Dhamaka and Drushyam 2 to Jai Bhim and Finch: Best streaming picks from November

What remained during the month was not always brilliant, but sufficiently exciting, if not consistently so, then frequent enough to be considered encouraging. Take a look at some of November’s best.

Subhash K Jha December 01, 2021 13:02:17 IST
Dhamaka and Drushyam 2 to Jai Bhim and Finch: Best streaming picks from November

Ex-Stream Benefits is a column where senior journalist Subhash K Jha picks what the best streaming platforms had to offer across the previous month.

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November  was  not a particularly favourable month on the digital platform. Feature films on OTT hit all-time low this month with Zee 5’ Squad. Netflix’s  Meenakshi Sundareshwar though a charming portrait of a marriage between two earnest Tamilians, lost its way in translation. The low-tide month  was not without its bright moments. But there were more misses like Lionsgate Play Originals’ abysmally improper Hiccups  & Hookups where Lara Dutta and Prateik Babbar attempted to act cool as sexually uninhibited  siblings, and  Voot Originals’ Illegal which is reason enough to illegalize all  stretched-out sequels. What remained during the month was not always  brilliant, but sufficiently exciting,  if not consistently so, then frequent enough to be  considered encouraging. My choice  of the month’s best.

Dhamaka (Netflix)

Dhamaka and Drushyam 2 to Jai Bhim and Finch Best streaming picks from November

Taking off as a terrorist-negotiator  thriller, Ram Madhvani’s film moves into areas  of  storytelling where  terrorism merges into opportunism and  good intentions are  regurgitated  in a  pukey mess.  It is a powerful  parable on injustice and discrimination  delivered with  brute force that spares us none of  the  violence  that  a situation of social inequality breeds and bleeds  into a compromised  nation. Besides Kartik Aaryan the  other heroes of this  tactile thriller are Monisha Baldawa-Amita Karia’s editing and Manu Anand’s cinematography . These master-technicians  put  a dizzying spin to  the  out-of-control lives of  neurotic  characters  , playing  live on television. The  supporting  performances  specially by  Amruta Subhash as  the Boss  and Soham Majumdar as  the  Voice, are bitch-perfect and  pitch-perfect  , respectively. But it is  Kartik Aaryan  whose powerful performance holds the  film together. His  journey   from a self-serving scumbag  to a conscientious  newshound is convincingly  achieved by the young actor. This is his best performance  to date, and one that puts him ahead  of all competition. I see Kartik winning all  the best-actor awards  this year. Dhamaka is  one of Netflix India’s most hard-hitting  films  in recent times.  There are many  reasons why  it  must be seen. Besides being a  thoroughly entertaining thriller  it opens up wounds that never healed. They never will. Not in a society where the conscience is  a luxury.

Jai Bhim (Amazon Prime Video)

Dhamaka and Drushyam 2 to Jai Bhim and Finch Best streaming picks from November

Suriya in a still from Jai Bhim

Not  flawless by any stretch  of  the imagination. Loud and  bombastic . But nonetheless effective. Jai Bhim,  the chant of the  followers  of the champion of  the downtrodden Baba Ambedkar which  in present day context  of  socio-economic  disparity, has even more relevance  than what  it had 20  or 30 years  ago, is  a relevant  work, lacking in nuance  but never short of  genuine  feeling. This  loud but hard-hitting  film on poverty and  police brutality  is  set in the 1987 and based on a  real-life incident where an innocent man from  the destitute Irula tribe in Tamil Nadu was  taken  into custody and  beaten to death. The survivalist  narrative, punctuated by cries of anguish and whoops  of  triumph,  is  a terrific star-vehicle for Suriya who steps  in  30 minutes into  the  plot, to play the  heroic lawyer Chandru who, we are told , habitually  fights cases  for the downtrodden. Suriya  is  most comfortable in the messianic role imbibing his  compassionate  character with an unreasonably steep amount of empathy. I guess a society based on monstrous discrimination does need  Chandru  to stand  up for the  voiceless. But in reality, how many such messiahs come forward  to rescue  the  powerless multitude ?Here is where  Jai Bhim takes a nosedive  into  fantasy. It portrays  the  activist-lawyer as a wand waver, weaving his magic through a  complex  and murky labyrinth  of  legalese,b ringing the  wrongdoers to heel. It’s all done for claps. At 2 hours  and 42 minutes the  film overstays its welcome by at least half an hour.  But till the end we care  about what happens  to Senggeni, and never  mind the  actress’ smeared  dark skin-tone which  keeps fluctuating in colour.

Finch (Apple)

Dhamaka and Drushyam 2 to Jai Bhim and Finch Best streaming picks from November

I am not too fond of films  about robots. But here the humanoid contraption  is so well voiced  by  Caleb Landry Jones it never feels like  a set-up. The  disarmingly  artless film about a  man, a dog  and a  robot  has deep resonant  feel to it, the music by   Gustavo Santaolalla creating a harmony between  Nature’s devastation and Man’s  urge to heal the  hole. The  film’s stunning visuals  of open skies and  looming  storms furnish it with a  distinctly epic look that made me think about how  spectacular  it would all seem  on  the  large screen. Happily the size  of the screen doesn’t limit the  scope of  the  drama.  The  feel of   empathy compassion and healing when we need  them the most loom large in this  drama of doom devastation and  a sliver  of  salvation. Not since Castaway have I seen Tom Hanks so immersed in his character that I could not see  Hanks on screen at all.  Like Castaway , Finch is  a one-man show. There is  only  Hanks  to hold our attention for  two hours. And boy, does he  get it! More  character  needed  to populate the  plot? Hanks, but  no thanks. This is a work of art embedded  in a profound  humanism. On  the surface  it is just a routine dystopian drama  about  am aging ravaged post-apocalypse survivor who  is  counting his days. But underneath  the weather-worn climate-ravaged  surface  , Finch  secretes  a tragic underbelly. Compassion  empathy and  the human touch are  spotlighted in scenes that  could have  easily slipped into  schmaltzy  nonsense. For his genuine compassion  and  an ongoing  surge of regret and  nostalgia for a lost civilization Director  Miguel Sapochnik invokes tremendous respect from  us. The Game  Of Thrones  director is at  the top  of his game here. Miguel  is no survivalists’ champion. He  is not  here to make a  statement on how to cope with impending doom. Into  the  doom he injects  a wealth of hope  and  sunshine. Just the sheer  joy of watching Tom Hanks and his  dog  sharing a  post-cataclysmic kinship is  indescribable. Both Hanks and the canine Goodyear(played by Seamus) are  brilliant actors, Hanks a  little  superior (sorry, Doggie).I could see  so  much history on  Hanks’s face that it became  crystal-clear  that the director  couldn’t have chosen a more vital and vivid representative of a post-apocalypse  civilization. We see remnants  of  a lost world embedded  in every  shred  of  Hanks’ being. In his last film News Of The World we saw Tom Hanks  saving  a teenage girl from impending peril. Here too it’s  not so much  about self-preservation but the will to survive  in a congenial  climate.

Tick Tick….Boom (Netflix)

Dhamaka and Drushyam 2 to Jai Bhim and Finch Best streaming picks from November

Tick Tick…Boom captures  the innocence of the AIDS era  beautifully.  Its  hero is the real-life standup comic Jonathan  Larson whom I knew  nothing  about  until I saw this film. By getting ‘Spiderman’ Andrew Garfield  to play the  arresting  Larson, the film does disservice as  well as a favour to  the iconic  stage  performer. Favour,  because  audiences immediately warm  up to Garfield as Larson , since Garfield is a personable  easily identifiable actor.  It also does disservice  to the  real-life character  for the same reason. I spent two hours watching Garfield bringing his own impish charm to the  character. If we are to believe Garfield  then  Larson was  boyish charming and self-centred  to  the point  of  not noticing his girlfriend and bestfriend’s deep sense  of isolation and unhappiness  from Larson as he ploughs along relentlessly towards  the goal of achieving his dreams. The ensuing loss of personal relationships   is conveyed  in  the  deeply tragic  performances   of  Alexandra  Shipp and Robin de Jesus as  Girlfriend and Bestfriend, respectively, Jesus, specially, is splendidly  tragic when the bestfriend contracts AIDS. Through all these  personal  losses,  Garfield’s Larson remains stoically  unmoved.  I  get the  whole thing about an artiste’s self centredness. But there is  more  here at  play. Garfield is just not  able  to  express  the self-disappointments of an artiste  so  caught up with his  dreams that he  can’t bring himself to care  for those who love him. I think this  is an actor’s   failure that needed to be mended  in this charming but damaged  drama  of  annulled dreams. Nonetheless the film  has  a lot going for itself. It is   a  musical, and the songs are  thoughtful and  easy on  the ears, specially, ‘Louder Than Words’ and  ‘Come To Your Senses.’ Larson’s short  but brilliant  lifescape  is edited to  convey both immediacy and nostalgia, sometimes simultaneously. We see Garfield’s Larson on  stage talking about his life even as ‘life’ does its own dance  elsewhere. Tick Tick…Boom is  a sunny sparkling musical. But it rise-to-fame tropes are all too familiar. From the initial frustrations, to the failed auditions, to the sudden recognition, we  know how all of this will finally play itself out even if we have to  pretend to  ourselves that this is no ordinary rags-to-riches biopic. Which in many ways, it is  not.

Drushyam 2 (Amazon Prime Video) 

Dhamaka and Drushyam 2 to Jai Bhim and Finch Best streaming picks from November

As far as  faithful remakes  go, Drushyam  2 reprising in Telugu, pretty much the whole scenario, lock stock and barrel,  from the original Malayalam  film,  is  a job competently done. Veteran Venkatesh has lately been  seen in some socially relevant films, notably  Narappa (also on  Amazon) which was  a  more  flexible  remake of a Tamil  film Asuran. Drushyam  2 doesn’t budge an inch from the Malayalam original. Which is  not a bad thing, considering the  plot’s watertight  alibi for a remake  is its protagonist’s watertight alibi for a murder that he  committed six year earlier, in the  first  part of the Drushyam /Drishyam   franchise. For Rambabu(Venkatesh) it is  still family first. He will do anything to protect his wife and  daughters   from harm even if it means killing and burying a boy  who  harassed Rambabu’s daughter. I have  never been   too fond  of the  plot’s Good Murderer –Bad  Murderer distinction that  writer  Jeetu Joseph makes .The thesis  of Joseph’s   dubious  morality  gets an even thornier thrust in Part  2 with cops who are made  to feel guilty for  trying to trick  Rambabu and his family  into  a confession as he gets away with murder, quite literally. The  end-game in  Drushyam  2 is  all about  moving around the pieces  on  the chess board until the law enforcers are  check mated. In keeping  with the law-is-an-ass spirit  of  the original here too the  investigating cop is left fuming and  swearing to get Rambabu the  next time.  Yes, Part  3 is  on the way. Rejoice, all you  Drishyam fans.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based journalist. He has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out.

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