Tag Archives: Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars

New Indian Shows + Movies by Women

Earlier this year, CNN’s Diksha Madhok reported that services like Netflix and Amazon have offered women filmmakers in India a platform they’re often denied within the country’s own film industry. Madhok stressed that India’s increasingly autocratic government has begun threatening many filmmakers on these services with imprisonment and fines.

Much of this is due to Indian women filmmakers focusing on films that criticize rape culture. Many are based on rapes and murders of women that have become high-profile news stories, and depict the failure of government and police to respond properly or with accountability.

Other criticisms that have resulted in women filmmakers being threatened include presentations of Hindu-Muslim romances. Political firestorms have also resulted from how religious imagery is used, or the inclusion of nudity. Madhok’s article discusses both women and men filmmakers, but highlights the particular plight and threat involved in topics that women filmmakers have very actively pursued.

India is hardly the only country where women filmmakers face issues like these, but right now it presents a huge number of potential viewers for streaming services. Those streaming services often decide that it’s in their immediate financial interests to simply adhere to what a government requires in order to have access to those viewers. Streaming services will very often choose market access over equality.

I’ve been meaning to compile this article for a while, so I want to take a break from what I normally write about to feature this. It’s a slow week for new projects overall, and that makes a great opportunity to go back and look at new Indian series and movies directed by women. The more interest there is in other countries for Indian films made by women, the more streaming services will continue to support their projects despite the Indian government’s interference.

These are several that I’ve featured in the last year. Find one that sparks your love for stories, and please give it a try:

INDIAN SERIES BY WOMEN

Bhaag Beanie Bhaag (Netflix)
directed by Debbie Rao

An aspiring stand-up comic pursues her dream job despite the disapproval of her parents. Reviews from India have been pretty favorable.

Beware heavy user brigading on review sites. There’s early upset that the show shares broad similarities to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. Apparently only one woman in the entire world has a story to tell about double-standards in the stand-up comedy industry, and having a second woman tell one that takes place 60 years later from the complete other side of the world is too frequent. I’m not sure what the logic is – that women could only possibly face bigotry in the stand-up industry once every 70 years globally? Point is: review brigading would be silly if it wasn’t so damaging, and if you’re interested in this, do what you like, watch it, and be careful about how much credence you lend user reviews on places like IMDB and Metacritic.

“Bhaag Beanie Bhaag” is directed by Debbie Rao. She’s directed on a few Indian series, including the very well received “Better Life Foundation”, “Pushpavalli”, and India’s version of “The Office”.

You can watch “Bhaag Beanie Bhaag” on Netflix.

Masaba Masaba (Netflix)
showrunner Sonam Nair

Masaba Gupta is an Indian fashion designer. Her mother is prolific Indian actress Neena Gupta. “Masaba Masaba” stars the two of them in a comedy where they portray…themselves. It’s entirely scripted and framed as a narrative comedy, so there’s no reality TV element here. The characters the two portray are simply fictionalized versions of themselves.

Showrunner Sonam Nair has written and directed on a few different Indian TV series.

You can watch “Masaba Masaba” on Netflix.

INDIAN FILMS BY WOMEN

Kaali Khuhi (Netflix)
directed by Terrie Samundra

Shivangi’s family moves to a rural village to look after her grandmother. Soon enough, she spies strange occurrences, even as residents of the village wind up dead. What’s a little girl to do but unravel a supernatural mystery?

This is Terrie Samundra’s first feature film.

You can watch “Kaali Khuhi” on Netflix.

Bombay Rose (Netflix)
directed by Gitanjali Rao

A deaf, orphan boy loses his job. A group of workers whisper about unionizing. An English teacher sets the table for her late husband every night. A Muslim man falls for a Hindu woman, each struggling to make ends meet. A single rose connects a city full of characters in a hand-painted animation that took 60 artists a year-and-a-half to make.

The absolutely awe-inspiring feat was helmed by writer, director, and editor Gitanjali Rao. This is her first feature animation, but her previous shorts “Printed Rainbow” and “TrueLoveStory” have earned praise and awards at Cannes and other festivals.

You can watch “Bombay Rose” on Netflix.

Cargo (Netflix)
directed by Arati Kadav

People who pass away appear on a spaceship, where a man named Prahastha takes care of them. He prepares them to move to the next life. He’s been doing this alone for a long time when an assistant arrives. It’s Yuvishka’s job to learn everything he knows.

This is director Arati Kadav’s first feature. In interviews, she’s described the film as fusing Indian mythology to Eastern sci-fi. She’s cited her influences as science-fiction writers Jorge Luis Borges and Ted Chiang, writers who have fused the abstracted edge of the genre to some of its most human moments.

You can watch “Cargo” on Netflix.

Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars (Netflix)
directed by Alankrita Shrivastava

Dolly is a wife and mother who is trying to hide a secret. Her cousin Kajal has just moved to the city. Kajal ends up working at a phone sex parlor under the name Kitty. The two alternately grow close and clash in their off-hours, winding a tricky path of trust and wariness of the other’s place in their lives.

Writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava has hit the ground running in recent years. Her “Lipstick Under My Burkha” won award after award on a major festival circuit, and she wrote nine episodes and directed two for Amazon original series “Made in Heaven”.

You can watch “Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars” on Netflix.

Bulbbul (Netflix)
directed by Anvita Dutt

Set in India during the 1880s, a 5 year old girl named Bulbbul is married off to a man decades her elder. After several years, the man’s younger brother Satya, whom she initially assumed to be her intended husband, is sent to London. Satya returns to find his family missing, and Bulbbul the only remaining survivor. He’s told his family was taken by a witch, just as some villagers have been.

I watched and reviewed this last year. It’s a deeply gothic inversion of horror with a message and aesthetic I loved, and a superb performances by Tripti Dimri and Paoli Dam. The truth is that there’s no horror that can match the ones people enact on each other, and the film makes its horror a hero. To paraphrase writer-director Anvita Dutt, “Bulbbul” is less about what happens, which you can infer pretty early on in the film. It’s more about how it happens, and why it’s cathartic.

Dutt has primarily worked as a screenwriter and songwriter on Indian films. “Bulbbul” is her directorial debut.

You can watch “Bulbull” on Netflix.

Shakuntala Devi (Amazon)
directed by Anu Menon

Shakuntala Devi was someone who could calculate just about anything in her head. She became known as a human computer, and demonstrated her ability for crowds. She later became a writer in India. This included what’s considered the first study of homosexuality in India, one that argued for its decriminalization. She passed away in 2013. The film is an energetic biographical take on her life.

Writer-director Anu Menon has come to prominence more recently in the Indian film industry.

You can watch “Shakuntala Devi” on Amazon.

Tribhanga (Netflix)
directed by Renuka Shahane

“Tribhanga” follows women of three different generations in India, and tells the stories of how each raised the next. The title is derived from the name of a dance pose that’s often described as simultaneously beautiful and imperfect.

The film was originally envisioned as a smaller production, but gained momentum (and a Netflix deal) as major producers joined.

Director Renuka Shahane is a popular Indian actress. This is only her second film listed as director after 2009’s well-received “Rita”.

You can watch “Tribhanga” on Netflix.

Guilty (Netflix)
directed by Ruchi Narain

A songwriter’s boyfriend is accused of rape. What follows plays out both on a personal level and in the media. It’s a bit difficult to get as much information about the film as I’d like, but it’s supposed to look into aspects of victim-blaming.

It’s advertised along the lines of a thriller over whether the accusation is real or not. That gives me some pause. I don’t know how it intends to handle an accusation like this. I’m wary of the potential of a twist that might undermine belief in the victim, though this worry could be unfounded just because of the “thriller” nature of how it’s being advertised.

You can watch “Guilty” on Netflix.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you like what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

New Shows + Movies by Women — September 18, 2020

After “Mulan” and “Cuties” it’s nice to have a week that’s relatively controversy-free. I know I’m particularly excited for some of the movies listed here. One thing I’ve noticed is that Netflix’s international focus has done a better job on acquiring and producing films by women from outside the U.S. than other streaming services. I say a “better job” rather than a “good job” because it’s hard to assess when all you have to compare it to are streaming services that barely do it.

Nearly every week, Netflix has entries from South Asia – this week one from India and one from Thailand. “Bulbbul”, “Cargo”, and “Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars” are all Indian Hindi-language films directed by women that have interested me recently.

Netflix also does a better job than other major streaming services of acquiring African films – particularly Nigerian and South African from what I’ve seen. They also have an extremely solid range of Korean and Japanese live-action TV and movies, though they won’t compare to services like Crunchyroll when it comes to animation. (European fare seems doled out more equally with Amazon and Hulu.)

As we watch our country mismanage the pandemic in the U.S., and shelter as in-place as we can for the sixth month in a row, it’s particularly tempting to fall back on watching what’s predictable. Yet if you feel your perspective is uncomfortably limited by this lifestyle, art is one of the primary ways in our lives that we throw our perspectives wide open again. It’s not a fix-all to a larger situation that is costing lives, but in terms of mental health it is something I’d argue we need to better cope and connect with a world that’s been more closed off to us than ever before.

Please don’t limit your viewing to English-language series and movies I feature here. When something else looks interesting to you and it’s accessible, go watch it.

NEW SERIES

The Third Day (HBO)
half-directed by Philippa Lowthorpe

If TV has taught me anything, it’s that I should never go to an island. Only strange and inexplicable things will happen there, and the local populace will probably murder me, or draft me into a cult, or make me commune with smoke monsters. In “The Third Day”, Jude Law and Naomie Harris don’t know any better. They go not just to an island, but to a mysterious one – Law’s Sam has just suffered a loss and Harris’s Helen arrives with her family while seeking information. Each character takes up half of the show – Law stars in the first three episodes, and Harris in the last three. Their arcs are separate but intersecting.

Philippa Lowthorpe directs the last half of the limited series, the three episodes with Harris. She’s won BAFTA’s directing award for television twice: first for “Call the Midwife” in 2013 and then for “Three Girls” in 2018. She’s also directed episodes on “The Crown”. You may also know her for helming “The Other Boleyn Girl”.

You can watch “The Third Day” on HBO Max with a subscription.

NEW MOVIES

Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars (Netflix)
directed by Alankrita Shrivastava

Dolly is a wife and mother who is trying to hide a secret. Her cousin Kajal has just moved to the city. Kajal ends up working at a phone sex parlor under the name Kitty. The two alternately grow close and clash in their off-hours, winding a tricky path of trust and wariness of the other’s place in their lives.

Writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava has hit the ground running in recent years. Her “Lipstick Under My Burkha” won award after award on a major festival circuit, and she wrote nine episodes and directed two for Amazon original series “Made in Heaven”.

I want to note one of the actors in here, for some choices he’s making. Vikrant Massey is becoming a major Indian star, and he’s doing it working almost entirely with women directors. Last week, I featured Hindi sci-fi film “Cargo”, where he played the lead. Seven of his last eight movies have been directed by women. He’s spoken before on the strength of women directors being able to tell stories from different perspectives than we’re used to seeing on film.

Obviously, women don’t need a man to legitimize their career choices, but an up-and-coming star in India choosing to work almost entirely on films with women directors because they’re telling stories from fresher angles is important. So is his interviewing in publications both major and regional in order to describe the strengths of women in leadership positions.

The women stars and director here may have made similar choices, or may be barred by studios from making such choices. I realize I’ve written more on him than them in a feature that’s meant to highlight the work of women. The point I want to make is that it can’t just be on women to legitimize women in leadership. Men need to choose it and talk about it just as normally as we would about men in leadership. Until we seek it and normalize it, we’re not really following through on our thoughts with meaningful actions as allies.

You can watch “Dolly Kitty and Those Twinkling Stars” on Netflix with a subscription.

Babyteeth (Hulu)
directed by Shannon Murphy

“Babyteeth” is an Australian film about a chronically ill teenager who befriends a drug dealer. Her family has to make adjustments in confronting and tolerating aspects of the friendship.

Director Shannon Murphy has helmed episodes for multiple series, including “Killing Eve” and “Rake”. “Babyteeth” is based on a screenplay by Rita Kalnejais, adapted from her own stage play. The film serves as the feature debut for both.

I previously featured this on June 19 when it came available for VOD rental, but this is the first time it’s come to a subscription service

You can watch “Babyteeth” on Hulu with a subscription, or see where to rent it via streaming right here.

The Grizzlies (VOD)
directed by Miranda de Pencier

A teacher moves to Nunavut, in the north of Canada. As with many indigenous communities that have been sidelined and under-resourced by a government that took their lands, their rural community is struggling. There’s a youth suicide problem. The teacher decides to start a lacrosse team to give the students there something new to work toward.

“The Grizzlies” is based on a true story, but of course takes dramatic liberties. There’s been controversy over the film as to whether it subscribes to or fights against a white savior narrative. Director Miranda de Pencier worked with indigenous producers to avoid such problems in the story and presentation, but it’s possible to avoid some pitfalls and still succumb to others. Criticism seems to both commend the film on some fronts while still pointing out issues on others.

You can see where to rent “The Grizzlies” via streaming right here.

The Etruscan Smile (Starz)
co-directed by Mihal Brezis

“The Etruscan Smile” follows Brian Cox’s Rory in one last trip before he dies. Rory travels to San Francisco for medical treatment and reconnecting with his family. The film also stars Rosanna Arquette and Thora Birch.

Mihal Brezis directs with Oded Binnun. “The Etruscan Smile” is her feature debut.

Technically, “The Etruscan Smile” had a limited release last November in all of four theaters. This is the first time it’s widely accessible through a subscription service.

You can watch “The Etruscan Smile” on Starz with a subscription. (You may already have such a subscription through Hulu or a cable provider.) You can also see where to rent it via streaming right here.

NEW DOCUMENTARIES

All In: The Fight for Democracy (Amazon)
directed by Lisa Cortes, Liz Garbus

“All In: The Fight for Democracy” examines forms of voter suppression and the various fights that are being waged to protect the right to vote.

Director Liz Garbus is a legend who’s specialized in documentaries about justice system abuses, racial inequity, and human rights violations. She is perhaps the most important documentary filmmaker of her generation. Both “The Farm: Angola, USA” and “What Happened, Miss Simone?” were nominated for directing Oscars, and she earned a third nomination for producing “Killing in the Name”.

She also directed “The Execution of Wanda Jean”, “The Nazi Officer’s Wife”, “Bobby Fischer Against the World”, and the list goes on and on. She produced yet more crucial documentaries of the past two decades: “Street Fight”, “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”, “The Fence”. Garbus should be in the conversation when we talk about the greatest filmmakers.

Director Lisa Cortes has taken the reverse course of many filmmakers, starting out as a producer in narrative film and later shifting over to documentaries. She’s recently started directing as well as producing.

I dislike review aggregating sites, but nonetheless, it’s always worth noting when a film has a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes like “All In: The Fight for Democracy” does.

You can watch “All In: The Fight for Democracy” on Amazon with a subscription.

Hope Frozen: A Quest to Live Twice (Netflix)
directed by Pailin Wedel

The daughter of a scientist in Thailand was suffering from an incurable brain cancer. His family made the decision to cryogenically freeze her upon her death. To them, their daughter is frozen between death and a potential future life. The technology doesn’t exist to revive and cure her today, but perhaps it will in the future.

Their choice is controversial in their own community, as is the judgment of whether it subscribes more to faith than science.

This is the first documentary from director Pailin Wedel.

You can watch “Hope Frozen: A Quest to Live Twice” on Netflix with a subscription.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.