Thaen (Honey), SonyLiv’s first Tamil film to stream on its platform, is not just a soulful love story. Set amid a spectacular, rich forest on the Kurunji hills in Theni district in Tamil Nadu, it is also a paean to nature, a war cry against the indiscriminate plundering of precious forest resources and the plight of tribal villagers in a medical crisis tangling with our Aadhar-dominated bureaucracy.
If Vidya Balan’s Sherni is about conserving our tigers, Thaen turns the spotlight on tribals living in remote forests deeply in sync with nature without easy access to advanced medical care. The story of the film, made by Ganesh Vinayakan (Arulnithi starrer, Thagaraaru fame), is based on the real life incident of a poor villager in Orissa who had walked 12 km carrying his wife’s dead body on his shoulder (he was too poor to hire an ambulance) to reach his remote village. This had made headlines in 2016 but the filmmaker said a similar incident happened in Theni district in August last year, when a woman’s body was wheeled in a pushcart to the burial ground, after the ambulance failed to arrive after a ten-hour wait.
When Thaen released in March in theatres this year before the lockdown, it received a lukewarm response, with critics brushing it away as an “ineffective tear-jerker”, or calling it “promising ethnography study that becomes a banal melodrama”.
Some of this criticism may be true but it is a deserving film in many other aspects. Besides, it was the only Tamil film, along with Dhanush’s Asuran, which had the distinction of being screened at the 2020 Indian panorama film festival in Goa held this year. In fact, Thaen starts off very promisingly with a young tribal couple, Velu (Tharun Kumar) and Poongodi (Abarnathi), who get married in front of their tree goddess, despite ominous signs about their union during a village ritual. The couple lead a blissful life together and a daughter is born to them but tragedy strikes when the wife falls seriously ill. In a twist of fate, it is nature (soiled by unscrupulous corporates) to which they are so inextricably tied that turns against them.
The first half of the film keeps you absorbed. There are many moments which hit home –especially when a government officer asks the tribal to go to an internet café and log onto a government website to access some documents. The tribal Velu looks suitably stumped and helpless. If you can ignore some clichéd melodrama in the second half of Thaen, the film with its inherent hard-hitting messages is worth a watch.
The protagonists work hard to blend with the natural environment, the music score is pleasing and the sweeping, panoramic shots of the forest do not evoke an immersive experience but it is still beautiful.
Back to the dark, twisted world of Netflix anthologies
Ray is an anthology offering by Netflix, which landed on Friday (June 25). It is based on short stories penned by Satyajit Ray, whose birth centenary is being celebrated this year. This anthology, which is a tribute to the great master of cinema, features four stories directed by Vasan Bala (Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota), Srijit Mukherjee (Begum Jaan) and Udta Punjab’s Abhishek Mukherjee.
Ray tells the stories of four different individuals and how the hubris that envelops them after they become successful in their fields brings them down. Netflix, which obviously was so enamoured by the dark, dystopian world of Black Mirror, (the British dystopian science fiction anthology, do watch it if you haven’t) wanted to initially make this anthology in that twisted zone. But, they reportedly went back to sticking to Ray’s world, which in itself is rich and layered. Expect the series to be twisted and dark though.
Abhishek Chaubey’s short in the series called Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa (the name of a famous ghazal), with talented actors Manoj Bajpayee and Gajraj Rao (Badhai Ho), is based on Ray’s short story called Barin Bhowmik’s Ailment. Chaubey loved Ray’s tongue-in-cheek humour and character-driven story and has dived in with gusto to adapt it. Chaubey, who has worked with director Vishal Bhardwaj in his famous Shakespearean adaptations, is well versed in not being intimidated by the “towering personality” of the authors. In fact, all the three directors have said that they stuck to interpreting Ray the writer, not so much Ray the director.
Vasan Bala’s track titled Spotlight focuses on the insecurities and inner turmoil of an actor (played by Harshavardhan Kapoor). The vanity and turmoil the actor is experiencing has been triggered by a popular god mother who gets more attention than him, making him realise the power of religion in the country. Srijit Mukherjee started a new era in Bengali cinema when he debuted as a director with Autograph in 2010, which in itself was a tribute to Ray’s 1966 film Nayak and yesteryear Bengali actor Uttam Kumar.
In this anthology, he gets to direct two films, Forget Me Not and Bahrupiya, and strives hard to stay true to Ray’s dictum on “brevity and economy of expression”. Mukherjee is wary of the reaction to this anthology from Ray purists since “Ray is bit of a holy cow, (obviously) especially in Bengal”.
Whether you are a Ray purist or not, you can catch at least one of the films in this anthology over the weekend. Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa is the best one of the lot.
There’s another anthology, Unpaused, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, which involves a futuristic short titled, Glitch. This is set in a world in India when the COVID pandemic has still not left us and there’s COVID-30 circulating in the air.
It is a bleak thought but the makers of the short, DK and Raj (of Family Man fame) build a visually attractive and colourful setting and make it light-hearted.
The two characters in the short are played by Gulshan Devaiah and Saiyami Kher. One is a ‘hypo’, who refuses to leave his apartment, while Kher is a ‘warrior’ working in a lab for a solution to the virus. She is a hero who does not ‘wear a cape but a PPE’. Fear of infection is all around, but they long for companionship and touch. Both the actors do a great job.
Another film in Unpaused is Vishaanu, which has a migrant couple, played by Hathodi Tyagi (Paatal Lok) and talented actress Geetika Vidya, hiding out in a luxury apartment enjoying jacuzzi baths and cooking in modular kitchens. But reality soon strikes and they get on the road to walk back home, with their little one in tow. It is a long walk back to their village. Actually, this anthology is interesting because it is filled with amazing actors, who give off their best.
Ratna Pathak Shah plays a woman living in a posh flat who befriends a roza breaking Muslim auto driver. (played by Bhardwaj from Prateek Vats’ Eeb Allay Ooo). Check it out for pandemic-related flicks.
Streaming Recommendation: Luca, a sensitive, visually stunning animated film by Pixar Disney Pictures released last week on Disney+Hotstar. It is about an endearing blue-green sea monster, Luca, who longs to break out of his underwater home and explore the world beyond. He gets the opportunity when he comes across seemingly fearless Alberto, another nomadic sea monster, who teaches him a key lesson: to squash his inner fears by simply saying to himself –“Silencio Bruno” (why not try it sometime?) and take the plunge into the risky unknown. Both set off on a quaint adventure venturing into a pretty, human seaside Italian town, in search of a scooter. They are able to walk into the town disguised as humans since they have the power to transform magically into a mortal when they set foot on land.
They meet and befriend a sprightly girl, Guilia, who is a red-headed tomboy, a misfit and is desperate to a win the town’s triathlon – which is swimming, eating oodles of pasta and cycling. What happens to this spunky, determined trio (not to forget Guilia’s cat Machiavelli who can smell something is fishy about the boys) make up the rest of the film.
It is a film about friendship, loyalty, the joy of discovery set amid a visually attractive backdrop of bright sunshine, warm colours, and a paint like textured look. It brought back memories of that lovable Pixar classic, Finding Nemo. It is not as brilliant but it is a welcome fun break from gun-toting gangsters and whodunits from around the world!
The new releases this week: Grahan, is a period drama web series built around the 1984 riots of Bokaro, Jharkhand dropped on Disney+Hotstar this week. Based on the novel Chaurasi by Satya Vyas, the series is a fictional story, set amid the tragic real events that unfolded after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. The special investigation task head officer who has to track down the people who instigated the riots discovers to her dismay that one of the main culprits is her grandfather.
Meanwhile, if you are in the mood for Pakistani serials, there’s Dhoop Ki Deewar, a Zee5 original, which is interestingly an Indo-Pak collaboration. It is a cross-border love story, about a Pakistani, Sara Sher Ali, and Indian, Vishaal Malhotra, who get caught in an ugly social media battle when their fathers die at the borders. However, they develop a bond to navigate their loss together. The Pakistani actors allegedly faced a lot of flak back home for acting in this series.