I’m lucky to be exposed to the variegated forms of storytelling in cinema. It reassures me that no matter what the various circumstances of our collective and individual lives, the cinematic eye will capture all and present them in the most intimately familiar manner.
Below are listed three diverse works in terms of style and mode of storytelling that recreate slices of life that we cannot escape.
THE WIFE (2018)
THE WIFE has been in the making for a long time. It finally saw the light of day and was illuminated by complex shadings of a female’s experiences through a lifetime of misogyny and double standards. Above all, it’s about the muffled voice of not just a whole gender consciousness but that of an unique predicament on the part of an anonymous writer ( Glenn Close). Her husband( Jonathan Pryce) , by dint of the privilege of being a male, towers above her in terms of reputation and being custodian of intellectual heft. To be in the sidelines as the perfect better half somehow has been her decision but is informed by sweeping inequities of our lop sided worldly scenarios. The rest has to be uncovered by every discerning viewer because revealing much about the plot will mean betraying its core of implosive and simultaneously suppressed anger that puts it in an extremely realistic mold. Every tinge of ego within a familial unit – devolved towards children, spouses- even a society that is too fickle and grandstanding for its own good is handled here by director Bjorn Runge.
Here, the conceit of the husband receiving a Noble prize in literature, the passage to Stockholm and its ramifications on long held grudges and secrets strip the veneer of glory this event holds, adjusting the personal histories of THE WIFE with markers of past and present. The human mind is a Pandora’s box unto itself. In this instance, the psychological underpinnings are straight out of the everyday. On the other hand, the husband’s sexist ways hold a greater light in the era of ME TOO and scuttling of white male privilege.
Watching this powerfully constructed work, based on the book by MEG WOLITZER, where social truths gradually build up by the mark, keeping our sense of perspectives shifting with each layer, I was reminded of Glenn Close’s Golden Globes speech. She had mentioned how her mother, in her 80s, had told her that she had accomplished nothing in life. Her mother ‘sublimated’ herself in the way of life dictated by the father, she said.
In our society, women are seemingly revered, respected, hold our center of the universe. Ironically, they get the least appreciated part in the way we depend on them and hence take them for granted. In forms and documents their names come secondary to the ‘FATHER’S NAME’ or none at all.
Then there we end up taking the vow of silence, one of the three proverbial monkeys to keep up appearances. Rules apply according to one’s present situation. If you are an ordinary person, you have no right to raise your voice, though ‘ordinary’, in itself, is a concept that eludes me. If you are established, you wish to uphold that surface veneer and if you are from the middle classes, protest has to be marked by an ultimately enduring sentiment of conformity. The lines blur among each section. The private sanctuary is a well guarded fortress indeed.
THE WIFE adds another complex dimension to it regarding the nebulousness of artistic ownership and the origin story of one’s genius is pitted on the etchings of gender consciousness.
Ghost writing and embracing the very complex idea of anonymity is paramount here. Scenes where a clashing verbal encounter merges with a good news via a phone call and an honour bestowed on one person leads to subsequent chaos in the aftermath create a parallel culled from the many uneasy transitions we, too, have to handle when the going gets tough.
Virginia Woolf believed that a woman needs to have sufficient financial security and a room of one’s own to write and hence prosper based on her vocation. Here THE WRITER / WIFE / MOTHER finds these at the cost of her own dignity like almost all women are privy to in our world.
Led by the flawless Glenn Close, with her real life daughter Annie portraying her younger self, it boasts of a good cast, with Elizabeth McGovern’s lines ‘a writer must be read, honey’ reverberating in the annals of my present and every individual who has been denied her / his place vis a vis diktats of society. Watch this one.
TWO BY SATYAJIT RAY (1964)
** image/ information credit : Wikipedia.
A kid in a bungalow / mansion all by himself. A street kid outside the walls of the mansion. The kid inside looks at the other. The underprivileged one on the outside continues playing with his bow and arrow, wearing masks , flying a kite while the rich man’s kid tries every trick to obstruct his sense of enjoyment. His own toy trains, robots and other assortments do not engage him. Drowning out the ‘other’ one’s sense of merriment, he is ultimately defeated by the latter who refuses to budge. The mansion ultimately houses the lonely kid, the one aware of his class bearings . He knows the other one can never be his playmate and hence he tries to rein him in with his age appropriate naughtiness.
TWO, a nearly twelve minute short film directed by Indian luminary Satyajit Ray, is the most probing take on the inverted concept of ‘child’s play’ and highlights our earliest instincts especially regards class consciousness, the ones we inherit from our sorroundings. As is the wont with Ray, pure realism irrespective of addressing a particular age group dominates. Not every narrative around children involves unblemished innocence, fun and games. We know from experience how young ones are capable of great meanness, reiterating the patterns they learn from home or the world around them. TWO brings the binaries to a clear understanding of mindsets.
However, the irony is that the boy on the outside remains anonymous as just the ‘STREET KID’ while the other boy RAVI KIRAN gets a credit in the film’s cast details . He’s the lead almost by default, by virtue of his social class and birth while the identity of the poor chap recedes to shadows of poverty outside the bungalow. The ubiquity of class is universal and cuts across ages . It stings us and Ray works his wonders here with an uncompromising vision.
It made me hark back to William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES where the foundation for aggression in children was dealt with an iron clad resolve.
This is Indian auteur KUMAR SHAHANI moulding an expansive, penetrating and effortlessly effective yarn about the way we live, in an almost novelistic manner of simple, stark images, fluid camera work, naturalistic sound design and deft performances, not involving ‘acting’ of a cardboard variety.
Titans of the parallel cinema movement, few of whom have left earthly realm over recent years, such as Smita Patil, Amol Palekar, the enduring couple of Sulabha and Arvind Deshpande, Om Puri, M. K Raina, Rohini Hattangadi, Girish Karnad, Sreeram Lagoo and Jalal Agha all congregate here to brilliantly capture the essence of complex human values. Survival is the bone of contention among key players while class is entrenched in the manner in which they negotiate lives in the concrete jungle.
The most poignant strand is regarding the rich young woman’s (Kawal Gandhiok) tale who is betrayed by currents of internal corruption by all sides and eventually slinks towards an untimely end. Being in a position of social mobility and possessing material wealth, loneliness still grips her and a particular sequence, with the strains of a song sung by the inestimable Lata Mangeshkar conveying the plangent tones of her mindset, captures that beautifully.
The film ends with a surreal, dream like sequence and in its continuum of almost three hour runtime preceding the conclusion , capitalism, labour unions, a cold war of clashing ideals and amorality hit us to etch an impression of our world, exactly as it is.
TARANG (WAVE) is a coherent, many hued work of quiet strength. Its frames hold an inner storm, like the sea side cosmopolitan center of Bombay in which it is set. Sensuality and the play of lust have a direct as well as aesthetic core here in the telling. In the end, we are all social animals, it seems to inform us.