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……



***

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.




***

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.


***

MY POEM ‘THE FIRST CHAPTER’ HAS BEEN PUBLISHED BY PIKER PRESS.

My poem entitled THE FIRST CHAPTER has been published by Piker Press.

I hope you like reading it and imbibing its essence of a relationship between two people and a child, the idea of the central couple being non-binary/ genderless occupying centrestage in its conception.

http://www.pikerpress.com/article.php?aID=8951

OF TIMELESS ARTISTRY: on discovering the music of SADE and KATE BUSH

The year 2021 was when I finally decided to dive into the tirelessly timeless discography of two influential singers. Sade and Kate Bush were artists who had been on my radar for the longest time. Their impact was inescapable in articles, essays and general pop culture registries. So as someone who prefers the classics than just plainly reproaching the present era with a ‘how the mighty have fallen’ stance, I promised myself to listen to their very best songs and celebrate their collective and individual artistry. It’s a promise I was lucky to fulfil.

Though I have a long way to go in discovering more of their gems, it’s a start I cherish and since August of last year, it has been my habit to put their songs in heavy rotation, making them two of the most valuable artists to grace my expansive playlist. As a music lover, afficianado of its intricacies, social urgency and melodic magic, I urge all serious listeners of the current generation to pay utmost heed to KATE BUSH and SADE, the two British titans who continue to rule hearts universally. Their place is indelible and incalculable to cultural history and with good reason.

***



SADE is in a league of her own. She owns one of the most beautifully smooth, husky voices in music and has justifiably influenced scores of singers down generations. It’s a voice that is, however, not prone to imitation or impressions; it’s her own instrument generating an innate sensuality we hardly come across so easily, creating a serene environment for those opting to find moments of reprieve or genuine merit in being music lovers.

Take her signature tunes like YOUR LOVE IS KING, SMOOTH OPERATOR, JEZEBEL or IS IT A CRIME? to unlock her understated passion invested in the vocals and the seamless manner in which saxophones dominate their aural quality. A swoon and a sigh are two of the dominant responses that I personally reserve for much of her discography I’ve heard.

Then there are other standouts like HANG ON TO YOUR LOVE that revel in her style with a more upbeat tone while THE SWEETEST TABOO has a tropical vibe that’s at home with her breezy, cool as a cucumber ethos.

A swoon and a sigh, a feeling of overwhelming, sobering awe are therefore a requisite for this listener as he plays NO ORDINARY LOVE and his personal favourite BY YOUR SIDE. Or even in the instance of FLOWER OF THE UNIVERSE off A WRINKLE IN TIME original soundtrack which unfolds like a mantra, an universal chant befitting its title and mythic feel.

The caravan comes to a close with two songs off her 2010 album SOLDIER OF LOVE that I had heard sparingly within the period of its release, given that it was such an acclaimed record overall. So of course, it had to come to my attention.
SOLDIER OF LOVE is built around her unwavering spirit and a tensile beat while BABYFATHER is a great R&B song with a repetitive refrain and communal aura. Both attest to her iconic composure and sense of control in her delivery.

So listen to these, discover more from her discography and spread the word.

The song that began my love for Sade’s iconic repertoire.



***



We now reintroduce ourselves to KATE BUSH. Now, this artist truly defined 2021 for me, ending up as one of the most sought after musical discoveries.  In my view, she is an artist far ahead of her times who incorporated grave social issues in her inimitable repertoire with a stamp of originality. The first standout  on that front has to be BREATHING, a sombre meditation on nuclear warfare, destruction and mankind’s cruel ways. Particularly ingenuous is the way she devotes almost  minute and a half to a muffled, ominous conversational snippet where men can be heard discussing the mechanics of nuclear warfare (or war in general) drenched in atmospherics to match, finally closing the song with a chorus that enquires about the cost of life and with Bush pleading for it. The exhaustion, haplessness and brutal tempers are driving forces behind her vocals. The courage in her emotional investment is rewarding on a deeply psychological level altogether. A counterpoint to this is the childlike twinkle and infantile vocals on ARMY DREAMERS. At two minutes, its pithy nature and seeming innocence don’t conceal the manner in which its lyrics rip apart war propaganda that brainwashes young men and eventually claims their lives. It’s audio satire of the highest form.

This grasp on humour and subject matter shines on one of her classic tunes BABOOSHKA which I adore for its vocals and entertaining treatment. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable one while WUTHERING HEIGHTS is where it all begins for anyone getting acquainted with Ms. Bush. Once you listen to it twice, it will be stuck with you for good measure. The base is on the character of Kathy from the eponymous novel and the plaintiff cry, “Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Kathy/ I’ve come home” is both haunting and memorable. The track is unforgettable. That squeaky vocal of course sounds unusual and funny. But the love lorn ethos is paramount here.

Her discography, in general, is filled with diversity. HOUNDS OF LOVE, CLOUDBUSTING( which I first heard on a Season 3rd episode of THE HANDMAID’S TALE), RUNNING UP THAT HILL ( A DEAL WITH GOD), AND SO IS LOVE ( with guitar work by its certified practitioner Eric Clapton) let us explore the nuances of that sonic landscape. Drums, strings, pianos, guitars and synths all get utilised to create a vast array of effects. I also love how with almost each song, she switches vocal registers. Whispers, full- throated swoops, childish timbres et all meld with the songs’ thematic quality. She hence adapts her style to minute elements.  

On the other hand, AND DREAM OF SHEEP, THE SENSUAL WORLD and MOMENTS OF PLEASURE take full advantage of her quieter reckoning and balladry, with her affinity to nature occupying centrestage.

**

An all-rounder when it comes to musical styles and vocal delivery as also thematic quality to the songs in her classic oeuvre.



My favourite Kate Bush songs are the wrenching ballad THIS WOMAN’S WORK(hands down my most heard song of 2021) , THE MAN WITH A CHILD IN HIS EYES and her collaboration on Peter Gabriel’s beautifully written and modulated classic DON’T GIVE UP. Her individualistic and excellent covers of Elton John’s ROCKET MAN and Billie Holiday’s THE MAN I LOVE are equally memorable.

You know what, I can go on and on about her. I recommend all these songs for starters and exhort you to spread the word about her.

*****

So make SADE and KATE BUSH an immediate and indelible part of your playlists. They are truly artists to reckon with.

HOME AGAIN

OTHER PEOPLE (2016)

Guilt and shame are indispensable to the vast array of human experiences. We carry them in our souls even when the past has, seemingly, been exorcised. Even as winds of change buoyed by acceptance of our distinctive personalities open a pathway.

A door closes when mortal thoughts bring us grief and the uncertainty around life, for those we look up to as our anchors, becomes a brutal reality.

OTHER PEOPLE, based on writer-director Chris Kelly’s own life story, is almost caustically funny, heartfelt and an emotionally wrenching encapsulation of a point when he was hitting his 30s, grappling with career opportunities and his beloved mother’s eventual physical decay was occasioned by the Big C.



The guilt and the shame tails him since his father has not fully come to terms with his ‘coming out’ a decade earlier. His move to Sacramento from New York over the course of a year to be his mother’s dedicated caretaker is based on an instinctive, innate sense of responsibility. As the oldest son, he stands up to the reality of that urgent responsibility. As a brother, he is seen as a surrogate father figure to his sisters. These layers are so delicately, intricately carved and given such an emotional impact that the beauty of these universal relationships stand out. All this also becomes a beast of a burden for the young man at several junctures. Within this screenplay, I  appreciate the nuances of modern society which just doesn’t know how to react to someone’s sense of sadness; rather ‘other people’ only have awkwardness and distance to give us. As if the one who moved back is some kind of stranger in their short-sighted mindsets.

Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon hone their craft with realism to spare here, as the son and mother whose bond is inextricable from each other’s pleasures and pains. It’s owing to them and the incredibly commited, personal nature of extended cast members that OTHER PEOPLE becomes a study in staying put and facing adversities as an unit. But the individuality of the protagonists is particularly effective in its agency even as some outcomes are inevitable.
In these times where even perennially unwilling millennials have marked their homecoming, this compassionate work occupies a place in our hearts.

I’m glad I finally saw this gem and wrote about it since I had only heard appreciation directed towards it over the years.

              *****

THE UNFORGIVABLE (2021)

In Nora Fingscheidt’s THE UNFORGIVABLE, homecoming for the lead protagonist ( Sandra Bullock) is laden with a festering moral wound. One she chose to inflict on herself for the sake of her five year old sister twenty years ago. The prison cells have confined her. When she finally sees light of day back in civil society, she lives in a cramped, almost rundown reform home. In a mental space that gnaws at her.

Her sister, now living with all comforts and a profound vocational gift with her adoptive parents, is home. But she knows her past involves a maternal figure, a sister who doted on her, with whom she shared a home on a farm. Leafy city home to the rough and tumble of her first five years in the countryside define her.

That farmhouse is now occupied by a family unit which has converted it into a modern day haven for itself. Till the protagonist unravels her tale and the idea of a painful homecoming becomes urgent and poignant for all of them combined. Each family has a stake in the lead woman’s past. She carries shame as a burden, as a force that swept away two decades of her lifetime during which all homes and their occupants underwent transformations. Time moved on. Yet the truth skirted around the rims of justice.

**




Sacrifice is the abiding principle which adults adopt to give children a better life. It is recognised here in a vulnerable whole. 

For me, THE UNFORGIVABLE very poignantly unravels the price of ‘freedom’ and ‘forgiveness’ for someone who was never a convict to begin with. It’s a secret she buries with her sentence. It makes us question the nature of law and order as also our claims to rehabilitate those who have served time. In fact, what is the price for forgiveness?

Watch it for its probing depth, grit and hard hitting scenes, especially the verbal showdown between Sandra Bullock, Richard Thomas, Linda Emond and Vincent D’Onofrio in the lawyer’s office and especially that significant climactic moment between Bullock and Viola Davis which turns tables on truths and half-truths. The whole fabric of the truth unravels from there. One can never forget the manner in which Bullock mouths the lines, “she was only five years old” in that moment. Or when she turns her sister’s chair around in the diner and tells her she’s about to go somewhere before surrendering to the police outside the venue. These are heartbreaking moments that will be etched in our minds.

THE UNFORGIVABLE hence becomes a difficult, emotionally wrenching tale of homecoming for her and for all the people involved.

****

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.

***

WINTER VOYAGERS

WINTER VOYAGERS was a poem that I published on my poetry collection WHISTLING CHIMES as part of my initial sojourn on the acclaimed writing community Wattpad, way back in 2015. It was among my first batch of poems and rest assured, there has been no looking back for me, thanks to the support of discerning and always consistent readers.

So it is a wonderful feeling to have it grace THE EKPHRASTIC REVIEW, based on a painting that depicts a winter setting. I’m thankful to the publication for rekindling the spark of one of my earliest writings.

So read it and share your thoughts.

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THERE’S NOTHING BETTER THAN TAKING THE CLASSIC ROUTE- PART 2.

I had promised  to return with part two of my article on classic television series that I had been extremely fortunate to discover via a cable channel devoted to airing them exclusively.

Yes, I had heard and read about them over the years. However, watching them entails a different kind of joy and engagement. So without hitting the bush, we go right along with the bonafide hits whose influence continues to go around in perpetuity. Only this time, we focus on the dramas.

***

CHARMED

The fantasy genre has been elevated to staggering heights, thanks to the advent of the previous decade with a touchstone like GAME OF THRONES. Then there are hits which took advantage of our obsession with the supernatural and mythic entities but clearly overstayed their welcome ( not that I have seen them or hold any interest towards them)



CHARMED, however, is an exception although it took a teeny bit for me to gravitate towards it. Once I began watching from its first season airing on the channel, I was hooked. The primary reason why it works is because true to most 1990s- 2000s era dramas, it is sincere in its delineation of relationships; it presents us a composite picture of three sisters PRUE, PIPER and PHOEBE whose magical antecedents never overtake the innate humanity in them or their zeal to defend the ‘innocents’ of this fractured, crooked moral world.

It is thus heartening to witness the performative unity and individual arcs centred on Shannen Doherty as Prue, Holly Marie Combs as Piper and Alyssa Milano as Phoebe, all different in temperament and clearly reeling from their duty. In the process finding it hard to maintain a personal life of their own and often battling the spectre of mortal danger. I know this sounds like another preposterous idea but the execution is anything but. You are invested in the sisters’ realistic and multi-hued bonding, their love life and what I appreciate is that nothing wavers them in their mission to uncover the presence of an unholy underworld existing within our normal spaces.

To me, the presence of mythic demons, warlocks and other personae invite manifestations of living in a big, bad world where the pull of evil is ever so prominent and the choice to stay mum or look the other way is easy. Every fantastical adventure hence is a metaphor, symbol and personification as the best works have us believe and commit to. 

I also love the simple use of special effects, its own brand of situational humour and conversational wit while the males comprising of Brian Krause,
Dorian Gregory and Julian McMahon are wonderfully attuned to sustaining the narrative’s subtle momentum.

I have now watched CHARMED till the fourth season and Rose McGowan as Paige is an admirable, whip smart addition to the sisterly canon.  Avoiding trappings of sexism and refusing to present these individuals as easily cornered despite the odds or stakes involved, this is an emotional rollercoaster ride. I need to reiterate that the emotional quotient is the real winner here as also the effortless camaraderie between principal cast members.



Last but not the least, a word of appreciation must be allotted to the musical score that is subtle and never intrusive. The opening credits theme and the closing credits employing guitars  have captured my listening experience. So everything works in its favour. It just proves why this series continues to be a touchstone till today. A must watch.

*****

BAYWATCH

This all-time popular Guinness World record holder and cultural juggernaut has a personal appeal to me. My grandmother used to zealously watch it on telly and I clearly recall that aspect of the 1990s when I was a tiny tot. You see, BAYWATCH was just as popular in urban India as in the rest of the world.

So I was blessed to watch it in pristine high definition and restored sound quality on the channel, to truly understand why it has such a loyal fan-base. I know, some sections of people dismiss it as a ‘show where pretty people run around beaches in blood red gear and do precious little’; as a regular viewer now, I deem these critics inconsequential.

***


Created by an individual who served as a lifeguard, BAYWATCH is a love letter and sensual tribute to these often unsung professionals who preserve the sanctity of life on beaches where the very act of recreation and rejuvenation can come in conflict with the sea and its unpredictable contours. I love how the sea is shown in all its beauty, its expansive dimensions and the manner in which each individual member here commits, surrenders to its motions. The beaches in Malibu and Southern California become sanctuaries then holding a personal investment for its stars. And stars, bonafide superstars they are.

What’s striking is the way David Hasselhoff and Jeremy Jackson beautifully design a bond between a single father and his teenage son to bring much heart to the show while Yasmine Bleeth and Alexandra Paul commit to their collective and individual beats as sisters Caroline and Stephanie respectively. The latter two are also its best performers. Then there is the iconic Pamela Anderson as C.J., a sensitive soul who is always ready to conserve the ocean and rise up to protect the natural world all the while excelling as a lifeguard of genuine calibre. So the sheer physical embodiment of their roles does the trick which demonstrates practice and acumen of all dedicated lifeguards everywhere. Rescuing people, confronting drug carriers on the waterways, receiving and imparting training to new batches or just ensuring that the beach is safe from anti-social elements in general, this assorted crew shows us the daily grind and responsibility of the job at hand.

The makers, on their part, maintain a healthy vibe regarding the professional and personal storylines and employ an even-tempered tone. According to me, there is hardly a dull moment in almost any episode. So entertainment is served to the best registers. In high definition, the panoramic cinematography gets its due. Then there is the iconic theme track.

***



Some of the individual tracks really resonated with me such as when Stephanie’s cancer diagnosis helped enlighten us about the harmful effects of being exposed to the sun for long and taking appropriate skincare while on the beach or Mitch’s( Hasselhoff) mother struggling with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis as also when David Charvet’s spurning of a manipulative new female bodyguard leads to a false harrasment charge on him, giving him much heartbreak and mental toll based on skewed gender politics of the issue. Branching out to other professional fields occupies some of the lifeguards’ concerns too.

That said, the teamwork is established by dint of the ethics of being lifeguards and an interpersonal dynamic beautifully. So chuck the sceptics and relive the splendour of BAYWATCH, a series which is about being thorough professionals and decent human beings than a bunch of exceptionally ‘pretty faces’

****

LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT



I cannot comment if stretching this iconic series about law enforcement personnel based in New York City to twenty plus seasons, as in the present date, is any good. But since I have seen some of the latter day episodes along with the first three seasons on the cable channel broadcasting it, I know it employs an unusually restrained tone and tact to present these officers as embodiments of how to deal with a world run amuck with crimes galore, especially those centred on sexual offences.

It’s a challenging position to be in and more so when recent years have shown a graphic rise in police brutality. Some of the cases shown here also will definitely make us extremely uneasy and cringe in disgust at the details.

LAW AND ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, in its initial seasons, boldly goes on to portray human endeavours at their basest without exploiting the severity of the issues. All classes, races and backgrounds come into play to authentically let us grasp a metropolitan demographic composed of equal number of perpetrators and victims, whether they are athletes, reporters, young children, immigrants or corrupt cops and amoral judges.

The psychological unraveling for the officers concerned is perhaps what makes it revelatory and groundbreaking. Though they keep their cool and go with their responsibilities and protocol, they are affected in multiple ways, realising that the pursuit of justice is hampered by gender inequality and the law itself.

Mariska Hargitay, Christopher Meloni, Ice T and others have us hooked with their earnest commitment to the cause. The show earns its badge by dint of their merit. So immersed are they in their on-screen portrayals.

LAW AND ORDER ultimately sears owing to its base in real cases torn from the headlines .

****

MURDER, SHE WROTE

Jessica Fletcher is such an engrossing on-screen creation that she always manages to pop up on our radars in terms of culture fixtures of all time. Sure enough, I had heard rave reviews about her wit, personality and on-screen magnetism for a long time.



Thanks to this particular year and the slate of programming offered by the cable channel discussed ( TATA SKY HITS HD), I was entranced by multiple episodes spread across seasons in which Angela Lansbury embodied her perfectly in MURDER, SHE WROTE. What’s novel about this long-running series is that it’s not based on any literary source but springs from original scripts, with multiple arcs centring Fletcher as a crime solving mastermind. Here in this aspect as well, she is unlike the usual Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes tropes. She is an observer, a keen listener and given her own knack as a crime/ mystery novelist knows workings of the human mind like no other.

The episodes give her cast members to match her sense of magnetism while rooted in the humility of her everyday chores. Ensconced within community life in Cabot Cove, Maine, a predominant retirement sanctuary, she somehow stumbles upon layers of misdemeanors, sometimes involving her friends and acquaintances. Thus, she is instrumental in clearing crosses and knots around each case, using her mind and practical skills to help law enforcement.

I love the show’s pace, structure, old-world simplicity and the fact it relies on Fletcher’s instincts first rather than unusual derring- do that a male protagonist would have been saddled with out of impractical necessity.

MURDER, SHE WROTE is finally a trendsetter since it gives a 60 plus protagonist and mostly middle aged players a spotlight. I highly recommend this intelligent, dramatic presentation from the 1980s and ’90s for your viewing pleasure.

***

THE X FILES



Again, I was anticipating this series to become a part of the classics arsenal and it made its respectable entry in no time. I have watched the first two seasons and have to commend the team for imbuing a sense of viewers’ disbelief with authentic payoffs rather than cheap gimmicks.

Yes, this is fantasy of a cerebral, thought-provoking variety, giving science fiction on television a noirish mood and languid pace to probe into the darkest entrails of psychology and the very basis of human foundation in general.

Given that impossible nature of the conceit/ premise, THE X FILES benefits gloriously from the egoless, distinctively earnest work by iconic lead stars GILLIAN ANDERSON and DAVID DUCHOVNY as Dana Mulder and Fox Scully respectively, two names or should I say pop culture titles that have always been on everybody’s lips. The show is strong in not pitting one’s rational course with the other’s belief in other-worldly phenomena. It conflates their mindsets and united work ethic to make them equals on the job, erasing any sign of gender disparity. Which is its biggest contribution to the canon.

As per its tagline, THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE. Classified information on extra terrestrial life and supernatural events seem to come back into the picture, questioning our established beliefs. THE X FILES has a lot of credit to take for upending conventions on loosely defined ends of belief systems alone. After all, truth is always stranger than fiction. The series recognises that, utilising its cold, cloudy locations in and around British Columbia, Canada to extract an ominous aura throughout.

***

CHARLIE’S ANGELS



Suave, sophisticated and utterly engrossing, the original ABC series of CHARLIE’S ANGELS is miles away from the frenetic, snazzy modern interpretations in the post 2000s era. Times change and cultural benchmarks undergo reinvention which relates to the popularity of the original entity in the first place. But what perhaps the new versions have corrected is the action practiced by the principal female protagonists, something which is sorely lacking in the original series. A product of its times and it doesn’t help that not all episodes grip.

But that aside, the series is really good at building a central mystery with each episode cycle, extracting the requisite mood with cinematographic finesse and employing able actors. Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and Farah Fawcett are all wonderful in the composed manner with which they approach the cases. They also have a genuine warmth with and towards each other. Of course, Charlie, the voice behind the man running this unique detective agency, is still faceless and enigmatic. David Doyle as Bosley is, to me, a priceless aspect of this show.

My favourite episodes are the ones centring around the race course and involving a chequered jockey’s  murder mystery, a ski resort and its attendant terrorist plot, the return to one of the angel’s small town which suddenly gets hostile towards them and reveals a sinister abduction plot as also where Cheryl Ladd suffers from amnesia and wanders the California beaches. Also look out for guest appearances by now certified legends TOMMY LEE JONES and JAMIE LEE CURTIS in their early parts here.

***

RICH MAN, POOR MAN(BOOK 1)



It often happens that siblings growing up in a similar home environment branch out into completely different courses as adults. Their life trajectories are defined by the past, present and circumstances often shaped by a crooked world around them. RICH MAN, POOR MAN goes in that realistic direction with not only the two titular brothers’ familial antecedents of a hard immigrant life and coming of age as second generation Americans in a post War era but their differences in temperaments and outlooks.

It is about priorities, the definitions of right and wrong and how a capitalist culture stifles seemingly healthy relationships. Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte are excellent here and look out for supporting arcs from Fionnula Flanagan and Talia Shire. This is a must-watch miniseries.

****