UMBARTHA /SUBAH (1982 )
This film is about duty, the ones we fulfill towards ourselves, to then contribute constructively to society. However, most of us have to answer to our immediate order’s beck and call and that sense of responsibility gets clouded by dog eared expectations. Dilemmas of making a change come visiting upon the protagonist in UMBARTHA (THRESHOLD, 1982) as she decides to heed to the call of her conscience and come out of the conformist, upper middle class values of her marital home. Crossing the threshold is one big task for women after marriage and motherhood. When it involves working far away from the family and child, a battle is pitched on lines of gender.
The great Smita Patil, in a role that was almost a heartfelt tribute to her own socialist mother’s contributions to society that stood for actions and not just lofty words, holds her ground, exhibiting a rare humane strength and simultaneous vulnerability. She arrives at an institution for women who have been discarded from society’s center owing to multiple reasons and is firmly enmeshed within their world. Actually, she is trying to carve out a path differently from her familial ethos that is ruled by a matriarch, where her daughter is showered with unconditional love by her sister and brother and law and where her own understanding husband remarks that she is wasting herself sitting at home . Yet she realizes that seeking work too is dictated by limits set by her immediate members. If she sought that for one of the several organisations headed by her cold and indifferent mother in law, it was permissible. That she is an adult and has to seek everybody’s approval for the otherwise noble task of overseeing a social institution as head warden tells us how women are still far from exercising their franchise. It is doubly relevant for our times where misogyny has made an edged comeback into the mainstream. As exhibited in a crucial scene where the other members of her family denounce a woman’s plea for redressal after she has suffered an assault, using it as a launchpad for casual humour, we see and feel her inner unraveling. It’s a reality so many women have to face. Her zeal to have an identity of her own gets strengthened. Her introverted sense of detachment and eventual distance is etched beautifully by the writing.
Ms. Patil’s looks hold the thrall of discovery, anxious foregroundings, pangs and the ultimate loneliness of a pioneering mind. Her eyes and facial mobility do the needful, conveying every quiver and sustained note perfectly. Even the songs in UMBARTHA, evoked in the background, capture her multifaceted aura as she leaves confines of home and transforms her worldview as a social worker overlooking a women’s institute. There is nothing high and mighty about it and Jabbar Patel’s deft direction attests to that nerve of realistic value system ingrained here.
Privy to the life stories of the women, corruptions, complex social mores and the sheer apathy of higher authorities, the final stretch in UMBARTHA is heartbreaking. The open ended resolution betrays none of its realism or the lady’s sense of unfortunate displacement in this world. She has nothing to lose and though half of the female folk wouldn’t opt for such a fate, she does. Her determination to have a meaning in life is incremental to her self respect.
UMBARTHA, a Marathi feature( belonging to the Western Indian state of Maharashtra) , is also available in its simultaneous Hindi version titled SUBAH(MORNING) . It, along with Satyajit Ray’s MAHANAGAR /BIG CITY, remains to be one of the most stirring commentaries on the plights of married working women. Smita Patil is astounding in her breadth of humanity here.
THIS FILM IS AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE.
There are some untenable moral compasses lavished on some. Identity politics governed by social conformity trap them. What transpires often is that children always end up becoming grave sufferers in adult’s playpens in that a family structure seldom shields them from warring psyches among their first guides, i. e the parents. Mahesh Bhatt’s earnestly autobiographical JANAM(BIRTH, 1985) throws a timely light on some pivotal issues of the adult world. In Kumar Gaurav, the lead actor, a monotone of questions and unanswered replies is broached and his raw presence merits the storytelling. ANITA KANWAR and ANUPAM KHER are the entrapped souls who portray the very urgencies of lifelong persecution with grace. These two particularly specialized in essaying people older than themselves and not for a moment do we doubt their authenticity or commitment as the leading man’s parents.
The screenplay and its naturalistic design make it clear that this telefilm, released in 1985, is culled from somebody’s personal vault of memories. Each moment is hence earned, not for attracting eyeballs but for telling everybody that this is the fabric of the unit’s life that is being transported to screen. This is what they experienced. Our empathy is awakened because the translation is no nonsense.
If there is one unforgettable image from JANAM, it is this: the protagonist takes long walks in his trademark kurta pajamas, accompanied by the lilting, practical strains of ZINDAGI. It becomes a soundtrack to this aspiring film maker’s life whose lifelong prick has been the taint of illegitimacy and as an adult, his ‘rambling man’ ethos seems to be for an answer to his hotly contested identity, one imposed by his own bitterness and one in which his biological parents married each other in an austere ceremony without the presence of a social circle but opposition to this match had tarnished their bond as one beyond moral consideration.
AKASH KHURANA as the loyal friend weathering our lead’s complexities with a fierce support system , an always delightful SHERNAZ PATEL in her early film role as his life partner and even ILA ARUN as the father’s legitimate ‘married partner’ who spews poison against her better half’s first born are all tuned to the many layers of life as it turns and churns out self discovery in service to achieving our goals.
JANAM has anger in its rough stead and sensitively delineates its concerns. Mahesh Bhatt’s legendary confessional tone here is a gift to us.
THIS WORK IS AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE. I SAW IT A YEAR AGO ON AMAZON PRIME.
OUT SOULS AT NIGHT (2017)
I have a soft spot for this 2017 Netflix original film as it was the first major title that I watched on the streaming giant which hitherto I had not been privy to in terms of viewership. Of course since then the platform has allowed me to watch all the influential works I often write about here and bring out my inner cinephile in the process. Secondly, it’s directed by Indian / world cinema auteur RITESH BATRA who has importantly helmed his acclaimed labour of love THE LUNCHBOX. His trademarks of looking at people outside the stereotype of the youth demographic and sensitively elucidating inner lives defined by loneliness and then a transient joint pursuit of companionship are universal, also seen in his other works as THE SENSE OF AN ENDING (also released in 2017) and this year’s PHOTOGRAPH.
Jane Fonda and Robert Redford bring sparks to the screen while young star IAIN ARMITAGE( made popular by his stints on BIG LITTLE LIES and YOUNG SHELDON), MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS, PHYLLIS SOMERVILLE, BRUCE DERN and JUDY GREER are equally impressive. You have to watch it to be drawn to the very real dawn of one’s advanced years that OUR SOULS AT NIGHT, based on a novel, grasps. Having someone by our sides at any stage is more than enough. From its opening strains of music to the last Americana tune, this work is vivid, simple and unforgettable.
This DEE REES directorial and the novel by Hillary Jordan are touchstones I preserve as some of the most influential. I will not, however, elaborate on it as all my best thoughts on MUDBOUND find sanctuary in my poetry collection SALT OF THE EARTH on WATTPAD, in which I imagined the unravelings of each central personage with detail and the unsaid that spring from psychology and social conditionings, based solely on a single viewing of the film around November 2017( I read the novel this year) Such is its layered exploration of two families surviving onslaught of the elements and odious human natures in 1940s Mississippi.
Below is the link to my completed collection
It’s closely aligned to the way politics of race and personal developments play out in our world. The performances, direction and especially Rachel Morisson’s cinematography cover the intimate panorama of this wet, bleak, universal landscape of minds. MUDBOUND is about humanity expressed in the interiority of words, deeds and history.
Also, it was the first major breakthrough for Netflix at the awards circuit, especially earning Rachel a historic Oscar nod for cinematography and Mary J. Blige for Supporting Actress and Original song (Mighty River)