I say brave because it ventures out of Bollywood’s comfort zone when it comes to displaying life in America. In “Simran,” starring Kangana Ranaut, we don’t see the shiny world of New York City streets or the loud parties we’re treated to in your typical Karan Johar movie. We get a glimpse of what it’s like to be your average Indian-American family, struggling to make ends meet. The concept of the movie is unique for Hindi cinema. Unfortunately, the execution of it doesn’t match up.
Loosely based on the life of Sandeep Kaur, “Simran” is a heist comedy that showcases Ranaut’s acting prowess once again, but disappoints because of poor screenplay and writing. Praful Patel, aka Praf, is a free-spirited woman trapped in an unsuccessful career trajectory and barely makes money. She’s a 30 year old divorcee still living with her parents. She works in the housekeeping department of a Hilton in Atlanta. She’s recently dumped her boyfriend Mike, who is also her manager at work and hasn’t gotten over it.
Praf has a very interesting dynamic with her family. Her mother is supportive but her father is incredibly disapproving of basically everything Praf does. They don’t live in a fancy mansion. They live in a modest one bedroom apartment and eat margarita pizzas. She wants to buy her own apartment but her father doesn’t approve of that either, chiding her to marry again.
Things only go from bad to worse for Praf from this point. She goes to Las Vegas with her cousin, Amber, who leaves her alone to have one last fling with an ex. With not much to do in the sin city, Praf resorts to gambling. Her beginner’s luck while playing Baccarat quickly turns her into an addict. She loses not only her initial winnings, but also the money she was saving up for her apartment.
Disheartened, she returns to Vegas on her own only to become basically penniless. Enter Mr. Bugs, a loan shark who lends her money. She’s drunk and sobbing. She doesn’t realize what she’s gotten into. Soon enough, the goons chase her down at home and demand she return their money with interest, summing up to a whopping $50,000.
Praf has no idea where to get that kind of money and as an act of sincere desperation, she steals some cash from a gas station store. On the high of not being caught, she pulls up to a bank. She dons her hoodie. She writes a note with red lipstick. She pretends to have a bomb strapped around her chest. Bam! She robs a bank. Just like that. She does this a few times, learning from YouTube videos as she goes. Praf uses a variety of wigs and costumes so no one recognizes her and gets nicknamed The Lipstick Bandit by the media.
Meanwhile, in an effort to also get some money from her father, she agrees to meet with Sameer for an arranged marriage. Played by Sohum Shah, Sameer is the exact opposite of Praf. The do-gooder, mama’s boy falls for her charms and even though she resists at first, the two fall in love and agree to get married. She even tries telling him about her newfound lust for thieving and gambling but he laughs it off.
Eventually, all of Praf’s vices catch up to her. Mr. Bugs, the cops, her parents, Sameer, it all ends up crashing down on her at the same time, giving us a comedic anti-climactic ending. You don’t always get the happy ending you think you deserved. Real life just isn’t like that.
“Simran” works because it believes in this notion. It believes in giving us a protagonist you can relate to on so many levels. You sympathize with her, you get annoyed by her, you laugh with her and sometimes, at her.
Ranaut does a fantastic job of selling you on Praf and her misguided ideals. Her comedic timing and emotional outbursts are spot on. Hiten Kumar, who plays her father, is excellent at making you sort of hate his character for always berating his daughter but also understand the love from where it’s coming.
What doesn’t work for the movie is the shaky dialogues. The writing just isn’t enough to captivate you. There are bits and pieces of humor but they work mainly because of the actors delivering those lines. The screenplay is equally shaky, which makes the film look disjointed.
The major criticism that “Simran” has faced is the unrealism of its story. It’s natural to assume the police in the U.S. would do a better job of catching a thief pretending to have a bomb and robbing different branches of the same bank, especially if the media is hogging on the story. However, Kaur did the same thing in four banks on the west coast and was actually called The Bombshell Bandit. The movie expands on this but goes a little overboard, blurring the lines between fiction and just overplaying the crazy.
I recommend watching the movie for only three reasons. One, if you want to witness Ranaut’s phenomenal talent. Two, if you’re looking for that two hour escape from your own reality. Three, and this is the most important one, if you want to learn why the movie is called “Simran.” (Hint: it has something to do with a certain famous movie of the 90’s). If it’s a solid cinema experience you’re looking for, however, you may not find it here.
[Photo Source: Screenshot/YouTube]
Saloni Gajjar is a recent alum of NYU’s Magazine Writing Program. Her passion lies in pop culture writing, as is evident in her work with magazines like Marie Claire, Interview, and Complex. Her goal is to show the arts as a medium and mirror of the society, much beyond just entertainment.
Few people can call themselves rocket scientists. Even fewer can say they are a rocket scientist-turned-actress, producer and Broadway star. Salma Qarnain is a Pakistani Muslim woman who can claim the title.
Artistry runs through Qarnain’s veins. Her grandfather was a filmmaker in Bombay and Karachi, before passing away at a young age. Her mother performed in plays throughout college. Now Qarnain is using artistry to build empathy, playing characters that represent her family’s story and promoting Black and Brown allyship through Black Man Films — the production company she co-founded with Roderick Lawrence.
Qarnain grew up in the Midwest but traveled back to Karachi often. Some of her earliest memories were in Karachi singing along to the Beatles and pretending to be Ringo Starr. When her family moved to the United States, typical of South Asian immigrant parental influence, her interest in math and science and immense love for Star Wars led her to pursue aerospace engineering, hence rocket science. Her mother’s passing forced her to rethink her goals and when she wanted to achieve them.
Today, she describes her purpose for creating art in profound terms.
I want people to be equal. I want people to understand we’re very much all together a speck of dust in the entire universe, and that there are so many more things we share than we don’t.
Starting entertainment work in the aftermath of 9/11 made it clear how she, a Pakistani Muslim woman, would be seen.
I remember [at] that time… Friends of mine told me, ‘Don’t let anybody know x, y, z about you, because they may have a bias against you. Something might happen.’
The beginning of her career was defined by how Western culture perceived Muslims and South Asians. Her first entertainment gig was as a casting assistant in Washington D.C. She noticed if South Asians were cast,
They were going to be playing something stereotypical to what a South Asian person is thought of… that could be the geeky, mainly male, math nerd, or a terrorist.
While the position provided an opportunity to learn about what it took to become an actress, Qarnain also leveraged her responsibilities to make a change — if a role didn’t absolutely require a white actress, she would gather diverse resumes for the casting director, slowly trying to shift the idea of what a person of color on television had to be.
With people of diverse experiences joining writer’s rooms and a “pipeline of young South Asian actors,” the industry has improved but isn’t close to equitable. She sees “Life of Pi” on Broadway and Black Man Films as ways to combat that.
Broadway’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel brings a multigenerational South Asian cast to the stage and has Qarnain playing two roles — Pi’s (gender-swapped) biology teacher, an analytical, guiding mentor, and the Muslim cleric Pi studies under. “Life of Pi” is one of Qarnain’s favorite novels for being a story about faith, storytelling and the power of both to provide hope. She took a callback for the role via Zoom in an Applebee’s parking lot.
I feel very invested in both of these characters. Just because they are absolute extensions of who I am as a person, and to have this be my Broadway debut — I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
She got to play a Pakistani Muslim character once before in the off-Broadway play “Acquittal.” It was the first time she could represent an authentic story. In “Life of Pi,” Qarnain helped workshop the scenes with the cast and playwright Lolita Chakrabarti to make them more authentic.
She absolutely took our suggestions and comments and reactions, for myself, from another person in our cast – who’s also a Muslim – and then from castmates, [who are] Catholic and Hindu, to understand what would work and what would people respond to. That’s where the gift was, that [Chakrabarti] was very receptive to what we had to say.
Black Man Films and her partnership with Roderick Lawrence run parallel to her theatrical journey. The pair formed the production company during the pandemic through a short film that Lawrence created to explore Black men’s mental health. As an enthusiastic fan of Lawrence’s work and having wanted to begin producing for film and television, Qarnain joined the project immediately. The short film, “Silent Partner,” went to 21 film festivals and won Best Short at several.
It was never done for accolades. It was done because there was a purpose and message to the story around Black men’s mental health told through the lens of micro-aggressions in the workplace.
The second short film, “Speak Up, Brotha!” was released in late March and will be played at Oscar-qualifying film festivals, this summer.
For Qarnain, Black Man Films is a platform for change and Black and Brown allyship.
I want people to look at our films and understand where they are, who they are in this film; in “Silent Partner.” If they’re complicit in propagating systemic racism, and, if so, what are they gonna do about it? How can they start? How can they talk to their parents? How can they, you know, engage with other South Asians and put a stop to colorism and any racism that exists against the black community?
Telling stories that reflect the experiences of people of color gives creatives the power to build systems that can improve people’s lives.
There is a racial hierarchy that exists and if we want to break that, we have to be a part of building everything, not just for us, but for everybody who isn’t white.
She is confident that the stories she’s helping bring to life will do just that and change the world in the process. From “Life of Pi” to “Speak Up, Brotha!” the possibilities for encouraging justice and empathy are endless.
Being a teenager is scary. Hormones, high school, trying to fit in — add to it a flesh-hungry demon from the Indian subcontinent and it becomes downright terrifying. At least, that’s what award-wining director Bishal Dutta’s debut feature “It Lives Inside” will have audiences thinking when it hits theaters on Sept. 22.
From the producers of several blockbusters including “Get Out” and “Us,” “It Lives Inside” stars Megan Suri as Samidha. Samidha is an Indian American teenager growing up in a quintessential small town, where she’s one of only a handful of South Asian faces at her school. She has a sweet, hardworking dad (Vik Sahay) and a caring, but stern mother (Neeru Bajwa). Both of them like their daughter home early to make prasad for prayers and insist no one whistles in the house, fearing it’ll attract evil spirits.
Much to her traditional mother’s dismay, when Samidha enters high school, she begins to resist her Indian culture. She prefers to be called “Sam,” and speak English, leaving her homemade lunch tiffins on the counter on her way out the door. Most significantly, she distances herself from her former best friend and fellow Indian, Tamira (Mohana Krishnan)
Tamira has become the center of school gossip carrying around an ominous black mason jar, dwelling beneath the gym bleachers. One day, she corners Sam in the locker room, begging her for help from the “monster” trapped in the jar, but Sam is rigid. Her desire to fit overcomes her emotions. Tamira storms out — and then mysteriously goes missing.
Little does Sam know, her childhood friend’s behavior and disappearance were brought on by the Piscacha — a flesh-eating Hindu demon drawn to negative energy — and Sam’s disbelief has just unleashed its terror back on her.
“It Lives Inside” is a breath of fresh air. It has the nostalgic backdrop of a 1980s teen movie (think “Sixteen Candles” or even “Halloween”) but adds the thrill of an exciting new monster for horror fans, and looks for the final girl.
Audiences have spent decades watching and screaming at faith-based horror stories like “The Exorcist,” “The Conjuring,” and “Carrie,” but “It Lives Inside” is the first of its kind for Hollywood, drawing from Hinduism for its frights.
Now, I can’t lie…when I first learned the story would be rooted in Hinduism, I was nervous. I worried that religion and culture may be used as a gimmick, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Dutta’s approach is reminiscent of Bisha K. Ali’s with “Ms. Marvel” on Disney+. Characters speak Hindi and we see South Asian religious practices, foods, and clothing displayed prominently, in a natural and authentic way that other groups can easily learn and understand. The culture merely rounds out the story, it’s not the main character or conflict.
The Piscacha, feeding on the despondence of its prey, may remind some of Vecna from season 4 of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” but Dutta offers a fresh angle, alluding to the characters’ negative feelings toward their culture being the source of its power.
He offers South Asian American audiences relatable family dialogues and dynamics, but also steers clear of cliches like showing popular kids as mean or Sam’s American crush unlikeable.
“It Lives Inside” isn’t a horror movie you’ll lose sleep over, but that doesn’t mean it’s without palpable moments of fear.
Thanks to Dutta’s creative shots, smart pacing and sensory visuals, in addition to the emotion-packed acting of its cast, the film successfully makes your skin crawl and your jaw drop on several occasions.
The characters are smartly cast with several standouts. Suri is a welcome new face for the horror genre’s final girl and she delivers her role with the right amount of escalating fear and desperation. Meanwhile, Bajwa leans into hers with the passion you’d expect from a protective brown mom, though, at times, some of her Hindi dramatells come through.
“Get Out’s” Betty Gabriel is also noteworthy as Sam’s teacher Joyce and an early confidant. Her support of Sam was a refreshing break from the “this person must be crazy” trope we see so frequently in demonic films.
All that said, “It Lives Inside” does border on being formulaic. It follows a template and scares we have seen numerous times and ones that have done well historically.
But in its familiarity, it also manages to feel fresh. With its South Asian twist, the film proves that even formulaic horror films can find new life through diversity and inclusivity. It raises the idea that they have the potential to scare wider audiences and tell more spooky stories by exploring new cultures and casts.
While “It Lives Inside” is not perfect — the climax may leave you with a few lingering questions — it is a stylish and well-made film and a welcome piece of mainstream South Asian representation.
Recent past has seen South Asian stars delve into many different genres on television and the big screen, but horror has remained largely untouched. Thankfully, “It Lives Inside” has set the table for some brilliant South Asian-based horror films in Hollywood for years to come.
“It Lives Inside” made its world premiere at SXSW and has made its way through the film festival circuit. It will be released theatrically by Neon on September 22.
September 14, 2023September 14, 2023 3min readBy Marium Abid
Pairs are made in heaven, and who better than the “Made in Heaven” expert crew to bring them together? Gracing our screen after three years, Zoya Akhtar’s brainchild “Made in Heaven” returned to Prime Video on Aug. 10 with seven episodes.
Set six months after the first season, Tara and Karan (played bySobhita Dhulipala andArjun Mathur) return with their original crew to plan magnificent weddings.
Although grand weddings are at the forefront of the show, there are multiple subplots to keep you hooked — maybe even shed a tear or two. The crux of the storyline is still Tara and Karan’s lives as we see them on a rollercoaster of emotions trying to manage their erratic personal lives.
Keeping true to its spell-binding depiction of weddings, love and relationships, every episode explores a challenge that is deep-rooted in South Asian norms and behaviors. With Kabir Batra’s (played byShashank Arora) voiceover — who’s also the photographer and videographer for the Made in Heaven company — this season makes us question whether the core of a marriage is love or flamboyance.
The season-opening leaves you mesmerized and wanting to fall in love; the extravagant set and a glamorous display of high fashion are true inspirations for whenever there’s a wedding in the family. The artistic works Sabyasachi, Gaurav Gupta, Tarun Tahiliani, and many more, steal the show; their trendsetting designs are a sight for sore eyes.
While this season brings forth many new faces as supporting characters, such as Dia Mirza and Sanjay Kapur, we also have some new members joining the original crew of “Made in Heaven.”
Mona Singh enters as Bulbul, wife of Jauhari (played by Vijay Raaz). She is introduced as a domineering auditor but as the show progresses, we witness the many layers of her character unravel; including that of a strong matriarch. One of the most compelling aspects of the show is her fight to save her son — who gets involved in a case of school harassment — and her and Jauhari’s approach and sensitivity toward the situation.
With her outstanding acting, Singh breathes life into the character. She exudes the panache of a businesswoman while perfectly depicting the complexities of a strong woman with a violent past — the mystery of which we learn as we move toward the end of the show.
Bulbul, however, is not the only new character on the show. Played byTrinetra Haldar Gummaraju, Meher is a trans woman in search of love and companionship. With Meher’s character, the makers have brilliantly opened the doors for more inclusive stories to come to the fore.
While each episode is a different story tackling some of the greatest shortcomings of our society, the lives of Tara and Karan remain at the center of it all; their characters evolving with every new challenge that is thrown at them. We see Tara “drop” from her previous known status of being a Khanna to just being Tara. Her story is one of identity, ownership and self-discovery; Karan’s, on the other had, is that of grief as we see him grapple with finding acceptance and drug abuse. Their struggles add substance to their characters navigating the privileged world; gravely reminding us of all that’s flawed.
It might feel a bit preachy and overwhelming at times, especially when two issues are being addressed in one episode. But in the end, it all makes sense…thanks to the extraordinary acting, marvelous direction, opulent sets and impeccable styling. “Made in Heaven” season 2 has to be your next binge-watch.