REMINISCENCES, IMPRESSIONS AND IDENTITIES

JEEVAN SMRITI(2013)



How can we grasp the humility of a personality whose words we sing everyday as part of our glorious national anthem and whose imposing figure has been carved out in numerous memorials and sculptures around the country? The answer is simple and evocative in master filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh’s documentary on the Renaissance man that is Rabindranath Tagore. A man whose works encompassed a vision for social transformation in the 19th and early 20th century as reflected in titles like CHOKHER BALI, GHARE BAIRE, CHAR ADHYAY, NASHTANIR among so many. He was able to write with a felicity that still seems ahead of the times to this date. A literary revolutionary unlike any other.


But as an individual, it was the calm and composed observational quality that stood him in good stead throughout a mostly lonely childhood and a journey of losing many of his loved ones, beginning with his mother, beloved sister in law Kadambari, also a literary kindred, right down to three of his own children. Samadarshi Dutta and Sanjoy Nag have almost nothing to convey verbally as younger and older embodiments of Tagore but instill a beautiful, transcendental sense of serenity that encapsulates the social expectations, melancholy and pain within that came along with forging an extraordinary and prolific career. Little known aspects like his tryst with handling his family’s estate and removing himself from the high and mighty demonstrations of privilege practiced by his forefathers, to engage with the people on a grassroots level, as also his years spent in England as a student of law are enacted very well, in vignette style as befits the non- fiction form. This push and pull between the romanticism of his inherent being as a writer and practicality of earning a livelihood is a humbling reminder of those struggles for many of us. Imagination, nature and emotional outpouring were cornerstones of Tagore but he was not above the social realities around him. He struck a fine balance between those conventionally oppositional elements. The film, based on his own memoirs with the same title, strikes the same balance.

Patience and forbearance are key to his worldview. Courtesy this minimalistic portrait, we get more than a glimpse into the soul of a great individual based on his idea of change without the baggage of irate confrontation. Photographs, narration, his life’s principles interspersed with iconic movie scenes based on his works, make it wholesome.

But the lack of formal adherence to the technique of documentary filmmaking gives it a spark. I loved how Rituparno Da’s nurturing quality as a director and handler of actors is shown here through his gestures, movements, with his own gender-fluid representation of those according the mis-en-scene with novelty. The actors are observed by the crew members in their embodiments of Tagore and so a personal investment of all involved with the production comes to the fore. The same goes for how the journey to Shantiniketan, Tagore’s abode of literary excellence, is juxtaposed with the monsoon weather and waterlogged roads, positing the present reality instead of a hallowed survey of the iconic site.



JEEVAN SMRITI is hence a must watch . I watched it at a time where my reading of Gitanjali, the great poetry collection by Tagore in a Hindi translation, stoked further interest. So it’s a full circle moment for me.

***

AMERICA(2019)

Garrett Bradley’s contribution to the documentary form with last year’s instantly recognisable TIME made her a frontrunner, giving her a seat at the Oscars table too along with several worthwhile accolades. Of course, I watched it and wrote about its sensitive, decade-spanning odyssey here in April, 2021.



While reading articles on MUBI, I discovered one on her short film AMERICA, instantly went to YouTube and on the official channel of FIELD OF VISION, dedicated to broadcasting short form works, found the full-length feature of 29 minutes.



Bradley’s AMERICA uses the rediscovered silent film LIME KILN CLUB FIELD DAY(1913), one of the only works featuring an all Black cast back then, as a springboard to visualise the manner of representing African-American identity on screen. By my own honest admission, its elliptical style is one that allows us to observe the vignettes traversing eras and the iron-cast of history. She and her performers mould them with a powerful language of representation, including uncharacteristically joyful scenes from the silent film. Some of the most striking ones within this work are where a female aggressively rips a white cloth from a young white man, implying racial legacies of hate and abuse, almost like a reclaiming of individual agency in the face of it. Or the cloth flying above a cotton field with children playing in it. To me, it’s like the innocence of a younger generation is threatened by racial superiority of ‘Whiteness’ while at the same time, the colour scheme could be just a rudimentary example of everyday life. A spiritual, haunting image is also of a baptism.



The legacy of achievement through sports( relay runners and baseball), aviation, music further integrates limited resources and opportunities in the past with the same available for the community in today’s times. Reclaimed by sheer dint of their talents and perseverance. A march through civilization and society.

Bradley is rich in the manner of delineating this passage through a nation’s history and her use of monochromatic tones and music give it a palette of subconscious immersion. AMERICA is, hence, a brilliant work, creating anew an idiom of non-fiction storytelling.



***

PASSING(2021)

Continuing the dominant thread of representation and marginalization within an image-based consciousness, PASSING is an absolute must to understand the intricacies of a personality. Identity is front and center here. By now, we have read about how this adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella unites two childhood best friends in their adult years as they grapple with being Black and putting up with the pretence of their lighter skin colour giving them access to a forbidden world governed strictly by race.

In debut director Rebecca Hall’s immersive handling, those timeless inputs of identity politics become rich with humane touches of kinship and complex resolutions.



On my viewing of the film, I was struck by how competently it maintains a nervous, imploding energy and a static rhythm, mirroring the hesitancy on the part of these people who are privileged in their own ways within an often cruel world but hold themselves back from fully expressing themselves. It’s like a performance orchestrated to restrain one from falling off a precipice. In keeping with appearances that wouldn’t challenge an established sense of order and normalcy. Like Irene’s ( Tessa Thompson) middle class lifestyle, down to employing a Black maid. Or Clare(Ruth Negga) passing off as white for years, doted on by her husband ( Alexander Skarsgard) and living in a bubble of luxury.

Kudos to both Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga whose faces combine to become a collective canvas of expressive transparency, the former with a controlled manner and the latter always extroverted and fully aware of her physical charms. Yet both are extremely vulnerable. The third wheel is Andre Holland as a man whose roles as a better half and one evincing practical reality around race to his young sons, roots PASSING in layers of irreconcilable outcomes.

The ending is particularly haunting, with Clare’s body on the snow-covered ground embalmed or perhaps entombed in the annals of history, reminding us of how a chain reaction is set off when social rules control us.
PASSING is essentially a tragedy emerging from those situations. But it’s built around the warmth of relationships and conversations that cut through the muck and prevail.

In the final nod, I congratulate Rebecca Hall for her classic sense of direction and the use of black and white photography. From ROMA, COLD WAR, Garrett Bradley’s TIME and AMERICA down to last year’s THE 40 YEAR OLD VERSION, monochromatic tones add such a nuance to storytelling. Put together, every aspect is evocative here in PASSING.





*****

ROLL OF HONOUR

NO TIME TO DIE(2021)





A year and a half after a global pandemic made us realize the transitory nature of life, this cinephile returned to the theatres to watch a tentpole extravaganza all by himself, under beautifully observed protocols and an extremely even-tempered audience of fifty people and a little more. It was an intimate affair and befitted the personal gravitas of Daniel Craig’s last outing as the iconic James Bond of the post 2000s era.

I really liked NO TIME TO DIE and thank my stars that I got the opportunity of watching its action spectacles and dramatic properties unfold on the big screen; I would have it no other way. What made it special was that it was a film tailor-made for our moment. The pall of mortality and losing established connections rescued this cinematic coda from being all about the ‘boom and bam’

Post CASINO ROYALE and the excellent SKYFALL, there were beats here in the storytelling that I could predict from a distance. NO TIME TO DIE doesn’t claim to break new grounds anyway. But it firmly cements an elegiac and triumphant return to the zeitgeist for all of us. I loved Latasha Lynch as the new 007 avatar, Ana De Armas’ valuable stint and the foreboding of life under siege where machinations for a global outbreak of virus within the plot feels lived-in like never before.

Daniel Craig is a Bond who bears more on-screen scars and emotional toll here than the conventional sleuth and it beautifully ends his saga with the same degree of humility intact.

Boy, did I get overwhelmed with the title track especially, a Billie Eilish gem that sounded majestic and serene all in the same breath. As also that iconic roar of the MGM lion.

**

SIR(2018)

I would have watched this underrated yet justifiably acclaimed drama just for letting Tillotama Shome’s brilliance shine on the screen. She didn’t disappoint as usual, playing the part of a big city dweller subsisting on the kindness of strangers within a domestic abode and social milieu diametrically different from her own rural antecedents.



SIR justifies her talents and penchant for interpreting the interiority of her life in a measured and realistic manner. Kudos to director Rohena Gera for treating this story of inching towards little dreams on the part of a maid and her kindly employer’s touch of brightness, as one of tender bonding. Vivek Gomber as the architect and has-been writer with a heart of gold beautifully underscores his own predicament with such nuances of sensitivity.

The majority of it delineates the class and social intricacies through mannerisms, gestures and looks. That way, the screenplay is this work’s primary asset.

In the final half an hour, it overreaches perhaps with a plotline that can never be comfortably acknowledged by even the most liberal souls. That kernel of reality is, however, offset by lead protagonist Ratna’s financial resourcefulness as she aims to design clothes and carve an identity somehow denied to her. Her persevering spirit is the real winner here. It’s so homely and honed in. 

Shome’s portrayal here is one of the great characterisations culled from everyday situations. Just like SIR is one of the most brutally honest and simultaneously sublime explorations of complex, irreconcilable human emotions.


**

MULAN(2020)



I was supposed to watch this on my birthday last year in the month of September but alas it didn’t transpire. That was finally amended yesterday when I watched the legend of MULAN unfold under the simple and lucid direction of Niki Caro. I also want to add that I’ve not seen the original animated benchmark so far so this was my first viewing experience of a much-loved Disney title.



The cultural legacy apart, I could relate the legend of an unlikely warrior such as this one with the way gender roles have forever thwarted women from being held in esteem socially. If Mulan cannot reveal her true self in order to join the imperial army, it’s the same with women attempting to enter the defence forces or police ranks. That’s because our world spells them out as reserves specifically designed for men. There is always pandering and patronizing when women are promoted in any field.

But thank God that our modern era has started conversations around persevering for equality. MULAN comes at the right time in this live action format to inform us of our societal strides towards inclusion of the sexes, whether it’s for the cause of defending a kingdom against marauding enemies or whether the odds are stacked as regards conventional sexism that prevents systemic change.

MULAN is inspirational on those fronts and as a standalone work too. I only wished we could have received it on the big screen instead of exclusively on streaming.



***

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