ExStream Benefits From Jalsa to The Fame Game

ExStream Benefits | From Jalsa to The Fame Game, a monthly roundup of the best OTT content

March 2022 will be remembered for Ajay Devgn and Madhuri Dixit’s impressive digital debut

March 2022 will be remembered as the year when the OTT platform gave us one of Ryan Reynolds’ worst film. The Adam Project was as silly as Reynold’s last film Red Notice and the one before that Free Guy, all released on Netflix and all competing with Green Lantern for being Ryan Reynolds’ career-worst. On the plus side, this month Ajay Devgn and Madhuri Dixit made their impressive digital debut. We also discovered bright new writing-directing talent in Rahul Nair. Read on for the best on OTT in March.

What are the chances of you knocking down a child in a random hit-and-miss incident and the victim turning out to be your own househelp’s child? I would say 1 out of a zillion. Having gotten over this Gulshan Nanda brand of coincidence, Jalsa is a knock-out drama with Shefali Shah and Vidya Balan, particularly the former delivering performances of a lifetime. Director Suresh Triveni also gets an admirable performance out of newcomer Vidhatri Bandi. Easily one of the best made-for-OTT feature films to date.

Applause for Applause Entertainment for bringing to us this praiseworthy adaptation of Luther where Idris Elba had played a cop in a dark edgy thriller. Ajay Devgan stepped into Idris’ shoes with impressive results. Rudra was a fetchingly mounted séance in sinisterism. Every actor seemed to get the point. The narrative trotted along at a pacy speed with elements of psychopathic conduct creeping in gradually as the plot came to a boil. Devgan held the narrative together, succeeding in making Rudra’s failures as a husband and an investigative cop look convincingly gutsy.

If Ajay Devgan navigated Rudra through its complicated course it was Madhuri Dixit, giving the Fame Game its hospitable allure. She was every bit the sparkling star Anamika Anand whose public face was unpeeled by her unsavoury family’s sordid deeds. Madhuri was brilliantly serene and graceful, so much so that it was easy to overlook another sterling performance, by Rajshri Deshpande as a doughty cop on the kidnapper’s prowl. Just why the cop’s sexual orientation was pushed into the plot remains a mystery to be solved in Season 2, perhaps? The Fame Game had its flaws. But Sri Rao is a writer to watch out for.

And the award for the best vocal performance since Aamir Khan in Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dadhakne Do, goes to Jim Sarbh. He plays the protagonist Ray’s alter-ego. Sarbh voices all of Ray’s naughtiest vices and unplumbed virtues Sarbh proves a third dimension to this delectably young and vibrant series written and directed by Rahul Nair. Hard to believe this is Rahul’s first. No virginal awkwardness in this virgin’s coming (ahem) of age story.

The Write Brothers Bobby & Sanjay are the real heroes of this clenched tale of the teacher and the taut. Is Salute the best screenplay that Bobby and Sanjay have written to date? The answer would have been a resounding yes, were it not for a relatively lame endgame that left me feeling a wee cheated thought not betrayed. The narrative has too much going for itself to suffer from a post-climactic depression. I would say Salute survives the end blow most gracefully, thank you. The pacing is consciously languorous, as though the pressures to come on the drama of ideological warfare need ample breathing space to grow. Grow, the narrative does with astute velocity. A sense of gathering foreboding is constructed in the way young cop Aravind (Dulquer Salman) revisits an old procedural miscarriage in his police station, needling his brother senior cop Ajith Karunkaran (Manoj K Jayan) and risking a jeopardised career. But as Aravind tells his live-in girlfriend (Diana Penty, trying hard to make some space for herself), he would rather suffer the consequences of his past transgression than go on as though nothing happened, while an innocent man rots in jail. It is a fabulously nuanced character with a glorious moral graph.

I am afraid Dulquer Salman for all his stardom is not up to it.No doubt he has a likeable screen presence. But there is more needed to make Aravind a living trobbing character. The man suffers immense pressures for his ideological stance. But what we see is a placid policeman barely registering the surface of his anxieties. As Aravind is pressurized from both family and colleagues to drop the efforts to bring belated justice to the wrongly accused, the narrative swerves away from its meditative thoughtful study of crime innocence and reparation. It now converts itself to a cops-and-robbers chase film with the culprit, a self-appointed godman and sex healer, proving himself as slippery as a compelling closure for cat-and-mouse game that promised an end with a resounding bang but woefully whittles into a weak whimper. While the last half hour is compromised, the narrative remains partly breathless but pertly pacy all through. Sreekar Prasad’s editing is the first rate with the plot moving in tandem with the stressful tension that the protagonist creates when he prefers to be a pebble in the stagnant pond. Salute has a lot to say about mending broken promises. It is a coiling seething angry film about injustice and corruption set to a normalized tone which doesn’t pick on any character for poor discharge of duty.

What happens when the full fury of Nature hits a metropolitan city catching its unprepared citizens in a crisis that they have no idea how to deal with? In Gamanam writer-director Sujana Rao threads three stories involving several lives into a pastiche of pain endurance and final redemption as torrential rains hits Hyderabad swamping the city in a splashy storm before the eerie calm. Gamanam could actually have been a far better film than it finally ends up being. It has the seeds of a redemptive masterpiece planted at its core, but it remains content being just a mildly moving survival –and supremely soggy– saga edified and titivated by at least one truly charming performance by Shriya Saran.

In this faintly ambrosial anthology, Shriya plays Kamala a deaf abandoned wife struggling to keep her baby and herself afloat—both literally and metaphorically—as the torrential deluge strikes the city. Sriya’s Kamala’s fight against Nature’s fury reminded me of Shabana Azmi in Goutam Ghose’s Paar and Aparna Sen’s Sati. It is a physically and emotionally exhausting part, and Shriya is more than up to it. Elsewhere there are two street urchins (how I hate calling them that, but I find myself unable to articulate a better term for children who grow up on the streets) trying to sell Ganesha idols in the torrential rain. It’s a heartbreaking image and one that could be assumed to be potentially manipulative. Cinematographer Gnana Shekar VS captures the bleak bathos of a city under siege with a painter’s penetrating but a pre-arranged vision. Regrettably, the script gets progressively mawkish and melodramatic. By the time we come to Nithya Menen’s angelic rendition of Vaishnav jann at a kiddies’ school function the plot’s gone South in more ways than one. The quest for a dramatic climax kills much of the impact of the earlier parts of the narration.In a clumsily staged climactic crisis there is a young cricketer saving little children in a schoolbus . This crisis is so artificially manufactured it feels like a sorry compromise to a well-intended idea. The romance between the aspiring cricketer Ali (Siva Kandukari) and Zara(Priyanka Jawalkar) is powered by Ilaiayaraja’s robust love songs, presumably the highlights of the show. I am not too sure that the over-punctuation provided by the songs and background music work in the context of the film’s neo-realistic aspiration. Caught between the urge to be authentic and to reach out to a mass audience Gamanam falls short of the glory which would have rightfully been its if only it didn’t strive to straddle the two worlds at the same time.

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