Home. A familiar abode to reap the harvest of good luck, hard work and financial stability. A space of personal growth and above all fit for settling down with family. A symbol that we are ‘all right’ in the larger scheme of things, safe in the comfort of loved ones.
Two cinematic works that I watched this weekend attest to another crucial fact that home isn’t always a permanent concept or overarching theme of our lives. Those on the move, looking for greener pastures for future prospects, have to find that idea of a home in places far removed from the comfortable cocoon of that familiar space many of us often take for granted. Family units have to find that reserve to adapt, change, leave behind beloved family and friends and condition a deep sense of loss, to make sense of a transformation motivated by factors beyond our control.
As is obvious, children bear the brunt of these changes and yet find in them a portal to store memories anew, memories made anew in the place they settle down in and memories of the sanctuaries they leave behind. We must remember Disney’s heartwarming INSIDE OUT that utilized the magic of animation to portray precisely these emotions on the part of a young girl, unable to cope with her move to another city with her parents. It’s a tightrope walk for a collective unit and nobody is the more wiser one to that realization as compared to the other.
Sacrifices and a desire to make a period of transition successful is hence at the heart of this human migration that army kids and those with parents bearing transferable jobs know all too well. Or those in boarding schools. Even adults who leave their own cities and towns for better working opportunities can easily attest to that.
The children’s perspective in both examples given here point out at the poignancy of growing up, within an age group where there is hardly any secure answer to life’s myths and idiosyncrasies in the first place. It’s a journey tinged with self-discovery.
MINARI, a global juggernaut as of this date, is beautifully crafted by breakout writer/director Lee Isaac Chung and gently illustrates his own childhood story. The migration is two fold for his family: they are Koreans who chose America, the land of plenty, for a future and the move from California to Arkansas for them is as fraught with the uncertainty of life’s roller coaster sojourn. Financial betterment figures prominently in this equation. A desire to prove his own individual merit besides a given 9to5 routine gnaws at the father( Steven Yeun) and the wish to own and, in turn, farm his own land is to sow seeds of self-sufficiency for his family members.
The pride of having one’s roots in the soil that one tends to, makes rich in abundance with crops, the purifying power of water that lets the titular MINARI plant sprout and the fire that engulfs the room holding the yield, pointing to the culmination of fiery and bitter words that never leave our aura and here also suggests a new start with the past getting charred in favour of a hopeful future, extracts great power of the elements. Also the gentle breeze and clouds in the sky being particularly companionable to this family, occupying a solitary tract of land with no human contact around for miles altogether. This is their ‘Eden’, as the father says in the beginning. They have to make the best of it, albeit struggles and uncertainty loom on the horizon. That is, anyway, just a part and parcel of life anywhere. Their Asian antecedents make it accessible to an Indian kid like yours truly too.
It’s a journey for the adults and for the children. That parallelism is rooted in everyday reality. Of the cast, HAN YE-RI deserved better in terms of accolades because she relays the vexation of her present situation beautifully, not very alien to millions who are unable to cope with new environs. Here is a couple relaying its bitter infighting of the soul when the possibility of depleting resources knocks at the door. Practical life lessons are sought in the course of this journey. A beautiful scene is where they talk about how their hope for nurturing the American dream slowly got lost in the struggles of fitting in and work. Perhaps it’s their constant fighting that is responsible for their son’s delicate heart condition. That’s something particularly Asian by nature: the belief that things said and committed often can come visit our loved ones in inopportune ways.
Also poignant is when the father tells his better half that she is free to leave with the kids to California if his farm yield fails to be procured in the market. He loves his family and is doing everything for them but in his heart he wants to individually succeed on his own terms, to make his children proud, above all.
That said, the universally beloved turn by Youn Yuh-jung as the affable, goofy and irrepressibly hopeful grandmother is everything we love in our own senior prefects. Her banter with Alan S. Kim, another cinematic discovery to behold, sprinkles this tale with natural humour. Which makes her physical turnaround all the more painful in the second half. She is the life force of this script, allowing the members to look at the beauty in the everyday and the power of good spirits. It’s a priceless screen performance and richly deserved her Oscar to go with numerous accolades. Noel Cho playing the older sister to Alan is good too and a special mention must be given especially to Will Patton whose deep hurt, religious optimism and idiosyncrasies make him valuable to the family, as an extended member rooting for their success, helping the father of the unit as a farmhand to realize his dreams.
MINARI hence conflates the inner worlds of the children and their adult prefects to touch our hearts, in a way which is authentic to the core of the immigrant experience and to the life lessons we draw from the everyday.
KILLA( THE FORT, 2014)
Regional cinema in India has always been a strong upholder of fluent storytelling and technical achievements, the ones from Bengal and Maharashtra taking the lead for decades now. KILLA is a Marathi feature which also serves as the directorial debut of noted cinematographer Avinash Arun. He has photographed such sterling works in recent times as MASAAN, DRISHYAM, HICHKI, PAATAL LOK among others, all made in the Hindi language. KILLA(THE FORT) is made in Marathi, honouring his home state while also reliving his own experience as a child constantly on the move owing to his parent’s transferable job.
Here, the move to a beautiful coastal town doesn’t sit well for the young protagonist ( a wonderfully wise and appropriately restrained Archit Deodhar). His pangs relate not only to leaving Pune, his home for many years and the company of his beloved cousin but also the pain of losing his father to an untimely death. That and the move to the country from the big city only compounds his inner struggles to fit in. All the while his mother, trying to make the best of this transfer and hoping to ease the pain of loss, is just as vulnerable; though like all parents and mothers, she juggles work, home and has immense concern for the present bearings of her only child. In Amruta Subhash’s delicate portrayal, she is shorn of any stereotypical tropes and is au natural, complemented by the nuanced writing. Again, KILLA is a corollary to MINARI because this migration is on the part of both parent and child. They both are conditioning change in all its contours. The child is unable to fit in the nondescript school although he is praised for his scholarship and academic excellence while the mother is privy to a male dominated workplace where protocols are not really given much note. The way they are framed as ‘outsiders’, discovering the way ‘things function here’ is subtly evocative of their parallel tracks, never sidestepping one for the other.
KILLA is beautifully evocative of loss as also the times when we find joy ,eventually, with people who enter our lives after we give them the space. The letting go of notions and doubts compounded by childhood innocence.
It can be in something as simple as getting a new school bag or bicycle, taking bike rides through the beautiful coastal landscape with new friends, discovering the majesty of the fort ala nature in its most sublime form and jumping into a pool together with those same friends. Or even having dinner cooked by the protagonist’s mother. The power of friendship is the strong suit here.
Parth Bhalerao, Gaurish Gawade and Atharva Upasni play the friends with a natural rhythm one can only find in children.
From the poetry written and recited by the protagonist, in the presence of his mother, to the trip to the lighthouse with her, down to the final plunge into the pool with his friends, signifying a new move and the cycle of change coming to both with pain and hope, KILLA is filled with such outstanding moments, traced with an unhurried pace and such a profound photographic eye.
It is a wonderful addition to the canon of Indian works of merit, especially about the highs and lows of childhood. Its international recognition means it is here to stay. I know it will linger in my heart and mind for the longest time.