Continuing the medley of memorable works that gripped me, the caravan of my writings moves on with these following names from the mediums of cinema and television. United, their impact is more pronounced as the months progress.
WILD WILD COUNTRY ( NETFLIX)
A friend of mine from college, who always swooned at the ideas of the great Indian/ global mystic Osho, made me privy to the varied possibilities of the man that was couched in years of enigma. Who knew NETFLIX would come to the rescue of discerning intellects and sate our hunger to know more about Bhagwan Rajneesh’s collective snare?
WILD WILD COUNTRY is a six part documentary that takes no sides in delineating the minute inner world of an alternative spiritual movement as it emerged out of mid 20th century psychedelia and a generation’s tilt towards Eastern philosophies. Born in Bombay and Pune, the Osho mania then was supplanted in the 80s to a remote location in Oregon, USA which became the fabled Rajneeshpuram . There was no looking back for the community. Or so it seemed.
The movement as cult or vice versa is as difficult to comprehend here as a separation between the two. These six episodes are armed with the juiciest of details, half of which had been buried within archival vaults, following a huge setback to the supposed paradise and hence each and every perspective counts. So at one moment you marvel at the communal spirit of the Rajneeshees ( disciples of Rajneesh) who built Rajneeshpuram from the ground and transformed it into a thriving, bustling kaleidoscope of enlightenment, drawing foreigners like bees to honey. It was a phenomenon indeed. But then the flip side emerges and keeps getting murkier legally, personally and most importantly on a moral plane. Our loyalties are tested as viewers and this roller coaster ride keeps us guessing the nature of absolute truth. The clash between a meagre local population of Oregon and the Rajneeshees is the stuff of inverted myth or xenophobic tempers all at once.
Expertly directed, the one quicksilver figure who emerges as a frontrunner for our attention is the organisation’s head MA ANAND SHEELA. Her inimitable presence, in the past and present, and meant to linger in our conscience points at the very inscrutable traction of humanity. At the end of it all, WILD WILD COUNTRY unveils a whole new paradigm for non fiction programming, further reviving interest in the world of Osho / Rajneesh whose publications still capture popular imagination next to none. The enigma is captured in all its glorious continuum, whether we choose one side or remain neutral. Or affixed. It will be hard keeping one track after viewing this excellent, cerebral exercise in the art of multiple narratives.
My sister swears by her. The eternal
livewire that is ELLEN DEGENERES. Like millions of her acolytes, I, too, am always looking to be inspired by her joyous center in the brightly lit studio from where she transmits her show worldwide. That glint of her sorroundings and the perpetual cheery audience has become legendary plus her hosting gigs at the Oscars are to lap up.
RELATABLE, her solo stand up special, comes after her last one in 2003, a year when I was too young to know the very nature of STAND UP or TALK SHOWS. Of course, in India, we had the one and only SIMI GAREWAL with her eponymous show that became the gold standard of interactive class for all times. But coming back to RELATABLE, it came at a time when I struggled each day to beat down negative tendencies that were gnawing at me. So I finally chose one late weeknight to watch this hour and a half special from Ellen and smiles decked those hours and in turn gave me a reason to believe in the simple pleasures of laughter.
In RELATABLE, Ellen, with her trademark naughty glint in the eye, observes, parodies her own personal shares and evinces that child like quality every comic legend has to the bone. She was always a comedian first and foremost. Here she spreads the cheer and if I may say so , I would love to see her live someday, with my sister in tow. I think that will be a priceless moment as it has always been about her connect with an immediate audience and the omnipresent ones ( that is extending to television watchers and those who tune in to online platforms) For now, she will be serenading us weekly with her show and this special is an added bonanza. Her easy going wit is everything for me.
WHITE FANG (NETFLIX)
This Netflix original is a charming marvel proving why the animation sector is the most heartfelt canvas on which universal tales of ultimate goodwill converge and disseminate hope, even when the core is one of sadness.
LET’S FACE IT : ONLY GRACE AND FRANKIE CAN TICKLE OUR FUNNY BONES ( actually, I put up this picture by mistake and so this defensive line. I don’t know how to remove it) so that and a wholesome offering as WHITE FANG is ideal for those who like their entertainment in the good old style.
WHITE FANG is a tale of the eponymous wolf dog who watches a hunter kill his mother, is raised
by another surrogate figure and in a twist of fate, in which God’s creatures who cannot speak get caught in ever so often , experiences pangs of separation, survival of the fittest in the frigid wilderness, is schooled and raised by two kindly humans who are one with nature and faces the axis of life and death in the process of growing up, which, in the natural world, happens way too fast.
I’ll be honest: the sheer idea that humans separate animals and birds from their habitats and families and these innocent incarnations of God endure all that and more makes me misty eyed ; watching WHITE FANG, I couldn’t help from crying at the difficult journey for this young one. This is a tale where the world of speech and silence collides and good is pitted against evil. It’s gentle, unobtrusive, beautifully articulated in a painterly canvas for all ages, old fashioned in the best form; a vessel of humanity.
The heart of the tale is in the emotional investment we make and how the natural world is one where humans and animals live in unison as living ‘beings’ above all. We must pay heed to that everyday.
A QUIET PLACE
Subsisting on bare minimals, foraging for food, looking out for one’s immediate circle of kindred and staying dead silent : these are the essentials of survival in the post apocalyptic America seen in A QUIET PLACE. For one loud sound can bring death swift as a gust of wind. This one and BIRDBOX will always be spoken of in the same breath as they share a basic premise.
But A QUIET PLACE is markedly different as it operates on absolute silences, down to the spare soundtrack, to show a family (EMILY BLUNT, MILLICENT SIMMONDS, NOAH JUPE AND JOHN KRASINSKI) in throes of an extraterrestrial force. They are insulated from the larger world and take us back to a rustic lifestyle and earliest models of existence where the way was through manual labour and of course a joint attuning to the natural order .
A QUIET PLACE is able to design some genuinely tense moments where the absence of speech invites an unparalleled sense of dread and the performances are uniformly compelling. It, to me, is also an allegory of the great migrant crisis in which scores of families are forced to go undercover to evade unseen dangers. By rallying together, they persist. The sound design further gets the heightened sensory attributes at the heart of this tale right. It’s a contemplative look at the lives many already lead.
This superhit Netflix feature is a thrilling conceptualization of the post apocalyptic embers of our civilization, that is fictionalized in the artistic realm to render our real life paranoias urgent. BIRDBOX goes into the entrails of a world where citizens are forced to blindfold themselves from an invisible entity that leads to a grave moment of fearful realization and then suicide.
I have seen it and it kept me invested throughout. The idea of navigating rife situations and physical challenges in the name of survival has become order of the day, what with natural disasters and man made wars occupying our mental berths at all times. In its own urgent manner, the world of darkness and subsequent courage sans vision and the idea of mental health in the way victims of the entity self harm came out as timely reminders from the script to me. Also the way it incorporates the heightened sensory attributes given the circumstances here is emotionally engaging, keeping us on our tenterhooks as possibility of death nips at the heels of all. The entity is never seen in full and a huge development never arrives. But the apprehension is gradually built up. A sense of loss pervades and then a zeal to rise against the strain.
A salient feature is the interpersonal bond that a select group of survivors share comprising of performers like DANIELLE MACDONALD, LIL REL HOWERY, JACKI WEAVER, TREVANTE RHODES, B. D WONG, JOHN MALKOVICH, ROSA SALAZAR and in a memorable cameo SARAH PAULSON. Above all are SANDRA BULLOCK and the kids who undertake a perilous journey down a river and follow their instincts to find a safe harbour. I can understand the challenge that befell them while shooting with a blindfold.
They rise to the challenge and make BIRDBOX worth the hype. Director Susanne Bier has another success story to her credit.
THE HANDMAID’S TALE ( SEASONS 1ST AND 2ND)
Mad Max : Fury Road (2015) gave us the first grimy taste of an apocalyptic patriarchy, as if the real world was any higher. There too, women were reproductive vessels till Furiosa( Charlize Theron) upended rules in the sun scorched purgatory.
Two years down the line, in a post Trump era, THE HANDMAID’S TALE(first and second seasons aired in 2017 and 2018 respectively, I saw it collectively in the past year ) reiterates the disparaging status quo governing our world, even if the setting is decidedly futuristic for the series . The truth of our world is stranger than fiction as we know it so this tale, which I had read about while studying the original source novel’s writer Margaret Atwood’s profile, is guaranteed to singe our souls more than ever. Actually, the future hardly tiptoes around what came before in our immediate present. Every contentious topical element of the here and now resonates in the expertly staged scenarios here and I’m proud to say that Elisabeth Moss has continued to champion scripts that dare to show blisters and scalded innards of our modern existence without flinching from the results. That flinching falls on our part and the internalization benumbs us owing to its approximation all around us. It personalizes and politicises current issues with a primary focus on the stature of women – hard working, career oriented, powerful in some cases and survivors of their present states – who are then inoculated against freedom and are sought as chattels.
Ultimately, in its battle hardened stance for championing equality and a collective of women upliftment, it finds astute performers who embody the whole and the micro. The anger, hurt, searing cries of the soul all come under one umbrella unit here in THE HANDMAID’S TALE. ( coincidentally, as I write this, the teaser trailer for its third season has just dropped)
A KID LIKE JAKE
This is one of the most practical, relatable cinematic examinations of real life to have come out in recent times. A KID LIKE JAKE is about the rat race that adults, as parents, inadvertently end up participating in and in no time pass on the mantle to their children, even before they hit kindergarten.
Getting into schools was so much easier and the meritocracy of our educational system was simpler, we say. How challenging has it become to get our wards into elite private schools. ELITE open to countless interpretations as it is. A modern, enlightened, well meaning and happy couple’s (Claire Danes and Jim Parsons) unraveling in the wake of their son’s admission trail tells us a lot about the fabric of reputation we seek from our earliest days, through society, through our parents and then peers. Individuality is lost and this couple too finds its longing for a stable beginning for the child receiving pressures all too familiar and in our face. The idea is compounded as A KID LIKE JAKE doesn’t remain a hollow title; the four year old’s gender roles become the bone of contention between those not parenting him, thereby affecting them. Can we just let him be? Watch the film to know the subtle treatment it espouses, evolving with the idea of how words are seldom enough to comfort us and can often hurt beyond repair. Its complexity is navigated with ease by the whole cast, including our very own Priyanka Chopra.
Our kids are our treasures and we must preserve their innocence, more so when they bloom with it. A KID LIKE JAKE looks for no quick fix solutions but in Silas Howard’s deft touch, it finds a tale of its times that thoroughly touches us in many ways, questioning the idea of gender fluidity and our modern posturings beyond lip service. Low key is the word. Hence it is highly effective.
This post also simultaneously appears on my WATTPAD profile, on my essay collection A LETTERED SOUL .