LOVE, SURVIVAL, RESTORATION.

CHAPAAK(2020)

Meghna Gulzar creates a paradigm of presenting a real life story with as much empathy and realism as possible, completely doing away with sensational inputs. In CHAPAAK, the titular splash of liquid, also pointing to a sudden reflex or movement, is the axis around which cultural dogmas, justice and most importantly, individual agency to effect change is brought to our notice. As this writer, like millions, has followed the trajectory of our national ‘SHEROES’ over a decade and more, it becomes empowering to know they were not alone in bouncing back.

Laxmi Agarwal’s story as an acid attack survivor, woman and activist then becomes a blueprint for shunting out shame or resentment. Hence putting the onus of accountability on the perpetrators, as it should be.  We cannot change regressive mindsets or the man-made cult of appearance. But we can put up a fight, knowing the legal rigmarole can last years. It is all here, with a special shout out to the lawyers, journalists, active supporters and social workers who eschew the stereotypes associated with their respective professions or even gender to make Laxmi a stronger person. It is a travesty of humanism itself when certain kindred, in a fight for justice, have to declare themselves ‘ethical’ per se.



CHAPAAK packs in all those sociological factors with tact. I applaud the whole team for investing in the roots of misogyny and a continuum of injustice being raged by wrongdoers. Also for showing Laxmi and her peers as fully formed individuals who don’t let a dark past overshadow a pursuit of happiness.

Thank God for a work like this to exist, in a country where heavy handed biopics and stormy platitudes muddy the waters of filmmaking with a purpose and even actual social consciousness on the ground.

***

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE(2000)

The roads and walls of erstwhile Hong Kong, as presented in Wong Kar Wai’s swooning ode to an unfinished love story, are very similar to Calcutta or even old Lucknow. Similarly claustrophobic are the living interiors of the apartment in which the protagonists live, so closely held together that one could share neighbours’ breaths or gasps.

In essence, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE devises an universally applicable moral dilemma for its two protagonists who have been hitched to their respective partners but realise their ‘worse halves’ are cheating on them with each other. Cue a screenplay reveling in the quantum of one’s limits of interaction where obvious desires clash with society’s prying eyes. It’s a sweet and profound friendship cut short by too many considerations and an unhealthy internalisation of guilt.





The common motif in so many lives is that we end up meeting those we identify with at an inopportune moment. Everything changes due to the timing of that realisation. We carry on with building up memories of what could have been.

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is a mirror image of millions of broken hearts who found that taking a chance on a love worth fighting for came with risking the established status quo. It made me feel helpless. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung come with characterisations here worth savouring for the pain and spark of commiseration. Quietly memorable is when they roleplay their spouses and still cannot bring themselves to replicate their betrayal of trust. The fragility of bonds here rely on the language of looks alone. On the hesitant pangs we bear.

***

WHITE AFRO(2019)

We live in a world where the very term ‘culture’ is a sham, its skeletal remains reeking of rank capitalist racism. Ask those flippant foreigners who land up on Eastern shores to collect flocks of hair from impoverished residents to make quick bucks.

WHITE AFRO utilises a public service advertisement as cultural commentary, with X ray vision dominating the process of acquiring an Afro hairstyle, cleverly symbolic of the inhuman, dangerously numbing manner of all appropriation. Watch this short to know the cruel forces that end up making our very physical legacy a matter of profit and marketability. Its in your face commentary is all the more powerful. You feel it is just another dry factual presentation. Then the blatant words and advisory startle us.



***

BESSIE(2015)

Queen Latifah is raw, armed with an insatiable passion for life and guarding her corner of selfhood as Bessie Smith.

Before MUDBOUND made me a definite Dee Rees admirer, this was the work that came as a promising springboard. I watched it for a second time few days ago, after my initial tryst around the year of its release on HBO.

It’s a bittersweet trajectory of a legend. But some scenes stayed with me over the course of six years, reiterating their impact even now. Like how she is immediate in her physical rejection of any kind of racism, whether it’s telling a New York phony how white people in the South let you get big as long as you don’t get too close. In the North, it’s vice versa. As also when she courageously confronts Klan members keen on violence at one of her big tent shows in the South. Her stature and sheer physical force is visible in Latifah’s convincing presence. She doesn’t suffer fools.  Her singing prowess, on the other hand, completely justifies the blues icon.




The raw and unblemished portrayal here is then its biggest asset that is counterbalanced by the way time and tides of change propel her from the face of dejection to a place of contentment and artistry. The other cast members ably ride to the occasion.

**
SUMMER OF SOUL(OR WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED, 2021)

Thank God for this undisputed classic. Yes, I’ve said it. This is not just a documentary, it’s cultural restoration of the highest merit that will be quoted as a gold standard of filmmaking.

The Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969, wiped out from collective historical memory, is a rally cry against systemic racism; racism that allowed this treasure trove to be in the trenches for 50 plus years. This feature length work wrests control of a lost narrative now made unforgettable to every discerning viewer. For this pop culture afficianado, it was a heaven-sent gift on a Sunday evening.




It’s not everyday when you get a once in a lifetime opportunity to watch Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson join forces, Nina Simone let the truth prevail like a veritable Goddess on stage while having Motown, gospel, R&B and African/ Cuban roots influence a melange of sounds, figures and overall diversity.

A special shout out to editor Joshua L. Pearson for letting inevitable social commentaries and backgrounds of the day and age bristle to life beyond the soundbites and archival footage. That electrifying rhythm pervades the live concert unity of SUMMER OF SOUL. It’s ultimately a spiritual release. To catch the rhythms of these voices and bodies reclaim a cultural heritage.

Watch SUMMER OF SOUL now.

*****

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