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Daughters of Destiny – Serial Review


At a school for poor children in India, price of attendance is paying it  forward | PBS NewsHour

Daughters of Destiny is a serial documentary that features a story of one school trying to make a meaningful difference, change the world, and bring hope where none exists, where destiny is pre-carved; in a country, with a population of over a billion people.

Doctor Abraham George completed his education in the United States and found and sold a company. Having made his fortune, he set about trying to change the world. He started a school, Shanti Bhavan, with a mission to improve the lives of the families in the lowest caste in India, the untouchables. While India has made significant strides in creating wealth, most of the wealth has been created in the top 10%, while there are 300M people considered to be Dalits or untouchables, often trapped in a cloying cycle of poverty. The school started with a bunch of kids that included boys and girls in equal numbers. The idea was to remove them from their homes and immerse them into a unique cultural and educational system, to shape them into becoming future leaders, each of them expected to commit to bringing along at least 100 others out of a cycle of injustice and poverty.  Only one child per family was selected.

While telling the story of the school, the documentary focuses on a few girls and their struggles, opportunities and challenges. Thenmozhi, seven, is a sweet, talkative girl aspiring for a job called science but finds that education holds her interest on and off.  As the documentary proceeds, Manjula, a 14 year old will be expected to help her family come out of the spiralling debt. Preetha could be any ordinary teenager anywhere in the world. She loves music and aspires to have a career in music and is repeatedly advised to choose traditional subjects for her college degree so she can become financially independent. Shilpa nurtures the dream to become a journalist and carries a big weight on her shoulders to give voice to those who may not be able to speak for themselves. And Karthika wants to become a human rights lawyer and help and empower poor people to seek justice and equality, under the law.

It's GRADUATION time at Shanti Bhavan! » Blog Archive » Shanti Bhavan  Children's Project

This is not an easy road to accomplishing their dreams. Each of these girls encounter various challenges. After getting used to living in clean surroundings of the school where their only job is to study and keep their dorms clean, twice every year, they go back home, where their struggling parents are living in huts, doing back breaking laborer’s jobs, sleeping together on the floor, have meagre rations, and their siblings who have demons of their own, who haven’t been the ones selected to go to Shanti Bhavan, who are still trapped in the same familiar pattern of child labor, lack of education options, likely early marriages, and same cycles of poverty, living out their destiny with whatever is predetermined and written on their foreheads by destiny.  These girls are prepared at the school to be patient, humble and understanding when they are back home.

While childhood is easy, more challenges begin when these children graduate from the schools and enter into colleges of their choice (continuing education is paid by Dr. George at Shanti Bhavan). Now they live in a broader world of haves and have-nots, mingle in a world that harbors preconceived notions about cast and wealth and status and station in life. Moreover, as their responsibilities towards their families come closer and into sharper focus, the differences between who they have become and the families they have left behind, become clearer. Questions emerge. “What if it was not me but my sibling who was selected? By 14 then I would be married and maybe even have a kid”. “I got a lottery but do I really belong in this world? Do I belong in any world? Can I ever live at my home again”?  “Was it worth it to be transplanted like this from one world to another and what was the meaning of it”? Some children hold deep guilt about how their siblings’ lives turned out, as compared to theirs. Some ask, “can one really transcend history, their past and destiny”?

As children navigate the challenges, negotiate their careers, and dream ahead, one can see that in hustling bustling teeming India, a small history is being made through the accomplishments of these children. In wealthier nations like America, there are albeit other paths besides education, to live a more fulfilled life, to live with equality, freedom and pride. But in India, there is one sure path to live a life of dignity and freedom and it is through meaningful education. But these future leaders at Shanti Bhavan also receive emotional support, cultural education, civic lessons and are let loose into the world with a boat load of expectations to carry forward their debt to society. A girls says towards the end that as per Indian philosophy, if one gets one’s lot in the world according to their karma of past life and therefore if karma is something that already occurred in the past then “I must be able to shape my future”. Though it is challenging for these children to blend their two realities of the world they came from and the world they are actively creating, we can see that for many, everything comes together as they mature and develop wisdom to accept both and yet are not fully shaped by either.

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નિયતિ ની દીકરીઓ (Daughters of Destiny) – સીરીયલ સમીક્ષા


સફળતા શું છે?

Shanti Bhavan (@ShantiBhavan) | Twitter

કાળી મજૂરી કરતી અને માથા ઉપર પાણા ઉપાડતી વિધવા મા ની દીકરી જયારે ભણીગણી ને વકીલ બને ત્યારે આપણે તેને સફળતા માનીએ ખરું ને? પણ ત્યારે કોઈ તેને કહે કે અમે તેને સફળતા નહિ ગણીએ તો આપણને વિસ્મયતા થાય। સત્ય ઘટના ઉપર આધારિત ડોટર્સ ઓફ ડેસ્ટીની ઉર્ફ નિયતિ ની દીકરીઓ નામની સીરીઅલ માં આ વાત નું વર્ણન છે.

ડૉક્ટર જોર્જ ભારત થી અમેરિકા શિક્ષણ માટે આવ્યા અને ત્યાર બાદ એક કંપની શરુ કરી. ખુબ સફળ એ કંપની વેંચીને પૈસા બનાવ્યા બાદ તેઓ પૈસા લઈને ભારત પાછા ફર્યા અને શાંતિ ભવન શાળાની સ્થાપના કરી. બાળકો ભણવા આવે અને પાછા પોતાના ઘરે જતા રહે તે તેમની સ્થિતિ માં શક્ય જ નહોતું. ઘણા બાળકો ઝૂંપડામાં રહેતા હતા, ભણવા માટે એકાંત, વીજળી વગેરેની વ્યવસ્થા નહોતી, ઘણા બાળકો ઉપર સાત, આઠ વર્ષે માતાપિતા ના કામ માં મદદ કરવાનું દબાણ રહેતું. અને તે ઉપરાંત આ બાળકોને કોઉન્સેલિંગ, મેન્ટરીંગ અને એક્સટ્રા કૅરીક્યુલર એકટીવિટીસ ની પણ જરૂર હતી. આજુબાજુના સૌથી ગરીબ દલિત બાળકોને સર્વોત્તમ ભણતર, સાંસ્કૃતિક શિક્ષણ સાથે તેમના રહેવાની વ્યવસ્થા કરી. પછી ઝૂંપડીમાં જઈને ગરીબ માં બાપ પાસે તેમના બાળકો ને શાંતિ ભવનને સોંપી દેવાની વિનંતી કરી. એવા માતાપિતા જે કોઈ પણ સમયે પોતાના બાળકોનું ભલું ઇચ્છતા હોય છે તેમણે પોતાના દિલ ઉપર પથ્થર રાખીને તેમના નાના નાના ભુલકાઓને શાંતિ ભવન શાળા માં ઉછેરવા માટે સોંપી દીધા. બાળકો વર્ષમાં બે વખત પોતાના ઘરે વેકેશન ગાળવા જતા અને તે સિવાયનું બધુજ શિક્ષણ અંગ્રેજીમાં લઇ અને પછી શાંતિ ભવન ના ખર્ચે કોલેજ માં ભણવા ગયા. અને ત્યાર બાદ તેમને સારી સારી નોકરી ઓ મળી. ત્યારે ડોક્ટર જોર્જે બાળકોને કહ્યું કે તમે આ તમારી સિદ્ધિને સફળતા નહિ માનતા.

તમે જે ભણતર અને નાગરિકી શિક્ષણ પ્રાપ્ત કર્યું છે તેના દ્વારા માત્ર તમારી જિંદગી માં તમે વ્યવસાયિક અને ભૌતિક રીતે સ્થાયી થાઓ, જિંદગીમાં ક્યારેય ન પ્રાપ્ત કર્યું હોય તેને મેળવી શકો તે તમારા નસીબ અને અમારી ખુશી. ભારત માં તો કહેવાય છે કે વિધાતા લેખ લખે તેને કોઈ ટાળી નથી શકતું. અને છતાં પણ તમને મદદ મળી ત્યારે તેમાં તમારી અખંડ પરિશ્રમ નું મિશ્રણ કરીને વિધિએ લખેલ લેખ ને તમે બદલી શક્યા। તમારી ખુશી અને આ આનંદ ના પ્રસંગે અમે તમારી જોડે જોડાઈએ છીએ અને આનંદ અનુભવીએ છીએ. પણ અહીં અટકતા નહિ. આ સફળતા નથી. અમે તમારી ખરી સફળતા ત્યારે ગણીશું જયારે તમે ઓછા માં ઓછા બીજા સો બાળકોને જિંદગીમાં આગળ લાવો અને તેમના નસીબ ને બદલવામાં મદદ કરો.

પેલી વકીલ છોકરીએ શું કર્યું? તેણે વકીલાત શરુ કરતા જ સૌથી પહેલો કેસ લીધો તેની વિધવા માં માટેનો અને તેની સાથે 30 વર્ષ થી પથ્થર ની ખાણ માં પથ્થર કાપતા અને ત્યાંજ રહેતા બધા મજૂરોનો। દરેક કુટુંબને તેના હકની જમીન, મકાન, દાક્તરી સગવડ અને બાળકો માટે શાળાની સગવડ માટે ની કોર્ટ માં અરજી કરતો તે કેશ આગળ વધી રહ્યો છે. જિંદગીમાં સફળતાનો કોઈ માપદંડ નથી અને કોઈની સફળતાને આધારે કે તેની સરખામણી કરતા આપણી સફળતા નક્કી નથી થતી. બલ્કે જિંદગીમાં આપણી સફળતા શું છે તે તેની અસર ને આધારે અને આપણા સિદ્ધાંત પ્રમાણે આપણે જ નક્કી કરવાનું છે. આ સીરીઅલ નેટફ્લિક્સ માં જોવા મળી શકશે.

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Retablo – Movie Review


Directed by Alvaro Delgado Aparicio, Retablo is a film jointly produced with participation of Peru, Germany and Norway. Retablo won Best Peruvian Film Award at Festival deCine de Lima & at Berlin International Film Festival, in 2018, it won Teddy Award as the best LGBTQ-themed debut film. 

Movie Review: Retablo - Gaylaxy Magazine

It centers around a 14 year old Perfuvian boy, Segundo Paucar (Junior Bejar) who is being trained by his father, Noe (Amiel Cayo), to become an artisan and continue with the family legacy of making beautiful retablos. These brightly painted wooden cabinets were sometimes commissioned by large families and they featured the family members and sometimes they were commissioned by churches. Father and son duo also made small generic retablos to sell in the tourist markets. Sedundo shares a very special bond with his father and father is immensely proud of the skills and enthusiasm that his young son displayed. 

However, Segundo’s beautiful little world fell apart when he saw his father engage in a homosexual act. Guilt and shame began to eat him inside. But that was only the start of their problems. Some time later, Noe was caught in the act, by the villagers. This was a small close knit, traditional community of people who took simple pleasures in community celebrations. The same community where people depended on each other in their hour of need, was also totally intolerant of a different way of life. Noe was not only insulted and spurned by the villagers but also was badly beaten. His wife Anatolia, (Magaly Solier) left him. 

The flow of the film is so natural that it is hard to imagine at which point it becomes intense. Junio Bejar displays a range of emotions from pride about his family to disgust and shame to disillusionment to deep inner strength when he decides to not accompany his grieving mother who leaves her husband, but instead stays with his father who is beaten and left as an outcast.

The film shows the challenges that LGBTQ people often have to navigate in diverse societies. And it shows that  the cost of exclusion is borne not only by the individual but his family as well. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate it a 4.2. Retablo is available on Netflix.

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Parasite: Movie Review


Parasite is an incredibly awesome film. Winner of best picture and 3 more awards at Oscars; Parasite has also won numerous other awards including at Cannes Film Festival, Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild and more.

Sometimes I don’t get the time to write a review and then I watch something else and then give up on the previous show. But I heard criticism that Parasite was selected at the Oscars to promote diversity (by few who did not watch it). In effect, such criticisms take away from the phenomenal masterclass movie it is. 

 

So I decided to write the review. But how does one write a review of a movie that has already obtained a whirlwind of publicity, is already a box-office hit? And how does one write a review of a movie that is a tragicomedy mystery, without giving away anything? And how does one write a review of a movie that is an experience to be savored, an experience that touches the soul, broadens the perspective and offers moviegoer an opportunity to look at commonplace events with an alternative perspective than the one that we may be used to? 

Not wanting to just add to the hype, I will not write a lot about the movie here. But briefly, this movie has a rich cast of characters and there is depth in their performances. It offers an opportunity to consider the impact of class differences in a way that is not preachy and without romanticizing the goodness of one class over the other. The movie offers an opportunity to consider the impact of global warming and climate change that affects people differently, depending on their station in life. And then there is a deep innate desire to protect one’s family from the ravages of poverty on one hand, to the discomfort of poverty associated sights and smells on the other hand.  And if you choose to ignore all the messages, you can still enjoy the movie at its simplest level, where it is a mystery with many twists and turns, that keeps you on the edge of your seats and is insanely entertaining. The film is a masterful work of art that is also a mainstream crowd pleaser. It is simply impossible to pigeon hole the movie into any pre-determined slots. From the title chosen to the impossible ending, it imbues with meaning.

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The Guardian describes the movie as the “cinematic equivalent of a Rorschach inkblot test” where you can decide to unravel the layers in the movie, at the depth that is comfortable to you. Kudos to director Bong Joon Ho for amazing direction in this Oscar winning tale with multiple messages. Entire cast is fabulous but specific mention to Woo-sik Choi and So-dam Park for truly phenomenal acting.

All I hope is that people not criticize the movie selection for the Oscars, until they see the movie. Lastly, there really is no point in reading the reviews because no review can do full justice to this soul-stirring tale of blended genres that is beautifully narrated, and is masterfully layered with depth and meaning. For a theatergoer, this is an experience, not to be missed. 

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Good Newwz – Movie Review


 

Good Newwz is yet another beautiful comedy coming out of Bollywood, after a series of lovely recent comedies, including #LukaChuppi #SkyIsPink and #ZoyaFactor .  Current genre of Bollywood films depict real issues facing Indian society, in a light-hearted manner.

 

In Good Newwz, two couples are trying to get pregnant, with some professional medical help. Deepti (Kareena Kapoor Khan) and Varun Batra (Akshay Kumar) are upscale, high-flying married couple, engaged in their respective careers, while trying to conceive a  baby, after 7 years of marriage. Meanwhile, Honey Batra (Diljit Dosanjh) and his wife Monika (Klara Advani) are “the Batras from Chandigarh” and are trying to get pregnant, after 6 years of marriage, numerous tries to conceive, and a couple of miscarriages. Both couples soon find out they are “happily pregnant” —— or are they? 

 

Director Raj Mehta maintains a tight pace, keeps preaching and emotional drama lighthearted and to a minimum, and presents the challenging situation, as naturally as possible. It’s a beautiful movie. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent, I rate the movie 4.6.

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Little Women – Movie Review


Director Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel “Little Women” is a heart warming story of tender ties of sisterhood. The story weaves in and out of past and present events in the lives of four March sisters, passionate and fiercely independent Jo March (Saoirse Ronan), wise and practical eldest sister, Meg March (Emma Watson), tender, shy and deeply caring, Beth March (Eliza Scanlen), and artistic one with a flair for dramatics, Amy March (Florence Pugh).  This talented cast is further enhanced with Laura Dern as infinitely patient, wise and loving, Marmee, Timothee Chalamet as Laurie, their neighbor, and Meryl Streep as deliciously sharp and judgmental, Aunt March

 

 

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Alcott herself was a fascinating woman who served as a nurse during the Civil War, survived typhoid fever, took lessons from Henry David Thoreau, was an abolitionist and feminst and remained unmarried and was committed to her writing throughout her life. In LIttle Women, she raises questions pertinent to women’s rights and society’s expectations of how women should live their lives. Her characters raise these issues in a candid and forthright manner.  Gerwig’s masterful adaptation of this timeless classic is not only bold but beautiful; it’s not just a story of life and death, but story of life, energy and hope; not just a story of adapting to change but staying true to one’s mission.  Previously having seen the theater version (http://bit.ly/2QqNTNN), I recently saw the entire television adaptation series of Little Women, on PBS. It was a treat to see this beautiful movie on the silver screen, while the characters were so fresh in my mind. (Image courtesy Lydia Wang’s article on Entertainment).

 

Heroines in Little Women don’t hesitate to have big dreams and voice big ideas as in “I’d be respected, if I didn’t feel loved”; and “girls have to go into the world and make up their own minds about things”. Gerwig has injected freshness and vitality and love into this timeless classic. Last 30 minutes of the film is just priceless. As you settle into the rhythm of life of March household, you are so uniquely drawn into their home that when it ends, you feel you are walking away from a family, you’re certain to meet again soon.  

 

It was so nourishing to my soul, today it was just what I needed. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent, I rate the movie 4.8.

 

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VICE: Movie Review with some History recap


Producer Adam McKay’s VICE explores the epic story about how a bureaucratic Washington insider, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), quietly rises to become the most powerful man in the world as Vice-President to George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), reshaping the country and the globe with far reaching and long lasting impact to future generations. VICE is a film that matches McKay’s wildly original “The Big Short” about three years back.

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While VICE is both angry and informative like it’s predecessor “The Big Short”, unlike the predecessor, VICE does not share implementable insights for ordinary folks. VICE has opened to some mixed reviews and so I will mention and acquiese to the criticisms first. At times VICE feels disjointed as it jumps between time periods, interspersed with wacky methaphors. It also becomes apparent very early that McKay’s concern with telling Cheney’s story or the story of the country and the world that Cheney impacted, pales in comparison to McKay’s anger towards us, the audience. We, the citizens are reproached for having greater interest in entertainment than in the affairs of the government, things that “really” matter. This is where he begins the story and that is where he ends and given what is happening in the country today, I would forgive McKay for blaming the citizens.

Image result for Rumsfeld, Vice, carellIn VICE, McKay has a formidable challenge. As the film shows Cheney’s rise to power, it also weaves in years’ of political history of the country.  The forces that shaped the climate and allowed Cheney to consolidate his power, began long before Cheney came on the political scene in any serious manner.  In fact, McKay traces the conservative forces shaping the political climate in the country, all the way to 1980s. And as he goes through Reagan and Senior G.H.W. Bush years, Cheney is shown to be going through his own transformation. At first, a good for nothing “dirtbag”, aided and supported by his ambitions wife, Lynne (Amy Adams), Cheney focus on amassing power and fortune.  It is from Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), Cheney got earlier lessons in looking at Washington as a ruthless, zero sum political place where winners displace losers and policy takes a backseat to power.

Image result for , cheney, rumsfeld VICECheney began his political career as an intern to a Congressman and then worked his way into the White House during Nixon and Ford administrations. He served as Secretary of Defense to George H.W. Bush. He was out of the political scene during Clinton years, when he assumed the role of Chairman and CEO of Halliburton Company. In 2000, Cheney was chosen by George W. Bush,  as his running mate and has been cited as the most powerful Vice President in American history. McKay telling the story of how Cheney rises to this level and then consolidates his power is nothing short of amazing.  Using the fly fishing metaphor, McKay shows how Cheney put a small hook and then gradually draws in his prey. Even as he dies several times, mostly politically, but also endures several heart attacks, Cheney comes back, with more powerful lessons on consolidating power, strongly aligned to the brand of conservatism that seems only to consume, even if it destroys future generations.

Image result for Carell, Bale, VICE movieLatching on to an obscure theory, propelled by some conservative judges like (Scalia), and made popular by the conservative media, Cheney finds panacea to all political challenges that stand in his way of consolidating his power, in Unitary Executive Theory. Rooted in Article Two of the US Constitution, the theory vests “the executive power” of the United States in the President. Though broadly accepted, it is assumed to be circumscribed by some boundaries of strength and scope. In the aftermath of 9/11, Cheney took advantage of the public anger and sentiment to “do something” and vastly expanded the strength and scope of the power of the President. By his own agreement with the President, Cheney then had the unilateral power that he used for wiretapping by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the enhanced interrogation techniques that included waterboarding, among other things.  Cheney is said to have said, “We need to think in a new way about these low-probability, high-impact events; If there’s even a 1 percent chance that WMD have landed in the hands of the terrorists, we need to treat it as a certainty”.  He masterminded the pressure on naysayers in the Bush Cabinet, including Condoleezza Rice (LisaGay Hamilton) and Colin Powell (Tyler Perry). Despite no clear evidence of WMD, Powell was pressured to give a speech in the UN regarding strong evidence of WMD which he later described as his most painful moment of his political career.

Despite the fact that none of the 9/11 terrorists came from Iraq, the United State’s war on Iraq eventually cost 189,000 direct war deaths, nearly 5000 deaths of U.S. service personnel, in addition to 32,000+ troops coming back with injuries, not including PTSD.  US spent over $1.7 Trillion in this war. Nearly, 134,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in this war and 655,000 people who have died in Iraq since the invasion that would not have died if the invasion had not occurred.

So what did we gain from the Iraq war?  Who gained from the war, if not the Iraqi civilians or the American citizens?

Contractors, primarily Halliburton company has reaped over $140 billion from US invasion of Iraq. In the end, the movie will leave you feeling both deeply sad and angry. Cheney’s brand of conservatism, his generation of mostly while males, stole from the future to enrich themselves. (Certainly not saying that all while men are evil and in fact it is with the support of dedicated men and women, white and black, that our country will always face the challenges head-on and after the challenges, will always emerge better and stronger). The cascading impact of actions of Cheney, Rumsfeld and others, very likely threw the country into a deep recession and eventually impacted lives of several future generations. AND HERE IS WHERE I HAVE A MESSAGE FOR MCKAY. Not it is not the concern with entertainment that keeps the citizens busy and unconcerned with what goes on. It is not even boredom with tiresome facts that are not revealed all at once. It is our preoccupation with making ends meet, with getting two square meals on the table for the families, that keeps us so woefully unprepared for devilish machinations of our elected leaders.
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VICE is a not-to-miss movie of this holiday season. The film has received several Golden Globe awards and numerous nominations. It is great entertainment along with powerful history lesson for free. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate the movie as 4.9.

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The Hate U Give – Movie Review


The Hate U Give is a movie based on Angie Thomas’s award-winning book about the experience of Starr Carter, a black teen who witnesses the fatal police shooting of a close friend.  Directed by George Tillman Jr. and written by Audrey Wells, the movie tells the story of race and racism, powerfully and without putting people into well defined buckets. It does not encapsulate “one black experience” of police suspicion and brutality towards black people, in a single story, and it does not summarize “one white reaction”, with a single story. Instead, in telling the story of a young black teenager against the backdrop of police suspicion of black people, father preparing his black children with stern lectures on how to behave during inevitable police stops; against the backdrop of white privilege, upward mobility, gang wars, poverty, and drugs, the movie offers a powerful portrayal of what it often means to grow up black in America.
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Not all black people have a single story and not all grow up in poverty or in gang infested neighborhoods, or in dysfunctional homes. And yet, society often notices the color of the skin, before noticing the individual person, in that skin. Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) is a black teen. After a brief brush with criminal justice system and bad influence, her father (Russell Hornsby) owns and operates a store in a largely black neighborhood. It is on account of her mother’s (Regina Hall) determination, persistence, and relentless focus on education, and mom’s determination to change the circumstances and preempt the dysfunctionality in her family from affecting her children, that Starr’s future looks bright. Starr and her two brothers (Dominque Fishback and Lamar Johnson) attend the affluent, predominantly white prep school, and for a while appear to be completely shielded from the experiences of other black people around them.Image result for hate u giveHowever, an unfortunate incident puts the family right in the center of it all. One evening, Starr is driven home from a party in her neighborhood, by her childhood friend, Khalil (Algee Smith). On the way home, they are stopped by a white police officer and unarmed Khalil is shot without any prominent reason. As the city erupts in riots, Starr has her own soul searching to do. Her friend Khalil is maligned because he was involved in drug peddling as he was taking care of his family while his mother was going through cancer treatments.

Image result for hate u giveAmandla Stenberg is fantastic as Starr. This movie is immensely powerful because it focuses on the individual story of a young teen so well that it is through her experience, that we get a peek into the ignorance of some of her white friends as well as the openness of others. It is through her experience, that we learn, that it is not just a single major trauma of seeing a friend killed by gangs or by cops, that a young person is scarred. Instead, it is also the exhausting seeping of energy, drop by drop by drop. As an upwardly mobile person, Starr feels the pressure to hide her “blackness” from her non black peers, and her acquired “whiteness” from her black friends.  Being half a person at any give time and living half the truth in each circumstance, takes an enormous toll and builds upon all the other traumas. It is through her experience that we learn how society has created two separate worlds, where even black cops are suspicious of black folks. In the end, this is a film about how one girl finds her own voice and opens the door to living a more authentic life. Not that it will be easy. But finally Starr finds the freedom to be her complete self, regardless of the context in which she interacts.

This is one of the best films of the year. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent, I rate the film 4.9.

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The Journey to Her Smile – Movie Review


Rangmunch screened the film, “The Journey To Her Smile” at ICC, Milpitas, CA by playwright, producer and director, Suchita Phule. This film was screened in Jakarta’s famous festival, the International Film Festival for Women, and was most recently screened at Cannes Film Festival, to great accolades.

Image may contain: 2 peopleThe film focuses on girls’ and women’s abuse in India. Young middle class couple, Revati and Aditya Deshmukh (Girija Oak and Aastad Kale), with their 5 year old daughter, Anaya were living a picture perfect life, before calamity struck. Mother, Revati Deshmukh (Girija Oak) says, “our little world was filled with small joys”. After eight years of marriage, spark was not only alive but was constantly lit between the young couple, and little Anaya was the center of their life.

But Revati’s world falls apart one day. Unable to express her deep anguish and feelings of guilt, Revati is hovering on the edge of a psychological disorder. As a husband and father, protector of the family and Revati’s soulmate, Aditya feels helpless.  Aditya tries his best to help get Revati’s and his family’s life back on track. Meanwhile Revati’s own struggle on this path is — The Journey To Her Smile.

India has recently gained notoriety as one of the most dangerous places for women and girls. It bears repeating that little girls are often victims of horrendous and lewd behavior from men. And sometimes little girls are victims of rape by old men, as indicated by recent case of #ChennaiHorror where a young girl was raped for several months by 22 men, some as old as 60. But while the world reverberates in shock at such news, sometimes victim gets some needed help, but we rarely pay attention to family members who have a difficult journey of their own to mend their broken hearts, to pick up the pieces, to move on, to proclaim their own smiles back, and thus their control over their lives back.  Sometimes, a victim herself may be able to move on, but a family member, often a mother, may sink deeper into the anguish.

 

Suchita Phule has done absolutely fabulous job in what began as a short film and ended up as a full length feature film, in depicting the far reaching impact of abuse that goes beyond the victim who is directly targeted by the perpetrators. Girija Oak plays her role, part bubbly joyous young wife and mother, and part her melancholy woman role, with great aplomb. Flecked with sadness and steel, desperation and determination, she makes her difficult journey to claim her smile back, because in the end, “no one else can do it for you, you have to stand up for yourself and move on”.  Kudos to Rungmunch (www.rungmunch.org) Theater with a Cause and organizers Smita Karhade and Madhav Karhade for organizing this fabulous screening and for supporting quality live theater and film events in the bay area; because story-telling has a power to change the world.

Also sharing link to my little poem here http://bit.ly/WyY4zf

 

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Razi – Bollywood Movie Review


Directed by Meghna Gulzar, Razi is a spy thriller mixed with personal relationship drama. It is a fictitious adaptation of Harinder Sikka’s “Calling Sehmat”, a novel he was inspired to write after he tracked the woman who spied on Pakistan, during the 1971, Indo Pak war.

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Sehmat (incredible Aliya Bhatt) was born to a Kashimiri Muslim father Idayat Khan (Rajit Kapur) and a Hindu mother Tej (Soni Razdan). From her parents from an early age, Sehmat not only imbibed the lessons of patriotism towards her mother nation India, but was also a devoted daughter and felt compelled to continue in her father’s legacy of intelligence gathering for India. She was unaware of the vital role her father had played in establishing a spy network and gaining trusted close relationship within Pakistani military’s inner circle.  When she learned of her father’s activities, at the same time, she and her mother also learned about his illness and how it remained upto Sehmat to help her mother country and take her father’s place in the spy network.

Image result for razi movieSehmat is young, determined, devotedly patriotic and unafraid to take on the challenges. Alia Bhat truly shines in her role and does full and complete justice to her character.  She is at an age where she may be as yet unable to comprehend the deep and devastating impact of what she was about to do on herself and others, embedding herself with the enemy in a much deeper way than her father. Also other characters including her Pakistani husband Iqbal Syed (Vicky Kaushal) and father in law Brigadier Syed (Shishir Sharma) are fantastic and give a memorable performance to make this a gripping film.

My dissatisfaction is not with superb performance of the cast and Gulzar’s direction to bring the story to life. It is undeniable that the indispensable information received from a young woman, at great risk to her own life, helped India save lives, and ultimately control seas around both sides of Pakistan and save INS Vikrant, that was Indian pride. In the end, Indian Navy’s superiority on the seas allowed a naval blockade that was vital and led to the liberation of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

So why does the storyline and Sehmat’s role and character as they are portrayed gnaw at me?  Here are all the reasons. This is a conflicting film and I have conflicting perspectives. See below.

  1. First of all, I cannot come to terms that her own father enabled his innocent  young daughter to put herself in such perilous harm and that her mother would not put up a strong fight against it. As Sikka himself had once said in an interview, “I am yet to fathom how Sehmat’s father, a rich businessman in Kashmir then, could push his daughter to do such a dangerous thing”. Remember it was not the same goal as gaining independence and throwing the enemy out of the country, this was done to gain military superiority in a war.
  2. Secondly, I feel this is a human story with multiple perspectives but this is not primarily a patriotism story. This movie is different from movies like Chak De! India, Bhag Milkha Bhag, Lagaan, Mary Kom etc. where we don’t know anything about characters on the other side. In this movie, we see characters on the Pakistani side and learn about them and are touched by their own dedication for their country and their extreme kindness to Sehmat. Once a director does that then there is a responsibility to make it a human story where audience walks away with compassion for all, not just for one side. After all everyone was doing what was best for their country.
  3. Image result for razi movieCrucially, while intelligence gathering is a significant mission for any country, it is one thing to establish some trusted relationships to get the intelligence from. The complexity of this business of trust building and then crushing is goes up when it is between two trusted friends but it multiples when a person gets involved in an intimate relationship, gains access and lives within the family and spies on the members who shower the individual with infinite kindness and love. The best dialog I liked was a simple one. When General Syed learned of his own daughter-in-law’s role, he was berating her and his son said one simple sentence that whatever she did, she was doing for her country. If he can try to understand her, we have the same responsibility to feel empathy for them.
  4. Image result for razi movieAnd that brings me to my most important point. While as an Indian, I am proud and grateful for Sehmat’s role in the war, as a character in the movie, it is the character of her husband Iqbal Syed that I admire most. He was infinitely kind to her, respectful to her, was mindful of the different circumstance she grew up in, made efforts to make her feel at home, tried to understand her ties to her birth place and understood that she could be hurt if anything negative was mentioned about her birth place. He was a patriotic man who was also a good husband and son to his parents. Sehmat, on the other hand, like a snake, destroyed the lives and happiness of those most kind and closest to her and yet at the end, she audaciously engaged in a tirade accusing her mentor of doing unscrupulous things while beseeching him to take her back to India, before she became like them. Really? Her character had already proven to be worse.
  5. Lastly, this is infact a human story with great significance. And anyone who is put in a position or chooses to do what Sehmat did, does take an enormous toll. In real life, she suffered from severe PTSD.

 

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