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I was always impressed by Aasif Mandvi who is a regular in Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. So when I learnt that he had starred in a movie as a lead in a movie that had Naseeruddin Shah and Madhur Jaffrey as his co-stars, I was eager to watch it. I finally got around to seeing it after Netflix offered it on their instant streaming.

I found the movie to be utterly charming, funny and mouth watering.  Cookbook author and actor Madhur Jaffrey is great in the role of the mother of the central character played by Mandvi, a chef in the midst of professional and personal crises. Shah as the NY cab driver-turned-chef is utterly endearing.

The movie is about Samir,  a chef and first generation Indian-American who impulsively quits his job, is pressed into service at his family restaurant, finds his cooking mojo and realizes that approach to food is really an approach to life itself. Shah plays the role of Akbhar with sparkling charisma, as a wise mentor whose passion for life is positively contagious to even the most skeptical movie viewer. Likewise, Madhur Jaffrey as Farida is delightful as Samir’s meddlesome and endearingly overbearing mother who is determined to marry him off with the help of an online Indian matrimonial service. One of the highlights of the movie is when Shah and Jaffrey share a scene in the kitchen of the restaurant, where they meet for the first time.  Farida (Jaffrey) has been instructed by Samir’s father(another great performance by Harish Patel)  to check up on the restaurant and ends up meeting the eccentric cab driver/cook who is responsible for turning things around. Shah displays the art of impressing and charming a woman with élan and Jaffrey responds suitably, an endearing moment suffused with warmth.

The film is set in Manhattan and Jackson Heights, Queens, which a New Yorker can easily recognize and identify with. The story is completely predictable and formulaic, but with a film this enjoyable, who cares? Sure, it includes many clichés of dating and family strife but somehow there is a sweetness that tugs at your heartstrings. You don’t have to be an Indian to appreciate the culture clashes and modern drama that the lead character finds himself in; the story has a universal appeal. Overall it is sweet, romantic, sentimental and will make you want to go out for Indian food as soon as you finish watching this movie. Be warned!

The Valley of Elah refers to the place described in the Bible where the Israelites were encamped when David fought Goliath the giant and killed him with a slingshot. In the movie, Charlize Theron’s little boy who is afraid of dark is named after David and Tommy Lee Jones tells him this story so the kid can overcome fear.

This is one of the best movies I have seen in many years. Both Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron are amongst my favorite actors and both have given splendid performances. Charlize does great in the role of  the single mother and police detective assigned to  the case that forms the basis of this movie.

The movie begins with Tommy Lee Jones heading out to Fort  Bragg, North Carolina, to find out about his son who is declared AWOL from the Army after his return from Iraq. He notices the American flag flying upside down and stops to help set the flag right after he finds out  (from what I presume is a school janitor) the El Salvadoran has hoisted it wrong way up. He explains why the flag should be flown right. Interestingly, the movie ends with Jones himself hoisting the flag wrong way up and insisting it stay that way. In between the two events, lies the story of a father seeking justice for his son’s death  and learning the harsh truth that he has to accept.

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Pic: screen grab from the movie. I didn’t know an upside down flag signified a SOS or distress signal.  

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Pic: the Indian flag is frequently flown upside down as most people don’t know if the saffron or green is supposed to be up. Trust me, no one will come to help if you fly the Indian flag upside down! The right way is saffron up, green down.

The movie is inspired by a true life story, the murder of soldier Richard T. Davis in 2003 and is a damning indictment of the Iraq war.

In this case, the filmmaker shows us how that war distorts, mutates, deranges, the people who fight in it, and what happens when the derangement comes home. In this story, what happens when the derangement comes home in the form of a young soldier who is psychologically affected by what he has experienced in Iraq.

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Tommy Lee Jones & Susan Sarandon in the movie

Susan Sarandon has a quiet but impactful role of a mother who has to accept the loss of both her sons. Her sadness and grief is visible and moving, especially as she expresses it in so few words.

I lived in Colorado Springs which is a large Army base and I have seen in my own little way as to how the war affects some young soldiers who return from their tour of Iraq and Afghanistan. The movie brings home the emotional casualties of war,  of what happens to soldiers who are fighting in questionable wars like Iraq.

I have always liked Tommy Lee Jones and this is one of his best movies for which he won an Oscar nomination. In fact, the movie has an Oscar-studded cast: apart from winners like Jones, Sarandon and Theron, there are also nominees like James Franco and Josh Brolin.

This is not for family viewing if you have kids.

Recommended: Definitely Yes!

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Writer & Director: Anusha Rizvi
Cast: Omkar Das Manikpuri, Raghuvir Yadav, Shalini Vatsa, Farrukh Jaffar, Malaika Shenoy, Vishal Sharma, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sitaram Panchal, Naseeruddin Shah, Aamir Bashir
Producer: Aamir Khan
Music & Songs: Indian Ocean and Ram Sampath

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Natha and his brother on their way to meet the local politician for help

I finally got to watch this movie over the weekend after hearing and reading much about it. Unlike most Indian movies which run close to 3 hours, this had only a running time of 104 minutes, keeping the storyline taut and gripping throughout.

Keep Reading->

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Talk To Her is a multi-layered film with the opening scene of the ballet to a night-time recital of Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso to a seven-minute silent film The Shrinking Lover. Although the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar  has specialized in movies about women, two men are center stage here. They share what William James once called "the gift of tears." "Of all the expressions of human emotion in the lexicon of life, weeping may be the most functional, the most deeply versatile. The tears we weep show us our deepest, neediest, most private selves. Our tears expose us. They lay us bare both to others and to ourselves. What we cry about is what we care about. What we have no tears for hardens our hearts."

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Through a series of complicated turns in the storyline, the two men, Benigno (the nurse) and Marco (the bald actor) are drawn closer together. A death, a suicide, and a miraculous recovery flow together in the last section of the film. Almodóvar   is an imaginative teacher of emotional intelligence. Talk To Her speaks volumes about the different delineations of love, compassion, and attention.

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The extraordinary thing about Talk to Her is that it’s all these things at once—and more: a meditation on the ways in which couples communicate, or don’t. A study in loneliness. A story of friendship based on little but shared longing. The director makes no editorial distinctions between "holy" and "unholy" love where passion is passion, and whatever form it takes is more enlivening than its opposite.

The story is improbable, but in the end it leaves you with a strange yet good feeling. Talk to Her won the Oscar in 2003 and a plethora of awards across the world.

I completely recommend this film. Please rent the DVD.

Rating: 4.5/5.

ps: I would have given a 5, but I can’t believe hospitals will allow a male nurse to give sponge bath to a  comatose young woman, even if he claims to be gay.

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