I had told you earlier in my writings on some of the finest films that I sought them out in my post M. Phil months. In the late quarter of 2017 all the continuum of academic flexibility, hard work and stress that I had accumulated over the years was given a toss and as a burgeoning cinephile, I decided to devote the time I had earned to watch all these titles.
This continued in 2018 too and amid work, my writings, publishings and other matters, I allocated some of my most precious moments to uphold my inherent love for meaningful storytelling borrowed liberally from life itself, in various manifestations.
Here are my micro views on almost all of them.
GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?
We continue to be uncomfortable around the idea of consensus regarding interracial / intercommunity unions, cutting across cultures. So think about the sweeping tide of revolution that this timeless cinematic work occassioned back in the ’60s when it released.
It’s dealt with utmost sincerity, respect for viewpoints, acknowledgement of racial history and like my sister so judiciously pointed out has no unnecessary background score to punctuate points, relying on verbal exchanges ; in short on the power of words.
With legends like KATHERINE HEPBURN, SIDNEY POITIER, SPENCER TRACY among others, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? tackles hypocrisies and stark truths, remaining one of the most potent cinematic exemplars of all times.
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
Shot in panoramic wide screen and informed by the epical vision of director David Lean, this evergreen title lets one exclaim that they don’t truly make them like this anymore.
Its voyaging transparency gets Illuminated by Peter O’ Toole’s piercing eyes, vessels of hope and an indomitable spirit, while the visual transportation incorporates every aspect of the titular World War 2 figure’s life and times . Watch it to believe in its constitution of honour, duty and courage.
THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
Intrigues among British colonizers and Native Americans has seldom found a more propulsive take than this historical epic from Michael Mann.
Cue the expert cinematography, penchant for creating appropriate period moods, the music and an especially memorable ambush sequence.
To top it all, there are the talents of DANIEL DAY LEWIS, MADELINE STOWE and others in the cast. THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS gradually leads us to a point of realization without sensationalizing its historical components.
SAHIB, BIWI AUR GHULAM
A timeless indictment of the crumbling, opulent ways of aristocracy as also of its subjugation of females, THE MASTER, WIFE AND SLAVE is legendary owing to the uninhibited portrayal by India’s very own tragedy queen MEENA KUMARI. She claims her own share even within limitations of her standing and questions norms of her age with great agency.
Watch it to be immersed in its sepia toned ethos reviving a complex past and be haunted by its internalized melancholy.
ELIZABETH, ELIZABETH : THE GOLDEN AGE
With a painter’s eye for colours and the vibrancy of a modern storyteller, Indian filmmaker of repute Shekhar Kapur crossed over to international shores with this legendary dual take on the life and times of Queen Elizabeth the First, in the process bringing the wonderfully brilliant CATE BLANCHETT to our notice.
With crackling visuals and a tab on his subject’s personality, both become monumental recreations of an era and the religious intrigues hold up even to this day. Blanchett strides atop every expectation with fire.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Sensitive to the flush of attraction and teenage conundrums that define our storehouse of memories , this tale of ELIO and OLIVER is written with a poetic eye by JAMES IVORY, quite like his other feature MAURICE (1987)
Every ripple of water, dab of colour, ray of light here captures the primacy of first love and the performers all come up with aces. Down to the realistic and heartbreaking endpoint, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME celebrates sensuality and universality of affinities above just carnal passion.
Denzel Washington is practically monumental here, in this portrait of a man/ pilot who finally comes to terms with his demons and accepts his complicity in an almost fatal crash that he was able to avert at the last minute .
Hailed as a hero, he goes through several downward trajectories before accepting in the court of law that his alcohol addiction has cost him his dignity and he has to finally heed the call of his conscience. It is an eye opening account and benefits from its mix of empathy and flawed human resources.
This socially conscious allegory relates a very common strain of class consciousness, in its compartmentalized classification aboard a bullet train that never stops. Don’t we accord a certain conditioning of status to even a basic first class air ticket – you know business class and all.
SNOWPIERCER reflects a futuristic kernel for things we are seeing in motion today, all around us where the idea of gentrification has taken a whole new tinge. It makes us look at the idea behind a call for public revolution as the Hong Kong protests of 2019 . It’s timely to a fault. Plus there are the brilliant dual talents of OCTAVIA SPENCER and TILDA SWINTON here besides the beloved CHRIS EVANS.
There is a time in our formative teenage years when we are swept off our feet by a broad idea of liberty without realizing its consequences.
This beautifully balanced portrait lets the erudite young lady at its center ( Carey Mulligan) face her ups and downs but the power of her convictions in mending her way and claiming a future for herself is quietly revelatory. She takes charge of her own decisions. Hence the power of its title AN EDUCATION – a path ignited by self realization.
A tale of illicit relations set within a time of forbidden moral affiliations, THE READER unfolds like the many contours of the human mind, in a space where all of us long to find an emotional safehouse.
As it integrates itself with post Holocaust era intrigues, it questions the very idea of victim and oppressor and broaches hope in an unlikely reunion for two lonely souls who became one by flouting conventions . Their lifelong secret eventually becomes a saga of redemption. Watch it for its dignity and silent storm of emotions.
The ‘lost and found’ paradigm became so generic and iconic to mainstream Hindi films in the retro era that it is no surprise the predictability factor drained it of all its poignant value and eventually trapped it in faux escapist fares by the dozen. A tale like that of LION, based on the very real travails of Saroo Brierly, turns that very paradigm into one of introspection, divided memories and the common threads of humanity that bind us on all four corners of the world.
From getting lost like one of the many poor, Dickension children on the grimy streets of a city in India ( or anywhere) , the precedent of which is set by his separation from his family, to the miracles of getting adopted by a kindly Australian unit, he gets to unwittingly see life take a 360 degree turn and receiving everything that he could have never imagined in his original post, back where he was born. His memories haunt him still and he decides to find his birth home as an adult .
LION lays bare the tangible power of Saroo’s identity crisis and the world of goodwill he experiences within his youth that allows him to undertake an intimate journey home. This is unforgettably humbling and both his mothers played respectively by Priyanka Bose and Nicole Kidman are excellently attuned to their inner worlds. So is Dev Patel. He is the soul of this extraordinary cross – continental saga. As for the film’s unusual title, watch it to know about its not so metaphorical leanings as one will suppose.
This silent manifestation of one woman’s perils to find her missing husband takes her from the snowy expanse of her Himalayan home town all the way to the big, bad world of the city.
There is a haunting sense of melancholy in Geetanjali Thapa’s National Award winning turn here. From her midnight flight from home to entail her lone search, with her young daughter and a pet goat in tow ( both symbols of the innocence of our world besieged by more sinister forces), her meeting with a curiously intriguing man ( Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who aids her and then the many moral dilemmas that overtake her as a married woman and mother looking for answers, she is a lone ranger in a predominantly man’s world.
That final cry of despair on her part and the open ended conclusion cutting back to her original home town / village covered in snow is inwardly tuned to the rudderless ends that millions of poor people have to endure within urban India ( by extension everywhere)
This cloying sense of unanswered anxieties is very much a part of Geetanjali’s other au natural turn in I. D. , another tale where the axis of urban and rural opens our eyes to the lack of commitment we have all come to stand for. Here too, Thapa’s sole efforts to set things right sees her reach a bleak dead end.
THE BENGALI MASTERS
RITUPARNO GHOSH FILMS – DOSAR, UNISHE APRIL, SHUBHO MOHORAT, ANTARMAHAL
I have keenly written about many Bengali feature films in my previous blog posts and I share some other works by three undisputed masters of the industry. Actually, they embody the best, diverse collage of Indian cinema as a whole.
Rituparno Ghosh, long heralded as a modern day Renaissance figure like Ray, mines the growing strains of urban rot and infidelity in the most striking sepia toned palette in DOSAR ( THE COMPANIAN), hinging its foundations on the stakes for the man – woman equation in all its modern complexities while UNISHE APRIL ( 19TH APRIL) is a study of a fraught mother – daughter bond where each side has multitudes to convey. Its play like structure and indoor setting adds to the realistic foregrounding of the conflict pitched on lines of gender consciousness and the past encroaching upon the present.
Then there is the no nonsense, multiple layering in SHUBHO MOHORAT ( Auspicious Date) where a cross section of Calcutta’s urban society comes under the lens of the Agatha Christie like Pishi Maa ( legendary Rakhi), making it as nail biting as any of the writer’s mysteries, with a firm grip on the verisimilitude of events, places and people. Lastly, there is ANTARMAHAL ( The Inner Chamber) where sexual politics, desires and serpentine ways of faith all converge in a rich landholder’s mansion, set in pre Independence India. The female perspective here is front and center indicting fiats of both faith and male controlled definitions of desire.
Watch this quartet to inculcate a sense of the local and global sensibilities that cinema essentially entails.
APARNA SEN FILMS – 15 PARK AVENUE, MR. AND MRS. IYER, GOYNAR BAKSHO, ITI MRINALINI
Aparna Sen has been a champion of great storytelling over the course of thirty years and counting and in all these classic titles toplining the naturalistic power of her craft and her partnership with daughter Konkona on the performative front, narratives of various hues flow into each other when taken in whole.
Cue her effective and extremely sensitive rendering of trauma and its associations with mental health crises in 15 PARK AVENUE ( a work I saw as a 14 year old and which has left an everlasting impact on me since) and the unusual and poignantly traced rhythms of an inter religious union in MR. AND MRS. IYER.
The life script of an actress, especially relaying her relationships with men and her maternal core, both suffering from loss, is a multidimensional affair in ITI MRINALINI ( YOUR’S TRULY MRINALINI) while GOYNAR BAKSHO( THE JEWELERY BOX) packs in a generational saga of three women with the political and the personal getting an earnest as well as gleefully comic look. It’s expansive in scope but is treated marvelously well, with a great performance from Maushami Chatterjee whose spirit literally lifts it up in this case.
SATYAJIT RAY FILMS – GHARE BAIRE, JANASHATRU, AGANTUK and NAYAK
Finally, there is the profound corpus of Oscar winning director Satyajit Ray, as in the journey of three individuals navigating their criss crossing fortunes in the wake of the nationalist movement in GHARE BAIRE (HOME AND THE WORLD) with the crossing of the literal threshold by them to a new awakening opening up many complex arterial vistas for the man-woman bond. This is also based on a great literary source, that is the book of the same title by Nobel laureate RABINDRANATH TAGORE, echoing his voice of reformation and inclusivity.
From a good doctor’s fight amid resistance to his righteousness within a small town he helped build in JANASHATRU ( ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, based on the play of the same name by Henrik Ibsen) to the imaginative world of ideas and intelligible screenwriting in the family film AGANTUK (THE STRANGER), Ray’s swan song, these are works of the highest caliber, rooted in the everyday and still holding our fascinations by their attentive cadences of human interaction.
Finally, there’s an actor’s( screen legend UTTAM KUMAR) stream of consciousness journey in NAYAK ( HERO) that unravels his past and present adjunct with crucial social truths and the perspectives of a journalist ( the great Sharmila Tagore) interviewing him.
If you haven’t let the humanity in these titles guide you so far, do so at the earliest. These are essential documents of personalities that are a must watch for cinephiles worldwide .