The Night Manager, starring Aditya Roy Kapur and Anil Kapoor, raked in a whopping 9.6 million views last week, according to Ormax Media. With almost all of February’s theatrical releases opening to a lukewarm reception, this should be enough to tell you that the action for this month was reserved for streaming platforms. A Korean thriller, a Raj & DK crime-comedy series, a Marathi dark-comedy and a tale of unfulfilled dreams on Mubi marked some of the highlights of this month. On the other hand, there were many films and shows that held promise, but they struggled to make an enduring impression. Take for example, the 10-episode K-Drama Love to Hate You, starring Kim Ok-bin and Teo Yoo (who has been receiving a lot of love for his performance in Celine Song’s directorial debut, Past Lives). Despite an enjoyable first four episodes, offering a look at Korea’s toxic fandom culture and general misogyny, the drama quickly becomes convoluted. Speaking of romance and puzzlement, The Romantics makes for a good commercial but bewilders as a docu-series. But enough about what left us grumpy. Here are the February releases you need to add to your watchlist.
Innocence, a rare smile and oddball energy — Im Si-wan has used these to great effect as a romantic lead in K-drama. Terrifyingly, these are the same characteristics that he uses like weapons to play a psychotic stalker and serial killer in Unlocked. Directed by Kim Tae-joon, Unlocked begins with a hypnotic montage of Lee Na-mi’s (Chun Woo-Hee) day, as seen through her smartphone. Like any other youngster, she spends most of her day scrolling through Instagram, texting her friends, clicking pictures of food and taking calls. This normalcy is swiftly shattered when she leaves her phone behind on a bus. The device is picked up by a man who – in a matter of days – cracks her password, instals spyware in her phone and infiltrates her life in ways that are chilling for how disturbingly practised and ingenious they are. Unlocked doesn’t attempt to keep anything from its audience – we see, hear and know everything while Na-mi knows nothing. Which is why when the film does have a major twist, it feels all the more surprising. Using our dependence on technology to craft a gripping thriller, the film asks just one question — What if there was a stranger inside your phone? And the answer is chilling.
With Farzi, master disruptors Raj and DK concoct yet another narrative that fits right into their madcap universe. Revolving around two streetsmart currency counterfeiters from Mumbai, the 10-episode show is punctuated with the organic, rip-roaring humour we associate with the writer-director duo. Farzi marks the streaming debut of superstars Shahid Kapoor and Vijay Sethupathi and each makes a promising start. Kapoor revels in the role of an anti-hero – a mould that has inspired some of his best performances to date – and Sethupathi is perennially watchable as a weasel-ly intelligence officer who battles alcoholism and a failing marriage with a dogged determination for his job. Joining them are other stand-out performers like Bhuvan Arora as Kapoor’s best friend Firoz, Zakir Hussain as the unabashedly opportunistic politician and Raashi Khanna as an ambitious rookie. Farzi might not have The Family Man’s edge-of-the-seat thrill, but it makes up for this with its performances and humour.
While it may be the streaming platform that makes the least buzz in India, if you’re keen to watch films that have caused ripples in the film festival circuit, Mubi is the one to watch. A great example of the kind of films that you will only find on Mubi is Dhuin. Originally released in 2022 at the JioMAMI Mumbai Film Festival, Dhuin was screened to much acclaim at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Cannes Film Festival, the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala and the Dharamshala International Film Festival. Directed by Achal Mishra, Dhuin is about a theatre actor from Darbhanga who longs for a life in Mumbai. Mishra returns to his hometown to portray the dreams that stagnate because the people never leave the place. Unlike his previous Gamak Ghar (2019), where only rubble remains long after the family has left, in Dhuin, it is our protagonist who risks stasis. For actor Pankaj (Abhinav Jha), emoting means little more than the contraction of muscles, networking is knowledge and reluctant perseverance is key. Not only does Pankaj’s suspension in ennui make for the main ingredient in each frame, but is also the toughest to digest.
A Hindi adaptation of the 2016 British series, The Night Manager is not perfect. In fact, it makes a massive misstep in its very first episode, when it deviates from the original and introduces a character who is designed to tug at our heartstrings while perpetuating some cringe-inducing stereotypes. However, if you look past the minor detail that our lead character doesn’t really have a convincing reason to put himself through the wringer, it’s a thoroughly breezy watch, filled with beautiful people and exotic locations. Aditya Roy Kapur delivers an uncharacteristically muted performance, which works well for his role of the titular night manager who is roped in to infiltrate a deadly arms dealer’s ring. His counterpoint is Anil Kapoor, playing the deadly arms supplier, Shailendra “Shelly” Rungta. Kapoor’s signature flair translates Rungta’s vanity convincingly, even though it isn’t enough to paint over some of his character’s underwritten decisions. Some of the show’s best segments feature Tillotama Shome as an assertive and amiable RAW officer and Saswata Chatterjee who balances sleaze, cockiness and smarts as Rungta’s gay right-hand man. The show gets everything right in some scenes, like the delightful exchange at a fish market, and the first season is only four episodes. Perfect for a weekend binge.
Towards the end of Iru Dhuruvam, one of the more interesting investigative series in Tamil, Viktor (Nandha) guns down a serial killer but soon learns that they had an accomplice who was actually the mastermind behind it all. In its sequel, although Viktor initially stays away from the police force, he takes charge when said accomplice begins to kill police officers. The brilliant mind games of the killer and some wonderful performances keep us invested. Watch out for the scenes where the killer tactfully manipulates the police officers into believing him. That said, at 10 episodes, the series feels a tad too long. While Viktor tries to find evidence, the killer makes everyone suspect that Viktor is behind the murders, leading to a cat-and-mouse chase. And what do we get? Another cliffhanger that keeps us waiting for a third season.
Director Paresh Mokashi, known for Harishchandrachi Factory (2009) and Elizabeth Ekadashi (2014), recalled that the starting point of Vaalvi was the director and his wife, Madhugandha Kulkarni, imagining a scene in which a couple face each other, with guns pointed to their own heads. That image forms the axis around which the film revolves. Aniket (Swapnil Joshi) and Devika (Shivani Surve) plot the perfect murder, with happily ever after as the goal. They kill Avani (Anita Date-Kelkar), Aniket’s wife, and what follows perplexes first with its eccentricity, and later with a nonchalance that can only come from shared culpability. You may find yourself remembering the ants from Vijay Tendulkar’s play Sakharam Binder, and the jhoomar (chandelier) from Om Shanti Om (2007), which should give you a sense of the range of influences with which Mokashi plays around in this film. The actors oscillate between calm and chaotic, guilt and gratification, and each time we laugh, Vaalvi holds up a mirror from which you can’t look away.