The following is a list of cinematic works that covers the vast gamut of every attributable emotion, in the larger service of humanity, in ways forged by their particularity of situations. A lot of them owe their central thrusts on unlikely biographies of living individuals and those who have left this mortal coil but lived during their day to veritably turn the tides of history as well as personal experiences.
Here they are and we must watch them, at a time when the quarantine has made us hold cinema in a higher traction like never before. Nearly all these films were watched by me prior to this period of solitude and lockdown and in their realistic cores inform us that our lives are always governed by certain insurmountable facts that we must face and get ahold of.
Hence, these are true to our spirit stories that look at our daily trajectories in unusually uplifting ways.
MARGARITA,WITH A STRAW(2014), SPARSH(1980) and KOSHISH(1972)
In times like these, we have to especially turn our collective attentions towards specially abled compatriots, for they don’t need our sympathy or even the usual patronizing smile. All they want is an equal footing as human beings going through the same degree of societal pressures as anyone of us. I say that because sensitivity and empathy have been heralded at a time of sequestered living and perhaps by the end of this year, the worst among us, the most flighty and insincere will be forced to jump off their high horses to ground realities of a changed world. That narrative must not exclude the specially abled, the ones with heightened sensory perceptions and intelligence to everyday life because in real time all they lack are opportunities, chances to even be seen in the mainstream. That must be overturned along with greater emphasis on mental health for all irrespective of affiliations of any kind.
Three Indian films’ subdued brilliance are beacons of that, beginning chronologically with KOSHISH( EFFORT), about a couple navigating life’s pleasures and pains without possessing the power of speech or hearing. However, when does one aspect ever overpower our agencies? Watch this film to be humbled and sublimate our complaints with a greater realization by valuing our faculties. Jaya Bhaduri and Sanjeev Kumar are authentic to the very source of each emotion and suffice it to say their friendship with a blind man( Om Shivpuri) builds a base of communication reliant on the instinct to be considerate and selfless. Directed by the great Gulzar, KOSHISH is steeped in uncompromised silences that truly speak louder than words.
The same goes for director Sai Paranjpe’s SPARSH (TOUCH) where complexities of a tenacious relationship between a blind man ( Naseeruddin Shah) and a sighted woman( Shabana Azmi) suggests the gaps between normal day to day interactions and the alienation that comes with occupying those two unique sides of the spectrum. It is special because their interpersonal evolution intersects on the platform of a school for the blind. A more sensible and uncompromisingly colossal work as this cannot be sought for understanding nuances of our world beyond the tropes we keep into account.
Finally , there’s the very recent MARGARITA, WITH A STRAW about a young graduate with cerebral palsy whose condition is incidental and never detrimental to her well-being as she doesn’t let that fact come first while her family lets her out into the larger world to diversify her choices. She is a songwriter for the popular college fusion band, goes to New York for higher studies and finds out the nectar for self-discovery on her own volition, discerning the conflicts and joys with her inquisitive heart, never, for once, hemmed in by her condition.
Director Sonali Bose has in recent times wielded her powers behind the camera for another story on a girl with a rare medical condition whose spirits run parallel with her limited years on Earth, in THE SKY IS PINK(2019). There too humour, individual agency and the power of family reigned supreme. It is never a sob saga for those who wish to honour every living moment . The health issues do take a righteous toll, the pain sometimes seems greater with passing years and flaws of human resources often come out in the open. But courage is the only hope. That’s the natural blueprint set in her works, all inspired by the lives of those she has seen from extremely close quarters as kindred.
Kalki Koechlin, Revathy and Sayani Gupta weave such a world of empathy and love here on MARGARITA, WITH A STRAW that a better statement to life cannot be produced. One bubbling with ripples of productivity and bottomless faith. For there is never a crutch as void as baseless sympathy or forced care. Or a greater companion as The Zeal To Succeed. If you ask me then I will say that these three should be cited as textbook examples of visual representations that will matter a lot in advancing the conversation for specially abled people of every age and hue. Something we as Indians must be proud of.
Sexual assault or gendered betrayal are known to produce a dehumanizing chain reaction that takes lifetimes to overturn . In the Netflix original FIREBRAND,opposing poles of strength and vulnerability, personal histories we represent on others’ behalf and the one of our own, past and present and that sometimes indistinguishable line between truth and conjecture/ lies are charted in what is, thanks to the streaming service’s broad outlook, one of the most important visual pieces of modern life put to screen.
With its tale concerning a lawyer’s triumphant professional streak offset by her clients’ personal experiences, showing us society for all its worth in the present timeline, it boldly takes strides to address the residue of collective trauma where victimhood may disappear but a sense of guilt deadens the urge to open up to a better half. Also the bond between genders suffers from established roles and the moment of trust is earned after years of undergoing the same loop of what ifs and what nots.
FIREBRAND achieves a rare liberation by its final shots as it is feminist in terms of its most healthy association of equality among genders and patiently traverses complexities of the heart. The performances are uniformly excellent, with the lead USHA JADHAV reminding me of vintage Smita Patil. Watch it to know how independent filmmaking is the way forward for bringing out universal tales for our era .
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB(2013)
What can one say about the manner in which Matthew Mcconaughey and Jared Leto subsume themselves into the very core of who they essay onscreen, that is people who lived through judgements, prejudice and paranoia at the height of the 1980s Aids crisis and yet managed to be unassailed in spirit and deeds? The greatest compliment is that they transmute the term acting or even performance to something of personal integrity.
I still cannot get over the fact that Mr. Leto can embody a different persona with each new role when this writer can only afford to cower before expressing so much as righteous anger owing to his usual placid nature. He truly defines gender fluidity for me. Also, Jennifer Garner occupies the sweet spot that balances the extremes of the topical subject with her subtle work just like the direction by Jean Marc Vallee has a common nerve. That jingling sound as part of the audio design also powerfully expresses the physical state of the protagonist than any curative musical cue could.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is impactful precisely because it’s fact- based and rarely panders to hollow sentiment as that hardly saves lives.
UNDER THE SHADOW(2016)
I did not find the traditional aspect of horror as in the invisible apparition/ djinn culled from cultural precepts of the East to be as interesting in Babak Anvari’s UNDER THE SHADOW. What is most potent about the screenplay is its approximation of the political and social condition of Iran in its post revolution heyday of the 1970s (and continuing) where the rule of law is extreme, putting a lid on personal voices, down to the choice of attire, entertainment and strict gender stratification.
All of these are integrated into the scenario such as a Jane Fonda fitness videotape being played in secrecy by the protagonist within confines of her home and the threat of being flogged by authorities for wearing a ‘Western’ outfit while outdoors. Or the nightmare of being verbally abused by a close male aide on phone, with the worst invective reserved for a woman uttered spuriously. The real horror of wartime isolation and quarantine is palpable in UNDER THE SHADOW. Sadly, the country has somehow been at the receiving end of that sense of fear for decades now, compounded by this film’s recreation as well as the threat we face. It particularly adds a sombre cloud of verisimilitude as Iran has been one of the hotspots of Coronavirus fatalities.
I notice here that Babak shows the female protagonist’s neighbours not being as judgemental as the thumb of patriarchal values governing society by decrees of authority.
DARKEST HOUR(2017), ARRIVAL(2016)
DARKEST HOUR ,to me, is very imperative to grasp one person’s resolve to uphold a country’s morale during wartime when the imminent threat of fascist forces marching to shores of homeland was a clear possiblity. Now, our own premier Mr. Modi has been marvelously employing his station to unite our own fabric as also the world with a similar discernment of global values.
That’s the manner of veracity that this take on Winston Churchill’s first months in office as Britain’s unlikely Prime Minister achieves with lucid direction by Joe Wright, the recreation of Mr.Churchill’s historic speeches and first-rate performances. But I find it accessible because it looks at one moment in time where we have to rise above self-interests to make a push towards peace and stability despite the possiblity of adverse initial spells. We compare the COVID19 outbreak to days of World Wars as far back as our recorded knowledge goes. We might as well watch DARKEST HOUR to get a clear idea of what it means to be thrust into its frontlines. Don’t let the earnestness of the title be lost as well.
On the other hand is the mystical ARRIVAL that is like a beguiling trap, at first, toying with scientific research to build a story on. But its linguistic approach of studying extraterrestrial life opens up an interestingly presented rather transcendental portal to demystify that very mystery we contend with : of our place in the larger scheme of things.
Denis Villeneuve’s fearless vision is triumphant as it’s inwardly a deep study of pain, grief, empathy and the chronology of lives free from normative trajectories. Faith is what we must entrust in films like these because they collate facts with fictionalized narratives to heed the unknown and hence creatively ascertain humanity’s march through progress, one nifty step at a time. What a pleasure it is to also have Amy Adams’ expressive eyes take us on this journey. I will always be transfixed by ARRIVAL for all these reasons and more.
BULBUL CAN SING(2019)
My maternal roots lie in Assam, in the city of Guwahati where I have spent such wondrous years with my unassuming relatives, watching the kindness of neighbours, communal spirits galore while being fed a lifelong store of humility by my Nani(maternal grandmother, may she rest in peace) I called her MaNani (suffixing the Indian words for Mother and Grandmother )
Oh, there is a relish to the simplicity of life there, a warmth in revisiting the place and feeling life as the very mirror image of bliss while seeing the earliest rays of the rising sun( a common occurrence in Northeast India where Mr.Sunshine rescues us from idling our day by )
I felt drawn to those memories, a pang for not being able to go there in three and a half years and an inevitable surge of pain for departed members, all punctuated by the mighty image of river Bhramaputra while watching the deeply felt and extremely realistic BULBUL CAN SING by renaissance figure Rima Das, the pride of Assam owing to bringing out the beauty of the state and its people to the world in her inimitable style.
Only she could make it this universal paean to eternal friendships, adolescence, clash between tradition and modernity and find not a single false best or extraneous image to go with the flow of storytelling. Like Assam and its resident river featuring in the film, she knows the sensual charge of embracing nature first and foremost. She also understands the gravity of love, loss and repressed emotions better than established filmmakers of yore, given her documentary style of filming and the excellent work she extracts from her cast.
Justly hailed for her debut VILLAGE ROCKSTARS at such global congregations as TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL and CANNES as at the prestigious Indian National Film Awards, Ms. Rima lets the melancholy and tragedy of BULBUL CAN SING coexist with her protagonist’s mark as an unsullied voice of innocence. Like Nature, she sings her low notes, knows that a silent resignation is her fate at present but that doesn’t dictate who she can become in the future. BULBUL CAN SING is imprinted in my mind. You must watch it and inhale its pure essence.
Know that writer, director, cinematographer, editor, costume and set designer Rima Das is a force of creative malleability.