SOME SNAPSHOTS, LONG FORM TRIUMPHS AND A CHILLING STUDY OF MATERNAL WOES

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011)




Lynne Ramsay’s distinctive, almost impressionistic foray into the mental corridors of a troubled man was at the crux of YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, toplining an excellent Joaquin Phoenix. In WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, she again raises the moral and psychological stakes for the female protagonist who is seen colliding with a greater evil at home. The world of children through the depravity of child trafficking in YOU WERE….. collides with the mental traumas of unusual motherhood in KEVIN. The simmering angst of raising a problem child who exhibits an attention deficit, violent tendencies since a toddler trace the horrors of  burgeoning sociopathy. A baby’s non-stop crying assumes a greater portent here. Which exacerbates the dilemma around  nature and nurture, around individual personality and genetics. Or maybe some are born a certain way, independent of all those empirical considerations. We may never completely know but this screenplay, based on a novel, provides a chilling commentary on the manner of monsters in flesh and blood, raising themselves to unleash their inherent torment on this cruelly antagonistic world.

One where popular culture has a pungent tendency to churn out engaging narratives around anti-heroes. One where the potency of a gun is not just as regards a toxic phallic symbol but a real instrument of generating genuine fear within institutions.

What then transpires when the institution of motherhood ends in tragedy the moment a maternal figure realises her son resents her, hates her and brands an inborn misogyny towards her in his very being?  That visual of evil being birthed in front of one’s own eyes and spawning guilt, regret, a singe to the soul is captured by the expressive fulcrum on which Tilda Swinton’s abilities rest. As it is, every parent fears of falling short and for the worst in their offsprings. To see all those fears coming true then is a blast to the senses.

Swinton here embodies the challenges of leaving her career as an intrepid adventurer-traveler behind for domesticity that never becomes her true station. Then her son takes root as an apathetic individual of a grave nature. The horrifying cumulation comes when his actions produce a societal backlash against her. As if his orchestrated massacre was instituted by her upbringing. When she herself always feared his almost satanic effect in the first place. Only Swinton can get into her skin the way she does. 

***




WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is a compelling look at how motherhood stifles women even when the darkest hours of their trauma get futilely indicated in the direction of their deficient nurturing. Ms. Ramsay’s hypnotic, fast-paced and contemplative tenor here is utterly suited to those unholy revelations.

In the wake of its titular protagonist’s actions getting intertwined with the real-life sociopathy of one Ezra Miller who plays him here, the uncanny parallels hit home with a greater gut-punch.



***

STAR BESTSELLERS EPISODES (1999-2000)

As my readers would know by now, this Indian anthology series has become an illustrious benchmark for a cinephile and pop-culture afficianado like me. I actually watched the final stretch of selective episodes on pure instinct as always. Each instalment paid rich dividends in terms of realism, charm and a performative repertoire that we yearn to receive. Such is the overall talent on all fronts in the below given trifecta. Simplicity is the key to effective storytelling and each delivers on those fronts. In fact, using the statement, “they don’t make them like this anymore” would be utterly suitable in this instance.

PRAYAAS/EFFORT





Like TRIPTI and SHURUAT before it, PRAYAAS is another Rajit Kapur directed instalment that tugs at the heartstrings while never diverging from the humanity of its concerns. As an extremely talented theatre actor, Mr. Kapur, whom I swear to be one of our finest across media, digs deep into his own training, virtuosity and struggles in an image-based culture that would hastily pinpoint him as an arthouse stalwart. But art is art is art. It is in our blood, those of us who swear by its transcendental properties and those who practice its riches across a fruitful lifetime.

The poignancy of alcoholism and the downward spiral directed by it is beautifully presented and given a tentative resolve while also making its psychological core palpable to us. Alcohol abuse is no less than an ailment and maturity helps us understand the nuances that make  human life a division between virtues and shortcomings. PRAYAAS/ EFFORT is that journey, rendered in under fifty minutes.

The authenticity of backstage rehearsals, camaraderie, interactions between Mr. Kapur and Kumud Mishra playing his conscientious best friend stand out as does the magnetic presence of Rajeshwari Sachdev as a repertory player whose talents and sensitivity are on an equal plane. I loved the editing here, the understated style and the alchemy of the stage that’s captured so effortlessly.

I would now love to watch a full feature by Mr. Kapur in the future or a reunion in some capacity among the principal cast members at least.

**

ABHAY/FEARLESS

ANAND/JOY





ABHAY and ANAND are two companion pieces from STAR BESTSELLERS that are a must watch simply because they let the world of children get affixed so naturally with adults. In a pre-internet era, that tenacity was realistic and lived-in. So in a way, both are time-capsules too.

If in ABHAY, Mona Ambegaonkar and Loveleen Mishra essay to perfection the dual personalities of dedicated doctors whose breathless daily routines get inextricably linked with the young cancer patient, in ANAND it is a parental unit’s concerns about safeguarding an asthmatic son from the outside world, quite literally, given the severity of his condition.

Both children do not renounce their characteristic joie de vivre and are adequately cared for by their guardians.  The hospital staff members always rally around the high-spirited Abhay who bowls them over by his charm and wit while Anand’s parents are dedicated to ensuring he doesn’t hit a low spot, going so far as to conduct a mini puppet show for him outside his quarantined room. Shilpa Tulaskar and Harsh Chaya create that amusing portion as beautifully as the real fear and financial pressures they buckle under.

In both instances, the limited confines of a room don’t break the kids’ spirits, whether it’s Abhay bravely completing his 10th board examinations or Anand venturing out in the open to experience the wonders that await him. Their physical bounds are, of course, inescapable. With support and encouragement, they prevail even beyond death in the former and an exhausting alternative in the latter. Bless these two beautifully crafted episodes for their storehouse of bottomless sensitivity and directorial impact, with one of my favourites, the great Ms. Shernaz Patel directing Abhay with an assured, compassionate hand.





***

ROLL OF HONOUR

ROCKET BOYS, SEASON 1(2022)




This roll of honour deservedly belongs to the brilliant SonyLiv original series ROCKET BOYS. This is Indian ingenuity, in the realm of our relentless streaming options, that pays homage to two pioneers and their extended worlds without any nationalistic propaganda or aesthetic jingoism. Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai are figures we all know about but this series gives them the historical salutations they don’t often receive.  It is also wonderfully evocative of a scientific temper that is seamless in its accordance with a post-colonial ideal of constructive reconstruction, within a society too concerned with adopting divisive features. Look out also for the permanent imprints of former President and scientific wunderkind A.P.J. Abdul Kalam whose youth and dignity get a platform here, in a winsome supporting arc.

The storytelling is sophisticated and accessible, the screenplay across eight episodes thoughtful and reasonable while the period details are spot-on, bringing to us the cosmopolitanism of a Bombay and the simultaneous earthiness of an Ahmedabad factory to perfection. Ditto the cinematography and the urgent sense of triumph and patriotic fervour that the final stretch manages to uphold. It’s at par with the best global series and since the inventory of success is on a level field with geo-political aspects as also the mixed perceptions around nuclear energy, ROCKET BOYS triumphs.  This is how we need to make television or cinema in general a medium for enlightenment and entertainment, not just a cardboard cut-out of earnest ideas.

With performances of such high calibre and a second season coming soon, it would have been remiss on my part to not write about this. Man, I have never been more proud of our national cultural effect in recent times than here. Finally, for those who disparage privileged men, look no further than these icons who harnessed their education and financial status to make national dreams come true.

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