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‘Bucket List’ film review: It’s all good, and it’s always feelgood

Tejas Prabha Vijay Deoskar directs Madhuri Dixit in her first Marathi movie as a housewife on a journey towards self-actualisation.

Tejas Prabha Vijay Deoskar’s Marathi-language Bucket List tries to pass off movie star Madhuri Dixit as the average housewife – an idea that rarely sticks but goes some way towards making the antics of her character Madhura Sane acceptable.

Who will look at me anyway, Madhura complains at one point. As if.

Affectionately described by one of her family members as a cow, Madhura is indeed bovine-like in her ability to follow instructions and spread cheer. She has come home after a heart transplant that has given her a second lease of life. But rather than putting up her feet, Madhura continues to serve her extended family, comprising her husband Mohan (Sumeet Raghavan), her daughter and son, her in-laws, and her husband’s grandmother (Shubha Khote). Madhura cooks the same dish in four different ways to please her brood’s specific tastes and is every inch the domestic goddess. Until she decides to find out the identity of her heart donor.

That turns out to be Sai, beloved of her family and friends, and the author of an incomplete bucket list. Some of the items on this list have been ticked off, including wearing a bikini and getting a tattoo, but others remain, such as winning a bike race, whistling loudly, and kissing the boyfriend.

Madhura decides to complete the bucket list in order to pay Sai back. Sai’s parents (Renuka Shahane and Prakash Deshpande) are touched, but Sai’s twin Salil (Sumedh Mudgalkar) accuses Madhura of appropriating his sister’s identity. Where is Sai in your quest to find yourself, asks this token dissident, but he could well be in another movie.

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Bucket List (2018).

The 130-minute movie works best when it stays light and frothy. Madhura’s cluelessness about the way in which the world works is conveniently deployed, and the low level of difficulty posed by Sai’s bucket list are barely inspiring, even though they produce many moments of light comedy. Madhura’s reaction to a line outside a pub is cute: are we outside an ATM, she asks. I thought the currency shortage crisis had been resolved.

Deoskar reserves some of his best gags for Shubha Khote, who is delightful as Panji, the grandmother-in-law who encourages Madhura’s rebellion. Panji proves to be smarter than everybody else in the household: I conduct all my economic transactions online, she declares.

Moments of artificially induced tension, such as the household’s mock horror at Madhura’s determination to spread her wings, are quickly resolved in the interests of keeping the movie firmly on the road to happiness. Unlike Sridevi’s English Vinglish (2012), which similarly mapped its heroine’s journey towards confidence, Bucket List is less coherent in presenting Madhura’s transformation. “Who will take care of the house” and “You are a mother, stay a mother”, reminders that are constantly thrown Madhura’s way, barely carry any weight. It’s all good, and it’s always feelgood.

Madhuri Dixit perfectly communicates the contradiction that is Madhura Sane. Madhura’s devotion to her household and her unfailing domesticity make her a fake feminist heroine, but the casting of the movie star is a welcome distraction from Madhura’s hollow search for her real self. Madhuri Dixit’s ability to seduce the camera hasn’t dimmed with age, and her character has enough touches of glamour (make-up at all times; rarely a costume repeated) to remind us that Bucket List is never meant to be taken seriously. One of the items on Sai’s bucket list is to wear a 32-D sized bra – an item that Dixit, known for her breast-heaving songs in the 1990s, quietly crosses out.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.