PAROMITAR EK DIN(2000)
It’s such a sad convention that pronounces mother in law and her son’s wife as harbouring cold feet against each other, sometimes for a whole lifetime. At least, that’s the frame of mind that sometimes psychologically makes them refuse to open up to each other. Our patriarchal values also blatantly adhere to that and so things remain unchanged and it’s a particularly universal fact.
PAROMITAR EK DIN( A DAY IN THE LIFE OF PAROMITA) is a Bengali feature film by the iconic Aparna Sen in which she and Rituparna Sengupta show us a bond on those dual lines, interconnecting with understanding the commonality of experiences from one generation to another. Devoid of malice and pitted against the forces of marital disintegration on the daughter in law’s part as also her specially abled son’s rehabilitation in a progressive school, this screenplay is recounted in flashbacks as a middle aged and greying PAROMITA is present at the prayer service for her deceased mother in law, friend and confidante. They were always the only common links in each other’s often empty lives, with PAROMITA nursing the elderly lady after she contracts medical conditions and even as she leaves her wayward son and marries the man who looks out for her(Rajesh Sharma); I found it very convincing how the director shows wagging tongues uncomfortably acknowledging this relationship as it upends time-tested conventions.
Ultimately, PAROMITAR EK DIN beautifully interweaves issues of mental health as it offers hope and reformation for Paromita’s only child and spotlights the extraordinary performance of Sohini Sarkar as her schizophrenic sister in law who invests her part with rare empathy and realism. Be it Paromita escaping from clutches of an unhappy marriage by her own agency or her mother in law still maintaining a cordial bond with her male friend (Saumitra Chatterjee) who once loved her but never mustered courage to express it and is now dependent financially on her, it is a complex and layered presentation and like the best of Bengali cinema remains on an even footing, refusing to overlook this cyclic thread of sadness that governs lives. The unlikely and naturally endowed bond of love at the center of this film is a refreshing reflection of individual lives. Coming from a female director, it shows their outer and inner selves as essentially independent of prejudiced societal norms.
Two films that I was privy to in this extended moment of a month and a half lockdown seemed more than relevant to this writer. Each dealt with tales of people forced to be isolated from common society due to irreconcilable differences arising from within the fold of people who once were their very own. Or seemed to be one amongst them.
MY BROTHER NIKHIL (2005)
In SHIKARA, the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus and overturned social structure of a once secular state is echoed by the lenses of the extraordinary Vidhu Vinod Chopra. He directs it with rare precision and particularity of emotional engagement as he himself is one of the millions of Kashmiri Pandits uprooted from their paradisiacal land. He casts two actors from the region(Sadia and Adil) in their debut performances and they imbue the life story of refugees with lifelong patience and persistence, not letting narrow minded bitterness define them or their collective worldviews. It also keeps track of how once dear friends(Zain Khan Durrani) now stand to be militants and anti-social frontrunners in a contentious socio-political battle of statehood.
Then the real life trajectory of champion swimmer DOMINIC D’ SOUZA is recreated with heartbreaking urgency in MY BROTHER NIKHIL. It is a story constructed with such sincerity that the sallow intricacies of prejudices for HIV positive populace comes to be seen as essentially arising out of the kind of cruelty that only flesh and blood humans can subscribe to, for another fellow being they so far raised to the top as a role model, ultimately discounting the physical and emotional pain of the victim.
But here the titular protagonist’s(Sanjay Suri) journey is elucidated with uncommon humanity by his sister(an ever endearing Juhi Chawla) and true soulmate( Purab Kohli). Their real fight is in educating people about HIV and evincing sensitivity in the late 80s era, a fight we continue to wage even as we have come a long way in eliminating misconceptions.
I write about them because as this period of quarantine in the wake of a pandemic makes us antsy and uneasy, we must realize the very real struggles of people who have seen the worst of human endeavours. For them, self-isolation had become a forced reality. Hope still never left their hearts and minds. So we must guard our own sense of place in the world to ensure better days lie ahead.
This is cinema meant to sensitize us and draw attentions away from our own morbidity and yet reign in a sense of shared experience because nobody wants to be alone in self-imposed exile.
THE TWO POPES(2019)
The meeting of minds and exchange of wits between Pope Benedict and incoming Pope Francis sets the stage for conversationalist cinema of the highest merit, imagined with great clarity by writer Anthony McCarten and director Fernando Meirelles in this decidedly graceful Netflix original film. Their clashing ideologies and the period of modern transition for the Roman Catholic Church occasioned by Mr. Francis includes every nuance of issues facing the clergy as well as a young Francis’ journey in native Argentina that shapes his lifelong beliefs.
Little nuggets like Francis sharing his love for football with his senior and Benedict relishing in the taste of pizza while in the Vatican are welcome as are the trenchant procedures of selecting a new Pope, made transparent and simpler here in the execution of minute details whether in terms of production design or use of live footage juxtaposed with the recreation. Also socio-political turmoils are not left out in the process.
The spiritual journey is there but THE TWO POPES is best conveyed as a clear-eyed examination of the decisiveness of a world leader like no other who chooses to escape antiquated values and espouse change with diligence, gaining favour within his country and community to then take the world with him.
Jonathan Pryce, uncannily similar to the real Pope Francis, and Sir Anthony Hopkins are excellent as is Juan Minujin as the younger version of the former.
THE HOUSE THAT MADE ME
This is a beautiful show that, like me, you can find on Netflix and in collaboration with a prominent paint brand aims to humbly trace the roots of some truly inspiring Indians as they take us back to their childhood homes and cities, some of which had been fogged by years of distance and nostalgia. Host Vinay Pathak is the perfect narrator and confidante, dotting this diverse yet innately common journey of innocent musings from successful adults with his simplicity.
Among my favourites are the homeward trajectories of such icons as MARY KOM, SHAAN, JAVED AKHTAR, ILA ARUN, WAHEEDA REHMAN, TERRENCE LEWIS, SAKSHI TANWAR, RATNA PATHAK SHAH, SANJEEV KAPOOR, JEETENDRA, SAINA NEHWAL, NAWAZZUDDIN SIDDIQUI and IRFAN KHAN. But it’s the episode with SARIKA, spent visiting studio sets,that captures our hearts like no other owing to the fact that she never really had a real home or a genuine childhood to speak about. The studio was the teeming ground for her life script.
A SPECIAL SPOTLIGHT ON THE BEST, OFTENTIMES UNDERRATED PERFORMANCES OF EVERGREEN SUPERSTAR REKHA
The name needs no introduction. Rekha is one of those screen immortals whose charm, sensuality, beauty of embodying multiple worlds within limited frames and sheer versatility can be cited as a justified exemplar for classic era of motion pictures. Discerning viewers must seek out her best performances, some of them still underrated in my opinion and I take note of these here.
GHAR( HOME, 1978)
This sensitively etched tale of a couple’s gradual recovery from unspeakable loss in the wake of the lady’s assault finds the brooding, ruminative portrayal of a survivor in those eyes that can say a thousand words just by one simple glance or faraway look.
Love, loss and redemption all find a graph in her soulful distillation of human endeavours, beautifully complemented by Vinod Mehra.
KALYUG( THE NEW AGE, 1981)
As a dominating yet essentially trapped victim of hollow privilege, overseeing two families’ eventual downfall, REKHA again revisits her silent power of communication through plangent eyes and controlled gestures, aided by the drone like score by Vanraj Bhatia, in this Shyam Benegal directed ensemble drama reimagining the Mahabharata in a capitalist socio-political ethos of Bombay.
With Naseeruddin Shah and Anuradha Patel and a score capturing more ebbs of the soul than the downward spirals, IJAAZAT is about an unusual love triangle where memories of first love omnipresently linger even as marital constancy takes hold. Rekha is its mature anchor, harbouring no ill-will against people in her past and yet holding fort for the strength of her first love, in order to never shake its yoke of permanence. A lyrical performance in a simple, lucid and complex tale drawn from the lives of people who steer clear of hatred or malice.
VIJETA(VICTOR/ THE WINNER, 1982)
Rekha is palpably central to the coming of age of her Air Force bound son(Kunal Kapoor) as she guides him patiently towards the discovery of new experiences, away from his father’s conventional strictures and grounds her own oftentimes strained personal equation with her husband(Shashi Kapoor) with a tenacity that’s intense to the core.
The most touching is the amorous bond that continues to be the heart and soul of the couple.
SILSILA(A SERIES OF EVENTS,1981)
A more pathbreaking imitation of real life spilling to the screens has probably never occurred or perhaps will so SILSILA is intensely intimate as it maturely dissects the fallouts of repressed emotions snowballing to what is termed as illicit relationships, undertaken outside domains of marriage.
Mixing its conflicted core with the poetic beginnings and burning rage of an unfulfilled first love and an eventual arranged marriage, REKHA gives it her all, surrounded by brilliant performers all around. But here the veracity of the real life issues keeps us guessing if there was catharsis for the parties involved after pack up. The emotions run deep and REKHA burrows into her private shelf to bring out things that often sting us but by law we are forbidden to discuss. Her bravest, most consummating performance in an era of her career where she got to essay truly complex individuals on screen.
WAARIS( THE INHERITOR,1988)
Ever the consummate professional, REKHA gave credence to her overall artistry by utilizing the persuasive powers of her voice, dubbing for the deceased SMITA PATIL for one of her final stand-outs committed to screen.
From one great to another, such is the wavelength established by her vocal performance, in a world before sync sound, that we really spot no abject difference as REKHA gives heft to Smita’s on-screen fire in declamatory, theatrical monologues, upending male ego and an ugly property feud with the right balance of fearlessness and apprehension. It’s a true measure of her gifts.
Let us all bow then to the inimitable,evergreen superstar that she is.
SPECIAL LOVE FOR MACHER JHOL(2017)
This feel good film about a Michelin star, Paris based chef’s return to Calcutta and his reunion with an ailing but ever supportive mother is primarily about the titular Bengali dish that is their lifeline.
Emotionally fraught bonds come into the picture but the vitality of the man’s love for food, flouting conventions and unconditional love for his mother give MACHER JHOL(FISH GRAVY) a due place in the annals of cinematic works meant to be literally savoured for their tasteful culinary and interpersonal designs. Plus, the film’s director himself cooks all recipes shown here.