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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Chandigrah Kare Aashiqui, Review: Engendered species

Chandigrah Kare Aashiqui, Review: Engendered species

A film that takes a taboo subject head-on, but takes its own time to get there, Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is handicapped by its own title. Running on three, or rather, three-and-a-half parallel tracks, the film has nothing to justify Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, except that it is set in the north Indian city of Chandigarh. Its lead pair turns in largely convincing performances, and when it comes to using language that is brazen and bold, to it puts nothing on hold. But when the grey areas of the lead characters’ personalities surface, in the last one-third of the movie, it meanders along repetitively, and reaches a clap-trap end, almost undoing the strong middle portion. Yet, the film, addressing the problems faced by trans-genders, remains watchable and marks a step, albeit just one step, in the right direction.

Mannu Munjal runs a gymnasium in Chandigarh, along with two friends. He is aiming to win a bodybuilding championship, called Gabru, which he has lost twice in succession to Sandy, from a rival gym. His gym is not doing well, with just one or two patrons. Mannu is 32, and single, a fact that is eating into the psyche of his widower father and two sisters. In walks Maanvee, a Zumba teacher, and they agree to start Zumba classes in the premises. These classes draw crowds and the gym begins to prosper too. The three partners join the Zumbaites, and, as could be expected, Mannu gradually falls for Maanvee.

Hailing from Ambala and the daughter of a retired Brigadier, Maanvee has had a troubled childhood and is largely alienated from her mother. Her father, however, sympathises with Maanvee. Maanvee has a confidante, who, going by her get-up and demeanour, is a lesbian. Having been rejected by one man, Maanvee is hesitant about letting her relationship with Mannu proceed further. But her best friend eggs her on, and she goes the whole hog. Mannu and Maanvee have wild sex, not once, but on several occasions. After many such encounters, Mannu realizes that she is a caring and loving person, and he enjoys the sex part too, so why not propose marriage? He does. That is when she tells him that she is a trans-gender, and underwent sex change surgery some years ago, which has made her physically almost a complete woman. Mentally she was always a girl, she tells him. Mannu is shell-shocked, and feels he has been conned into having sex with a man, a thought that he detests. He withdraws the proposal and asks her to leave the gym, and even the city.

It's always tough to apportion credit or discredit to a writer when there are three of them sharing credits for story and screenplay: Supratik Sen, Tushar Paranjape and Abhishek Kapoor, the director himself. Tushar wrote the screenplay for Killa (Marathi, 2014) and Supratik Sen has been in the business since 2007. Kapoor is an actor-turned-director, made his directorial début with Aryan in 2006, a critical and commercial failure. In 2008, he wrote and directed Rock On!! that won the National Award for Best Hindi Film and a Filmfare Award in 2009.

In 2013, he made Kai Po Che, based on Chetan Bhagat's novel, The 3 Mistakes of my Life. In 2016, he directed and produced Fitoor. He owns the production house, Guy in the Sky, which has produced Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. He has co-written all his films. The three-and-a-half tracks that I mentioned refer to the gym and its functioning, the affair, the break-up and the climax (half). Ambience of the gym and the Zumba dancing is well-captured. The progression of the affair is too quick and a little incredible, what with the couple carrying on regardless and nobody getting a whiff. Coming to the break-up, it is a twist well written, if you have not read the story, but then onwards the two characters come across as grey, even black: she for holding back the vital information for so long and he for not being able to accept her as she is. Actually, his reaction is absolutely expected, so we will call it grey, while her holding back of her sexual status is out of character, which is surely black. Dialogue is well-written, with the characters mouthing the kind of lines that their personae would come-up with.

It is worth mentioning that Abhishek shoots the phone call scene between her father and Maanvee with creative underlining, and the two Mannu sisters’ characters get to occupy screen space only when they are really needed to. Though you might have never visited Chandigarh and not met such a family, the sisters are credibly portrayed and you would not be surprised if you came across similar personalities in real life. There was the germ of a sub-plot involving Mannu’s (Hindu) father and a Muslim woman, but it seemed that either Abhishek developed cold feet about this ultra-sensitive issue, or wanted it to be deliberately understated. But it is so fleeting that the point is almost not made. Using veteran actors like Kanwaljit and Annjjan Srivastav to play the girl’s father and boy’s grand-father was a good move. Many of the supporting cast are either relatively new faces or must have been chosen on the basis of their work in television, yet casting is almost flawless.

One more commendable performance from Ayushmann Khurrana as Manvinder ‘Mannu’ Munjal, and it does not come as a surprise. Perhaps in the aftermath of the ‘revelation’, he falters a bit, part of which can be attributed to the confusion in the mind of Mannu. This actor has great potential, and watch out for some more off-beat appearances. Vaani Kapoor (Befikre, War, Bell Bottom), now 33, as Maanvi Brar, is a discovery, with just the right blend of masculinity (subdued) and femininity (dominant). Abhishek Bajaj (Student of the Year, 2) is Mannu’s nemesis, Sandy, brash and brazen as they come. Kanwaljit Singh as retired Brigadier Mohinder Brar provides the understated dignity demanded by the role. Aanjjan Srivastav as Braj does not have a major part, but does well, for the major part.

Most likely twins, Gourav Sharma as Riz and Gautam Sharma as Jomo provide the right looks and the occasional conversational banter and arguments. Yograj Singh as Guruji, Karishma Singh as Akshita, Girish Dhamija as Naveen, Tanya Abrol as Preet, Sawan Rupowali as Meet, Satwant Kaur as Navjot Brar, Tarsen Paul as Mamaji, Goni Sagoo as Mami, Ranjit Punia as Ajit, Nary Singh as Rupa, Leena Sharma as Tasneem, Jeevan Vadhera as Jogi, Ssumier Pasricha as Commentator at the Gabru championship (good job), Sumit Dhankar as Vicky, Jaspal Kaur Bhatia as Dadiji, Rahul Kakkar as Maanvi's Ex (passing show), Soniya Bhatia as Mannu's Mother, Yash Bhojwani as Young Maanvi, Diljit Sona as Meet's Husband, Mukesh Chandelia as the Senior Cop who pulls-up Mannu and Maanvi for arguing on the road, and Harinder Singh Bhullar as the Constable, form the rest of the cast.

Cinematographer Manoj Lobo has a penchant for the right lenses, editor Chandan Arora could have pruned another 10 minutes to give it extra pace, possibly from the last 30-40 minutes, yet, at 116 minutes, it is engaging enough. Music by Sachin–Jigar, with a reprisal of ‘Kaalaa chachma’, is never dominating, and rightly so. The title track' is sung by Sachin and Jigar and music of the song was originally composed by Bally Jagpal, Bhota Jagpal and Madan Jalandhari. The song was originally sung by Jassi Sidhu and lyrics are written by Madan Jalandhari, with new lyrics written by I.P. Singh. And, by the way, the Zumba moves are ever so sexy, that they fill in for any song number, even an item extravaganza.

On merit, the film might score a little lower than what I have rated, but the sheer audacity to take on a subject like trans-genders, an endangered species that needs empathy, understanding and help in social assimilation, and hitting you in the face when push comes to shove, made me rank it half a notch higher.

Rating: ** ½



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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