CLASSICS, SHORTS AND VARIETY GALORE

SUBARNAREKHA/ THE GOLDEN THREAD(1965)

The thought of watching this classic Ritwik Ghatak title had been stewing in my mind for a lot of years. I’m fortunate to have found it on MUBI which is now integrated with Amazon Prime to give cinephiles like me an opportunity to discover world-class masterworks.

SUBARNAREKHA/ THE GOLDEN THREAD is a work of many hues. It is a love story, the tale of a middle aged man attempting to rebuild his life for the sake of his minor age sister’s future post the partition of Bengal in 1947, caste and class differences and the bitterness of starting life anew as refugees, in a motherland where flesh and blood mortals demarcate identity.

There are elements of melodrama and streaks of humour among ancillary players but SUBARNAREKHA never lets us forget the real struggles of resettlement for its protagonists. There is love among the siblings, among Sita and Abhiram, the latter of whom was adopted by the brother after being separated cruelly by his mother as a child. The setting of their home by the titular river gives us a landscape which is sparse, rugged yet limned by openness and natural beauty. For a few years, life seems to settle into a rhythm of normalcy, financial security and promise for what lies ahead. But……



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That haunting sense of things to come is beautifully presented as the carefree adjustments of the two children hit a poignant note, especially for adult Sita as she confesses to her beloved brother that she feels afraid now that everybody is commenting on how she suddenly seems to have grown up within the past year or so. Haven’t we all felt this pang of losing a part of our best and unsullied years to impending trials of adulthood? It is so aptly reflected in that pithy line.

The foreboding is apparent but cloaked in good natured interactions and matter of fact observances as Sita’s excellent singing style is remarked upon as otherwise espousing uncharacteristic melancholy by her brother. He also laments that Abhiram’s talents as a writer is shrouded in depictions of cruel realities. Shouldn’t we be given beautiful, positive images in our era? is his question. This film takes that line’s irony with practicality as it depicts unvarnished reality of middle class lifestyles. That becomes pressing and urgent in the final half. Poverty and struggles for identity clash. The lines are also symbolic of the many hues of cinematic representation as such.

Two scenes stand out for me and become Mr. Ghatak’s hallmark in terms of directorial prowess. One where Madhabi Mukherjee proves why she is justly hailed for her understated gifts as a performer, as she crumbles from the news of her husband’s accident and death. The climactic moments are filled with horror as she confronts her estranged older brother after many years, in a place where both shouldn’t have encountered each other even in the most horrid dream. The use of light and shadow, always compounded by black and white cinematography, accentuates the sheer urgency of it all. The brother’s preceding drunken stupor, fueling his hazy ride through Calcutta, brings him to that station.

SUBARNAREKHA ends on a note of hope among uncle and nephew, Sita’s now orphaned son, as they reunite in their home by the river. It’s an affirmative stance at restructuring lives for the third generation, reminiscent of Apur Sansar’s final iconic image. The film hence becomes a study of people and places occupying independent India. It is timeless and universal in its ultimate delineation of our inner humanity.

That said, my next viewing from his repertoire will be of Ghatak Dada’s MEGHE DHAKA TARA( THE CLOUD CAPPED STAR) on MUBI, another title I have missed out on for a long while.




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MOONLIGHT(2016)

Barry Jenkins’ measured, gentle touch in MOONLIGHT, chronicling Chiron’s journey from a child to an adult in three immersive acts, is not unlike poetry. In fact, to this writer, it is most definitely akin to the subtlety of poetic nourishment. A pact is then made between tragic realities of bullying vis-a-vis identity-bashing and genuine love hovering in unexpected figures and corners. That is how poetry flows with a nuanced measure of our harshest and most tender truths.

It is about a sensual alliance between two boys turned men who ultimately realise that beyond the socio-economic trappings of their situations, they hold a love that is stronger than all intervening currents. That is its abiding measure of beauty.

I love its swoon-like atmosphere, the performances and the way in which adult men are shown as delicately sensitive to the evolution in their own personalities with time. As also to others.




THE BOOTH(2019)

A frisking booth in a mall in Pune. An informal and simultaneously formal space where the act of security is brokered. Where individuals of the same gender of all ages, personalities, strata and physical forms meet for few seconds in a row.



This short starring the always brilliant ( and clear favourite) Amruta Subhash and Prerna Pethe find the space acting as perhaps the only form of sensual release for two women bound by an invisible societal hand. Their relationship is invisible to the world and the booth is the inanimate object, captured from faraway CCTV cameras in the final shot, that allows them privacy. Agency. Autonomy.  Watch this one on MUBI to catch multiple inflections of hidden desires course through fifteen minutes.

SHIVA BABY(2020)

Nervous implosion within a social gathering involving family and friends is always ripe an occasion for our worst unravelings.

Overbearing parents.

Intrusive relatives.

Competing tempers.

Tension in the air.

Judgements or rancid whiffs of it  from one and all.

The sanctity of your life breached at a public space, among sometimes absolute strangers. In the name of socialising. Fraternity. Community.



SHIVA BABY designs an utterly realistic and ingenious first screenplay around this most interesting of premises, to address all of the above. Director/ Writer Emma Seligman is astute in her observations of a hypocritical adult world that gathers at a mourning space but observes none of the somber dignity attributed to it as is wont with us humans.

Crackling with this implosive mood and a genuine sense of a breakdown which comes with utter poignancy to spare, SHIVA BABY is unforgettable with its blend of authentic humour and emotional vexation. You can literally feel the protagonist’s sweat and tears and a hot flush of  apprehension going off in the whole body. The cast is top-notch and this viewer could find so many cues in experiences from his own life here.

Rachel Sennott’s facial transparency is the one to behold as she navigates this teeming space which constantly prods and probes her without her consent.


HAPPY TOGETHER(1997)



Last but not the least in this compendium of works navigating the complex, beautiful, all too humane strands of non-binary lives ( of which I proudly claim to be one among millions) is Wong Kar Wai’s HAPPY TOGETHER. Incidentally, this work was a huge inspiration for MOONLIGHT.

Having read about it a while ago, I was struck by how it holds its central relationship as universal in its sense of longing, tenderness, volatility and emotional connect. This could be any two people, irrespective of gender binaries, who share a difference in temperaments and outlooks. One toils hard and is steadfast. The other is one with a roving eye and appetite for physical charms. One literally cares for the other, to often be dismissed outrightly and only treated as a lifeguard.  That does remind you of half of the so called ‘heterosexual bonds’, right? That itself validates the universality of human experiences, a fact I have always recognised myself to be above and beyond the watertight strictures of gender binaries.

HAPPY TOGETHER bursts with moods, colours, cinematographic and directorial grains of multiplicity within its central relationship. It is memorably attuned to the way people come together and then drift apart. The irony to the English language title to this Hong Kong classic is not lost either. It’s a journey. A trajectory. A whole spectrum.

The shot of the Iguaza Falls in its voluminous majesty is the image that prepares us for this tale, pegged on beautiful and extreme contours of attraction and bonding. As if it dares us to ask ourselves about our own monogamous (or polyamorous) instincts.

****

WOMEN REPLY: OUR BODIES, OUR SEX(1975)



Women questioning the very foundation of sexism while cradling baby bumps, huddled together or in twos, threes and while being interviewed form the core of legendary chronicler Agnes Varda’s eight minute French documentary.

I like its stark, matter of fact and often acerbic treatment as also how a group of men is captured in an intimidating yet distant profile, with their looks showing how they have always intruded on the world of women. They make the guest appearances here. The ladies tell it as it is. Which is why Ms. Varda being at the forefront is triumphant. Its year of release also marks a timeline for the New Feminist movement whose cultural tentacles continue to resonate in the Me Too era.



BASTARD(2010)



A woman and a man. She is in pain, on a dusty desert road. Three men who ask each other if the whole town will find out about what they did are in another part of the desert.

A question that lingers in the air. As also regards the identity of the couple.

Then the couple is unwillingly given a back room and the three men arrive there. The woman gives birth and is bloodied. The baby is crying but never shown. The movie ends with a close profile of the mother.

Acclaimed actor Kirsten Dunst’s seven minute short, now streaming on MUBI like half of the works written about here, builds that foreboding sense of dread. There is no huge payoff except to think that the three men have something sinister to inflict on the lone woman in that motel room. Then the final minutes change our perspectives and the motel becomes a modern day manger while the three men transform into grim versions of the Apostles who greeted Christ as he came to the world.

Juno Temple, Brian Geraghty and Lukas Haas star in BASTARD, a short that is tantalising to discerning viewers. I interpreted it as the Nativity Tale upended for these times where the concept of Antichrist is birthed around the slow decay of civilization. The title too explicitly upends the myth around the Chosen One. 

In a post Corona unraveling, it’s a thought provoking enigma. That is why short form cinema always makes a mark.

***

THE FATHER(2020)

Florian Zeller richly deserved the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for this masterpiece. What makes it special is the fact that THE FATHER was adapted from his own original French play.

But these facts aside, I was completely enamoured by how beautiful and heartwarming his treatment of age and its attendant, trenchant degradations is. I’m sure a lot of painstaking research has been poured into the detailing of the protagonist’s failing memory here.





In the process, our perspectives shift but never as viewers alone. The shift is with the protagonist himself as pieces of his present disintegrate and disorient him because at the end of the day, he is unable to grasp these unwanted changes.

A parent’s authority and simultaneous frailty, a child’s burden and responsibility all conflate with the past, people and spaces that blur distinctions in the course of the father’s disorientation. The figures here are vulnerable and fear being left alone or not rising to the occassion for their loved ones.

Age entails a regression to being dependent and longing for love. A return to a retrospective childhood of sorts. I love and greatly appreciate Sir Anthony Hopkins’ brilliant embodiment of a constant struggle to locate the truth of his present moment. His final exchange with his carer, pleading to be reunited with his mother as a little kid would, bring those strands together. He deserved his second Oscar too.

At the heart of THE FATHER is a reciprocation of love and the pithy cast members give it their heart and soul.

***

SAINT MAUD(2021)





A holy terror is what is occasioned by this extraordinary debut feature from writer/ director Rose Glass. It’s a terror that we are quick to grasp as one of a psychological kind.

Hence, Morfydd Clark’s brilliant distillation of a young palliative carer’s religious reawakening and struggles with guilt and shame is a knockout. To me, it’s a study in how an expert performer can unlock so many uncomfortable corners of the mind by harnessing body language, voice and the naked bruises on the visage left by inexplicable trauma.

SAINT MAUD is the kind of dramatic presentation that keeps us intimating about the misshapen circumstances that lead to a person’s present state. A point in the present where good intentions, spiritual rehabilitation are at odds with this constant ideological clash between sexual repression and  a zeal to be closer to divine purity.

That pressure point is what undoes us as individuals. A point where our efforts to find our middle space between being sinners and saints cracks our inner core.

Ms. Rose has delivered a brilliant screenplay complete with enabling work by Jennifer Ehle, atmospherics, cinematography and music. The imagery, collectively, is unforgettable for anyone who looks at the minutiae here. The ending is true to that psychological breakdown where the myth of beliefs and the horror of reality co-exist. That is the real horror here. As is the reality of crushing loneliness and the spectre of self- enforced temperance.


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