WHEN I BECAME BIRDMAN

Pictorial representations have always given me vigour to write . This untitled work above, by Rose Mary Boehm, hence, literally gave my creative powers ‘wings’ to write the following poem.

                          ***

WHEN I BECAME BIRDMAN

Freedom is what dreams
provoke in me
to wear this skin
without resorting to the
masque of make-believe.

Freedom is the spindle
from which spools a parallel wish;
one where even a begrudging ‘yes’
allots me room to breathe
and make legible my words.
Better now to court
the attention from critics
who watch me part curtains
and launch into an unusual,
unbroken soliloquy
than sycophants
who picture me
solely as a ventriloquist.

This is my life
as the ‘Birdman’
dressed in suffocating cotton mass
but never as mobile or serene
when personifying all I have to
as now.

The metaphor for every stage
is to be heavy with skill
and fecund nerves.
But when the body moves
independent of a thousand glares
and the dome of the spotlight,
Eureka!
that’s when the artist separates
and becomes a being.

The art of becoming a bird
is subtle.
You have to align the humility
of being nature’s paragon
with beseeching all the
innocent sparks sold to the world.

The world’s a stage.
One’s own flight there has to begin
with nimble steps
and a face
towards the sun
and the moon,
determined
this is the day
when the ‘act’ becomes deceased
and true form takes birth.

***

PASOLINI, MUSICAL TOUCHSTONES, HAIR LOVE & MORE.

LOVE MEETINGS(1964)



The non-fiction format of storytelling always draws me in by its simple premise: there is no attempt to bootlick or present fiction as facts. The power of  truth is sought in this manner and rewards viewers’ intelligence who find like-minded thoughts become an important part of the discourse.

This documentary from the Italian auteur (or provocateur) Pier Paolo Passolini is a straightforward take on people’s attitudes towards issues of sexuality, gender and binaries. This interview format and survey like earnestness allows the filmmaker and his team to cover Italy’s vast socio-cultural ground, from rural to urban, from spruced up dancehalls to open fields, beaches to Neapolitan backwaters.

I loved the fact that it consistently delivers in terms of capturing common man’s honest perspectives and in the majority consensus, social change vis a vis gender equality and a greater freedom to explore sexuality and the works emerges as a prominent motif. Irrespective of certain dated tropes, terminologies and the supposed feeling of a retrospective offering the usual hush hush treatment from those who lived in a more conservative era. But they triumph by speaking with zest and stand by their strong opinions.

A must watch.

THE LAST MUSIC STORE(2016)



Talking heads occupying a precious space marks the tonal quality of this documentary short by Megha Ramaswamy. Rhythm House, the iconic Bombay music store, is the site of collective memory tied in with a way of life and the end of an era in a post internet culture.

Humility is in droves here by way of the history and community invested in the actual location. As also a familial connection that binds strangers. Bittersweet symphonies of loyal clientele, record breaking albums and the inevitable reality of the store’s closure make us all reminisce of a time and place not so far away at all when music was an experience of a personal kind. One where the tactile touch of a cassette or C.D. meant the world to us.

THE LAST MUSIC STORE is a treasure trove and packs in the sadness of life moving on with the solidarity of memories made for a lifetime.

SPLIT ENDS, I FEEL WONDERFUL(2012)



Akosua Adoma Owusu is a filmmaker whose preoccupation with hair, particularly those of African American people, is a strong suit of her non-fiction filmmaking resume.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the power of her cultural commentary in WHITE AFRO. The use of retro footage set to words that reveal both the datedness of certain ideas and the intervention of contemporary oppositional contexts make SPLIT ENDS…. powerful too.

Only here, the four minute narrative arcs in the direction of beauty, pride and the joy of one’s hairstyle being much more than a fad or style statement. It’s a personal statement.

***

Further to sum up the wonderful feeling of watching three diverse works in terms of their style and content, I again reserve my ideas in the verse form.

A special shout out though to the last title( the much delayed COBALT BLUE, based on a novel I had read about a decade ago)  that released this weekend and is one of those instances where an exclusive streaming release allows a subtle, intellectually stimulating and universal tale to find its true footing. It’s as fluid as the sexuality and sensual reprieve it achieves so elegantly along with its personal stakes of autobiography.
Kudos for more of such accomplished Indian gems.

**

PASOLINI(2014)



square jaws
hold such sharp resolves
and unburden so much
of the world’s sulking energies.
Ask the maestro.

Here he is deep in thought,
his palms releasing imprisoned
words with a soft, elegant touch.

Coarse
Brusque
Vulgar
and hypocritical,
the people
and their receptions.

The sanity
of language
along with the
bestiality of sexual deviance.
Morality upended.
Who could have stripped them
this openly
but you?

Privately,
you were a simple man,
just like any other.
You loved your mother’s
unprejudiced affection
and the association
with an always rousing intellect.

They have killed you
PASOLINI;
driven an automobile over your faint,
limp body.

Your ghost exudes your sophistication,
now that faithfulness is no longer
their front.
Blunt forces drive a wedge with
diplomacy
and your legacy
is your own kingmaking code.
See how many awaken from your
fierce process.

**

HOSTILES(2017)



The Western frontier
has passed through uneven hands.
Calloused and hungry is the roar
of the past.
Calculating and walloping
the law of this land.
Cutting open native pride
like a door left open
only for opportunists
and marauders.

Bravery is to own
collect grievances
divide shares of the fire
and the flood
and bury bodies
in flesh and spirit
that seek to be laid to rest.

Rise to such a dawn,
Woman.
Stand up for a morsel of that truth, Man.

Your hands were tied to
armours
meant to defend and kill.
Their gold rush is now passing away.
The avalanche of cruelty is over.

Take this passage
down this untrodden path
and mount the last train.
For destiny favours the bold
and those primed for a future.

***

COBALT BLUE(2022)



Bodies are like water
but with a beautiful image
of a lover
who paints us
in a rare shape.

I was always a sensual seeker,
secretly sensational.
But hands need to touch the core
of the principal,
pleasure needs to be
divulged
like a long citrus summer.

Hands touch
Bodies move
Destiny abandons
Patterns of companionship
become the river
and ponds get wetter with the monsoon.
That’s just the way
of the seasons.

Love is the sea .
Longevity is its master.
And our supple youth
waves upon the shore.
Dropping and collecting
like a pipe dream.

Thank God
that you came.
Saw.
Felt.
Left us
with a view beyond the windows
of our home.
Thank God
you came.

Thank God
you came.

****

HUMANITY: IT IS FULL OF SHADES.

Five more than ordinary pieces of art became launchpads for me to give them credit through the verse form.

This is the nature of humanity finding much creative outlet through real life figures in the latter three examples and fictionalized crystallization in the former two. All hit the bull’s eye. In arresting portraits of all, there can be no bias or neutrality. There can only be an acknowledgment of reality.

Here they are, mostly among the crop of latest features while the final bow is for an HBO movie that I finally had the chance to seek and appreciate wholeheartedly.

****

JALSA(2022)

To run over……
humilities,
pressure points
big city blues.

Oh, to run over
the cost and denominations of ambitions.
A home to go to
A child to tend
and protect
A classified society to take control of
yet not an end of the sea to reconcile with.

Men in uniform
executives in cubicles
glaring faces towering over
with determined grace.
REALITY & TRUTH
becoming two cuss words.

She buys her guilt
her blood soaked soul
with the hush of millions.
Another is bought over by grief
and an errant town
that calls her out for her underprivileged precedent.

The one,
hit and run over,
is asked for her sputtering share
of blame,
of her midnight ride.
WHY?
plastered over with zealotry.

A why
that culls this once and for all
as an amoral festival
of guilt and shame.
In a city that never sleeps,
dreams are influenced by who takes
the greatest share
and sleepwalks through it all,
without so much
as a mark on the cheek
or a hole in the heart.

Most of us here
return to an unholy horizon.
To be run over….
by humilities
pressure points
and wounded grace.





***

WEST SIDE STORY(2021)

Maria!!!
Why were you there
to seek him out,
LOVE being in his pores.
Didn’t you know
he was your doomed partner
in this sea of eviction
and divided loyalties?

You were far too young
and guileless
without an estimation
of the way men
crush the world
with far too ready egos.
They nurture only these
along the path of self-destruction.
Unsparing to
Lovers
Sisters
Mother figures.

Anita!!!
why didn’t you know
that your chorus was being detuned
and made to fit a more sordid face
of New York?
Land of the dreamers
Hard Workers
monopolised by a borough
tapping its feet among the damned.

So dance as you may
sing your hearts away to glory
as only you do
there will be rosaries
and funereal processions
to mark the end of an era
and jollity’s yearning cry
will be the last note.

At last,
there will be
a time and place
to make this the memorial
for muses
bethrothed
to the mud.





****

SPENCER(2021)

Give her a room of her own
without drawing her curtains

Give her only her crown
as a homebody
for that’s where she resides
with the twinkling sprites of spirits,
with her two beloveds.
Her sons.

But men and women are wont
to hunt innocence
and proscribe a ghost story
for someone like her.
She is in the hallways
tearing down her noose of pearls
and tears
and a structure
meek and languishing in apathy
like her childhood home.

Princess,
how woebegone then
that you had to create
yourself in the image of a fallen bird
and rescue your two boys
from hunting season.

Freedom was yours.
Only time ticked by.
For that Christmas,
you didn’t crack
but built yourself up
to not become another
fallacy.

And history repeats itself.





***

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE(2021)

Gaslit
Torn at the seams
I’m every woman.

I still go for the word of God
for His hand hardly trembles
for those shunned as ‘different’
in this world.

What if despite all my years
and rainbow tears,
He had written it for me
to be a shepherd
for all my kindred
and hold them tight
with my infectious pulse?

So I share the miracle of survival
and use my glitter to
let my eyes sparkle
with the ultimate word
‘FREEDOM’;
laugh as the others may
at what they only see
and never hear: the voice of good souls.





****

GREY GARDENS(2009)

Little Edie,
tell us
how you managed
without the luxury,
the tokens
and relics of your surname.

How did you smile
with such bright effervescence
when your abode had become
if nothing
but a jungle
run over by squalor
and the unimaginable
power of poverty?

I think
I have seen good fortunes die too,
Big Edie,
and a certain peculiarity
sets in when the old times
and chimes of a prosperous
kind
echo far away
on the beach.

Make no mistake
Go with the name
and let us in
to know that you both
lived to tell the tale.

You two,
like peerless skylarks,
sitting in the marsh
within paradise,
show the world
that times change.





***

MUSICAL CADENCES AND CLASSIC FOOTPRINTS

CAN’T LET GO and SEARCHING FOR MY LOVE by ROBERT PLANT and ALISON KRAUSS.

Two immensely talented artists, veritable legends, make the purpose of these collaborations sweeter and instantly accessible.

A softness, rhythmic pulse dominate SEARCHING FOR MY LOVE and CAN’T LET GO respectively. I say it’s been a reward for me ever since I heard them at the very beginning of 2022. The same genial charm will be generated for discerning listeners.


MOHABBAT by AROOJ AFTAB.

A subcontinental artist who made waves by sticking to her mother tongue Urdu and reviving the essence of ghazals in pure earnestness, while based in Brooklyn, sure makes a positive case for global consciousness that breaks through language barriers.

Mohabbat by Arooj Aftab is a melodic delight, with the ripple of the guitars and her haunting vocals, making it a treasure. There’s a bittersweet trajectory here associated with love and its emotional pangs. It immerses us.

Three cheers also because her album VULTURE PRINCE is up for a Global Music Album Grammy while she has made it among the finalists for Best New Artist. Our fingers are crossed. It means so much when meaningful music is rendered in a language we grasp and is then taken to the world. Ms. Aftab has literally bridged borders in that sense.

BACKGROUND MUSIC by MAREN MORRIS.

Some of my favourite artists have a penchant for hardly compromising with their quality of music. Maren Morris falls in that prized niche.

BACKGROUND MUSIC is a mellow heartwarmer, full of empathy for the way success is ultimately fleeting and the real triumph is when our partners hold on to commitments made in the name of love and trust. I love that about it. Also the melody and Morris’ vocal ease is absolutely admirable and never divergent from each other.

KING by FLORENCE+THE MACHINE.

A slow burn is what KING finds Florence Welch and her excellent band providing us with. As also more than a share of honest truth. “I’m no mother/ I’m no bride/ I’m King”, these lines effectively tear down gender roles while probably playing with the skewed notion of a powerful, creative woman jostling for space in a man’s world in the titular refrain.

Then the simmer in the guitars and drums get more dominant and Florence lets her voice spread its range and layers. From a whisper to a full-throated display of freedom in confession, she wins us over.

*****



SUMMER OF SOUL(OR WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED) ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK.



A 50 year old concert film has been revived gloriously courtesy this classic Questlove documentary feature. It then makes the force of the music rescued contemporary and all-pervasive, in no small measure owing to the message of racial integrity involved in the performances.

So behold the electricity in Nina Simone’s rendition of a poem ARE YOU READY? or her dissection of race relations informing every aspect of day to day social and civic life in BACKLASH BLUES.

The Staples Singers then take the mantle on IT’S BEEN A CHANGE, putting up an united familial front with effortless charm. Mavis Staples further reaches up to heaven with none other than Mahalia Jackson on an improvised version of the gospel classic PRECIOUS LORD, TAKE MY HAND. I’ve heard so many takes on this standard over the years, from the original version by Mahalia Jackson herself and then by the legendary Aretha Franklin. Thank God that I gave myself the chance to explore their music since the last many years; as listening to and viewing such an explosive live performance adds real grace to the overall experience. A true blue spiritual catharsis is occasioned by it.

I also loved the faster, funky version of the Marvin Gaye superhit I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE by none other than Gladys Knight and The Pips. It just makes your body respond in quick earnest.

Finally, I discovered the magic of THE 5TH DIMENSION for the first time as they gave the ballad AQUARIUS a real sheen while letting the spirit rise on LET THE SUNSHINE IN.

These are just a few among the overall wizardry on display in the film. So make an exception and listen to the original soundtrack of SUMMER OF SOUL. You will be instantly rewarded.

***

          HALL OF FAME


TAPESTRY by CAROLE KING.



2022 had been earmarked for TAPESTRY by CAROLE KING. I am lucky to hear all the songs, savour the album’s sheer simplicity of production, complete with pianos and guitars, and the innocence of the emotions involved along with the vocal performance. It is also structured in such a seamless way that the idea of cohesion fits the bill here as regards the tracks.

WAY OVER YONDER, SO FAR AWAY, IT’S TOO LATE, YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND ( a much loved tune covered innumerable times by other artists as Aretha Franklin and James Taylor), the original YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE A NATURAL WOMAN, the title track and I FEEL THE EARTH MOVE all resonate with me.

Listeners, give this highly accomplished album a chance if you’ve not yet been exposed to its riches.


WHAT MATTERS MOST by BARBRA STREISAND.



In honour of Marilyn Bergman, one half of an iconic songwriting duo along with her better half Alan, I listened to WHAT MATTERS MOST for the first time, a Barbra Streisand staple that so far had eluded me. After all, the pair had given her such inestimable standards as THE WAY WE WERE and PAPA, CAN YOU HEAR ME? (off the Yentl OST), two of my all time favourites.

It’s just such a delicate, graceful, grateful tune, buoyed by the humility and practicality invested in the words.
As for Ms. Streisand, well, she can interpret human emotions like very few. She does the same here, with endless flair on this gem.

*****






MANDY by BARRY MANILOW.

Mandy has always been close to my heart courtesy its Westlife version where the Irish lads gave it such effusion. So for me, that is the gold standard. 

I was surprised hence as to how loyal it is to the Barry Manilow original, both in terms of the instrumentation and vocal finesse. Memorable fare in any iteration. Period.

BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND by PETER, PAUL AND MARY.

The spirit of infusing new life to the classic songbook is present in this version of the original Bob Dylan poem, delivered by the trio whose gentle charm on LEMON TREE and IF I HAD A HAMMER reminds me of how music can forever retain its elemental purity. This one is no different.

WILDFLOWERS by TOM PETTY.

An acoustic guitar and Tom Petty’s voice are all it takes for WILDFLOWERS to make an impression. Its innocence is winsome.

THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK by SIMON AND GARFUNKEL.

This duo is etched in my hall of fame for such unforgettable tunes as MRS. ROBINSON, THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE and BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER. THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK was indeed ripe to be eventually discovered by me. I have been listening to it multiple times and its harmonies, melody and percussive quality are just so endearing. The communal refrain of ‘HERE I AM’ captures a chorus of male voices like none other, perfect in its union of vocal textures.

Also as it so happens with me, I found it accompanying a crucial montage in Ryan Murphy’s HBO film THE NORMAL HEART few weeks later.

YOU’RE SO VAIN by CARLY SIMON.

How can I not sing praises of this all-time classic tune that runs down on the art of snobbery and male privilege with such rich strokes and details? Listen to this Carly Simon tune to make it a favourite on your playlists.

KING OF SORROW by SADE.

This song’s title too, like Florence Welch’s latest single KING, to me, puts an independent woman’s trials and tribulations at the axis of a society governed by male dominant diktats.

KING OF SORROW, however, is a sureshot Sade yarn: smooth, linear in the vocals and putting restraint at the center of the Rhythm and Blues genre she excels in invigorating with her presence.

                ****

Halle Berry Is A Knockout In Her Directorial Debut

Netflix Halle Berry’s effortless craft and inimitable style of embodying the vagaries of life is admirable. Her predominant intersections of storytelling have been around race, sexuality and the power structures that sheer human determination can dismantle. Monster’s Ball, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Losing Isaiah, Their Eyes Watching God, Alex Haley’s Queen, Things We Lost in the […]

Halle Berry Is A Knockout In Her Directorial Debut

I am really grateful that my essay on Halle Berry’s impressive and emotionally rich directorial debut BRUISED has been published by SCREEN QUEENS.

COMPLEX BONDS PUT TO THE TEST

THE LAST DUEL(2021)

Ridley Scott’s latest feature stays true to his template of earnestly dealing with a period piece, this time  involving the politics of honour and its gender binaries.

THE LAST DUEL is a powerful work because it looks at timeless concerns regarding female autonomy in matters of the mind and body, with a passionate commitment to truth.

Over centuries, gender binaries have been reconstructed and redefined to come back to a place of instability again. This screenplay puts three people at the centre of a personal storm and gives them individual perspectives. It works because the disingenuity of the perpetrator is held transparently while the courage of the survivor to speak up and seek justice is absolutely riveting. It’s drawn from historical facts in medieval France.

This three act structure also gives it the urgency of how the case is approached by law, holding up a very contemporary mirror to politics of identity, shame and reason. Kudos to the principal cast, the staging of the conflict by reiterating key events and its Rashomon effect in coming to the bare truth.



One woman is opposed by law per se, is expected to keep an ordeal to herself even as her spouse is after his honour in the name of vindictive tempers and other women in her life offer her no empathy. It’s such a compelling film to let us know how humanity essentially doesn’t change in spirit over centuries.

Jodie Comer’s haunting central performance lasts till the very end even as a victory in the titular last duel marks her truth as one ‘divined by God’. The victory really isn’t hers when her spoken truth, communicated to others in earnest detail, means nothing as compared to a match of combat among two men. It never forgets how her honour is far from the truth of the matter, for a world blinded by patriarchy.

***

LUCY AND DESI(2022)

Nothing that any pop culture afficianado or fans of Desilu- the iconic team behind comedy gold- don’t already know about is sprinkled here in this documentary, directed by another comedic great Amy Poehler.

What makes it such a warm tribute is how it dissects the bond between the two titans, co-stars, business partners and spouses as one of eternal charm. One that time, changing moods or even divorce couldn’t really erase.

The premium should be on the word ‘partnership’ here and even though Lucille Ball is almost always the celebrated one, Desi Arnaz is reinstated as a trendsetting studio head who battled racism on his own part. Together, they are perfectly aligned to each other’s sensibilities. Individually too, they have strong instincts and creative acumen to spare.



In a year and a half period during which my discovery of I LOVE LUCY, THE LUCY SHOW and BEING THE RICARDOS has put them on a pedestal, LUCY AND DESI gives this classic pair another well-deserved tip of the hat without discounting their co-stars, writers and family members who all make up an indelible fabric. In fact, the collective viewing experience actually helped me appreciate this non-fiction retelling even more.

So watch this newly arrived title now on Amazon Prime Video.

***

FEAST(2021)

Dutch filmmaker Tim Leyendekker positions FEAST as a reflexive examination of all that is wrong with the idea of desire and physical gratification in our modern world.

The seemingly single-minded pursuit of sex leads to a real-life scandal in Netherlands. More shocking is the knowledge that three men actually used infected blood to endanger nearly a dozen other lives in the transactional set-up. What is striking is that all victims here are men. Which puts the onus on treating victims without a gender lens and taking their trauma seriously, not letting social norms get in the way.

It’s chapterised and never uses sensationalism to drive its point home. Beginning with an official putting on gloves and picking out each item retrieved from the site of these crimes, time is of the essence here. The camera rolls and captures details of the case, to unravel its many layers. Or they can be taken as offshoots of an investigation. 



Actors recreate conversations of these three men at the helm while also watching the reel and reflecting on their actions. It’s definitely a meta moment, blurring lines between fact and fiction. Then there’s an interview each with a particular victim and with one of the accused respectively. Disturbing psychological aspects tumble out while sordid details of seeking closure for one’s unfulfilled desires juxtapose with still bodies on lakeside and parks and a scientist dealing with plants talks candidly about the nature of blood transfusions and viruses.

A police interrogation involving a victim further leads us to the conclusion that judgements elude none, gender no bar. Also that the politics of sexuality can be crooked and full of empathy but never at the same time. 

FEAST hence presents multiple perspectives, avoiding titillation and hysteria for quiet moments of observation regarding human behaviour. Shot in silhouettes, natural light or with hazy shots of bodies running parallel to a narrative of physical violation, it has a stark quality to it that ultimately becomes haunting. Cautionary. Deeply affecting.

***

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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