Categories
TV

Rasbhari (2020)

As The Swivel Chair Spins #10

Yes, blame it on the virus. 

We should have gotten the warning when there was narration from the protagonist, but we went along. 

Amazon Prime’s latest series is a Meerut-set tale of teenage troubles and libidinous louts, it is one thing to generalize based on stereotypes, but it is completely another thing to reduce the entire city of Meerut into this this village of villains who are waiting for any woman (other than their wives) to appear. 

We start with the city because the narration too begins with the city, Meerut, just like every other small town in India, the voice says, now the scope of generalisation has been extended from one small town to all small towns in India. 

Ok, playing along, let’s just say we bought this narrative. Umm let’s say it’s a bit like magical realism where the entire town goes blind(!), or let’s just say it is like all the old men from the village who come to look at the teacher in Mundhanai Mudichu. 

There’s a teacher here too, an English teacher, played by Swara Bhaskar. Teachers in Indian film join the list of maligned professions owing to the inability of our makers to put pen or pencil to paper and think about writing actual characters. Teachers are either the strict and morally upright ones who teach students a thing or two or it is the generously minded and controversially dressed lady teachers who too teach students a thing or two (umm).

Swara Bhasker plays the second type, her appearance in the class creates a flutter among high school kids and her appearance in town, as discussed above, makes the men of Meerut into wolves with tongues wagging. While all this is played for comedy, we couldn’t sit and not wonder, what item of interest would follow in the rest of the seven episodes. 

Let’s try and keep it short, just because a web series is eight episodes long doesn’t mean our write-up should be too, in the remainder of the seven episodes what was truly lacking is the contrast. Not in terms of colors in the cinematography but in the colors of the characters. 

Humor and its popular uncontrollable cousin, comedy, comes from opposites, like to use an often seen example of a really large man being afraid; so if two sides to the same character do not contain these extremes then there is very little to play around with.

While the central character of Shanu Ma’am, if we could use the phrase,leaves a lot to be desired, then the series kinda makes up with the surrounding characters of Nand, Priyanka and we wanted more about them. While none of them get any close to arc, how Nand (Ayushman Saxena) and Priyanka (Rashmi Agdekar) move from awkwardness to mutual respect is one of the best transitions we have seen in sometime. The actors too are comfortable and maybe waiting for the story to turn their way. 

But alas Rasbhari, wants us to be interested in english teacher Shanu Ma’am and her sex obessed alter ego courtesan. Which is where it gets really confusing- the point where the teacher student fantasy ends and the social commentary begins. Maybe we should just applaud the makers intention to “excite” as well as “educate” us. The fantasy too doesn’t go the whole way for it to be classified as bold, but is definitely pictured in a way to be called as vague. 

If it is this type of fantasy that you are looking for over the weekend, maybe Amazon Prime Video is not the right site. 

Nevermind. 

Rasbhari in its entirety is streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Categories
TV

Mondays with Mason: Chapter One

The Perry Mason Recap: Season One, Episode One

Anyone who has spent some time in lending libraries around Chennai would know that Perry Mason was not just a book that you borrowed, but a whole shelf of paperbacks to get through. 

This is how them shelves be labelled and helped boys (at the time) such as me optimize our time within their premises: 

Romance (skip)

Periodicals (10 mins, mostly Cosmo) 

Comics (10 mins, mostly Phantom) 

And bulk of the time…

Agatha Christie

Perry Mason

So you see reader, Perry Mason was not just a set of books, it was a genre, a name that even blocked its author Erle Stanley Gardner out of memory. Maybe it was easy to label it as just Perry Mason. 

Speaking of names, the books had very intriguing titles, almost always a case attached to it; like the case of the velvet claws or the case of the black-eyed blonde (incidentally the black-eyed blonde part was borrowed for a recent Marlowe novel title, there’s our fun fact) and when the first episode  of the HBO TV series dropped, I was quite disappointed when it read ‘chapter one’. 

But the makers make up for the lack of imagination in titles with the richness of the settings. 

It’s 1930s Los Angeles.

The great depression, the cynics utopia, the golden age of pulp that relished the washed-out wit of detectives, the time when Chandler, Hammett (the Maltese Falcon was exactly 1930, there’s another fun fact), Gardner and a whole lot of others wrote their weight in gold. I could go on, because I love this as my literature and it’s there in this updated series from image one. 

It’s one thing recreating the city visually, it’s another recreating what I thought it was from the books. It begins with a ransom call and a baby kidnapping gone wrong, the unspeakable happens in which even a bit of thread could be so diabolical. 

That’s the case, it’s graphic and I understand why they don’t want to put in the title. 

When we meet our hero, it’s raining and he walks through his name credit, styled to resemble the Warner films of yore into a diner. Perry Mason, detective, not lawyer, detective and currently he is on a tail job. Classic. 

If you are a Depression era detective you must have the some of the following 

🔫 a pistol, because you never know what you get on the job

🤣an unhealthy sense of humor, because life’s bad anyway

👮a healthy hatred of uniformed policemen, ex-job maybe

🔬 an eye for detail, every clue counts

🐌a relentlessness search for an end and maybe the truth

👤a perennial love for social distancing

But more importantly, every detective of the time had their own take on life, a running social commentary that walked along with them that when these writers brought it out with the necessary turn of phrase, it became how readers made sense of the world, their own philosophy. 

If Marlowe was the Arthurian Knight, Mason was the one who stood between the underdog and society’s ills and monsters. 

Not in this episode, no, he is a typical detective, his philosophy will hopefully evolve over the course of the show, because there is space in ten episodes to do a lot of character development. 

Here he is quite clueless, when his partner asks him about life and fun and the next few scenes, we uncover layer after layer, his Great War experience, his marriage or lack of it, his diary farm that precariously sits next to a flying club and his general shabby life. Perry seems pretty empty at this point, clearly he has seen a lot and his motivation, although not his only, seems to be to get over with cases and get paid for it. There’s shockingly a streak of unscrupulousness too which comes out when he goes blackmailing, but I couldn’t read greed in him. Again, not typical Mason. 

But what’s typical in these types of stories is that our hero gets hit by thugs and I forgot to add resistance to thugs in my essential detective checklist. 

After much character development, we now have the kidnapped baby case brought to him by the ever terrific John Litgow who plays a senior lawyer (E.B) and our detective. 

That’s all really what I pine for, in a revival like this. 

The case is definitely high profile for Perry, he has to face off with insulting policemen at the crime scene, a shadowy client with deep pockets and deeper faith, a fidgety father who looks good for the killer on paper and a grieving mother who reminds him of his own son, far far away, separated. Oh yeah, there’s Della Street too

As we call to turn the page to chapter 2, our hero literally just has a strand from the case and there are lots of ways in which it could go from here. But is it not the job of the detective to go down the mean streets to get to the truth? 

Stayed tuned, till the next episode of Mondays with Mason. 

Oh yeah, this is a HBO show and it goes without saying.So there’s already at least two scenes that you cannot watch with family, but there’s a certain fun in solo watching of a show which features a lonely detective. 

HBO’s Perry Mason is streaming on Disney+Hotstar in India.

Categories
cinema TV

Extraction

As The Swivel Chair Spins #7

Minutes after the is-it-all-really one take action sequence; Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) and Ovi Mahajan (Rudraksh Jaiswal) decide to take shelter in an office room of a warehouse, the grey walls are lit in the sodium vapour shades emanating from the factory- this could be any office from the developing part of the world, yet to differentiate it and place it well within the sub continent was a pink water dispenser. Someone on set did a good job to keep it in, knowing our preference for color in these mundane objects. 

It was these things I was looking for, not really following the story, because from the get go this is a mission film. Hero gets into a mission, has a target and obstacles pile, have seen many of those before. The only differentiator was that the movie was shot in India. I have always held that India could be one of the best locations for action movies. I was also among those who were disappointed when there was news going about that Skyfall would start in Mumbai with Bond running in line with the local trains and that didn’t happen. 

For some reason or the others, previous depictions of India like in Octopussy were of an imagined nature and less involvement of Indian technicians or it would be to the other end of the realistic scale. Slumdog to an extent was a departure, it was showing the India I was familiar with but its intentions were different from those of action films. Slumdog Millionaire was trying too hard to smudge its Hollywood roots. 

What I wanted was an action thriller in the Hollywood mould set in Indian cities, like how Paris is used in Ronin or how London was used in MI:Fallout, a destination! Even the middle east. Yes, there have been attempts, including Ghost Protocol which were set in India and not shot here (so yeah).  Maybe I was asking for too much. 

But then Extraction changed all that. Maybe it’s the lockdown, but no really it is my love for live locations. Ok coming back to the Indo-Hollywood look, here cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (among his credits include the recent Bohemian Rhapsody and cult favourite Drive) kicks up a dust storm, the dust and smoke that rises from the ground merges with the yellow-orange of the sun and this is just the opening drone shot. It’s the cinematography and the production that would leave many a lesson for our future filming crews. 

Yet,I wish there was more chaos, there is a through the curving lanes car chase but it is brief. Our daily street congestion & chaos adds to the effect of the action film itself, for example there is a tight hand to hand combat fight in a street between Chris Hemsworth and Randeep Hooda, only to be momentarily separated by a two wheeler. 

The one shot action sequence that proceeds from one apartment floor to the other and ultimately to the ground, reminded me of an enjoyable sequence in Saaho and the rooftop chase brought back Kamal doing parkour in Mylapore in Vikram (1986). 

So yeah I hope, you would have got what I meant by now, but this Extraction is not as fun as either of them.

This Netflix product is otherwise pretty basic and the only thing that could come as a shock is how Hemsworth rash driving is shocking even to the Indian kid. 

Extraction is now streaming on Netflix.  India and Thailand were used as the filming locations to portray Bangladesh in the film.

Categories
TV

The Medavaukian watches the Mandalorian : Chapter 1

Chapter 1: The Mandalorian

In a galaxy far far away, where everyone wants to talk, where everyone wants their opinion valued (but not corrected); there is a lot of comfort in a protagonist who doesn’t talk much. 

Maybe it is the expanse, the vast nothingness that makes them wordless; or it is the knowledge of having seen more than others make them shut up. Maybe it’s just the helmet- a great way to cut off the world while walking through it. The helmet also shields them from me making immediate impressions on their morals. 

Them being the space bounty hunters, those who trace their lineage from the Duke by way of Eastwood (who had hats and not helmets) ,now who hop-on and hop-off planets with only their mission under the helmets.

I meet Mandalorian in the middle of a mission. With wind pipes and the gentle guitar strumming giving him company in his quest. 

Someone needs to be caught and no one can come in between the Mandalorian and his quarry. 

While watching the first episode, my mind wandered about how I could put this whole thing in a sentence, something that could get me to watch- this is purely an imagined thought, because ever since the Mandalorian was announced I dreamed of watching it. Somewhere maybe even a western theme played within my head. 

I came up with “ a western TV series set in the Star Wars universe”- pretty lame right but then I quickly changed it into “ a Star Wars western starring Werner Herzog”. Now that would make sure that I sit through the entire series. 

Old Herzie’s turn as the villain in Jack Reacher is one of the most chilling performances in recent times and my top voice choice for any ebook narration. Actually, there is a lot more than Herzog to make me sit through. First- it looks amazing, unbelievable worlds made believable- (the pilot was shot by Grieg Fraser who did amazing work on Rogue One and won an Academy Award the same year)  so even if there are potential shortcomings in story, it would make it up in wallpaper material. 

They have kept it simple, just know the Mandalorian’s mission- yet keeping enough mystery to sustain interest. Maybe not knowing more about the main character would add to the charm of it all. 

Let’s see how this goes. TV series writing is something new. Let’s see how this goes too. 

Wait! Is that a Lawrence of Arabia nod?

Hmm. Interesting. 

Categories
TV

Serial (Killer) Stuff: Run

thenewsroom

Run was the second episode of the third and final season of The Newsroom. 

If you had noticed, we are made up of people who like movies; an understated fact is that we don’t have much time to watch TV, which actually implies that we are not really fans of television (current, past anything). The time invested in something as a TV show is more than what we can risk.

Although we would like to be surprised with something like The Newsroom, brilliantly written and acted, each episode stands firmly on its own feet and doesn’t depend on cliffhangers. The fact that The Newsroom is written by Aaron Sorkin also tilts it in our favor.

It is like if you have started seeing the Newsroom, you can simply pick any episode from any season and there would be very little loss of juice.This is probably because of the themes the Newsroom chooses to address and how it is connected to our current world.

‘Run’ is about ethical dilemmas. A pair of millennials are trying to buy out ACN because it is not profitable. Should they buy it out and invest in something lucrative or stick on to the news division because of the ideals it stands for?

Neal Sampat(Dev Patel, who is our second favorite on the show) wrestles with his conscience and an overbearing lawyer in the matter of revealing a source who has leaked government documents. Should he reveal the source and protect himself or should he protect the story itself?

Associate producer Maggie Jordan overhears a government official spilling out what he shouldn’t on a train from Boston. Should she make her unauthorized recording into a sensational story or not?

There are other accessory moral dilemmas happening to other characters through the course of the show, but the biggest question that the staff of Newsnight face is to ultimately follow up a story or not.

The story here is of course the documents jointly unearthed by Neal Sampat, which is internally consistent with the theme of this episode but it is also a question that the members face every time they sit down for a story in editorial meetings.

Newsnight is of course Sorkin’s retelling of the King Arthur myth, a band of  knights at the round table racking their brains on a looking question, something which is directly referenced in this episode; but we can see the editorial meetings themselves as a round-table meeting of knights (although a round table is not involved, literally). But each Knight has their own quest, while their collective quest remains in motion.

Take something from the past, run with it and leave enough threads for the future; each episode of The Newsroom does this, but ‘Run’ from season 3 is exemplary as evidence in how to write a perfect episode, while not being too suffocating, but by being fun all the way through.

The fact that the Newsroom doesn’t solely depend on the ‘what will happen next’ but focuses on ‘what is happening now’, this is a great achievement.

As to how the characters work their way out of their dilemmas, you will have to watch the show.

Inspired writing inspires easy imitations, The Laureate, as we would like to think is the Sub-urban Chennai print version of Newsnight, of course we don’t deal with earth shattering revelations such as government document leaks and such.

Serial (Killer) Stuff is an occasional column which comes about when we occasionally watch TV