of several popular Telugu films in the beginning of his career, made really interesting choices in the last three-four years which has paid off handsomely.

From playing a boxer in Bhooloham to turning into a zombie in Miruthan, he was last seen on screen playing a tribesman in Vanamagan. As he awaits the release of Tamil cinema’s first space film Tik Tik Tik, in which he plays an escape artist cum astronaut, Ravi opens up in an exclusive chat with Firstpost about the experience of working in the film which is unlike anything he’s done in his career so far.

Jayam Ravi in Tik Tik Tik.

Directed by Shakti Soundar Rajan, the film marks Ravi’s second collaboration with the director after the zombie actioner Miruthan. Recalling how the project materialised, he said: “After the release of Miruthan, Shakti called me one day and said he has two scripts – a big project and a small film. He asked me which one I want to work on. I told myself that I’m anyway not going to be around to do 200-300 films. Even if I do one film, the experience should be equivalent of doing five projects. I conveyed the same thought to Shakti and that’s when he pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik.”

As much as Ravi was excited about the idea of starring in a space film, deep down, he was hesitant. “Initially, I was very hesitant. But I always look at positives over negatives in anything I do in life. When Shakti pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik, I saw many positives. A lot of people didn’t attempt a space film so far is because of the misconception that we can’t shoot in India and the high cost involved. But Shakti and I had faith in our script and we found a VFX studio (Ajax) in Chennai which delivered the kind of output which was beyond our expectations. We gave them some test shots to work upon and they came out really well.”

Despite his faith in Shakti and the script, Ravi said a lot of people couldn’t believe they could pull off a space film. “When I told some well-wishers and friends that I was going to do a space film, nobody believed in me or in the project. They looked down upon the idea itself. The bigger challenge for us was to script a movie like this in the first place. It needed a lot of vision and clarity. I could foresee the result when I read the script but nobody believed in us expect our producer. But I was quite confident because audiences have always supported whenever I attempted something different. Even though the execution was very strenuous, we were thrilled with the output which was beyond our satisfaction. It’ll be a milestone in my career and in Tamil cinema,” Ravi said, heaping praise on his director.

“A project of this scale and vision requires a lot of research work. Even while shooting, Shakti had to look after so many things as this is a script that’s powered by logic. Since it’s about science and space, he had to keep in mind several things when on the sets. We had to make sure that everything looked believable. Shakti was well backed by art director Murthy. They complemented each other so well. This is a film with a lot computer graphics and most scenes were shot on green mat. A lot of planning went into the shooting process. Everything the actors could touch was actually built from scratch. What the actors couldn’t touch which was mostly everything in the background was created with the help of CG.”

Nearly 80 percent of the film was shot in zero gravity condition. A race against time thriller, it’s a story of five astronauts, who go on a mission to stop an oncoming attack of a meteorite. “As most of the shooting took place in zero gravity conditions, we had to be attached to the harness. We’d wear the space suit and then be attached to the harness for long hours. We’d shoot from morning to evening and most of the times we don’t even take a break because taking off the suit and putting it back on was a time-consuming process.”

Having grown up watching space films such as Deep Impact, Armageddon and 2001: A Space Odyssey among others, Ravi hopes that children celebrate Tik Tik Tik as this generation’s space film, which also stars his son, Aarav, in a pivotal role. “I really hope children warm up to this film. When we made Miruthan, it was passed with an A certificate by CBFC, so it was not suitable for children. I’m sure Tik Tik Tik will appeal to children as well,” he said.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM


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