May threw forward some nasty disappointments on the streaming platform, but here are some that stood out

May threw forward some nasty disappointments on the streaming platform, like Mohanlal’s 12th Man which is probably the worst film of the seasoned actor’s career, and Season 4 of Stranger Things which was not just strange but also strained stained compromised. Netflix’s much-hyped Thar was another major letdown of the month.

Here’s looking at what stood out:

Arun Matheswaran’s dark vivid shocking and brutal revenge story in Tamil, was unlike anything we had seen in recent times. Keerthy Suresh in a stand-out performance, made Uma Thurman in Kill Bill look like a novice. Keerthi was raw brutal and direct; so was her revenge. So was this outstandingly blunt and gory film, not meant for the faint-hearted. Come to think of it, this work of brutal art belonged on the large screen. Keerthy’s partner in crime Selvaraghavan (Dhanush’s brother) was also a fierce force of nature. They made the most unlikely Bonnie & Clyde since, well, Bonnie and Clyde. But it’s Keerthy whose chilling vendetta had us riveted. So far this is the most epoch-defining film of the year and Keerthy seems a sure shot for her second National award.

A fiercely original Malayalam near-masterpiece with a raging central performance by the legendary Mammootty who is a terrible father, a terrible citizen and a terrible human being. And yet this is not one of those look-at-me performances that superstars give to prove how audacious they can be in their choices. In this layered violent deceptively calm film, Mammootty’s Kuttan is as angry and violent as Keerthy in Saani Kaayidham. But Kuttan is smothered in his own bile for all the wrong reasons. Sadly all the praise went to Mammootty and very little to debutant director Ratheena whose chillingly sedate command over the language of hatred could one day be a textbook illustration of what ails our social structure based on inequality.

This is a blithe piece of work, effervescent about its guilty pleasures, admirable for its humble ambition, and remarkable for eliciting effective performances from raw virginal newcomers who seem to be discovering their hidden talents in more ways than one. Outing has never been shown to be so much fun. Kids of 17 or 18, outing, doubting and pouting can be a great deal of fun, provided we stop gawking and judging the series for lightweight-lifting of a serious social issue. Director Euros Lyn bites into the delectable teen dream, like a dainty chocolate bar, creating a series that’s almost magical and nearly the first-ever series celebrating post-adolescent sexuality with such gay abandon.

VK Prakash directs this Malayalam film which needed more support and praise. True it is flawed and fractured. But it has a terrific story of female empowerment to tell which it tells with a sliver of sincerity and an abundance of passion. Actress Navya Nair who was absent from the screen for more than decade, makes an impressive comeback as a workingclass woman with an absentee husband who, when faced with a medical emergency must sell the gold necklace that had been bought for their daughter’s future wedding. On approaching a pawn shop, Radhamani discovers to her shock that the gold in the necklace is contaminated.

The film chronicles her relentless pursuit of justice with the help of a grumpy but incorruptible cop (Vinayakan). While some of the female-empowerment tropes(for example, the supportive fearless male cop to help the ‘damsel in distress’ prototype) are self-defeating and one lengthy exhausting chase sequence where Radhamani and her young son run after a bag-snatcher is plainly gimmicky, what stands out is the protagonist’s determination to stand on her own feet regardless of how long the process of justice takes. At times I could almost feel the woman’s exhaustion. Oruthee could have been as powerful a story of an ordinary family woman’s vendetta, as Saani Kaayidham. If only it did not get caught with the humbug of audience wooing.

Three of the six stories in this anthology were absolute winners. Hansal Mehta’s Baai featured Pratik Gandhi as the scion of a conservative Muslim family struggling in the closet. Rich in ambience, and brimming with romance music and elegance, Baai is a classic representation of what can be done in the OTT space if a filmmaker has his heart set on it. While Pratik and debutant Ranveer Brar are splendidly paired as lovers, Baai brims over with wonderful actors in even the smallest part; for example, look out for young Dhaval Thakur in one sequence where he steals a kiss with Pratik on the stairs. And such a delight to see the great Tanuja as the family matriach.

Vishal Bharadwaj’s Mumbai Dragon is the director’s best work in ages. Warm and witty, wise and thought-provoking, it takes the age-old struggle between mother and beloved over the man in their life into the North East and turns the conflict into a tragic-comic comment on racial segregation and cultural assimilation. The beautifully shot short film boasts of a fabulous central performance by Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann as the ferociously possessive mother smothering her son with food. Naseeruddin Shah puts in a gamely cameo as the family’s Sikh friend.

As for Shonali Bose’s Raat Rani, what do I say about Fatima Sana Shaikh’s performance as a super-spirited Kashmiri woman suddenly deserted by her husband? We can see Fatima’s layered character Lalzari picking up the pieces of her broken life and stringing together an all-new narrative for herself, as she learns to control her peddling on the rickety bicycle negotiating her way through the no-entry zones of life. Fatima’s efforts to get into the skin of the character and which includes a lot of physical labour pay rich dividends. Shonali Bose’s beautiful film on starting again comes to vivid life. The other stories do not belong in this anthology. Ignore them.

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By akagami