STORYTELLING THAT GOES INTO THE DEPTHS OF HUMANITY

ANTAREEN(1993)



ANTAREEN or CONFINES is an absolutely riveting watch, true to Mrinal Sen’s realistic and socially conscious oeuvre. The mis-en-scene is, however, simple and within that linear style of presentation and a cast of two principal protagonists, he gives heft to Saadat Hasan Manto’s original source material as also to the haunting quality of Rabindranath Tagore’s The Hungry Stones. Nothing is explicitly spelled out and yet the two literary texts are incorporated to reveal depths of humanity defined by a profound sense of loneliness.

To the viewer, it is like a play. A study of dispersed claustrophobia where the woman cannot escape her surroundings so easily even though it is earmarked and demarcated by a supposed marital bond. She is alone in her spacious flat overlooking the best parts of modern Calcutta. It is, in fact, more of a self-motivated prison than a birdhouse.  On the other hand is the man who is housed within the overwhelmingly mysterious confines of a dilapidated mansion. He has retreated here to seek solitude and work on his writings. Till a phone call rings and the lady on the other side strikes up a conversation that is unique to two strangers who have no prior connections to each other whatsoever.

She is framed within her balcony where the open space, the wind and the rain are incidental realities. He is inside the once prosperous and expansive palace of sorts where very few remnants of a glorious past remain. But he is at peace, making his own tea and consuming it while journaling his thoughts regarding the place and then the quandaries of life, compounded by his regular correspondence with the lady. Both occupy a centre in their rooms, one in the urban apartment and the other under a dark ceiling.

They don’t ask each other names or meet. This is an unique delineation of an undefined relationship or maybe a friendship.  Given the nature of their often earnest conversations, it is divested of any sexism, amorous connotations or the conventional voyeurism of such a dynamic. Yes, they are strangers. They don’t have a personal stake in each other’s lives. Still, their words are all that sustain them. The hesitant beginnings and the eventual opening up of the lady regarding her painful history are intertwined with how truth is stranger than fiction. ANTAREEN is such a story. It makes an impact with its silent roil precisely because of its treatment and the dignity with which the man-woman bond is given attention.

***



To me, some scenes stand out. Like when the lift operated by the lady’s live-in housekeeper is framed as it moves up till her floor, the haunting quality and distance regarding her present in that movement, seen within these claustrophobically  animated confines. Or when a car speeds through the deserted street in the night and a woman’s shriek resounds in the lady’s nightmare. Even when an ambulance’s siren rings out. The way minimal time devoted to these shots integrate with the lady recounting her own sorry state or the circumstances of her marriage to an absentee better half who basically funds her financially strapped family is striking. Both the shriek and the ambulance siren maybe relate to her emotional breakdown, symbols of her experiences as a woman negotiating her way in this cruel world. Mr. Sen accords her melancholy but never a lack of agency. So when she ventures out to meet her family in a rare instance, the awkwardness, her mother’s guilt and her encouraging words of financial independence to her sister fit in with her trajectory of stops and starts. As also that final shot at the station where she takes her journey to an unresolved destination and is united unexpectedly with the man whom she has opened herself to. It’s a subtle moment of recognition on her part which saves it from a point of cliche.

Confines of these telephonic conversations reveal little about the man on the other side. But the direction makes us wonder about his own undefined trauma or melancholy, given his sensitive reception and emotional entanglement with the woman’s life-script. If it is on account of his limited financial means or success as a writer or borne from a personal space is not revealed. He is the vessel, the one who listens and absorbs. It is what constitutes his gifts as a writer and human being.

ANTAREEN is ultimately, for me, about modern-day alienation where to listen to someone is more than enough even though our own insecurities and societal conditioning prevent us from opening up to anyone at all. In a world ravaged by a continuum of isolation and insulated spaces, Dimple Kapadia and Anjan Dutt make this Bengali gem walloping.

It exemplifies a Cinema of Loneliness but also one of humanity and adult repression above all.

NOTE: ANTAREEN is available to watch/ stream on EPIC ON channel in high definition and sound.

**

THE LOST DAUGHTER(2021)



Reams of coverage have already been spent on appreciating the finer nuances of THE LOST DAUGHTER. I haven’t read a lot of them because I wanted to uncover its promise for myself on an individual viewing. It happened on Saturday, the first day of 2022. Rest assured, its commitment to the truth buried under social markers is extremely praiseworthy. It’s a work I recommend for members of both sexes. Particularly for those who still find talking about the discomfiting nature of motherhood and its pressures, on the mind and the body, a source of verbal blasphemy. This Maggie Gyllenhaal directorial would like to serve such people some unvarnished realities without a shred of sugercoating. In a nutshell, it actually bolsters an honest conversation about the nature of things befitting current times. Where dog-eared conventions must not butt in to dictate what’s in the public domain to be shared.

Some of the truths pertain to a sense of peace that a creative mind seeks. In this case, it precisely pertains to women in the academic/creative realm who find it hard to juggle multiple responsibilities as mothers and career-wise. Judgements are there to beseech or may I say besiege them on account of that dual role. Gyllenhaal’s script and deft touch makes Leda( Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley) a nurturer, a caring maternal figure to her two daughters as is the universal nature of all mothers. But that doesn’t shift her priorities as an exceptionally gifted translator, a specialist in Italian and comparative literature. In her younger self, her bratty older  daughter and her constant nags affect her. Her husband is mostly away due to work, in another city and that conjugal lacuna too is overwhelming.  She handles those situations admirably. But her desire to perhaps experience a side to her personality other than being a mother is definitely not one to chastise. Ask any woman and she will concur, maybe secretly and confide to her closest confidantes that she wants to be an individual first rather than the sum of her assigned societal roles. THE LOST DAUGHTER makes us confidantes, just not in the cosy, rose-tinted fashion as is the wont in sundry talk shows. I say it because my mother has always been vocal about her own issues with my sister and I. Thus breaking gender bounds of what should and shouldn’t be discussed and giving me sensitive enlightenment about difficult gendered spaces.

On that note, I love how her academic success rejuvenates Leda while her chance meeting with the female half of a couple lets her experience a brief friendship that gives her joy.



***

With middle aged Leda, we find a seemingly tranquil and perhaps long-overdue seaside summer vacation in Greece disrupted by the arrival of a loud, uncouth extended clan which has business establishments on the island and dominates the space with its not-so-welcome presence. Garrulous is the word for them all. Leda stands her own in atleast three situations here with them. One when confronted by the young boys of the clan, one of whom even calls her the C word with a sense of brash humour. When their aunt invades her sense of privacy. Or her flush of anger and humiliation in the movie hall where the boys create a ruckus.

It’s a complex interweaving of her quiet implosion as a single woman in the beachside sanctuary, her intimate bond with young mother Nina( Dakota Johnson) and how her singular presence invites interest in her from two men of differing ages( Ed Harris and Paul Mescal); each bonding is built on conversations of varying degrees. It is with Nina that her own reminisces as a young mother become adjunct. Nina is perlexed, exhausted not only by her daughter’s tantrums but by her extended family in general. In Leda, she finds a stranger, confidante and vessel for letting go of her excess baggage. Or maybe half of it. But atleast, it’s a collective exhale for the two women. A thaw. I also love how their names are similar in syllabic enunciation.

These truths, rarely discussed and normalised when two women commit to expressing them, occupy a haunting point of post-modern honesty not experienced by this writer, atleast not since reading Virginia Woolf’s vision in Mrs. Dalloway and especially A Room of One’s Own. The financial, personal and creative aspects of womanhood hence flow from that.

***

THE LOST DAUGHTER has an arc of full-bodied representation of mothers and creative pioneers everywhere. It is unafraid, sensitive in its wrangling with principles of guilt and shame inflicted by societal hypocrisy at large. To this viewer, it is revelatory in its overall humanity. The performances soar. The connection with the ‘doll’ lost by Nina’s daughter and claimed by the protagonist hence becomes richer in Leda’s context. As does the intertwining of hostility and companionship between them. 

Kudos to Ms. Gyllenhaal and to original writer Elena Ferrante on whose novel this work is based. They have made the vulnerabilities of their ilk acceptable as they should have been a long time ago. Just watch it for the way in which complex human relationships are demystified here.

***

2 thoughts on “STORYTELLING THAT GOES INTO THE DEPTHS OF HUMANITY

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