Into the Badlands (AMC): Introduction

 

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Into the Badlands is super important to the discussion of representation for interracial relationships, particularly interracial relationships between two non-white individuals…

-The Nerds of Color (NOC) blog

I first “heard” about this show a few days ago from one of the ladies I follow on Twitter (Monique). And it turns out that she’s NOT the only fan out there! MANY black women, as well as Asian- American men, were tweeting about Into the Badlands. After all, it’s quite rare to see a Chinese-American man, Sunny (Daniel Wu) and a black woman, Veil (Madeleine Mantock) in a romantic relationship. 

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Aramis Knight as M.K. – Into the Badlands _ Season 1, Epsiode 1 – Photo Credit: Patti Perret/AMC

Hmmm… HOW to describe this show to a newbie? It’s (obviously) a martial arts epic, BUT there are elements of the Western (minus the guns), Southern Gothic (it’s shot on location in Louisiana), mythical (based loosely on a Chinese story: Journey To The West), and superhero genres (see M.K. ‘s secret powers) also. In some ways, it’s like our (modern) world, yet there are no guns used (BUT plenty of knives, swords, and other sharp objects). Warning: This is NOT for those of you who are scared of (fake) blood and violence (which almost reaches Game of Thrones levels). 

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The Fort is the domain of Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas).

Badlands is that society where society has kind of gone back to feudal times, and one of the main ideas was this “steampunk” aesthetic, to make things futuristic yet seem old at the same time since in this world, digital technology is all gone…  Daniel Wu

If you liked Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (like me), then you should definitely give it a watch!  I esp. like the wire work, which elevates the martial arts to another level (NOT that I’m an expert, of course). I’ve seen some eps of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues and Vanishing Son (which starred Chines/Swedish-American actor Russell Wong). M.K. (Aramis Knight- a teen actor w/ Pakistani and German heritage) is one of the Colts, or Clippers (warriors) in training. The actor didn’t have martial arts training before he got hired on the show, but had played sports and stayed at a low level of body fat. After I read up a BIT re: Knight’s background, I thought: Hell yes, this show has TWO Asian-American leads!  

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Quinn’s main house (Evergreen Plantation of Django Unchained)

The dialogue on this show (so far- I’ve seen 3 eps) is NOT George Lucas Star Wars prequel-level bad, though it’s far from Shakespearean (as we find in Deadwood). Some of the BEST lines are given to the main villain, Quinn (Marton Csokas from Lord of the Rings), who is BOTH a father-figure and a boss to Sunny (who is The Regent, the head of the Clipper force). Yes, this show is VERY immersive- it’s even got it’s own vocabulary! You can watch Season 1 on Netflix or on YouTube (which includes behind the scenes videos). 

 

 

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Lion (2017) starring Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar & Nicole Kidman

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the movie.

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A poster for the film Lion.

I went to see this MUST-SEE film 3 weeks ago (w/ the NetSAP book club); I had read a FEW chapters of the book upon which its based (A Long Way Home) by Saroo Brierley. The theater (Landmark E St in DC) was packed that SUN afternoon- like nothing I’d seen before! I heard that MANY people has been coming to see La La Land; however, the Oscar buzz had been strong re: several other recent films (incl. Fences, Hidden Figures, and Moonlight). Last year, #OscarsSoWhite was a VERY popular hashtag on Twitter (and other social media); this year, there are diverse movies in the mainstream theaters… AND they’re making money, too.

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Five year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) with his eldest brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate)

As soon as I saw him, he just felt like the kid that I’d been imagining and feeling, and then we got him into the rehearsal space and I put a camera on him. I just felt like we were watching our movie. -Garth Davis, director (on Sunny Pawar)

The MAIN reason to see this film is Sunny Pawar, the unknown child actor who plays Young Saroo. He had never acted before and didn’t speak English. The ONLY other performance I can compare it to is that of the tween Anna Paquin in The Piano. Unlike Paquin, Pawar doesn’t have a LOT of dialogue; he expresses himself mainly through his eyes and actions. At the start of the film, Saroo is living with his siblings and mother (played by Priyanka Bose) in the village of Ganesh Talai in the Khandwa District of Central India. He and his older brother, Guddu, go out each morning in the hopes of getting some change, fruit, or (if they’re lucky) milk. His mother works in a quarry, hauling rocks; her husband left her for another woman in a different town (this is discussed a BIT in the book). They are a happy family, though VERY poor and uneducated.

Sunny Pawar stars in LIONPhoto: Mark Rogers
Young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) in the homeless children’s center in Calcutta.

One night, after Guddu goes off to work (telling him to wait), Young Saroo goes to sleep at the nearby train station. When he wakes up, he doesn’t see ANYONE around, so he gets on an empty train to explore… and it takes off! He ends up in the busy city of Calcutta and somehow survives on the streets for 2 mos. (though he doesn’t know the language, Bengali). One day, a seemingly kind woman, Noor (Tannishtha Chatterjee- star of Brick Lane), living near the train tracks takes him to her apartment. She feeds him, gives him a bath, and asks about his life. Young Saroo suspects something is wrong when Noor’s male friend (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui- one of India’s BEST character actors) visits and checks him out. In no time, the quick-witted (and fast-running) kid is out the door! 

After some time at a crowded homeless center (more like a prison) for kids, Saroo gets the news from Mrs. Sood (a kind social worker) that an Australian couple- Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) Brierley- want to adopt him. He wonders if everything possible was done to try and find his mother, and Mrs. Sood confidently says “yes.” The local police had interviewed him, ads had been put in the newspapers, BUT his family was a LONG way from Calcutta (which is located in West Bengal). 

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Sue (Nicole Kidman) and Saroo (Sunny Pawar) meet for the first time.

When Saroo reaches Australia (Tasmania to be exact), he easily takes to his new life w/ the Brierleys, who are solidly middle-class and run a charter boat business. He is a comfort to Sue after the family faces challenges w/ his younger brother, Mantosh, who suffered much before he was adopted (also from India). John instills in Saroo a love of the outdoors. 

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The adult Saroo (Dev Patel) uses Google Earth to find his way home.

Dev Patel does a good job as the grown-up Saroo (incl. accent), a young man who loves his adopted family, but feels compelled to find his birth mother. She “could be out there suffering,” wondering where he is, he tells long-time girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara). Some friends in his graduate certificate program think that w/ modern technology (Google Earth) he could try and find his old hometown. 

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Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel at the BFI London Film Festival

Nicole Kidman (an Aussie), has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar; she does a fine job as a kind, understanding, and VERY emotionally strong mother. Saroo and Mantosh are “not blank slates” as her own children would’ve been, Saroo explains in one of my favorite scenes. Sue could’ve had her own (natural) children, she admits, BUT she and John chose to adopt knowing there are already MANY kids out in the world that need good homes. (Kidman, in real life, has adopted children.) 

Another element that makes this SUCH a compelling film is it’s superb editing; the life of the adult Saroo is intercut (at times) w/ that of his younger self. Seeing the plate of jalebi at his Indian friends’ house takes Saroo back to when he saw that sweet treat being fried in the marketplace. The music is very good (never over the top), which is quite suited for the film. This story has a big pay-off in the end, which is true to life!   

 

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Piku (2015) starring Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone & Irrfan Khan

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Piku (Deepika Padukone) gets ready to clean the house; the maid was fired by her father.

I heard about this film from MANY young (20s/30s) desi people.  It was released in the Spring of 2015; it’s NOT a typical Bollywood film, though the stars hail from mainstream Indian cinema. Amitabh Bachchan (Bhashkor Banerjee) and Deepika Padukone (Piku) play Delhi-based Bengali father and daughter respectively. One of my favorite actors- Irrfan Khan (Rana) plays the driver who takes them from Delhi to Calcutta.   

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Father (Amitabh Bachchan) and daughter (Deepika Padkone) share a hug.

General Thoughts about the Film:

‘Piku’ is about relationships and responsibility. You feel for the characters & that kind of connect, is a huge bonus for any film. 

what is wrong with movies that are mostly dialogue and the interactions of close knit families? I found it realistic and I am not from India. Seemed kind of representative of one of the elements of the universal human experiences to me.

Excerpts from IMDB reviews

If you’re a sensitive viewer who takes offense to toilet humor, this is film is NOT for you!  In fact, there is NOT much to the story, aside from the road trip that this trio (along w/ a loyal manservant) go on.  Piku is a very concerned, stressed-out young architect who lives w/ her 70 y.o. cranky and constipated father.  She is a partner in a small architecture firm w/ her friend, Syed (Jishu Sengupta).  Though Piku is nearing 30 and not yet married, her father isn’t concerned.  Syed sets her up w/ a single guy he knows, BUT Piku has nothing in common w/ him.

Marriage without purpose is for the low IQ.  -Bhaskor’s philosophy on marraige 

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Rana (Irrfan Khan) and Piku (Deepika Padukone) share a snack on the road

Opinions re: Irrfan Khan’s performance

Irrfan is fabulous. He’s given some of the film’s best moments and the talented actor only elevates those moments with his superior act.

Irrfan Khan is known for his gifted talent of never disappointing his viewers. With this film, once again, he proves how worthy his presence is.

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Rana (Irrfan Khan) and Piku (Deepika Padukone) seeing the sights of Kolkata.

The MAIN reason I wanted to see this film (now streaming on Netflix) was Irrfan Khan.  Though Rana now runs his family’s car rental business, he had planned for in a different life.  He is a decent, hardworking man w/ family obligations of his own.  Rana has a LOT of patience- he’ll need that on the road w/ Piku and her father!