“Student Of The Year” and “Wake Up, Sid!” were two of my favourite Bollywood films growing up. Both stories mirrored the evolution and struggles of an average desi child growing up in a quintessential desi household. The transition from dumb school/college going children to just about functioning adults was something all South Asian kids could relate to. Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor played their spoiled brat characters to near perfection in the two films, with minor slips expected from any newcomer in the industry.
This was 10 and 13 years ago respectively, and both actors have come a long way since. We’ve witnessed their acting evolution with bigger roles, saw them fall in love and get married to each other, and now, they’ve unveiled South Asia’s first mythical universe in their upcoming film, “Brahmastra Part One: Shiva.”
With Marvel and DC dominating the world’s stage with their superhero universes, it’s hard for our minds to not gravitate to Spider-man’s antics or Guardians defending the galaxy. This was further cemented with the release of “Ms. Marvel” as Hollywood’s first South Asian superhero. It becomes easy for audiences to question how “Brahmastra” differs from its western counterparts in such a competitive market.
“You know, Avatar is a word taken from our language and culture,”
Ranbir explains as I nod, thinking of the Sanskrit word “avtaar.” Clad in black and red respectively, he and Alia were all smiles on a particularly hot London afternoon over Zoom.
“Hollywood didn’t have Avatar on its own – the inspiration was taken from us. America didn’t have Superman comics before we had a flying Hanuman in our culture. We’ve had stories for centuries, so who knows – maybe the west took inspiration from us,” he laughs. “Yes, we are waking up to the fact that there is an appetite for such narratives. We witnessed that with the release of ‘Baahubali,’ and we’re also experiencing it with excitement for ‘Brahmastra.’ I really hope that Hollywood takes notice…maybe there will be a collaboration with an Indian multiverse and an American multiverse. The world seems to be getting closer and closer each day so anything is possible.”
Speaking of Hollywood, Alia has already had a taste of the world’s biggest film industry working on Tom Harper’s to-be-released “Heart of Stone” alongside Gal Gadot and Jamie Dornan. Over the years, her choice of roles has become more and more selective, as evidenced by Badru in “Darlings” and Gangubai in “Gangubai Kathiawadi.” We’re sure fans often wonder what she looks for in her characters in a new script.
“I definitely look at the overall film as the first step,” she shares animatedly, “then, I look at how the character I’m playing is affecting the overall storyline. It doesn’t matter if the role is big or small, the storyline needs to have depth and meaning. That’s important to me. With ‘Brahmastra,’ I was just so excited when it came to me! I said to Ayan Mukerji (director of the film), let’s just start filming right away. I’ve always been such a fan of Ayan’s work and the person that he is. His vision is so clear and passionate – it rubs off on everyone. He’s hardworking beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, and I’ve discovered that firsthand through ‘Brahmastra.'”
We’ve keenly observed Ayan’s work in many of Ranbir’s films. Whether it’s through the bratty Siddharth in “Wake Up, Sid,” or everyone’s favourite shadi song “Dilli Waali Girlfriend” from “Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani.” There must be an element setting Mukerji apart from other directors, prompting Ranbir towards his projects.
“I think Ayan has truly mastered what it means to make a film for his audience, and not for himself. Also, he’s probably the hardest working individual that I’ve come across in my life. Brahmastra was announced eight years ago, and it took us a long time to get where we are but he just never gave up. He’s also my bro,” he shares, making us laugh, “his entire existence has been the creation of ‘Brahmastra’ for quite a while, and he’s given it his 100%. I think when a human being risks that much for a film, that level of dedication earns him/her a lot of well-deserved respect.”
There’s an intense use of visual effects, CGI and graphics. The shooting spell has spanned over eight years – a time period where media, storytelling, and technology have significantly evolved. Surely, that must mirror the process of narrating a tale that’s so deeply rooted in Indian culture, but is set in the country’s modern day landscape.
“I think that was one of the most exciting parts,” Alia begins, “It’s a story for every generation. For all three – young, old and the in-between – there’s something to love and enjoy. It’s a beautiful mix with a lot of newness. There are many elements which spread one key message: go forward, fly high, but don’t forget your roots. I really enjoyed that representation of the film, and that’s also what audiences are responding to when they see the trailer and its songs. That, ‘oh, the music is very 2022, the effects are very contemporary, but the story is centuries old.’ It was a lot of fun bridging the gap between the two.'”
“I also want to add that this will encourage more filmmakers to tell stories originating from our culture,” Ranbir continues, “Indian mythology is full of tales and folklore waiting to be discovered. We don’t necessarily have to set them in the prehistoric era; they can be told in modern day India. Cinema is getting so much worldwide exposure – it’s because directors know what the 21st century audience wants to watch. They want traditional narratives set in modern day societies. It makes the film-watching experience more relatable and fun. ‘Brahmastra’ can really be a gamechanger for South Asia. Our characters are written and depicted with so much care and passion – two millennials who are part of a story that can date back to centuries.”
Speaking of their respective roles, is there a way for the onscreen and real-life couple to describe their characters in just one spoiler-free sentence?
“Isha is innocent,” Alia starts with a smile, “she’s full of wonder and adventure. Most importantly, she’s strong and loyal. She’s aware of her emotional strength, and that’s one of the first things that drew me to her character.”
“For me, Shiva is a young ordinary man born with extraordinary powers,” Ranbir muses thoughtfully, “he’s born with the power of fire, which he doesn’t completely understand. He is also related to the Brahmastra…which I can’t reveal more about but we will find out in due course!”
While we understand much can’t be said in anticipation of the film, there must be a key takeaway message for audiences which can be shared.
“Right now, the key takeaway would be for audiences to take themselves to the cinema and enjoy the magical experience on the big screen!” Alia concludes with Ranbir nodding in agreement. “We just hope it brings them the same level of joy that it brought us while filming.”
“Brahmastra Part One: Shiva” is now playing over 8000 screens worldwide in standard formats, as well as 3D, IMAX 3D, and 4DX 3D for a fully immersive experience.
It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.
“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.
The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.
Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.
Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.
There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra, and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.
Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.
Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.
It’s never a dull moment with your girl gang; some shots and conversations about sex, right? If you agree, you’re in for a treat with Karan Boolani’s directorial venture, “Thank You For Coming,” which had its world premiere at the 48th annual Toronto International Film Festival. This coming-of-age story unapologetically begs the answer to a very important question: Why should women be left high and dry in bed?
Kanika Kapoor (Bhumi Pednekar) is a successful, 32-year-old, Delhi food blogger who makes a huge revelation on her 30th birthday: She’s never experienced an orgasm. This dirty little secret (no pun intended!) has now become detrimental to her self-esteem. She feels so down and out that she even accepts the proposal of a very boring suitor, Jeevan-ji (Pradhuman Singh Mall).
But, it’s not like she hasn’t tried. Kanika’s been a monogamist since her teenage years, starting with puppy love in high school — unfortunately, their sexual endeavors coined her as “thandi” (cold) by her first boyfriend — all the way to dating in her adulthood. But, regardless of how great any relationship was, nobody had her achieve the big O. All until the night of her engagement with Jeevan, when the drunk bride-to-be leaves the party for her hotel room and gets into bed. What follows is her very first orgasm. Ghungroo, finally, tute gaye! But, with whom?
The morning after, an initially-satisfied Kanika works herself into a frenzy of confusion and frustration as she makes her way through the list of potential men who could’ve been in her room the night before.
Was it one of her exes? She’d simply invited them to come to wish her well.
Was it her fiance?
Or, God forbid, was it actually the rabdi-wala (ice cream man)?
Boolani takes a straight-forward and on-the-nose approach to drive the point home. There are no cutting corners, no mincing words, and no hovering over “taboo topics.” The dialogue is raunchy, the characters are horny, and no one is apologetic. It’s important for a film like “Thank You For Coming” to be so in-your-face because the subject of women achieving orgasms can’t really be presented in any other way. Anything more conservative in the narrative would feel like the makers are being mindful of addressing something prohibited. And there is no room for taboos here.
But, there is room for a more open conversation on the reasons why many women feel the need to suppress their sexual needs in bed; how generally, women have been brought up to be the more desirable gender and hence not cross certain boundaries that would make them appear too brash. The fight for the right of female pleasure would have been a little more effective if the modesty around the topic was addressed. But, that doesn’t mean that the point is remiss.
The plot moves swiftly along, never lulling too long over everything that seems to be going wrong in Kanika’s life. “Thank You For Coming” is full of all the right tropes that belong in a comedic, masala film, too; the direction very seamlessly takes classic fixings like the abhorrent admirer (enter Jeevan-ji) and effectively plugs them into this contemporary feature that will remain perpetually relevant.
And now, let’s come to the star of the show: the well-rounded characters.
Producer Rhea Kapoor has mastered the formula of a good chick flick and her casting is the magic touch. She’s got a knack for bringing together the right actors — cue, “Veere Di Wedding.” So, just when we think that it doesn’t get better than the veere, Kapoor surprises us with a refreshing trio — they’re modern, they’re rebellious, and they say it like it is. Thank you, Dolly Singh (Pallavi Khanna) and Shibani Bedi (Tina Das) for being the yin to Kanika’s yang — and for the bag full of sex toys your homegirl oh-so needed!
To complete Kanika’s story, we have her single mother, Miss. Kapoor, brilliantly portrayed by Natasha Rastogi. She is the face of a headstrong and self-assured matriarch and a symbol of the modern-day Indian woman. Rastogi’s character exemplifies the fact that with access to education, and a stable career, women do not need to mold their lives around men.
I love the fact that Miss. Kapoor is almost villainized by her own mother (played by Dolly Ahluwalia) in the film because she had a child out of wedlock in her yesteryears, she chooses to remain single, and she brings her boyfriends around the house to hang out with. But, there’s a point to be made here. The fact that Kanika’s mother is being antagonized just highlights that she is challenging the norms and pushing the envelope for what is socially acceptable for women. Miss. Kapoor definitely deserves an honorable mention.
Pednekar’s unexpected yet impeccable comic timing is the highlight of the entire film. Everything from being a damsel in sexual distress to a woman who unabashedly chases self-pleasure, Pednekar puts on a genuinely entertaining act for the audience. From being portrayed as a high-schooler to the 32-year-old, independent woman, Pednekar is fit for each role. Her naivety as a teen wins you over, as does her gusto as a full-blown adult with a broken ankle and some very messy relationships. This also speaks volumes about the versatility of her looks.
And, of course, Pednekar is not new to films that address social topics, but “Thank You For Coming” challenges her to balance Kanika’s droll with the responsibility of delivering a very important message to the viewers. Mission accomplished, Ms. Pednekar!
“Thank You For Coming” is a through-and-through entertainer. Everything from the casting — a huge shout out to the rest of the supporting cast including Anil Kapoor, Shehnaaz Gill, Karan Kundra, Kusha Kapila, Gautmik, and Sushant Divkigar, without whom this roller coaster would have lacked the thrills — to the homey locations and even the glitz and glamor in the song sequences, they’re all perfect pieces to help drive home a powerful message: Smash patriarchy!
“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.
“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.
Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.
And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.
Take a look!
The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global.