I have already made my readers aware of maverick Indian animation filmmaker Gitanjali Rao’s underrated, still unsung genius in my essay on her brilliant short film PRINTED RAINBOW, published last year here. The discussion included her other shorts BLUE and ORANGE too ( the latter’s sensual depiction of the pains and pleasures associated with urban desires with a beautiful jazz score is unforgettable)
So I was obviously on cloud nine to know that her almost twenty year journey in the field of rejuvenating the form culminated in Netflix acquiring rights to her first feature length work BOMBAY ROSE. I watched it yesterday and to say I was proud beyond words and awed by her evolving, empathetic storytelling would not be enough.
Her rootedness in the Indian ethos, in the way various classes and sensibilities become one whole homogeneous entity in this Bombay set tale is visually striking, representing the palette of life in its good, bad and ugly personal contours. It’s a love story, a love letter and a tribute to human interaction. Something tells me it just wouldn’t have felt this beautiful and heartwarming if it was a regular live action film. The little details and the tug and pull of emotions feel organic given the frame by frame, painterly essence adopted by Rao and her team.
Like little shafts of light falling through the canopy of evergreen trees on a road , in little squares and rectangles, the movement of the characters traced through eye view of a rose picked up by familiar hands, traversing familiar routes and then ending up on the grave. The evil man symbolized as a preying bird or the faces of two lovers melting in the pouring rain, reflected in a car window.
Or flights of fancy where the lead protagonist, a veritable have-not eking out a living by selling garlands, transforms into a princess of yore, with each shot replicating the iconic heritage of Mughal era paintings, especially the colours and images in the background down to the attires and locations. Pause a single shot among these and they resemble an actual painting from the era. You see, that is the eye for detail here that stands out. In a way, this merging of reality and imagination and differing classes inform us of the central character’s imprisonment in a system where she cannot rise above her station in life. That reality is never cheated or put out of context here in BOMBAY ROSE.
The modest home of an elderly Catholic lady and the shabby, almost ramshackle quarters of the protagonist facing the sea offer the intimacy of these spaces as indicative of the interior worlds they carry. Every home or living space is all that and more, don’t we agree? Especially poignant is the way nostalgia and memory is handled in the case of the senior prefects, like the protagonist’s grandfather and his decades old repair shop, the Christian lady’s home populated by knick knacks covering her profound journey through lonely, post-retirement years and her good friend’s antiques shop bridging worlds of past and present. Memory is a feeling evoked here, an entity not to be lost. In the film’s best touch, older buildings animatedly appear like creepers in sepia tones over the new ones as the lady takes a walk from home to the graveyard, signifying the passage of time. Like PRINTED RAINBOW, the director’s beloved apex in form and content in the shorter mould, an affinity for cats, the wise and experienced members of our world and the colours of a location in its specificity join hands with a penchant for make believe in the face of alienation.
BOMBAY ROSE, hence, is worth taking note as it merges culture, identities, trauma and interpersonal bonds to present a city life rife with very pertinent struggles. But it doesn’t put a lid on the moments where love of every hue binds us. It can be as simple as a mutual look of acknowledgement between people, helping a child worker escape his dreary existence or repairing someone’s beloved toys and mementos of a long life, to see them with a sparkle in their eyes.
This needs to be watched by multitudes and promoted as the work of art it is, notches and leagues above full length films featuring flesh and blood mortals.
The essence of cinema is in capturing humanity. This one triumphs with its languidly paced journey maintaining the aesthetics of class struggles and a metropolitan national ethos.
Also watch Gitanjali Ma’am’s previous works to grasp why I am such an admirer of her portfolio. She is a painstaking artist.
I have always believed that death should invite silence, a dignified one at that, when we approach the aggrieved. It’s a life-altering state of mind for those who have lost someone they knew as an integral part of their existence for so long. Hence instead of unintentionally hurting them by employing careless words or misdirected reminiscences, it is best we lend them support, care without discounting their unraveling at a mentally and emotionally vulnerable juncture . This goes out to all those relatives who usually gather at these solemn occasions to indulge in petty gossip pertaining to the one who’s gone and those left behind, as if it’s a family get-together by default. It just goes on to show how we, so called evolved humans, find it so hard to even feel sadness and pain, rudimentary elements that constitute our being, especially for others. After all, life and death is nothing more than a status update and a tweet in today’s world.
PAGGLAIT (THE MAD ONE) is so relatable to me precisely because I’ve seen all this happen at such sensitive occasions and they make a large chunk of the dramedy that is this Netflix original screenplay, a realistic, slice of life presentation that charms us with its simple details. All the above aspects give heft to the tale of a young woman( always reliable Sanya Malhotra) who has been widowed just five months into her marriage. She is unable to cry or express the tropes our shallow society expects her to exhibit almost instantly. This deep sense of shock or bewilderment at a changed station in life, that too within a relationship that had only just begun, make it a compelling social commentary on the way our behavioural contexts govern us. The fact that her better half hardly ever communicated with her and was mostly off bounds or at work richly layers and levels her unique experience, which is not at all far from the truth.
Then subtle layers help it skew closer to an intimate drama where she attempts to piece together her deceased husband’s life script ( he doesn’t appear here physically or in terms of photographic evidence, making the ambiguity effective), eventually discovering the selfish ways of senior prefects on both her marital and maternal sides. Tradition and modernity beautifully clash with a subdued interplay of viewpoints within a patriarchal set-up.
So though she isn’t bashed around as a jinx within this traditional household, is not made to wear the white motif given her status in terms of attire and is even allowed the leeway to remarry rather hastily, these THIRTEEN DAYS OF MOURNING produce profound clarity on her part about how she is perceived now and will possibly be, her Masters in English credentials serving no real purpose at the present and inheritance of millions in insurance money left by her husband dividing loyalties. In the process, bringing out the true colours of those living in this old mansion and struggling to stay put as cash strapped have- beens.
SANYA centers it with an internalized intelligence about these universal strands of womanhood without showing these emotions explicitly and grounds it in utter realism. She is backed by a cast that behaves and acts as people of their ilk will usually do in the given scenario. PAGGLAIT then is a revelatory drama, quietly feminist in its tone, shot in my hometown Lucknow, capturing it in a subdued winter setting, and never letting us forget the youth and possibilities for the lead protagonist. I simply loved it for its confirmation of truths.
Especially how even in death, our elders seek their own selfish agendas.
Also how life can be reconfigured with renewed hope after loss, for women most importantly.
MAYURAKSHI is another reason to uphold Bengali cinema as the epitome of nuance and emotional clarity.
This National Award winning drama is again centred on the lines between clarity and disintegration occasioned by one’s memory. Like the title of the film and a river in East India with the same name, life is like a free flowing stream, not always sedate and placid, maybe holding great cross currents in its depths. Like life, the river flows. That metaphor is beautifully apt in a work set in Calcutta, the eternally evolving city preserving its past in its dog eared buildings and lanes and yet moving ahead with the modern pulse. The river Ganga is witness to its trysts with destiny and memory, of the ones who stay and those who depart for other shores.
MAYURAKSHI then, in its intersections of a father of 84 years of age, grappling with his dotage and fragmented memory, and a middle aged son settled abroad, who himself has been through two divorces and is clearly unhappy, expressing that through a cultivated or perhaps natural state of reserve, is immersive. As a late child, his unsaid context of always staying on the precipice of his father’s mortality is not lost on us, having lost his mother in his youth.
The son has to return to his work life, the father has to somehow be in the care of extended staff who clearly are responsible and empathetic and life has to go on. In between that beginning and lack of uniformity of an uncertain future, this work finds a contemplative tone to understand how things change as we add more years to our life. Cinematic legends SAUMITRA CHATTERJEE and PROSENJIT CHATTERJEE ensure we don’t forget the reality of this situation. It’s the tale of a million parents and children wading through the river of life. Memory is their only source and internal narrator. It’s what binds them.
CHADWICK BOSEMAN: PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST(2021)
A screen Titan. A humble practitioner of his craft. An artist before an actor. A consummate professional and unassuming human being. You can have a million opinions about the monumental achievements of Chadwick Boseman but you cannot be sure of where his immortality lies, in the hearts of his admirers and in annals of cinema.
This 19 minute documentary short brings greats like VIOLA DAVIS, DENZEL WASHINGTON, PHYLICIA RASHAD and other collaborators from his last works DA 5 BLOODS and MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM together to look back at a miracle of a man who eschewed externalities of fame to truly become iconic with the power of his craft. On the tightrope of life and death, his spirit hence remains unwavering. This work briefly enters his world of words and thoughts through those who observed him and were blessed by his presence.