There are cinematic pieces of such astounding variety within this given number of recommendations that conforming Indian cinema’s identity to just the ‘song and dance’ routines becomes tiring by dint of principled analysis alone, most of all to the naysayers who wouldn’t even make a concerted effort to seek these and many more.
Following are narrative features from across decades, some of them a decade old that have something unique to offer( EKLAVYA and DELHI 6) and were revisited by me to unearth their renewed richness, feeding off the excitement of nostalgia and remembering sequences and images while others were titles I had always wanted to seek for my viewing interests ( the sensitively timeless DADDY and DANCE OF THE WIND ) and another one nestled in a forgotten corner of the niche where many underrated films tend to hibernate before we look at them for their brave choices and techniques (THREE AND A HALF) All of them facilitated this great urge to understand human endeavours and await the vast plethora of actions and reactions to unfold.
Collectively, they allow me to proudly present the versatile whole of the homegrown filmmaking pantheon. In 2020, looking back at our very best should prove to be a learning curve for all of us and especially admirers of cinema in all possible forms of representation.
THREE AND A HALF (2017)
In the year of a work of singular meritocracy as Sam Mendes’ World War 1 drama 1917, the conceit of one- take execution has shifted our focus towards more attention being paid to technical aspects of filmmaking like never before.
THREE AND A HALF is one such feature where multiple talents exchange ideas in order to maintain the unhurried continuity of everyday situations without putting levers on the unfolding mystique of these individual lives, captured with such attention to detail . Divided into three one- take tales quite like short films bound by an inextricable thread of the same location, this worthy indie knows how to utilize those spaces of one home seen through the decades and eke out the trio of vignettes without any pressure of conventional beginning, middle or end. The stories flow given the liberty of this format, in the process making us appreciate the hard work put in by the team and especially the actors to stage these mini plays for uninterrupted forty minute capsules. For the more cynical viewers, let me add that there is nothing gimmicky about the content as the relaxed, seamless transitions from one story to the next helps to aid the storytelling.
Ultimately, these are earthy narratives, rooted in the local, spotlighting urban living through the bond between an elderly man and his grandson(ARYA DAVE and ANJUM RAJABALI) , two unlikely grown-ups connected by the past ( ZOYA HUSSAIN and JIM SARBH), caught in the dingy and diametrically different turnaround of the place and finally, a modern day telling of an elderly couple’s ( SUHASINI MULAY and M. K. RAINA) innate intimacy of decades unspooling leisurely over one Sunday afternoon, as if the home and its inhabitants seem to know that mortality looms large over every being and is ingrained in the four walls of an inanimate structure made of bricks and concrete.
In the end, THREE AND A HALF is a haunting testament to the wealth of stories our homes and living spaces seem to hold over the years and by extension how those same treasure troves get treated differently through the diverse prism of cinema, for the sake of lovingly preserving them. The beautiful bungalow, performances, with the one of the elderly couple being my favourite, and cinematography by Aakash Raj make it worth a watch for the discerning cinephile.It knows it is not for everyone and being available on NETFLIX is an added incentive, given its exclusive stature as an arthouse gem. Dar Gai is a consummate director.
DANCE OF THE WIND (1997)
DANCE OF THE WIND, an international co-production with other like – minded individuals spread out across countries and sensibilities , is a labour of love by its writer – director Rajan Khosa to his land and its people. In its epilogue, he beautifully lays down its purpose of paying tribute to the ancient Guru – Shishya parampara ( teacher to disciple tradition) that has been constructively ingrained in Indian annals of recollection and exemplification. That is what makes the sentiment personal and relevant, at a cultural crossroad where those values are rapidly eroding and self- centered individualism has overtaken the counsel of elders and their overall wisdom per se.
DANCE OF THE WIND is purely in the Hindustani language despite its title being in the universal English one and scores brownie points with me as it respectfully recreates the painstaking aura of classical music and paints a restrained portrait of an enduring mother – daughter bond ( Kapila Vatsyayan and Kitu Gidwani, the former being a true luminary of the Indian art form for decades) that has thrived within the Guru – Shishya canon, as both are singers of the traditional mould. The younger one carries the responsibility and rightful duty of upholding her musical tenets elegantly, in the wake of her ailing mother’s grim forecast for the future. Practice (riyaaz) and fidelity to those bedrocks define her very being.
So it’s natural that her mother’s death leaves her doubly bereft as she was both her parent and teacher. Life under her comforting shadows was stable and full of forbearance. This void exposes her fragility. Watch the scene where she stops singing in the middle of a concert and henceforth loses her will to sing. The loss leaves her in an almost comatose state as far as her artistic pursuits go.
DANCE OF THE WIND is shot in and around monuments, down to the simple but elegant home where the protagonist stays in and the saris that she wears, further buoyed by every emotion encapsulated within the classical recitals. So it’s characteristically Indian in its interiors and style . But at its core, it’s a film about loss, grief and the challenges of finding an emotional shelter once our only true anchors leave the mortal realm.
A varied touch is given by way of one of the protagonist’s students who sings with her but is equally perched atop essentials of modernity.
Kitu Gidwani, an actor of rare grace, is understated , true to the nature of her upbringing and personal nature shown here . In the scene where she loses her bearings in the market searching for the little girl whom her mother gave her sacred thread to, she is phenomenally adept at portraying her rudderless existence. Her bond with the poor girl who possesses a gift of singing is like the connection forged between two solitary ghosts, left with no guardian to look after them and both are mystified by the enigma of the elderly gypsy who once trained her mother and now lives with the girl. It’s uniquely realized.
A cinema of Loneliness with no definite closure, DANCE OF THE WIND is an underrated gem that deserves to be steered towards discussions among dedicated cinephiles as it’s the work of one such soul ( that is its maker)
It’s made with heart and great sensitivity addressed towards its concerns. It is ultimately imbued with a sense of aesthetics we have yet to see of late .
Together, both these films define the acme of Indian cinematic aesthetics and lyrical directorial abilities.
In the next post, I will write about the other works mentioned in the beginning.