I share my thoughts here on some fine works highlighting the realistic alchemy of contemporary Indian cinema, with actor TANISHTHA CHATTERJEE, a rallying figure for quality over the years and one I hugely admire , featuring in all of them. It is a genuine treasure trove implying how much of the good work put forward by consummate artists needs to be discovered anew.
Read this and share your thoughts.
ISLAND CITY is about the warped and sometimes liberating ways in which technology controls us. The inertia of darkness as regards humans who are insulated and occupy micro worlds within MUMBAI, the maximum city, is the core function of this tripartite. They are all suppressed by certain standards of being, repressed by limited choices and really have no voice or even any given opportunity to speak out. AMRUTA SUBHASH as the housewife inured to mundanity, VINAY PATHAK as another cog in the wheel of a robotic corporate enterprise and TANISHTHA CHATTERJEE as a factory worker who is arrested by the inferiority complex of her skin colour are hemmed in by the ironic silences throbbing louder than what the big city syndrome of constant noise would have us believe.
The housewife and her family’s reverence for a soap opera and its parallels with her husband’s absence from home, the office employee’s day out as an incentive for his outstanding performance and the poor girl’s dreams being forecasted by a mysterious figure : these are not BLACK MIRROR like situations but the payoff in each of the three tales are threaded by a preceding emotional lacuna and the ending is not so much abrupt as much as a humane and in one instance grim portrayal of crushing everyday lives that go under the radar in the great Arabian saga of Bombay nagariya (city)
Uttara Baokar as the senior prefect of the home in the first tale is another winning aspect of ISLAND CITY that marks a first for its director. I could feel the drone of the everyday buzzing in these ultimately humane explorations of people who have lost the battle with other beings owing to social neglect and in the one alternative in virtual means find themselves an oasis to build up some foundation of self hood. Until it crumbles before its due date. Watch this one.
The underage widow, the childless outcast, the woman of the night – three stereotypes that every backwater would be more than willing to exploit in a conservative hot-spot of male dominion. They appear not as statistics here. These are the crises that separate the three women and at the same time integrate them with their skewed social structure. Their present conditions are natural to them. The world weighs them in hypocritical equations, a strain that sometimes goes proportional to their bond.
Leena Yadav’s PARCHED, set in the deserts of Rajasthan, highlights ready reckoners from the stagnated center of this socio- cultural ethos, the pure facts that have received little to no traces of erasure in a contemporary fusion, within this Indian state frequented by the world for its mystic charm and folklores.
The circuitous journey continues with the widow’s son’s marriage at the threshold of early adolescence. His burgeoning agency and ego fueled by peer pressure creates a cesspool of continuum for her even further. It’s worse for her young ‘daughter in law’, barely in her teens and replays the cycle the groom’s mother herself must have gone through .
The three friends share joys, laughters and giggles as much as the collective defeat of self definition. They are individuals who have nowhere to go even though the world is more diverse and expansive than the desert that surrounds them. The heat and dust is as elemental as suppressed passions. Leena captures that beautifully. Tanishtha Chatterjee is, no doubt, like a modern day Renaissance artist ala Smita Patil. She knows how to inhabit worlds. Radhika Apte and Surveen Chawla ally with her profoundly.
But Sayani Gupta, in one pivotal scene, took my breath away, in the same poignant manner she did by pitching credible support to Jolly LLB as the pregnant, widowed wife of a slain man. PARCHED is as spare and unforgiving of rank truths as her fate here. The other three, still, stoke the fire of hope and personal fulfillment by their universal presence.
CHAURANGA(2016) , ANGRY INDIAN GODDESSES, GAUR HARI DASTAN and UNINDIAN( all the latter three films released in 2015)
All the above mentioned films share the privilege of having TANISHTHA CHATTERJEE at their helm. These features, released in the calendar years of 2015 and 2016, are being included as they are criminally underrated and still not as critically underrepresented as one usually will assume ; thanks to exhibition on television and on such streaming platforms as Netflix and Amazon Prime besides winning accolades in multiple film festivals , they will be lapped up by cinephiles. For me, they are as distinctive per se and not because they have the arthouse / middle cinema tag attached to them. For me, every cinematic representation means engaging with different tones and textures, attempting to alight corners of human nature and sociological conditionings restricted to hypotheses as we are sometimes far removed from certain demanding, often diabolically tense situations.
CHAURANGA ( FOUR COLOURS) deals with the internalized fallouts of class hierarchies , loss of innocence and sexual duplicities within a rustic North Indian setting, where even a blind, old priest is not above toeing those lines and reminisces about a bawdy song from a blockbuster he ‘watched’ in the village theater.
A pall of sustained, centuried doom is palpable for everyone and with stalwarts as Dhritiman Chatterjee, Sanjay Suri and the younger cast bringing their best to this drone of backwater secrets and hushed developments, CHAURANGA becomes a dispassionate study of rural exploitation. Tanishtha is at her very best as a woman from the lower rungs of this society who is a caring, concerned mother of two teens and a prisoner of a system in which she has to use her wiles and head to negotiate daily sustenance, fending off the upper class’ bottomless storehouse of lust and hypocrisies.
ANGRY INDIAN GODDESSES, on the other hand, finds her among a slew of females in an ensemble cast. These are childhood friends who gather for one of their own’s surprise wedding in the scenic getaway of Goa and watch their adult lives unravel. Past differences, burdens of sexuality, impaired marriages and some of the most common truths and can of worms pertaining to bonding within and among the same gender dynamic emerge.
ANGRY INDIAN GODDESSES is director Pan Nalin’s cohesive look at the snapshots and interactions from our day to day urban lives and in this estimation of a modern world, these vivacious women meet and lay their cards on the table. TANISHTHA headlines a poignant, radical revelation in the story while the likes of SANDHYA MRIDUL, SARAH JANE DIAS, RAJSHREE DESHPANDE, ANUSHKA MANCHANDA, AMRIT MAGHERA and others emit their insecurities, fears with utmost honesty. That it’s directed by a man in the most gender fluid yet specific manner, intertwining topicalities and tragic shades by the end, makes this charming, slice of life, conversational film, full of good and earnest moments, a must watch. There is nothing artificial about it. It is also shot beautifully.
Then comes UNINDIAN, an Australian – Indo production that stays true to the credo of cultural assimilation and its pitfalls among the diaspora, directed by someone who belongs to it. The grey area between that hyphenated existentialism is occupied by TANISHTHA here as she plays a single, divorced mother of one who falls in love with an Australian charmer played with efficacy by cricketing superstar Brett Lee. The clash of cultures is typical, glaring and predictable as it comes. But there are enough good moments in UNINDIAN benefiting from the leads’ partnership on screen and it is ultimately memorable as the momentum of its narrative absorbs some fundamental principles of the diaspora, wherein the value system is neither here or there. But the second and third generations can make a world of change. It is so here.
Finally there is the unhurried lyricism of the life of former freedom fighter GAUR HARI DAS that was brought to my notice with the film GAUR HARI DASTAN ( THE TALE OF GAUR HARI) subtitled as THE FREEDOM FILES.
VINAY PATHAK, once again like in ISLAND CITY, lays bare his soul, this time as a Gandhian for life for whom the ideal of patience and a complete disregard for cynicism reigns supreme, in a journey that takes him nearly thirty years to be recognized for his work in the Independence movement. Bureaucratic webs of apathy, political neglect for the true unsung heroes of our national identity, a common sense of disproportionate relationship with the past among youth and dissonance from his own son who believes he fought for nothing now that hardly anyone believes him, all of these and more fail to deter him.
He gets his recognition after years of being led from pillar to post, all for the sake of proving his identity. This includes his frugal lifestyle, simple ways, community building efforts and the long journey from suburban Dahisar to mainstream Bombay for his efforts, in the heyday of his august years. He perseveres and endures as much as his idol Gandhi.
In GAUR HARI DASTAN, truly a beautiful distillation of the lost art of humility especially among men, actor /director ANANT NARAYAN MAHADEVAN touches our hearts and with a gallery of fine performers as KONKONA SEN SHARMA, RANVIR SHOREY, ACHINT KAUR, VIKRAM GOKHALE, RAJIT KAPOOR, NEHA PENDSE and TANISHTHA, he includes a multiplicity of viewpoints and perspectives.
In the view of Independence Day falling on 15th August, we must watch it ; the irony being that like its subject, this film too needs worthwhile recognition than what it already has.