Charlie is an English teacher and suffers from morbid obesity. He carries 600 pounds and lives an isolated life. Nearing his death, he wishes to reconnect with his wife and daughter.
‘The Whale‘ is a play written in 2012 by playwright Samuel D. Hunter. It was then dramatized in different theatres and Darren Aronofsky happened to watch one of the productions which made him decide to direct the play as the film with the same title with Samuel as the screenwriter.
So why the inception of ‘The Whale‘ took around ten years? Because Darren was not able to find the right actor who can play such a difficult role until Brendan Fraser.
The actor himself had been struggling for years with health issues and personal losses. And he was looking for the right project that would bring him back into the game. ‘The Whale’ is now the biggest talking point in Fraser’s acting career.
‘The Whale’ is a psychological drama set on Charlie’s last five living days at home. The film has extremely limited characters and only revolves around Charlie’s residence. Therefore, the film has the rich ambiance of a theatrical play. Charlie has a nurse Liz whom he considers his only friend. A visitor from the New Life Church often visits to him for spiritual rebirth but neither he takes interest nor Liz. The core of the drama is centralized on the complex relationship between Charlie and his estranged daughter Ellie.
This film is a huge favor for the audience to understand how the pain of a personal loss deteriorates health. And due to psychological problems, he also suffers from binge-eating disorder (BED). He is an introvert and due to his weight issue, he is highly insecure to socialize with people.
One of the story arcs of the film is his behind-the-door effort for formal conversation with a pizza delivery guy which was interesting. Here, Charlie is depicted to have tried to socialize after he never showed up at the door to receive pizzas. During the online classes, he switches his webcam off. So the detailing of his behavioral attitude will grow on the audience.
Something that I never expected from Brendan Fraser was him to be that good. I know, he is a good actor and had been trying to raise the bar of his performance and fame to be remembered. But being so magnificent was out of line. It is not easy to sit your ass six hours a day and wear nearly 300 pounds of prosthetics every day shooting with that emotional accuracy and acting consistency.
One can rub off the claim that it is just the support of prosthetics that makes his performance look legit. That is not the case. Watch how he grunts in pain when he syllabically reads the sentences. Watch him in the last sequence when he confesses while inhaling laboriously and then cries in pain. And the most heartbreaking was when he begs Mary and says “I need to know that I have done one thing right in my life”. Those are not prosthetics, those are gems of human emotions superbly performed.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO…
Academy Award for Best Actor? Honestly, it is a tie between him and Austin Butler for Elvis. Both are magnificent performances for two entirely different roles. One cannot say that one of them bettered the other at all. For the first time at the Oscars, I would love to observe the joint Best Actor awards. The only way that will do justice.
‘The Whale’ is a tragic tale that will depress and kill you from the inside. The reality behind feeling better after reading the Moby-Dick essay is the new parallel of loving someone. Almost the entire review has been about Brendan Fraser because that is the reality. It is his presence and the story is fully centered around his character. Watch the performance of a lifetime.
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My fellow brownies! There were days in our lives when we children along with our parents used to sit together to watch a family drama with rich elements of humor and episodic stories so relatable.
Neither the parents were reluctant nor the children embarrassed that the show would ever startle a cringe tone with a subject to insecure or discomfort its loyal household viewers at any moment.
But now, the quality of humor has drastically changed. Alas! those golden moments of our lives are missing. Great writers and storytellers have disappeared. And the contents of romance and sex, and the importance of woke, political correctness, and LGBTQ+ make more rounds. And in all this process, the evening get-together of a family for a show to watch on the television has lost the spark.
But I have a piece of good news for you. An Indian family drama by The Viral Fever (TVF) circulated on my radar and after years or maybe a couple of decades, I finally found a family drama that is technically a masterpiece in performance, screenplay, writing, and direction. And more than that, a show that wittingly addresses a social satire and domesticity in the most convenient manner – Gullak.
STORY and WRITING
Gullak is a Hindi word that means a saving jar. In other words, it is also called a piggy bank. Displayed on different furniture with time, Gullak narrates the everyday incidents that occur in the house of the Mishras.
A family consisting of the parents (Papa Santosh and Mummy Shanti) and their two sons (Annu the eldest and Aman) struggles to survive the unwanted challenges that drag them to plenty of obstacles.
The Mishras represent millions and millions of middle-class houses and their average life spent on blaming, forgetting, mistaking, and taunting. Winning minor battles of arguments over each other, tolerating bad habits, lying to survive one day without wife or mother scolding. The writers of the show presented an authentic look at the domestic incidents between the four walls and the ceiling.
The most convincing element of the writing of Gullak is that the snippets of the incidents and dialogues in all the episodes are extremely relatable. The global audience especially the South Asian audience will feel it and remember their time. And when you watch the episodes of Gullak and naturally relate the moments to yours, that is the success point of the show’s presentation.
Gullak also guarantees the story growing in the audience due to the fact that because of incredibly rich aesthetics, the art of storytelling sketches unfiltered emotions. The dramatization doesn’t look artificial at all. The parents fight about the relatives, the youngest family member Aman spending more time in the toilet, the mother taking tension about the eldest son Annu being late reaching home, father and sons in agreement on the matriarch preparing the usual food they hate to eat, written phone numbers inside the bedsheet, Aman asking mom to visit the hospital because it smells good, and so many incidents.
The dialogues matter more when the characters in the limited storyline have to develop and Gullak exceeded that expectation too. Santosh hitting the nerve on his wife Shanti while arguing about tying the knot was superbly dramatized. Especially when Santosh crossed the limit by insulting her that her marriage proposal before him was not accepted due to head lice.
AAPKO NAHIN PATA?
If I am not wrong, every episode had a “Don’t You Know?” sketch. The question of the episode emphasizes a social satire of keeping the incidental records of the neighbors and this trend made some really impressive rounds. Another point that cannot be missed to point out is the assistance of the talkative neighbor, Bittu’s mummy. Her spicy presence made the atmosphere more exciting.
I hold only two objections to this show. One is needless music score which has been a cultural norm in presenting a film in India. That could have easily been controlled instead of being a distraction on countless shots.
The other objection which I believe is a massive miss from the content of Gullak is not adding a family member in the Mishras – a daughter. Where the writing of the Mishras nearly perfected their character strength, the absence of a daughter in the house was terribly missed. The story arc of a daughter would have thoroughly completed the Mishras and Gullak.
It is hard to point out one actor who surpassed other actors in performance. Jameel Khan as Santosh gives you the same vibes as his iconic Asghar from Gangs of Wasseypur. Vaibhav Raj Gupta and Harsh Mayar were impressive. Especially Vaibhav’s aggression in the character was natural. But I think Gitanjali Kulkarni as Shanti Mishra has to be singled out for giving so much strength to the character and raising the bar for an onscreen mother.
There were topics in Gullak that brought a lot of attention and were important to address. The hard-hitting point was when Santosh is hospitalized. It was a remarkable piece of detailing, and so emotional and so well performed.
If you notice, Annu rushes to the hospital bare feet and Aman remembers to collect his father’s slippers. While Annu runs to buy medicines, Aman drops his father’s slippers on his feet. Despite being shorter in size, he wears and leaves.
It was a commanding message. The role of a father was shifting to his eldest son through those pair of slippers. And this is what I am talking about. Gullak is a show about incidents and this show has addressed, portrayed, and dramatized to zeal.
Gullak is the reminder of good-old Indian and Pakistani family dramas of the 1980s that had a stupendous blend of writing, direction, and performances with exuberant comedy.
Three seasons have been aired and I sincerely hope that Gullak continues writing about the Mishras because there is a lot to happen in this family. By ‘a lot to happen’, I mean to say as Gullak continuously emphasizes incidents, but not stories.
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S. Hussain Zaidi is a former crime reporter, investigative journalist, and novelist whose books based on Mumbai crime became bestsellers. His in-depth extensive research on the Mumbai underworld set a platform for the Bollywood industry and international authors.
Dongri to Dubai is a complete chronicle of the Mumbai mafia. It took six years of research, compilation, verification, and writing the entire material that Zaidi gathered and shaped into a book.
Dongri to Dubai is a favor to all the historophiles who are enthusiastic to go deep in thinking and questioning the origins of the crime that shaped the most powerful syndicate in Mumbai for decades. It is a treasure that the hunters were in quest of while wandering on the mysterious island.
Mumbai and to some extent Karachi are historically the South Asian New Yorks that cultivate a lot of communal and regional backgrounds due to immigration. Dongri to Dubai educated me a lot about the criminal history of Mumbai. It is unusual and geographically diverse.
Decades ago, the Mumbai mafia was ruled by three powerful dons and none of them were Marathis. Two of them were Tamilar and the other was a Pathan, all immigrants.
One arrived in Mumbai with his father from Panankulum when he was eight years old. He worked in a cycle repair shop and earned 5 rupees a day for 12 years. And then worked as a coolie at the dock for three years. Met an Arab sheikh, began smuggling for him, proved his loyalty, became his partner, and during this progress, ruled the South West Mumbai – Mastan Mirza (also known as Haji Mastan).
The other came from Vellore where he was an errand boy at a photography studio when he was seven. In Mumbai, he also started as coolie but at a railway station. There he connected with people who were involved in the liquor trade. His progress in the liquor mafia rose to the emergence and soon became the don of Central Mumbai – Sathuvachari Varadarajan Mudaliar (also known as Varda Bhai and Kala Babu).
And the Pathan came from Peshawar when he was in his mid-twenties. He first started his gambling den. Then he became a moneylender. A Kabuliwallah standing almost 7 feet tall! He became a haunting figure in kicking people out of their residences. Abdul Karim Khan (also known as Karim Lala).
Although Zaidi writes about many dons and gangsters but ‘Dongri to Dubai’ centrally focuses on the one who outsmarted all the previous dons in the city – Dawood Ibrahim.
I liked the idea of introducing the central character after eight chapters. Zaidi settled the readers to understand the origins of Mumbai crimes and their big daddies before making us read the story of the Godfather.
I wholeheartedly appreciate the effort Zaidi made in the entire research that gave the readers an idea about how the city suffered bloodshed, violence, and heinous crimes when Dawood emerged as the new don. It was as if I wasn’t reading about Don but the script of a film where the leading actor is a don as well as an antihero. Son of an honest policeman, a close friend of a journalist, the failure of his first love affair, a brother brutally murdered by his enemies, a cop assisting him to outdo his rivals, etc.
One of the most captivating aspects of reading this book is the wild enmity between the Pathans of Karim Lala and the Kaskar brothers led by Dawood. It was intense and they were bloodthirsty to dominate each other. Almost half of the book is about this saga. And the continuity is so intriguing that the reader cannot discontinue reading at all. The research of the author indicates that Karim Lala’s goons were bigger trouble than the Kaskars.
I have watched Hindi films all my life and observing the stories of the film centralized on crime action thrillers, I always wondered why this was usually a norm to cash the audience’s money besides romance. If you travel back to the 1950s when that Bollywood phase was considered the golden age, rarely did a film based on crime and action developed for the audience. The crime-action thrillers began to make rounds in the 1960s and more prominently from the 1970s, a trend that shaped the entire existence of the industry.
Almost every single don’s origin story followed by interesting minor and major events reminds me of old Bollywood action films of the 1970s and 80s. How much were the directors obsessed with and influenced to make the films for the audience to tell their stories? Thanks to this book that makes me realize that Dilip Kumar–Amitabh Bachchan starrer Shakti is pretty much about Dawood Ibrahim and his father Ibrahim Kaskar who was an honest cop but the former chose the bad side.
The partnership of Inspector Ranbeer Likha and Dawood Ibrahim reminds me of Zanjeer but Pran’s iconic role of Sher Khan was more of Karim Lala. In my further cognizance after reading this book, Aamir Khan’s Ghulam may not have come to anyone’s radar but I think that too was based on Dawood. His brother was killed like Dawood’s own and Sharat Saxena’s villainous muscle character of Ronak Singh was definitely based on Baashu Dada, the wrestler and goon of the Teli Mohalla neighborhood. Ghulam concluded with Ronak badly beaten by Siddhu and running away in humiliation exactly like Dawood and his boys beat Baashu and his gang and made them run away as described in the book.
The book is divided into two halves. The first half has 35 chapters and the next has 28. The author emphasizes in the latter that Dawood was helped by ISI and Pakistan government in the 1993 Serial Bombings as an act of Muslim revenge on the Hindus demolishing the historic Babri Mosque. Not only did the author connect the dots but he even wrote about his running mafia while living in Karachi after a few years of residing in Dubai. The book also presses that Chota Shakeel and Iqbal Memon were in Karachi with Dawood when they were searching for Chota Rajan around the world.
MY FAVORITE MOMENTS/HIGHLIGHTS IN THE BOOK
There are dozens of moments where Zaidi’s description made me WOW. I will just drop ten unranked moments from the book that are still sharp in my mind.
Meeting of two Tamil dons at the police station.
Dawood and his gang beating Baashu Dada and his pehelwans.
Killing of Iqbal Natiq.
Khaled Pehelwan’s brutality on Ayyub Lala and Saeed Batla.
The rivalry between Ibrahim Dada and Bada Johnny.
Chota Rajan escaping death in Bangkok.
Shootout at Lokhandwala.
Shabir Ibrahim’s murder.
Gulshan Kumar’s murder.
Assembling of all rival gangsters at Haji Mastan’s residence.
There is a lot to write about the book and I know the details that I am still missing. But to review this book needs its own book or a documentary. Because the ‘Dongri to Dubai’ saga is written in almost 400 pages and details dozens of stories and I cannot touch each of these in my review.
The book heavily condemns the failures of the police, the court, and the government. But also describe their efforts to somehow control the crime rate. It was important to inform the readers that if the police failed on some occasions, then the police also played their part in their war against the mafia.
‘Dongri to Dubai’ successfully declares that Dawood indeed is the biggest don of the city. He is irreplaceable due to the social and cultural impact he has set. Readers who are enthusiastic about reading a criminal history of a certain geographic area should read this. Especially if the reader is a hardcore fan of Bollywood films of all ages.
Now the most complicated argument for a Pakistani reader of ‘Dongri to Dubai’. Where is Dawood? Is he really in Pakistan if not Dubai? Did ISI or the Pakistani government really play their part by partnering with Dawood? It all sounds above the clouds to me.
Several years ago, I tried to read this book twice. First, I read a few chapters but the workload halted my reading progress. Second, I finished almost half of the book and got to know that Dawood is expected to settle in Pakistan. I didn’t make up my mind to read further because, at that time, I felt that the book might turn out to be a fake narration to convince the theory that Dawood is in Karachi and somehow the Pakistan military or the government is involved.
On my third attempt, I finished reading it. And I must admit that a book about the Mumbai underworld requires bullet detailing, a strong narrative, and perspective. And ‘Dongri to Dubai’ is a profitable outcome in the name of research about the criminal history of the city.
From a constable catching some Pathan robbers after the money heist in 1947 to Dawood Ibrahim showing up in Forbes ‘Most Powerful People’ in 2009, Zaidi has covered plenty of crime sagas in almost 400 pages.
See, I have no knowledge about Pakistani terrorism on India’s land and vice versa. There is no peace in fighting wars. A lot of theories can be developed in the historic rivalry between the two countries. But as far as Dawood’s whereabouts are concerned, yes there is a possibility that he may be in Karachi or in any other remote area hiding somewhere or living openly and lavishly. Why not? If Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and Osama Bin Laden can be found in Pakistan, then why cannot Dawood Ibrahim?
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