The art of impersonation reaches a whole new and disturbingly complex reckoning in TWO DRIFTERS, occupying a psychological space where survival instincts and mental traumas for a single, working class woman(Ana Cristina de Oliveira) drift away into a numbing state of complicity. On the other hand is the deeply aggrieved lover(Nuno Gil) who witnesses her unraveling while grappling with his own.
Of course, the tension here hinges on melodrama but quietly unravels with moving passages that detail the omnipotent presence of the dead young man( Joao Carreira) for his mother( Teresa Madruga), his soulmate( Gil) and then gets intertwined with that of a young woman now claiming him as the love of her life, the father of her unborn child and becoming obsessed with his posthumous apparition in all their lives.
Her maternal ferocity and the boy’s mother’s own loss coincide. Veracity and heterogeneous ideals too get in a complex knot. By the end, gender roles and sexual fluidity all converge here. All the while making us possessed internally with this downward mental spiral for an individual who is manipulative, distraught but equally begs our attention to her status in a world of neglect.
For other discerning viewers/ cinephiles, it is also the only Joao Pedro Rodrigues feature with the most use of music, including instrumentals of Joni Mitchell’s eternally beloved BOTH SIDES NOW and the iconic Breakfast At Tiffany’s theme.
As a discerning cinephile, I had read so much about pioneering director Alice Guy Blache over the years and I cannot be grateful enough to MUBI programmers for making this silent title available to us. A charming yarn about a young child’s wish for her ill older sister’s recuperation from consumption ( or tuberculosis which claimed so many lives back in the day), it is also about the scientific temper that is necessary to counter the certainty of imminent death for the one suffering. A kindly doctor’s medical practice and cure ultimately come to the family’s rescue. Dava( medicine) and Dua (Prayers) hence both work as miracles when in unison. In just twelve minutes, all of the pathos, possibility and joy is captured.
A hundred and ten years old film, it still retains its innocence and purity, charming us with the central motif of hope above despair. FALLING LEAVES also attests to the eternal power of O. Henry’s classic short story THE LAST LEAF which serves as an inspiration.
STAR BESTSELLERS EPISODES (1999-2000)
EK SHAAM KI MULAQAT/ AN EVENING’S RENDEZVOUS
Irfan Khan, Tisca Chopra, Himani Shivpuri and Raghuvir Yadav are four legends who occupy the frame together in this forty plus minute short, from the acclaimed STAR BESTSELLERS anthology canon.
What I love about the storytelling here is how true it is to the milieu captured; the mansion, its middle class landlords and the tenants, the latter’s working class livelihood, the camaraderie with the landlady that charms the woman while confounding the man who is drawn to her and exhibits typical gender traits even while dismissing other men’s misgivings about her.
EK SHAAM KI MULAQAT is a naturalistic depiction of behaviours, mannerisms, social conventions and how spuriously we judge women. The volte-face that comes for the man(Irfan) when his own better half is found to be harbouring a secret then shatters his burgeoning attraction for ‘the other woman’ whom he had thought to be a fair catch. That metaphor of not leaving the back door open takes on a subtle meaning, never intended for overstatement.
Appearances are deceptive. That foreground roots this short in a realistic mold even as the final twist comes. The performances are excellent.
I found this short’s title to be particularly interesting as the triad of complex relationships invokes Mahesh Bhatt’s seminal ARTH(1982), especially given the fact that the protagonist is a film director on the rise. The sublime differences being that she’s a woman and is in a live-in relationship with her screenwriting paramour.
The focus here is on the pressures of proving her worth in a male-dominated scene while buckling under them. This anxiety of work creeps into her relationship, given the fact that her screenwriting partner is out of work and is abusive. A very real and lived-in feeling of this high-anxiety paradigm is given a subtle treatment, with the protagonist’s work life and point of view occupying this impressive narrative.
Even her attraction towards and healthy creative partnership with her cinematographer, a dapper and easygoing man who honours her vision on her first major directorial duty, is handled with sensitivity, be it her eventual one-sided love for him or his willingness to open up his own seemingly forbidden love for another man, to only her.
The interactions are natural, the stakes of these bonds designed around circumstances while apathy is never part of the overall equation. For me, personally, it was a treat to watch Amruta Subhash in one of her early roles. She was always proficient and had put in the years to create an omnibus that now includes enhanced visibility and critical acclaim . ARTH proves that in spades.
Fat-shaming is such an intrinsic part of our global culture and cult of appearances that we become internalised participants even when our heart isn’t intent to condone the discourse around its pervasive cruelty. What happens then when cupid strikes a couple where the lady is conventionally slim and beautiful while the man is plus-sized? Obviously, social diktats get in the way even when both share an intrinsic mutual respect for each other that circumvents those whispers, stares and cues of disapproval.
The treatment in FAT CHANCE is so beautifully illustrative of both- the matter of fact being of the man’s weight bearing nothing on his amiability, talents or charm while also dealing with his own inferiority complex, familial tensions with an overprotective mother who knows how the world is at large and his efforts to lose weight for a healthy change. It’s tied in with self-esteem, image and the history of generational obesity on his side of the family.
A point of concern comes when the couple witnesses his uncle getting buried in an undersized coffin. This being the logical days of the nineties, his dietary habits don’t turn him into an Adonis with six-pack abs overnight. The triumph commences with shedding seven kgs in the first place.
I loved its handling of a prickly and all-too recognisable issue and the way the central couple’s love triumphs after the trials and tribulations of what is, in the eyes of the world, a mismatched union. This is how a story of such stirring import is handled and performed without causing offense or discounting the prejudices and hypocrisies that so many encounter for being different.
While watching this, I was reminded of how this will fare alongside THE WHALE, at least the play, which has largely come under fire for perpetuating harming stereotypes around fat-shaming and obesity in general.
Rajit Kapur’s direction in SHURUAT/ BEGINNING, the second episode in this anthology series which I’ve written about, built a world of possibility, with its solidarity among females even after legal separation in a marital unit create fissures and awkward silences. The strength accorded to the distraught daughter in law by the mother in law is beautiful. His second entry in this series of shorts takes the baton forward for progressive change.
TRIPTI destigmatises our general perceptions around mental health, domestic abuse and a culture of silence and repression which women from educated, cultured, middle class families endure in the absence of real intervention from any social agent.
Rajeshwari Sachdeva is that voice of change who acts as a fierce agent of liberation from all of the above listed points. Her fierce determination, however, is directed at detecting and then letting her older sister( Mita Vashisht, excellent as usual in a subtle turn) see how her marriage is nothing but a sham perpetuating cover-ups, physical abuse from her altogether absent and unfaithful partner and trauma. In the process, the two-way legacy of trauma on the part of her recently widowed mother( the titanic Surekha Sikri) is also cleared. Denial then transmutes to acknowledgement and an eventual change of heart commences.
Again, the believability of the interactions, the admixture of tenderness and irritability, pathos and constructive action is held together with a feminist rationale.
John Smith’s three minute short is all about how the order of appearances has a way of designing iconographies while often concealing blase truths.
A man robed in saffron(John Harding) enunciates the titular chant, it buzzes like a dozen bees, all in medium shot, a close-up. Then a hand of the off-screen barber(Mark Stevens) with a blade begins shearing his remaining hair. The final seconds reveal the ‘monk’ to be actually clothed in normal attire under the saffron-coloured cloth and smoking.
The screen fades to black. In those precise minutes, we are enraptured and the nature of miniature filmmaking finds a purposeful charge.