‘The Iron Lady’ is an Unconventional Biopic of a Controversial Leader

Meryl Streep’s Academy Award winning portrait of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady enables her to sit on a higher pedestal than ever before. It’s a delectable study in vicariously entering her subject’s decidedly power-packed, incisive nature as an administrator. Streep’s performance has enviable command throughout whereas the film’s vision falters quite […]

‘The Iron Lady’ is an Unconventional Biopic of a Controversial Leader


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My article on THE IRON LADY has been published by SCREEN QUEENS, my third work to grace the publication which I love first and foremost as a reader for its eclectic and insightful essays. So I feel honoured to have my own words find a place there.

Do read it and share your thoughts.

Thank you.

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THIS GARDEN CALLS OUT TO ME – A PHOTO ESSAY.

I have been longing to be comforted by the breeze, swayed and lulled to satisfaction with the lullaby of the trees and behold that distant beehive up in the tallest Goliath among those ancient ones, looking at nestling birds and squirrels in the lower channels of its trunk.

The reverie transitioning to a morning ritual for the last three years has been on hold for two months now. The last time being earlier in the month of March, that yearly herald that calls out to summer to spread its sunny yellow carpet with mellow repose and not scorch us with its humid darts and blows prematurely. When I set foot to your green panoramic spread, early in the morning, right in the middle of the city revered for its aesthetics, the setting comes alive with old world charm, of acres once in the name of erstwhile royalty and it has always been the silent type where the occasional morning walker or casual passerby could be sighted. Always making me feel like I was the chosen one, allowed to roam its breadth and then make it my regular walking haunt.

Such a solitary stretch of pruned royalty, overseen by the archeological society and standing like a haunting reminder of the glory that the city wears like a crown day in, day out. The columns, ramparts, open theatre and palatial remains blended in unique textures and colours centuries ago, worn out by time but never denuded of sheer beauty, with the peacock symbols calling out to the actual inhabitants from the botanical garden opposite its storied location. I inhale the sights, the annoyance of the traffic outside its gates, right in the heart of the city yet sealed by a dignified reserve, as if put under a dome of quiet, like the red eyes of those pigeons flying overhead.

The honeybees go from the nectar of one season to the next and the sun shades it in moods invoking the true poet in me ; the music from my headphones settling for a contemporary vein because it’s so easy to feel enwrapped in the peace and calm of the open space and historical background. So easy to know that creative inspiration fed by such a pleasant source is far from just a fictional device. It is the very basis for reality.

We talk about being in the very lap of nature within cities as if that is a novel intervention we need to accord to ourselves to ensure our present concerns eject out towards a wholesome future. ‘Why not stay in the moment and honour our earthiness before a pandemic or a calamity takes the globe by storm?’, I ask. Why wait for a strike across the boards? Thankfully, my love affair with my favourite garden, my own Eden came years ago, never waiting for one distinct memento.

My garden has always kept me alive to the sensuality of the elements, the first morning prayers of the wind and birds and the chanting of the Buddhist monk visiting it like a miracle at random intervals. I wish this period of separation gets over before 2021 rolls out. I wish I see you without a mask on my face, uncovering your riches. They are the last sources of sanity that provide me with the leisure and comfort of being nature’s ally. I miss you and don’t be offended if I take the liberty to personify you here.

You are sorely missed and as I peeked at you twice over two random days while out on a walk within this week, behind closed doors, the growing stalks of grass and lonely structure made me wistful. I’ll return to your fold. Blessed may you remain within your isolated glory. For it has always been your badge of honour.

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NOTE: this photo essay, with all photographs taken by me, is dedicated to the beautiful but underrated Sikandar Bagh garden, located at the heart of my city Lucknow that I frequent as a walker. It’s my muse and my only friend on pleasant mornings, especially on Sundays. A hauntingly beautiful space where the world comes to a standstill and nature overtakes all internal discourses.

MY ESSAY ON ‘MOTHER OF 1084’ IS NOW PART OF BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

My essay/movie review on THE MOTHER OF 1084, a seminal novel written by Mahashweta Devi turned into an equally gripping feature film in 1998, has been published by BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

I want readers to imbibe the socio-political, cultural aspects that are part of the work and ponder upon the fate of the mother-son bond besieged by external factors, portrayed here, and the churning within society that counters the kind of complacent bourgeois arrogance they both encounter at home. This in particular is exemplified by aura of the epoch of Communism it addresses and implications of following ideologies beyond the beck and call of everyday life.

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Mahashweta Devi always represented the marginalized through her impassioned writings and fiery, uncompromising activism for almost nine decades of her life and her legacy in truthfully mirroring our world is at its most potent in HAZAAR CHAURASI KI MAA.

As discerning readers and cinephiles, I will sincerely urge you to read the book and watch the feature film adaptation. Also take away distinct points from my own views in the article below and share your thoughts.

The Circle of life: The Silence of Motherhood

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MY POEM SALLY VAGABOND IS PUBLISHED BY CONFLUENCE.

My poem SALLY VAGABOND has been published by CONFLUENCE MAGAZINE in its May, 2020 issue.

It is my fifth work to be published by CONFLUENCE since 2018 and I’m happy to contribute to the eclectic mosaic of the magazine that particularly celebrates South Asian writers. I am really thankful for the chances I am getting to share my writings with the larger world.

So read SALLY VAGABOND and share your thoughts. Thank you. I’m sure it will resonate with you all.

I am sharing it with you via screenshots of the original published work.

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LIGHTS OUT and FIRST BORN.




My two poems LIGHTS OUT and FIRST BORN are here for you to read.

Here’s the link to the file: https://s.docworkspace.com/d/AHx_uLH02sAl4bL6y8idFA


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Do share your thoughts on them. They are both borne out of the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in.

NOTE: both poems also feature on my poetry collection FRONTIERS on WATTPAD.

LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP MAKE A HEADY CONCOCTION IN CHOKHER BALI(SAND IN THE EYE, 2003)

CHOKHER BALI(2003)

CAST: AISHWARYA RAI, PROSENJIT CHATTERJEE, RAIMA SEN, TOTA ROY CHOWDHARY, TINA DUTTA, SUDESHNA ROY and LILY CHAKRAVARTY.

DIRECTION: RITUPARNO GHOSH.

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It has always been my conscious belief that every prevalent work of art is buffeted by winds of social change. One of the first films I wrote about, here on my blog, was Shyam Benegal’s global landmark BHUMIKA(THE ROLE, 1977) ; it is interesting to note that lead protagonist Usha’s( iconic Smita Patil) choices and idiosyncrasies portrayed in her relationships with men was a direct distillation of the neo-feminist movement in the 1970s which was rearing its head out of the subaltern discourse and emerging on the mainstream platform. This was in keeping with the contemporary era in which it released irrespective of the fact that the film’s timeline was of the 1940s-50s.

Satyajit Ray’s DEVI(THE GODDESS,1960) too was modelled around this contentious battle of wits between a particularly bucolic and generally entrenched brand of religious fanaticism in the 19th Century running parallel to an emancipated worldview occasioned by English education, Bhramo Samaj and social reformation in colonial Bengal.

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Then comes CHOKHER BALI (2003), a movie adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s early 20th century novel. Tagore had never put his stamp on being a hard-boiled reformer or activist but stood to represent the foundation of an order “where the mind is without fear” thus chalking out stirring tales and poetry way ahead of his time. In their own individual way, his works predate feminism, liberalization and the urban myth of gender equality we’ve been chasing to no avail even to this day. CHOKHER BALI similarly triumphs in subverting status quo and implementing the graph of human endeavours with characteristic frankness and fervour. I personally feel that a work like this or several of Tagore’s works have simply no match well in the present day of ‘modern values’

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Of course, the idea of an adaptation comes with a flipside as every good film made on these lines goes like a profound piece of literature but every book to movie translation necessarily doesn’t hold water. Tagore’s novel went where no other work had wandered before- a space rooted in conservative adages. Here morality existed chiefly as a means for adherence to closed mindsets and widening the man-woman rift. CHOKHER BALI had the courage to upend trite conventions and fortunately its screen revision is iconoclastic and original in tone.

Director RITUPARNO GHOSH has been a beacon of Bengali cinema’s brilliance in form and content much like Satyajit Ray’s heyday. He furnishes the period element of this film with a passion play rich in sensuous frames and interpersonal relationships, deepening Tagore’s impact on millennials while tracing its early 20th century ethos. Ghosh takes Tagore’s lead and ups the ante for Aishwarya Rai’s turn as widow Binodini. The crux of the tale lies in her plight. However, the depiction here is surprisingly liberal and a marked departure from the hush-hush, wink-wink attitudes reserved for them. This iconography of society’s compassionate and open nature is a positive token of the Bengali bhadralok (educated middle classes), illustrated in individual outlooks of women and menfolk in this screenplay.

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For a long time, widows have bore the brunt of ill-will and subsisted on islands of pain, drawing water from the well of conspicuous silence and voiceless meanderings to exist on absolute fringes. Cinema has exploited this reserve for its own unhealthy self-fulfillment in toying with mechanics of tragedy; which is why for Tagore to envision such an important change and portray them as flesh and blood individuals amidst equally concerned kindred is a crowning achievement. That said, all characters here shine with the twilight shade of complexities. They are grey personages to reckon with, refusing to let ways of the world dictate their needs, mores or ethical codes.

Binodini is an exceptionally educated, talented and intellectual young woman, trained in the English language, piano and poetry, possessing a mind of her own. Her presence is never an aberration or considered to be ‘a jinx’ and she is shown to mingle with her relatives and well-wishers and prevail as one of their own. This is where the unusual flavour of the script is tapped to eke out females who are more than the sum total of their broken parts. Mass hysteria pronounced on the part of victimisation of widowhood in traditional circles is shut out in favour of a kaleidoscopic gallery of emotional turbulences.

The Oscar nominated WATER (2005) by celebrated filmmaker Deepa Mehta has already made us privy to tragic underpinnings and sexual upheavals of the subject with melancholic depth, probing cultural precepts like no other ever since. Binodini’s status as a widow is incidental as it truly must be treated as and is a launchpad for giving birth to her own latent desires and sexual agency. It becomes easy for us then to empathize with and root for her even when she plants feet of clay, to get what she wants for the price of fulfillment. Her silver tongued wisdom is a particular trait adjunct with her luminous beauty. For the most part, Aishwarya Rai invests Binodini with intelligence and unabashed nerve to pull off the myriad hues of her personality. She is a complex figure and simultaneously becomes an object of art in the hands of cinematographer Aveek Mukhopadhyay. She is, however, never commodified or pigeonholed as a performer.

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As beauty is shown to bow to some kind of self-destruction, Binodini’s wishes threaten to blow bugles of marital discord for her best friend Ashalata ( the always charming RAIMA SEN) when her husband Mahendra( superstar PROSENJIT CHATTERJEE) falls head over heels in love with the former, the girl he had rejected in a proposal earlier by just setting his eye on her photograph. It’s clear that for Mahendra, Binodini’s beauty isn’t an all-encompassing determinant. In her takes no prisoners spirit, he finds an equal who can physically and intellectually be on the same footing as opposed to the naive, innocent, semi-literate Ashalata. Her marital bliss with Mahendra gets evaporated as soon as the passion of this untimely intimacy gets stoked by her husband’s capricious behaviour. The girl, whom she had fondly nicknamed as Chokher Bali, ends up being pitted against her for her husband’s affections, leaving her cornered and helpless. It’s in the gradual realization of their circumstances that all three attempt to build bridges and conquer their worst fears to find security and stability, away from society’s protracted gaze.

Ghosh ensures no ideological stream limits his storytelling and to our satisfaction, a welcome dose of goodwill is found in Tota Roy Chowdhary’s tacit restraint as Behari, Mahendra’s best friend who gets sucked into the vortex of relationships.

The performances in this film are uniformly good and RAIMA SEN upstages AISHWARYA in several of their joint scenes. She is heartbreakingly vulnerable and stoic as Ashalata, the unsuspecting sweetheart and in the end fails to let her charms equal those of Binodini. That doesn’t make Binodini a temptress or Asha a plain victim. Judgemental recourses aren’t components of this film’s distinctive issues. Lily Chakravarty and Sudeshna Roy also get their fair share as senior prefects of a rapidly changing household’s affairs of the heart and mind.

The only quibbles are in the form of a prolonged runtime and the pace which falls way off the mark at few points. Technically, some of the best shots are composed in the veins of a Raja Ravi Verma painting, noteworthy being the one where Binodini playfully pushes Ashalata on a swing.

Like Tagore, Ghosh is spinning a timeless yarn on human resources in the face of societal expectations. His females aren’t holy cows nor vamps while the males abide by their strong values and still highlight their innate weaknesses. Ultimately, CHOKHER BALI is a fine example of cinematic sensibilities, finding urgency in the mangled states of its protagonists and the supporting cast.

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Also watch the beautifully evocative EPIC miniseries STORIES BY RABINDRANATH TAGORE now streaming on NETFLIX, especially the first three episodes based on CHOKHER BALI featuring RADHIKA APTE, BHANU UDAY, TARA ALISHA BERRY and SUMEET VYAS as BINODINI, MAHENDRA, ASHALATA and BEHARI respectively. It’s a gift for discerning cinephiles.

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HOMECOMING

To cap off the POETRY MONTH, I share with you all one of my poems that I had written few months back.

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I had not seen my Gods’ images
or heard about those constellations of chants
and incarnations and names,
A whole pantheon of consecrated faith,
never before this day,
encountering them through the hollow of conch shells ;
and the tremulous echoes of my heritage lay on that hilltop,
where climbing a thousand stairs brought me dozen steps closer to fatigue
and exhausted quests,
for there was the sacred spot for the pinnacle of beliefs.

On that skyward nursery of pagan stones and red smudges and incense sticks,
standing in a mindful mist of breaths above the toe of the earth below,
I found the East beckon me, exhaustion sans hopelessness spilling to the pilgrimage of my unseen past, spilling over my parents’ exacting voyage through seven seas.

Beholding foreign monikers meandering and then charmed by a distant tune,
a boy and a girl relieving the overwhelming scene, each with a flute.
The identity given to the principle of ONE.


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Who is that three headed lord
and in what light is cast the fierce feminism of  the Goddess with ten hands,
with her trident brandished for the annihilation of evil patriarchy?
I asked once, completely  severed from the land of myths and legends.

With the power of the third eye and an universe of goodwill journeying to the forehead by elders’ palms,
I have seen the  idea become consciousness,
manifest in lucidity of work, ethics and free will.
I have seen clay idols left to dry before October winds,
painstaking as the makers’ faith and witnessed gatherings of infinity,
with light on the faces of the youngest child,
chiding even agnostics for the trinity of celebrations, release and humility.

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There is a soul behind those arpeggios of bell tolls,
a balletic motion to the way virtuous simplicity becomes one’s religion,
the grasp of virtue and sin to be decided by  long walks through stages big and small,
tested by communal  flares and ensnaring dilemmas of diversity.

All of these dance before my inquisitive eyes,
the first imprints of dewy marigolds and peacock colours,
the first spring of discovery in eighteen years.


A sparrow tip toes with morning greetings
while the homeland’s guardian maina twitters acceptance as she plays on my fingertips.
This homecoming is unblinkingly real,
the third eye rising with the suffusion of OM, OM.
Standing atop this hill,
nations and future mosaics integrate as the spirit,
the everlasting fervour truly conjugates with ‘spiritual’.
A gradual exhalation ingressing towards this impressionable soul.


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NOTE : the above written poem had been gestating in my mind and I finally gave it shape. It is about a Non Resident Indian, hitherto separated from the spiritual ethos of the nation, discovering the mosaic of faith while on a trip back home with her/ his parents as the gender is no bar to the speaker’s mindset here.

On my part, this is imagination stoked by subliminal attuning to the worldviews of foreign settled cousins who underwent the same experiences or perhaps I imagined their passage to India as such. Hence the title HOMECOMING.