Pakistani soaps Humsafar and Zindagi Gulzar Hai now on Netflix!

I finished up watching The Crown (so good!) and all of a sudden there were new recommended for me shows on Netflix.  Usually, Netflix turns over new content at the beginning of the month, but this time, it was mid-month.  My jaw dropped.

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The Pakistani soaps Humsafar (Soulmates) and Zindagi Gulzar Hai (Life is a Rose Garden) are now streaming in glorious HD with subs on Netflix!  Netflix gave me an early holiday gift!  To say I was excited would be an understatement.

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I was literally jumping up and down in my family room.

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Why was I so excited?  I fell, and fell hard for Pakistani actor Fawad Khan when he debuted in the Bollywood/Disney film Khoobsurat with Sonam Kapoor in 2014.

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At that time, I wanted to see more of his work, and there was nothing else on film, but he had done two soaps in Pakistan that were sensations in both that country and India.  ErosNow.com put all the episodes of Humsafar to stream on their site with subs and I was totally hooked.

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These soaps are not like American soaps that are open ended.  These productions are just one season or about 25 episodes long.  They have a complete story arc.

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Humsafar also stars Pakistani actress Mahira Khan who will debut in the Bollywood film Raees opposite Shahrukh Khan next month.  (Bonus!  There’s another Mahira Khan soap on Netflix, Saqday Tumharay).

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In Humsafar, Mahira is the poor cousin of Fawad.  Her mother is dying of cancer and asks Fawad’s father to arrange their marriage so she knows her daughter will be taken care of.  It’s rich boy/poor girl with a love triangle and a scheming mother-in-law.  To me, it was absolutely fascinating to get a glimpse of life in Pakistan and Fawad is amazing.

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Zindagi Gulzar Hai is even better but was much more of a challenge to find with subtitles, and there were a few episodes I never could find with subs, but I watched anyway because I was hooked right from the first episode.  I am thrilled to be able to watch this with subs, and in high def since I was scrounging on Youtube and Pakistani sites to find the episodes in questionable quality.  Again, we have the poor girl (Sanam Saeed as Khasaf) and the rich boy (Fawad Khan as Zaroon) dynamic but both characters are flawed and complex.  It’s also hate-to-love which is just about my favorite romance trope.

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Zaroon and Khasaf meet in college, and Zaroon is frosted that this arrogant girl bests him in the class rankings.  Khasaf thinks Zaroon is a shallow playboy, and Zaroon thinks Khasaf is a too traditional stick in the mud.  It’s just delicious to see their feelings change over time.  Your heart aches for Khasaf who has so many struggles in her life, but she’s also so prickly a character.  I loved what a spitfire she is.  Pakistani actor Javed Sheikh, who was SRK’s father in Om Shanti Om, plays Fawad Khan’s father.

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The proposal scene (which I can’t find with subs) is just the ultimate.  Khasaf can’t believe the guy who hated her through college now wants to marry her, but is convinced he’s changed when he catches hot chai in his hands when it’s about to spill on her.

 

But it doesn’t just end there — there’s more to the story as they adjust to each other in their marriage and have to accommodate for Khasaf’s career in the civil service.  The reason Khasaf scoffs at marriage and men is because of her complex relationship with her father who married a second wife to get a son, and abandoned his first wife and daughters.  I just loved getting to see these actors portray complex characters who grow and change over time.  Highly, highly recommend both soaps.  I’m going to enjoy watching those episodes I couldn’t find previously with subs, and trying Mahira’s other soap.  I love how Netflix is getting content from all over the world!

Check out this post on BrownGirl to get a sense of what a sensation both Humsafar and Zindagi Gulzar Hai were in Pakistan and India when they first aired.

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Another new addition to the Netflix line up is the excellent Israeli film Sand Storm.  It was the winner at Sundance for World Cinema last January.  It’s set in the Bedouin community in Israel. Sand Storm is a family drama where the father in the family marries a second wife, and his headstrong daughter has a secret affair with a boy from another tribe she’s met at college.  Such a great film!  The Q and A was fascinating with the Israeli director Elite Dexer.  She said that most audiences see the film as an intense drama, but when she showed it to the Bedouin community where she was allowed to film it, they laughed and viewed it as a comedy, especially the put upon husband dealing with two strong willed wives.

 

Check out AccessBollywood for an up to date list of Indian content on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

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Love Between the Covers – a great documentary about the wonderful world of Romance novels

Laurie Kahn (A Midwife’s Tale, Tupperware) captures the wonderful world and community of Romance novels in the documentary Love Between The Covers, now streaming on Netflix in America.

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I love romance books.  I pretty much exclusively read romance, and I try to attend the RT convention each year (sponsored by Romantic Times Book Review magazine.)  Kahn captures a lot of what I love about the community surrounding romance.  There’s a special relationship that exists between the authors and their readers.  The pay it forward feeling among fellow authors also seems to be truly unique, and she shows an aspiring novelist being mentored by an experienced author.

“Susan: This is a female powered engine of commerce. And it’s a multi-billion dollar industry. Celeste: An industry that would falter and crumble without romance. You know, we pay the bills. Susan: For all of fiction. For all of popular fiction. Celeste: Yeah. We’re the ones who keep the lights on.

— Susan Donovan & Celeste Bradley

The Romance genre is a billion dollar business but it gets no respect.  As the authors in the doc point out, no one makes fun of men who watch Schwarzenegger movies knowing he’ll live in the end, or criticizes the formalaic nature of mystery novels.  But romance novels are derided for always having to have the HEA, or Happy Ever After ending.

lenbarot_squareThis documentary has several of my favorite authors, and I love that Kahn included Beverly Jenkins (above in the purple), one of the pioneers of historical African-American romances.  The doc even shows one of the yearly historical trips Jenkins goes on with her readers, visiting the settings of her novels.

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when-beautyAnother author highlighted in the film is Eloisa James, one of my all time favorite authors.   She is also Mary Bly, tenured professor of Shakespeare at Fordham University in New York.  James talks about how unsupportive her parents were of her writing romance.  Her father is a renowned poet and her mother a short story author.  She led a double life — even though her novels were on the NY Times best seller list, she was told not to reveal that or she wouldn’t get tenure.  She famously revealed her secret in an op-ed in the NY Times.  And at one conference I heard her tell the tale of how she told her fellow professors at the university by dropping stacks of her books on the table at a faculty meeting! In the documentary she reads a passage from my favorite book of hers, When Beauty Tamed the Beast, which is based on the TV character House (but set in Regency era.)

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Kahn also includes one of the biggest authors in same-sex romance, Len Barot who has the pen name Radclyffe.

“I love fiction because it’s fiction. Fiction is not real and it’s not supposed to be. Fiction is a dream. Fiction is a desire. Fiction is hope.

— Len Barot/Radclyffe

Barot was a surgeon who wrote her novels at night and on the weekends.  I haven’t really read much lesbian fiction, but I do read m/m.  Sarah Wendell of the review site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books  introduced me to the great romances in m/m, and she’s included in the doc, too.

I even loved the graphics in the doc which mimic romance covers – and of course she includes a photo shoot for one!

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These are my people!  I’ve met most of the authors in film through the RT conference, except for Nora Roberts, the Queen of all Romancelandia.   Some of my favorite authors in the doc are Jill Shalvis, Nalini Singh, Eloisa James, Sherry Thomas,  and Jennifer Crusie.

So if you’re a woman who’s gotten that look when you read a romance on the subway, or just someone curious what this world is all about, I highly recommend Love Between the Covers.  

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When I showed a Bollywood film (Bang Bang) to friends who had never seen one before, my best friend said during one of the songs — “I get it now.  These movies are just like the romance books you read all the time!”  Exactly so.

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Rudhramadevi – Great story with horrible CGI

rudramadevi-759Rudhramadevi is currently on Netflix streaming in the US, unfortunately the original Telugu dubbed in Hindi.  Anushka Shetty of Bahubali fame, plays queen Rudhramadevi.  The coolest thing about this historical epic is that the main characters in this film are all based on real people.  Rudhramadevi ruled in what is now Telegana, dying in 1295, and was one of the first reigning queens in India.

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Gona Gannareddy (Allu Arjun) truly was a Robin Hood like figure supporting Radhrumadevi’s rule.  [I read Mahesh Babu turned down the role.]

For some bizarre reason, the filmmakers frame the film by having Marco Polo narrate the story  — to show how women ruling is a good thing, I guess.  But the CGI of those opening scenes and the sailing ship, is just horrendous.  At other points they use very cool animation drawings and I wish they’d just used those throughout, or drawings of maps.

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The film Rudhramadevi supposes that when she was born the King’s chief adviser (Prakash Raj) suggests the birth of a son be announced to the kingdom, so the unruly populous and the feuding relatives angling to take over the throne will be assured there is a male heir.  The young prince is raised in the forest and trained in warfare and sword fighting.  The young actress who played the young Rudhramedeva was really good.  She comes to court as a young teen for the first time, and meets two princes –  Gona Gannareddy and Chalukya Veerabhadra.  They escape the palace together, and she sees a statue of a woman, and realizes with shock that that’s what she looks like.  She runs home, and in a stunning scene for an Indian film, finds her pants soaked with blood down to her ankles.  She runs to her mother who tells her the truth.  She is given the choice to become the princess, but chooses to continue to live as the prince heir of the kingdom.

As a now young man, she’s expected to marry, and Nithya Menon plays the young princess she marries.  (Which totally made me think of Yentl, but she tells the princess she must remain celibate.)  Rudhramadevi has strong feelings for her best friend Chalukya Veerabhadra (Rana Daggubati).  He catches a glimpse of her outside the palace dressed as a woman, and becomes obsessed.  He’s derelict in his war duties he’s so smitten, and she appears again to him as a woman, which gives us this fantastic love duet, one of the highlights of the film for me:

What I loved about the story is that Anushka Shetty as Rudhramadevi is a kick ass warrior queen, and she’s not going to run off to marry her lover when she has duties as queen.   The whole story is so awesomely feminist and woman positive, and Anushka’s performance, especially in the fighting  and battle scenes makes me even more excited for Bahubali 2.

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The story is great, but the CGI is so bad that it takes you out of the film at times.  I don’t understand why they had to use digital outdoor backdrops for several scenes.  It seemed completely unnecessary.  This film wanted to be what Bahubali achieved, but they didn’t have the same money to execute it.

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This is an example of some of the worst effects.  To show either Allu or Rana riding a horse, they were head on to the camera with their head horribly photoshopped on a repeating GIF of a body moving up and down on a fake horse head.  Over and over and over.  It looked SO bad.  And they made it a poster!  Ugh!

If I had a young daughter, this is a fantastic story of a warrior queen, but I’m not sure older more sophisticated kids could get past the bad special effects.

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Still, a mostly enjoyable watch, with very cool characters, great action battles, and some nice song numbers.  Kudos to Rana Daggubati for playing the Chris Pine to Anushka Shetty’s Wonder Woman.

Three stars out of five.

Check out Margaret’s take on Rudhramadevi on her blog Don’t Call It Bollywood.  She delves much deeper into the gender politics the film.

 

The heartbreaking Fandry – my first Marathi film review

Fandry was my first Marathi film.  It was recommended by several people on my Quora post about why I love Indian cinema.  I foolishly asked for recommended films of the commenters, and the list is well over 300 films long now.

I was delighted to discover that Fandry, a film festival favorite, was available on Netflix streaming.

Jabya is an untouchable. He’s the sweetest, most adorable intelligent 7th grade boy who is in love with a fair-skinned higher caste girl. He can’t even bring himself to speak to her. His family are the poorest in the village, and his father and the rest of the family are expected to do all the menial work in the village that no one else will do. The title means “pig” because chasing and killing the wild pigs that live around the village is something no one else will do. Anyone else who is even touched by one of the pigs is defiled.

Your heart bleeds for this boy, and his dreams. His father doesn’t want him to go to school, just wants him to help earn money for the family. Jabya is mortified that his classmates see him having to do horrible jobs, and in the end climax, the verbal abuse piled on him by other men and boys in the village becomes overwhelming rage in Jabya. The final moments of the film left me stunned with my hands over my mouth. So powerful, so heartbreaking.

This is the director’s debut film. No one else was telling his story, so he made this film to tell it.   I highly recommend Fandry.  It is an incredible parallel cinema film giving you the perspective of an untouchable young boy.

4 1/2 stars out of 5.

Fandry is currently available to watch on Netflix Streaming.