GRAMMYS 2021: SOME OTHER OMISSIONS IN IMPORTANT CATEGORIES

Some of the omissions are in the Rock and Country categories.

ROCK

EVANESCENCE- how can the Academy commit the grave mistake of ignoring Amy Lee’s soaring, timeless vocals and by extension the collective punch of her ensemble for EVANESCENCE, a band that chose to prefer quality than sheer volume and came up with two knockouts in WASTED ON YOU and USE MY VOICE?

Both ideally deserve a Best Rock Performance/ Rock Song but since they are veterans in the field now by the Academy’s twisted logic, they were shown the door. Both songs stay true to the alchemy of composition and vocals central to Evanescence’s classic sound and the urgency and empowerment of a post Trump world rampant on USE MY VOICE needed to be recognized.

THE WHO – the timeless band’s eponymous album can remind avid fans of their greatest hits with songs like DETOUR, BALL AND CHAIN, BREAK THE NEWS, ROCKING IN RAGE and STREET SONG. Which is why a Best Rock Album nomination was to be on the horizon.

BLIND LEADING THE BLIND by MUMFORD AND SONS- Another energetic ROCK PERFORMANCE contender that was not considered in the final list.

LIVING IN A GHOST TOWN by ROLLING STONES- I mean this was vintage Stones to a t and fit perfectly with our current circumstances lyrically so a ROCK PERFORMANCE/ ROCK SONG nod would have been nice and fair.

RETROGRADE by PEARL JAM- this was melodically superior and with its emphasis on a better world order and tribute to Greta Thunberg, it was ripe for a ROCK PERFORMANCE/ROCK SONG approval. The lyrics were absorbingly effective.

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COUNTRY

WHEN LIFE IS GOOD AGAIN by DOLLY PARTON – why was this not considered? It’s perfectly suited as a clarion call for hope and even tempers in such a trying year. It’s Ms. Parton to our rescue with her optimism but nothing sways an obstinate Academy.

SAM HUNT’S HARD TO FORGET or YOUNG ONCE – if these two could not make it, nothing good can for a Best Country Solo Performance/ Country Song berths. They were the best bets for a fair field.

NEXT TO YOU, FOREVER AND A NIGHT or PROBLEM CHILD by LITTLE BIG TOWN- this beloved band has scored a deserving COUNTRY ALBUM nod and Country Song nomination for the excellent SUGAR COAT but a more nuanced choice would have come from the above three, with their detailed, effortless harmonies and lyrics making them frontrunners.

NOBODY BUT YOU by BLAKE SHELTON and GWEN STEFANI- one of the best love- drenched collaborations of the year didn’t make it to the Country Group/ Duo Performance although I think it had a fair shot for the Best Pop Collaboration too.

HER WORLD OR MINE by MICHAEL RAY- this should ideally win the Country Song or Country Solo category and a lack of nomination for this beautifully sung, sublime meditation on taking difficult choices in the course of personal disintegration, extending to a couple’s kindred too as per its moving lyrics, was totally illogical.

RESENTMENT by KESHA and STURGILL SIMPSON or even COWBOY BLUES- it would have been genuinely thrilling to have both of these compete for the COUNTRY DUO/ GROUP COLLABORATION and COUNTRY SOLO berths respectively, to show Kesha’s resurgence as a versatile, vocally astute artist. But nothing satisfies the Academy after all.

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In other categories, we have omissions beginning with TONI BRAXTON getting the exit point for R&B even with the uplifting DANCE or the soulful GOTTA MOVE ON feat. HER from her latest album SPELL MY NAME. The latter boasts especially of a swooning guitar solo by H.E.R. and opening minutes punctuated by strings, not to mention sensuous vocals befitting Braxton’s iconic oeuvre.

They could have easily made it to an R&B PERFORMANCE nod.

THANKS FOR THE DANCE by LEONARD COHEN made the cut for only a BEST FOLK ALBUM nod? Surely the Bard’s spoken word gravitas and the instrumental transcendence of most of the songs on this album deserved to have it contend in an ALBUM OF THE YEAR berth, in an ideal world. Even a Vocal Album nod would have sufficiently sufficed. Just listen to the title track, IT’S TORN, HAPPENS TO THE HEART, THE GOAL, LISTEN TO THE HUMMINGBIRD or THE HILLS and you’ll know why.

MURDER MOST FOUL by BOB DYLAN- This epic narrative of a nation’s eventful panorama clashing with definitive milestones pitched the good with the bad, to paint a portrait of humanity and for the Nobel laureate should have ensured a Song of the Year nod. It was simply poetic and profound.

THE HIGHWOMEN for ALBUM OF THE YEAR or COUNTRY ALBUM, COUNTRY SONG ( for IF SHE EVER LEAVES ME though they have scored a nod for CROWDED TABLE which is good enough) ; I feel the album deserved a more holistic reception in major categories.

HIGHER LOVE by KYGO/ WHITNEY HOUSTON- this had to score a definitive Dance Recording nod, it was a perfect way to salute a Whitney classic of yore and Kygo brought it to the current era without tinkering with its beats or innate sound.

FALL ON ME by A GREAT BIG WORLD and CHRISTINA AGUILERA – this was obvious for a Pop Group/ Duo Performance and is as beautifully effective as their previous chart smashing, Grammy winning SAY SOMETHING(2013)

MAGDALENE by FKA TWIGS- this album pushed sonic boundaries and showcased FKA TWIGS as a powerhouse who could juggle diverse vocal turns swiftly and make every song transformative, like on MIRRORED HEART, THOUSAND EYES, MARY MAGDALENE, SAD DAY, HOME WITH YOU and the biggest standout in CELLOPHANE. A Vocal Album nod was in her stride. Even an Alternative Album consideration went past her unjustly. Cellophane, above all, definitely merited a Solo Performance backing from voters. It was such a beauteous turn and structured in line with the lyrical intensity she detailed throughout.

AND OF COURSE, THE WEEKND- I never thought that it was possible to deliver this verdict on AFTER HOURS, an album cut out for wins galore whether it was for RECORD, SONG, POP VOCAL ALBUM, ALBUM, POP SOLO PERFORMANCE( for any song among BLINDING LIGHTS, IN YOUR EYES or SCARED TO LIVE), R&B PERFORMANCE, R&B SONG and PROGRESSIVE R&B ALBUM. It happened and it’s stupefying to believe in such a gross omission for one of the biggest hits of recent years, leave alone 2020. Be it his perfect live performances or his embodiment of the blood soaked, red coat clad, sunglass wearing protagonist from the album, he is an artist and a showman who has reached his peak and the Recording Academy chose to give him nothing. The joke’s on us.

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GRAMMYS 2021: the artists and albums that were left in the cold.

I have already published an article last night that addressed the rampant unfairness and rather foolhardiness of the nominations that had absolutely no regard for ‘real music’. Music that meant so much in terms of songwriting and experimentation, aesthetics and overall outreach was left in the cold and that too at a juncture in our culture where we thought that previous oversights would be rectified and meritocracy will spring back to action.

Here, I share the artists, songs and albums that were treated unjustly by the behemoth we know as Recording Academy. In my honest opinion, they all deserved nominations at the very least as a mark of due acknowledgement for them and their overall teams’ contributions.

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Some of the glaring snubs/ omissions were reserved for the Best Pop Solo Performance, a category that has over the years awarded and initially nominated works with no real merit whatsoever in that field. I was aghast hence when ANYONE by Demi Lovato, which began its emotional spell on us with a live rendition at the 2020 ceremony itself, did not find favour, given the studio cut was flawless and detailed the singer’s brush with loneliness and a near death experience. She laid her soul bare, quite literally and it clenched ours, in turn. With just a spare piano as accompaniment, ANYONE exemplifies a solo performance and Demi is an extremely beloved artist so how it fell off the ‘voters’ radar, in the manner it did, is baffling and excruciatingly unjust.

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THE LUMINEERS’ 3

The Lumineers’ members have been collectively nominated as Best New Artist and for their breakout hit HO HEY but I believe their true artistic melifluence as an unit reached peaks on CLEOPATRA which went unnoticed by the Grammys and now their third album was again snubbed completely, given that it continued its streak of poetic lyrics and melodic whole plus Wesley Schultz’s vocal beauty merited nods for songs like DONNA, JIMMY SPARKS, MY CELL and the sombre and poignant SALT AND THE SEA. They could have merited an ALBUM OF THE YEAR, VOCAL ALBUM, BEST GROUP/DUO PERFORMANCE nods for any of the above songs and the album as an entity in itself. Neglecting them is absolutely unnecessary. I am mourning their no show. I understand that they will be thought of as an alternative act or folksy to mainstream voters. Hence, it’s high time they recognized music without pigeonholing categories through the prism of pre-conceived notions.

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BLOWBACK, LAND OF THE FREE by THE KILLERS

IMPLODING THE MIRAGE deserves to be up for ALBUM, VOCAL ALBUM considerations in an ideal world, in fact I would have loved to see their names up for a Group/ Duo Performance for anything from CAUTION, MY OWN SOUL’S WARNING to the underrated LIGHTNING FIELDS and MY GOD. Being seen as a predominantly rock outfit by voters, it’s imperative to understand that this album was pop and retro, timeless and enjoyably infectious so pushing it into one categorical niche would be unfair.

BLOWBACK and LAND OF THE FREE(live) needed to be considered as they are beautiful lyrically and sonically. We have awarded HEY, SOUL SISTER by THE TRAIN and Adele’s SET FIRE TO THE RAIN for their live iterations; so why not for the latter choice in this case? It’s a downer that Song of the Year nominations eluded Brandon Flowers and his team’s sincere and always productive efforts.

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HEAD ABOVE WATER, IT WAS IN ME by AVRIL LAVIGNE

Avril Lavigne is an icon and each one of us has embraced one or the other of her eras or collective discography through almost two decades. Is that the excuse for shutting doors on either of her excellent, accessible vocal and lyrical turns on HEAD ABOVE WATER and IT WAS IN ME for Pop Solo Performance or Song of the Year? She deserved to have a shot with her victorious comeback. If Ed Sheeran’s No.6 Collaborations Project can make it to Pop Vocal Album list, then HEAD ABOVE WATER as an album needed to rightfully be up for consideration. It’s a cruel omission.

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NORAH JONES’ PICK ME UP OFF THE FLOOR

I suspected this could happen given she has won multiple times before. My fears were validated when her excellent new album was blocked out for anything: VOCAL ALBUM, POP SOLO PERFORMANCE for works like I’M ALIVE, TRYING TO KEEP IT TOGETHER, TO LIVE, HOW I WEEP and especially the sensuous, elegant FLAME TWIN or even a SONG OF THE YEAR nod. She has one nomination in AMERICAN ROOTS PERFORMANCE berth for a collaboration with the legendary Mavis Staples this time. But unlike me, it will be skipped by most who only have eyes towards the more mainstream categories.

This album was made for more glory than the Recording Academy afforded it. Not to mention, her consistent output with her live sessions from home throughout these months has captivated us.

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THE LET GO by ELLE KING

A controlled, diverse vocal turn, that too live, by ELLE KING needed to be considered for a Solo Performance. All those cohesive highs and lows of the overall song, alas, fell on deaf ears.

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LETTER TO YOU, GHOSTS by BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

These two songs too should have atleast had a chance to contend in the Song of the Year category as both personalize and universalize their central lyrics and testify to the Boss and his E Street Band’s longevity above anything. The time-tested ‘legends are above mere awards’ argument will be presented as a defence in this instance but we are not buying it.

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THE LAKES by TAYLOR SWIFT

FOLKLORE deserves all accolades and I’m happy with its overall tally in the major categories. Taylor Swift truly managed to curate a refined confection of lilting melodies that put this year in perspective and played to her songwriting strengths, harkening back to her heyday of FEARLESS, SPEAK NOW and even her Hunger Games standout SAFE AND SOUND.

THE LAKES, however, could have been the honoured one among the Song of the Year and Pop Solo Performance nods as it’s still underrated owing to it featuring as a bonus track. As far as songwriting goes, it’s golden.

That would have been a profound choice. But Taylor has come back to earth after reaching stratospheric heights in popularity and any kind of triumph is welcome.

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CAM’S THE OTHERSIDE

No. This had to be Cam’s moment as she delivered flawless lyrics on REDWOOD TREE, TILL THERE’S NOTHING LEFT and the beautifully revisionist DIANE that was the gentle, progressive flipside to Dolly Parton’s legendary JOLENE. Even CLASSIC was all kinds of peppy while FORGETTING YOU was wistful, charmingly produced and sung. I had stood steadfast by her labours on all these and in an ideal world, SONG OF THE YEAR, VOCAL ALBUM( pop is a word that needs to go from this category since true singing merits no one train of thought or stringent terminology) and ALBUM OF THE YEAR would have been in her reach.

The added insult to injury is that she holds no pride of place in the country echelons as well. It’s difficult to see her be snubbed so outrightly as she’s among the best artists in the industry at this moment. THE OTHERSIDE is clearly among the casualties of this nomination cycle. I mourn that as an avid listener and champion of her musical gifts.

**

MIDNIGHT SKY by MILEY CYRUS

They could hold the nerve to consistently ignore the alchemy of Miley Cyrus and on a classic sounding track like this. Tragic.

**

BAD FRIEND, CHOSEN FAMILY by RINA SAWAYAMA

Rina Sawayama has been championed by the likes of SIR ELTON JOHN and she’s clearly a hit with fans worldwide. Her debut album surely then deserved more love, atleast in regards to Pop Solo Performance with BAD FRIEND or CHOSEN FAMILY. Also, a career boosting Best New Artist acceptance was in store. But it wasn’t so.

If it’s tantamount to her U.K. roots then it’s baloney. She has as many takers, if not more across the Atlantic as scores of music reactors, writers and commentators have looked out for her evolution. Why did the Academy not fall in line? We will wait for an explanation that may never come.

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No love for CELINE DION’S COURAGE or MANDY MOORE’S SILVER LANDINGS

Celine Dion is a living legend and that may be the possible explanation for a no-show for COURAGE from a Pop Solo Performance nod; it doesn’t hold water because each work should be taken separately, in the present without the halo of what came before, no matter how esteemed. The album could have also passed muster.

It’s another tale with beloved star Mandy Moore’s restrained, beautifully written work on SILVER LANDINGS, especially FIFTEEN and TRYING MY BEST, LOS ANGELES. She has always been around and with THIS IS US’ phenomenal success skyrocketing her fortunes, she turned to her first love: music. It’s hard for me to fathom how her solo turn from A WALK TO REMEMBER, that is ONLY HOPE, an exceptionally sweet, celebrated melody didn’t get marks for a Solo Performance or Visual Media stamp of approval back in 2003. This was surprising, given the film’s cult status. The Academy has repeated the same oversight as SILVER LININGS hits one like a breath of fresh air, calming and holding fort for her vocals. She deserved a shot with atleast a Vocal Album nod.

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WRONG DIRECTION by HAILEE STEINFELD, FIRST MAN by CAMILA CABELLO, ALICIA KEYS’ RAISE A MAN or UNDERDOGS.

These are all soulful melodies, piano ballads that could have been in the running for Pop Solo Performance. The final song by Alicia Keys is further a token of hope that is joyful and Zen in its approach, just like the singer. All got crossed out perhaps before we could even raise expectations for them.

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GLASGOW(NO PLACE LIKE HOME) by JESSIE BUCKLEY

This gem from the WILD ROSE O.S.T. is a showcase for the singer-actress in her prime. With Oscars too choosing to sideline it, I thought Grammys will be kinder to an exceptional songwriting( courtesy iconic actress Mary Steenburgen) and vocal feat. Our hopes were dashed but this melody will always be special and hauntingly beautiful for us. A Best Song From Visual Media nod was due.

**

YOU SHOULD BE SAD and FINALLY/ BEAUTIFUL STRANGER by HALSEY

When Halsey showed the world she could trump notions of her pop ascendancy with an inter-generic highlight( YOU SHOULD BE SAD) and bring guitar gravitas to a simple and sonorous melody(FINALLY/BEAUTIFUL STRANGER), the Academy looked the other way. It ain’t fair, at all because her clever wordplay alone was ripe for a Song of the Year nod or the vocals could have fit snugly in the Pop Solo Performance category.

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WASTELAND, BABY by HOZIER

A Vocal Album consideration, atleast, for the always reliable HOZIER’s output with NINA CRIED POWER( featuring Mavis Staples), MOVEMENT, the title track and the gripping, beguiling DINNERS AND DEATRIBES was sought after. He was met with silence from a so called ‘body of experts’

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FALLING by HARRY STYLES

This piano melody should have been on the Pop Solo Performance list than the mediocre WATERMELON SUGAR. I fail to understand why the Academy chooses to shut out genuinely good songs over the seemingly popular ones? It’s maybe a rule now.

MY FUTURE

The same logic applies to MY FUTURE being replaced by EVERYTHING I WANTED when the former is clearly the superior one, its first two minutes of vocals alone warranting a nod.

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ORVILLE PECK

Orville Peck’s career crest has been solidified. A deserving BEST NEW ARTIST nod passed him by but several of his songs merited a Solo Performance stamp, such as DEAD OF NIGHT, TURN TO HATE, QUEEN OF THE RODEO, SUMMERTIME, NO GLORY IN THE WEST; a Vocal Album would have been wonderful too. As for his cowboy persona and timeless vocals, Country echelons could have called out to him, with a Best Duo Performance nod for LEGENDS NEVER DIE, his accessible and utterly bewitching duet with the iconic Shania Twain, at the least. A void greeted him hence across the board.

(More than the academy, hosts like JIMMY KIMMEL and JIMMY FALLON have done more to promote him and Rina Sawayama)

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ABOVE ALL, NO LOVE FOR HAYLEY WILLIAMS’ PETALS FOR ARMOUR?

Hayley Williams has been no stranger to Grammy nominations or wins as leader and vocalist of the highly acclaimed PARAMORE. So when she transferred her personal strength and unconventional sonic palette to her debut solo album PETALS FOR ARMOUR, we thought it was a given she will get away with a Pop Vocal Album nod, at the very least. No, that didn’t happen. And we are indeed heartbroken. Be it SIMMER, LEAVE IT ALONE, DEAD HORSE or CINNAMON, the textures and instrumentation balanced moments of restraint with energy, contemplation with stirring personal narratives. It was all for nothing for the Academy; it will obviously be a huge setback for all her admirers and champions.

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DAISIES

Katy Perry fully, wholeheartedly deserved a Pop Solo Performance and Song of the Year nods each for one of her best written and vocally delivered songs. It had to be also because she was the most consistent star creating one memorable live arc after another, in the middle of a pregnancy and a pandemic. For me, she is a clear-cut Entertainer of the Year. It’s a shock the Grammys again put her out of the league tailor-made for her.

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NOTE: another article on the same issue will be out by Sunday. For now, read this one and share your own thoughts.

GRAMMYS 2021: when true, good music was totally eclipsed.

As the so called prestigious Grammy Awards blitzkrieg had its annual rollout of nominees day before yesterday, I, like many others, was again stunned at how some of the best artists delivering some true standouts in terms of song cycles and albums were totally left in the lurch. It was a disappointment and an oversight of massive proportions, undermining genuine talent across categories. I felt more than a surge of anger here ; it was befuddlement and amazement at the tall claims made by industry ‘bigwigs’ and ensured another lost chance at establishing veritable transparency.

In a year where the power of sustainable musicality was more ubiquitous than ever before, this host of nominations proved that a community of fair, familial, like-minded artists is more of a myth and in the service of mediocrity reaching the topmost echelons, words like nepotism, unfair voting and an eye for further promoting flippant, ‘commercially viable’ entities became staples. There was no regard for even considering the aesthetic tastes of afficianados, music lovers who root for great artists, old and new, for discographies that embody consistent, cohesive body of works and soundscapes that elevated our understanding and sensibilities.

The Recording Academy, while being a predominantly American umbrella body, represents a global melting pot as international music has no bounds in its definition and reach and for me personally, it should have used its unenviable position resourcefully to cull categories based on pure and unabashed merit. Before unveiling the catalog of snubs and what I feel to be absolute omissions that didn’t even consider a said artist/song/ album’s eligibility by nominating them, I will say that being bestowed with a Golden Gramophone is every recorded artist’s ultimate dream and receiving one with due respect for a worthy piece accords it with pertinence that mixes joy with validation for one’s hard work. Fans then rejoice because it is an equal validation for them too. After all, their listening graphs determine success and acclaim for the very artists they come to hold dear and who, in turn, narrativise so much of their lives.

Unfortunately, it has become a barometer governed by chart figures. We have to practically know that while for someone like me, true musicians’ output doesn’t, at all, get limited by awards, let alone be considered on that shtick, getting one instituted to award excellence in a diverse field has the power to affect listening habits, change perceptions and diversify an artist’s omnibus. GRAMMYS 2020 falls short on all those legible fronts. From now on, I will echo the feeling that countless sensible people have shared over the years: awards are a scam mostly and do not yield anything beyond an annual ritual. We expect them to be fair, ensure and totally represent a level playing field. Alas, like life’s hard lessons, it isn’t so. For worthy artists, it’s a battle lost and a source of undue negligence, cult following and legends/iconic statures be damned.

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NOTE: in the next posts, I will share some of the omissions and snubs that affected me likewise so many who may share my views.

Soumitra Chatterjee (1935-2020): A life that blended intellect with simplicity

By Prithvijeet Sinha To this writer, as to countless others, Soumitra Dada was a combination of the intellectual and the everyday.

Soumitra Chatterjee (1935-2020): A life that blended intellect with simplicity

My article on the great performing giant Soumitra Chatterjee has been published by CAFE DISSENSUS.

As we mourn the loss of a truly unassuming legend, here’s to his lifetime of prolific output and artistic talents that transcended locations and eras.

Read it and share your own thoughts.

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Spiralling Deep, Into the Teenage Wasteland: On ‘Pretty Persuasion’

Samuel Goldwyn Films In a joint article by David Fear, Joshua Rothkopf and Keith Uhlich for Time Out in 2013, they make a strong remark: “parents admit that some children, adorable as they are, must simply be born bad. Not their children, of course. But those barbaric youngsters, rebellious, foul mouthed, sometimes just pure evil, […]

Spiralling Deep, Into the Teenage Wasteland: On ‘Pretty Persuasion’


My essay on PRETTY PERSUASION, a topical work exploring the politics of gender certification and a teenage wasteland, has been published by SCREEN QUEENS.

Read it and share your thoughts.

Travel is the essence of life

By Prithvijeet Sinha while Seven Years In Tibet shares a spiritual arc of deep evolution through the protagonist’s (Brad Pitt) travels in Tibet, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is perfectly clued to the metropolitan, global, post-millennial truth of young 30 plus Indians who can financially and emotionally commit to extended trips to foreign locations.

Travel is the essence of life

I am so happy to have my travel essay grace the latest themed issue of Cafe Dissensus, a publication that has always been kind in publishing my various works since 2018.

Read it and share your thoughts.

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DIVERSE VOICES, COMPELLING STORIES.

As the title makes it clear, here are some honest artistic statements on the state of adult lives that realistically adhere to its full trajectories, be it in Frontier America( True Grit) or the monochromatic ebbulience and tensions tossed into the always unpredictable terrain of New York( The 40 Year Old Version) or even a morally complex landscape merging past and present, to exercise a civilizational tale of connectedness and humanity reaching out for a blemish-free community( as created notably in The Village).

So here they are, for viewers, cinephiles, for a more holistic understanding of human endeavours at their complex best.

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45 YEARS

This film not only introduced me to the smouldering intensity of THE PLATTERS’ evergreen song SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES but kept me invested in its tell-tale signs of a rocky unraveling of a marriage of four decades and more. This was just by the reaction to its trailer alone five years ago.

When I finally watched it few weeks ago, I was devastated emotionally by how realistic and even-tempered it was; in its diagnosis of lifelong relationships that sustain their longevity even without a sign of endurance or guarantee of whole-hearted integration, it very clearly shows us the passage of time and the bitter fact that compatibility among strangers who do not share a prior bond and then decide to settle down to create that all-encompassing marital status over years comes with some dense realizations.

45 YEARS is one that beautifully illustrates its protagonists’ dotage and settled rhythm of everyday routines within a week before they ring in their anniversary. But the past comes by to sweep away all this accumulated sense of normalcy and mutual love and takes it to a place where both man and wife find themselves lonely and resentful of communication gaps that mostly social norms impose upon us. The man’s honesty about a previous lover prior to his marriage with his life partner opens up a portal of unrequited grief within him when a startling discovery about the same woman ,whom he lost almost fifty years ago, gnaws at his stricken consciousness. We see how youth and its mysteries never truly leave us nor does the agency of our first love. Tom Courtney accesses that uneasy truism and its overwrought burden with such poignant melancholy.

It’s Charlotte Rampling, however, who is the anchor not only to this marriage like thousands of women, but whose unraveling is more reserved but truly heartbreaking. At the end of the rope, she finds the knots have all opened up for her deception, as if these years were all a big fraud and she was merely filling in a model for a deceased beloved, for the man she chose to spend her life with. Her eyes become, truly, windows to her soul and in a memorably affecting scene where she accesses photographs from her husband’s trove of memories, she exhibits her understated brilliance at reaching at many fundamental truths about her bond with her better half. As also the reasons behind some of its glaring missteps, like their childlessness, his temperament and the way he always posits ‘he’s tired’ when the pressure-point comes in between conversations.

The ending stays true to that fabric of betrayal and keeping up appearances that define social compulsions, the biggest of which sums up marriage. But something snaps in the lady of the home and amidst the revelry of an anniversary party, unseen by anybody else, she stiffens up and refuses to play bait to her husband, taking it to a devastating finale. It is true to the way most marriages reach a point of reckoning. That brutal honesty is the hallmark of 45 YEARS in all respects. Ms. Rampling gives us a performance and a portrait so haunting that we will begrudgingly accept all faults within our own bonds when we watch her but ultimately reconcile that her face is a mirror reflecting all we know about the state of interpersonal relationships. Her eyes communicate every emotion. The silence within this screenplay attests to that. THE SMOKE GETS IN OUR EYES AND ENGULFS US FULLY THEN.

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THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS

‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ is a statement that comes with its plethora of emotions in this eye- opening documentary, about three adopted boys,who at 19, discover each other through the intervention of fate and turn out to be identical triplets separated at birth.

From that heady rush of joy and years of togetherness, even celebrity, their collective tale plummets to depths of melancholy and a haunting sense of loss orchestrated by the foster system, the moneyed class, larger ethical issues pertaining to a horrifying experiment concerning twins in post war America and conflicts between dual entities of ‘nature and nurture’

THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS opens us to the very real presence of human corruption robbing youth and society, in general, of its innocence. It reminded me of the sibling dynamics of TELL ME WHO I AM, as chilling and sans resolution.

**

TRUE GRIT

This 2010 version of an original Western classic starring the legendary John Wayne is given the usual Midas touch by Coen Brothers who clearly specialize in period pieces. The authenticity and eye for detail here is strikingly their own hallmark.

Hailee Steinfeld in her breakout as Mattie Ross, Jeff Bridges as Marshal Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon as ranger Labeouf are personalities that I had known through the years via perusal of reviews, writings and popular culture but watching them create a tale of settling scores with a blackguard (Josh Brolin) entails a ride one is willing to take with them.

The Coens’ dialogic dynamism, naturalistic progression of events without reliance on big set-pieces successively revives the hard edges of Americana. Like all their works, it ends with a more nuanced take on humanity. That is the real triumph.

**

THE 40 YEAR OLD VERSION

Radha Blank is a fresh new voice who juggles writing, directing and performing duties to curate a bittersweet autobiographical portrait of an artist, in an era that will only act as a welcome gateway for such multifaceted and original mavericks.

Shot in evocative black and white, it’s a familiar tale of artistic pursuits and moving ahead in the world, all the while negotiating a family legacy of personal integrity and racial stereotypes. What injects it with life is its lack of bitterness or overt cynicism, strokes of natural humour, musicality in the written word and the fact that it realistically hones in on the flowering of one’s true talents when at the periphery of middle age. Its characterisation of Blank playing herself, her students, her kindred artistic soul D and best friend Archie are all memorably etched. They stayed with me after I watched it on the third day of its release on Netflix. That’s a feat in itself.

THE 40 YEAR OLD VERSION is one of the least showy and positive tokens of original content to embrace 2020. Thank you for the smiles, Ms. Radha and for showing the true indomitable Spirit of artists that refuses to buckle under sundry pressures. It’s instantly relatable.

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THE VILLAGE(2004)

This is one of those intellectually stimulating motion pictures that deconstruct the way civilization has tried to hoodwink human capacity for monstrous deeds and rationalize a core of purity for self-preservation. Like all Manoj Night Shyamalan features, its ambition is to strip the foundations of horror but its final destination and biggest concern is with generating empathy.

THE VILLAGE cues a love story and a man’s path to recovery parallel with a visually impaired young woman’s quest for individuality given the dangers galore in venturing beyond the forests, to prevent the wrath of those ‘who shall not be named’

The treatment is fascinating, emotionally resonant and the performances by the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Judy Greer, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and others inspire us to look beyond the obvious. On the other side is Adrien Brody’s arc as a mentally challenged young man whose condition becomes a point of reckoning for the way similar individuals are equated with a kind of monstrosity, that the community here utilizes to achieve its poignant but tragic outcomes. Harking back to an elemental time in terms of practices, customs, dressing sense and lack of technology, it is very reminiscent of the Amish community. The ending particularly comes as a knockout when the supposed period setting and almost mythical conflict comes in contact with the contemporary, ‘outside’ world.

As complex and unbelievable as it sounds in its premise, THE VILLAGE is a powerful allegory of the way we construct mores and worlds to advance betterment of society. Its final use of the word ‘kindness’ by Bryce for a security official she encounters unexpectedly captures this work’s tryst with empathy. Roger Deakins’ photography further adds to the mystique, complexity and ideal of purity it aims for.

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THE HALL OF FAMER OF 2020

FATHER OF THE BRIDE – PART 3(ISH)

Amidst the worst phase of our modern lives, we are blessed to beckon the easygoing charm of this surprise reunion that pays tribute, in its loveable and innocent way, to communicating over Skype and Zoom chats. Socially distanced conversations never seemed so sweet or pure in its familiarity on screen than this, the third in the pantheon of FATHER OF THE BRIDE films from the 1990s that I personally loved watching back in the mid 2000s.

As an unique wedding gets solemnized over computers, old reigning guards of the franchise like STEVE MARTIN, DIANE KEATON, KIERAN CULKIN, MARTIN SHORT and the original bride KIMBERLY WILLIAMS PAISLEY return to spread cheer while newcomers include blazing current stars FLORENCE PUGH, ALEXANDRA SHIPP , BEN PLATT and the ‘father of them all’ ROBERT DE NIRO joins festivities.

With so many marriages and life-decisions finding a foothold through digital networks, this nearly 30 minute capsule is pithy and maintains the compactness of relationships and a yearning for joy. I loved it. In this festive season, FATHER OF THE BRIDE -PART 3(ISH) is like a magical interlude. Thank you Netflix!

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‘IT’S A SMALL WONDER’ : THE POPULAR CULTURE FIXTURES OF MY CHILDHOOD THAT MADE ME(AND US)

These troubled and indefatigably inscrutable times have injected a heavy dose of nostalgia in our everyday situations. Life, per se, never seems devoid of complications of diverse kinds as an adult and a year like this has only compounded our anxieties about our place in the world. But you know something: as we look at the children around us as they too embrace the ‘new normal’, we keep heading to the past, the nostalgic portal opens up and we yearn to become kids all over again, back to the glory days where innocence reigned supreme quite literally.

Our popular culture fixtures in the form of animation and live-action shows were there to guide us through trails of mischief and bonding, the beauty and ugliness of the world at large. But quintessentially, they knew the pulse of childhood and kinship among friends, knowing that we all shared our interests and the characters on the televised pantheon were our lifelines. From exchanging WWE cards to Pokemon tazos, passing the parcel to Name Place Animal Thing sharpening our mental capabilities, those were the days. In all senses. Truly unforgettable.

It makes me think about the kind of content that children receive in terms of cartoons now and a lack of substance and changing mores, whether they be guardians relying on tutors or refusing to acknowledge the problems of technology within a predominantly ‘smartphone generation’ for their kids. Innocence can never be truly lost so I take this trip down memory lane to resurrect some eternal favourites that children around the globe recognise as cultural totems and wish that this collective power of imagination is never lost on the current generation.

In short, these are the popular culture fixtures of our childhood that made us.

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SMALL WONDER

In naming this essay after this timeless show, I have tried to take back its sway over a whole generation of Indians who loved it equally as their international counterparts. In the 1990s and 2000s, there wasn’t a single child who didn’t know about this American classic airing at 5.30 in the evenings. We discussed about it at recess in school and while playtime was on in the evenings.

The theme song, the music, the characters, namely parents Ted and Joan, brothers Jamie and Vicky, Jamie’s best friend Reggie and the overbearing but cute as hell neighbour Harriet or even her mother’s refrain of ‘no no no no no’, the novel concept of an ‘actual new normal’ in the family dynamics was all thanks to SMALL WONDER. You see, Vicky was a pre-AI model of a robot and that’s all the fun that this premise occasioned.

It all made us merry and united; there was no boundary to consider where the show aired or where it originally aired from or was created. It was the shorthand for childhood. Period. To be honest, I think it last aired here around 2002 and I cried when I realized it wasn’t on the screens. But the fact that every beat and laugh track is fresh in our minds is enough to tell us of its irrepressible place in our hearts. New kids on the block, you better start with this one. It’s a technically simple but unforgettable family experience, full of laughs and emotional connect, reeking of a time when these were not oversimplified emojis. (You can watch SMALL WONDER on YouTube)

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TOM AND JERRY

A literal cat and mouse battle of wits, wiles, mayhem and peerless humour, which had me marvel at the sheer limitless store of comic brilliance, imagination or naughtiness of its creators who stayed true to the pulse of childhood, this one will always remain etched in human consciousness till the world stands.

The fact that it’s like vaudeville, where actions replace words and the silent central figures never truly speak, add to its legendary status. This and Chaplin have always made it possible to know that the child in us is ever-present in every and any four corners of the globe. As for the titular superstars, they can’t live with each other or without each other and that’s the true enigma and tenacity of their almost century old relationship in annals of popular culture.

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WINNIE THE POOH

I have already written once about the way the series of books by Mr. MILNE and the 2011 movie impacted me. In fact, WINNIE THE POOH, that adorably gentle specimen of innate decency and his coterie of friends, all with their own distinct set of traits, always have captured my attention wholeheartedly since my earliest years. The cartoon series falls in the same category.

Here’s to the author’s stamp of originality, his gift of understanding the innocence of children’s daily concerns and issues, all beautifully incorporated in characters as timeless as PIGLET, TIGGER, RABBIT, EYORE, MAMA AND BABY KANGAROO and OWL. In today’s landscape of crass cartoons and lack of imaginary worlds to root for, it’s still like a balm on the senses. Calm and free of worldly corruptions. Just like the wonder of childhood.

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OSWALD, NODDY, PINGU, THOMAS AND FRIENDS.

I remember how children’s network POGO had launched the above-mentioned slate of shows and they all became staples for all of us.

Be it the gentlemanly worldview of Oswald, the blue octopus with a heart of gold, a bowler hat, oodles of mannerisms and his pet Vinnie, replicating the dignified style of WINNIE THE POOH for me, the colourful world of Noddy and his toy friends, THOMAS, THE ENGINE and his stationary but interesting conversations with his locomotive friends or the brilliant non-verbal and behavioural approximation of penguins in PINGU, it was a treat, a time when good morals and the efforts of toonmakers to go beyond animation tropes and implement larger visual visions came of age. I am indebted to all of these.

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THE ROAD RUNNER SHOW

A menacing but ultimately naive coyote’s efforts to catch a road runner- an actual bird, maybe, who I always assumed was an ostrich (ha,ha) and then getting burnt and detonated and thrown down cliffs into a cloud of dust underneath, signifying the futility of his gestures (and efforts) is essentially the same premise recycled in episodic loops but it’s fun. That ‘beep, beep’ cry from the Road Runner is a mark of overconfident triumph, for sure. Come on, admit it, we’ve all grown up with it just like Tweety’s refrain on seeing Sylvester,” I think I just saw a pussycat”

The Warner Bros. canon gave us these frenemies/ mismatched adversaries for life.

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THE POWERPUFF GIRLS

The story of three superheroes – BLOSSOM, BUBBLES and BUTTERCUP – created by a concoction of everything sweet, spicy and more by a scientist father- as told in the cartoon’s iconic prologue- is perhaps the pre-IVF success story ever created, resting in the hands of a rare father figure and a single one at that.

Its flashy style, unforgettable theme song and simian villian MOJO JOJO have been memorised by a whole generation. It’s like Cyndi Lauper’s mission statement on her iconic song GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN, only it served both genders because childhood saw the world through no sexist discrimination going by the title.

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THE FLINTSTONES

A Stone Age family complete with a pet dinosaur and feuding but always reconciling best friends, told with contemporary terms, was a success story that became a novel bedrock of our lives. Also, do you remember those stone age cars operated by kinetic legs of the protagonists, as shown here?

Maybe, the creators opened up a facet no archeologist ever could. (I’m kidding, of course)

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THE LAND BEFORE TIME

From THE FLINTSTONES to THE LAND BEFORE TIME, animation efforts created wonderful creative marvels by imagining the sound, fury as well as the stakes and dignity of prehistoric times.

THE LAND BEFORE TIME was about the generational story of dinosaurs and such was the emotional impact that we were all left teary-eyed and even bawling at crucial junctures. I cried to this long before THE GOOD DINOSAUR devastated me with its emotional heft. I will always love these universal tales that mimick the progress of civilization and bonding among kindred so beautifully. Truly, they just can’t make them like this anymore.

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To conclude, lots of other classics like MICKEY MOUSE AND FRIENDS, PINK PANTHER, SCOOBY DOO, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS, FANTASTIC FOUR, ALADDIN, JUNGLE BOOK all occupied our mainstream but the ones above defined the cream of the lot.

I know this essay will inspire you to revisit these titles, age no bar, and hopefully share them with uninitiated members of the younger lot too.

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Netflix Doc Short ‘John was Trying to Contact Aliens’ Sweetly Recognises the Efforts of One Man’s Passion for UFOs

At several points in our lives, we have all surely rested our heads on a ground full of grass and stared at the sky and the moon, to not only wonder at the infinity of the universe under whose cover we mortals live but also to ponder upon our own place within its never-ending expanse. […]

Netflix Doc Short ‘John was Trying to Contact Aliens’ Sweetly Recognises the Efforts of One Man’s Passion for UFOs

My article on JOHN WAS TRYING TO CONTACT ALIENS, a sensitive documentary short, has been published by SCREEN QUEENS and I’m happy that this work will hopefully reach more readers and viewers. I thank the team at SCREEN QUEENS as always.


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