For a change, I’ll offer a synopsis of five powerful works of cinematic art that I was moved by in different ways.
As always, versatility is my aim and I hope you all like my idea of capturing the essence of the stories in verse.
So I write the synopsis in prose, followed by the poems below.
HILLBILLY ELEGY (2020)
Melding past misgivings with a present destined for better things ahead, this is an adaptation of a seminal memoir about one boy’s disorienting grappling with his family status . Yet he is enveloped by love, on the part of a mother who has greatest reserves of it and is also her own worst enemy as also from his beloved MAMAW and eventually sister. A bountifully gifted cast makes it accessible.
For all its critics who can’t handle its truthful stance on financial despair, I have to say that it’s not the first time you have dissed women and children in life affirming portrayals. So be it with you all. HILLBILLY ELEGY moved me with its hopeful stance and a lived-in feel of class awareness.
12 ANGRY MEN(1957) & A FEW GOOD MEN(1992)
Two classics almost forty years apart in eras and setting contend with the truth and a hankering for justice in blindsided alleys of law. In the first, it involves a motley crew of men from a cross-section of social classes performing their collective duty as jurors, as random citizens enacting their parts till one of them stands up for reason.
In A FEW GOOD MEN, the tussle is among lawyers and army professionals where authority and experience weigh the scales even when the evidence is bare for all to see.
The long road to triumph is hence bittersweet for the defendants here because truth entails an act of recovery from prejudices, pulling it down from the pedestal on which we put law, sometimes preferring sections and clauses above humanity.
Powerful performances ground both in common parlance and impactful resolves.
*** GODLESS (2017)
A riveting albeit expansive Western series set in the fading years of 19th Century frontier America, GODLESS is a worthy addition to the genre’s revisionist canon as women rise up from the ashes of history to show men how it’s done.
In this impassioned and impressively mounted epic saga, justice is on a quest to find its feminist roots that were deprived by the ages. But oh! what a plunge it is to the best elements of the form and what glorious performances are here to behold. The seven episodes give us a panorama of human integrity fighting against amoral surrender more than the elements.
MARY MAGDALENE (2018)
From the floating body in the lake in the opening to the final chorus of women taking the plunge to test the water together, this Garth Davis directed work puts the titular entity on a normal path to utmost devotion, salvaging her history from the ranks of the ‘fallen woman’.
It bears a spiritual purity, matched by the celestial light in Rooney Mara’s performance and Joaquin Phoenix’s questing thirst for humility in the face of a divine fate, as Jesus. The cinematography by Greig Fraser, music by Johann Johannsson and Hildur Gudnadottir bring their inner soul to light.
I also liked how by casting TAHAR RAHIM, SHIRA HAAS and the likes of the other two leads with Chiwetel Ejiofor, the diversity of the original Biblical region, one populated by Muslims, Jews and Christians, all subsumed in Jesus’ creed for all, is maintained.
Garth Davis’ directorial commitment will ensure it seeps into the soul of the faithful and the believers. History gets its due, with the focus here on Mary’s formidable role in shaping a religion and reaching a goal of self-internalization in the process.
Now I share pithy poems based on, or should I say inspired by, each of the above works.
It’s something to be deprived quite another to always cry, glazing your eyes when it could see the world ahead.
Take the road, Carry the miles, Sing the Appalachian ballad Make your own folklores.
But always be somebody. Somebody to find the trail of life in the Kentucky roots and conquer the world after putting together the family tree. And then your place amongst both.
** 12 ANGRY MEN & A FEW GOOD MEN
For truth Justice The American Way The human way Listen Reason Bid the conscience to be like blood, trickling with the flow of a sea in spate.
Don’t hold your tongue Or sway the judgement Don’t play God or pull those strings.
Just put yourself in the shoes of the wronged, the cursed, those behind bars and let freedom conquer a fettered mind.
Then truth and Justice will be allies, more alike than ever.
Then the ballad of good men will be one with their innermost truth.
Lazy, pompous men, breaking horses, breaking towns, daring to break the women up on the basis of sex alone.
Listen fellas, Little town isn’t like any other. Because here, a revolution has been mooted. The pans and pots as garrulous as their gunpowder spirits. For the women are like mares of the badlands. Open with affections and fists, opening their hearts and their guns, making their own Gods and legend.
This is their land of plenty, sitting on a minefield.
The celestial light fell in the water, right in your eyes and made you a home in Lord’s sanctum.
You walk You heal Witness to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Always the child of the waters, baptising history with your prayers but most of all your light.
Always the woman who walks ahead, to lead the way.
They say it’s the winter of our lives. The cold, indifferent years where even we seem to reconcile with the spectre of loneliness, distance from worldly affections and self-denial as a principle. Society stamps us with our age, as if to tell senior citizens how to walk, talk or behave. So even someone as young as me knows there will be tropes I’ll be expected to adhere. ‘You look young for your age’, an otherwise common put down that trails us from middle age itself, especially is given out as a compliment. Of course there are other qualifiers like ‘graceful’, ‘dignified’. ‘Ageing gracefully’ supersedes them all.
But as much as senior citizens of our world are treated just as purveyors of wisdom and akin to an oak tree providing fleeting branches of the new generation with shade, storytelling always finds exciting ways to rewrite those narratives. When the weight of the world post retirement is lifted off our backs, a completely new or forgotten adventure left hidden in crannies of our own making can be unleashed. Or it can be a journey of struggles negotiated while combating with the evil of societal neglect. It’s the journey ahead that pulls us towards different directions. Age just doesn’t have to mean putting an end to a sense of wonder or hope. Or even self-love.
Two cinematic works that I watched recently revitalized the idea of one’s later years.
SHONAR PAHAR(GOLDEN HILL, 2018) is the first instance, a Bengali drama directed by Parambrata Chattopadhyay, the beloved Rana from Kahaani, in his screenwriting and directorial debut.
The movie begins with an elderly lady in her seventies ( legendary Tanuja) suffering a fall and needing medical aid in as much as lifting her up. She has become trapped by the stereotypes or rather realities of dotage. Occupying a home all by herself in Calcutta, her son(Jisshu Sengupta) is cold and distant and she is surly and dejected with her present condition. You see, it’s not easy living on earthly realm for those many years since age has a way of catching up physically more than mentally. The toll of almost certain and expected alienation from offsprings and extended relatives is, hence, equivalent to a greater awareness nobody actually wants to accept.
This film is acutely aware of the reality that the innocence that parents and children share when the latter unit is young can hardly be sustained. In the absence of those filial bonds, the elderly waste away, flitting through one day after another. But time stays still. Hope remains dimmed. As if it’s the natural course of life. Mrs. Upama, here, is then introduced to a chirpy seven year old( an excellent Srijato Bandhopadhyay) by her son’s childhood friend( the film’s director and fine actor Parambrata), a social worker running an NGO for orphans with his touch of brightness. His genuine care and concern for them is supreme. The real touch of brightness here is with the young boy Bitlu, who has nobody to call his own and is full of fearless curiosity about people irrespective of how things will turn out to be. His inquisitive nature and silver tongue do not exactly sit well with Upama Dadi in the beginning. It’s a natural way of showing how difficult it is to accept change after adjusting to a hampered pace of life.
Bitlu has no expectations from anyone, abiding by his innocence and aware about his chronic illness. That level of uncertainty regarding one’s mortal coil puts him parallel to the old lady herself. Her awareness of neglect from her son and daughter in law is parallel to Bitlu’s own experiences as an orphan, as when he relates that in one household, his naughty tricks got him beaten up and washing the utensils. Another strand that makes them equals cutting across their age difference is that Bitlu has an acute imagination, down to making up whole cricket matches and reading children’s tales with animated fervour, an expressiveness typical of his age. It helps that when he stumbles upon Upama Dadi’s own cache of brilliant children’s tales written by her years ago in a dusty file, the common ground is established. The tale with the magic pencil written by her particularly is poignant, given that it takes a leaf out of her years as a single mother when she would write these tales for her son and he would provide them with illustrations.
He helps her to come out of her shell, allowing her to dine at Marriot, learn to drive and even go to Sikkim to watch the actual SHONAR PAHAR, i.e. Kanchenjunga. All these are adventures they share together.
Every writer has a story to tell that goes beyond the pages, a journey of pain and hope that transmutes to joy and catharsis when put in ink. SHONAR PAHAR is like that journey. The real crux here is on the fraught bonds shared between adults. The triumph is when the child desires to see her tale of the titular Golden Hill be completed, a tale she left at midpoint, on the threshold of growing burdens that engulfed her life. It also soured the friendship mother and son shared because that’s the real one we have and must share with our parents. Bitlu is like the son she lost to vagaries of worldly wise ways and time as also her grandchild. That’s why it is so imperative to preserve their innocence. This work makes it clear. The complexity of her fraying bond with her son is what she needs to clear to reach fruition as a creative voice even when she regains her flow of self-expression.
Nothing should ever make us cease our dreams at midpoint even if the whole world asks us to. Even if we threaten to give up. On the threshold of getting her works published for the first time in her long life, Upama Dadi’s journey is of second chances where certain physical fragilities like a hobbled walk and tentative mood swings may remain intact but the mental rejuvenation occasioned by creating ignites a rebirth. Bitlu is the child as the father of man in this charming instance.
SHONAR PAHAR is about that quest, the urgency of age and familial rifts but above all it’s about the principle of self-internalization. We need to be authors of our present and hand it over as a legacy to our children. Once again, Bengali cinema scores with its emotional depth and sense of wonder. Watching it reminded me of Satyajit Ray and his family run children’s magazine SANDESH as also his own prolific contribution to the canon with Feluda tales. Plus, there’s a charming appearance by the legendary Saumitra Chatterjee.
Another work which I was so passionate about and was lucky to watch was NOMADLAND(2020). It’s close to my heart because of its transcendence in terms of not just storytelling and focus on a niche social milieu but in its dignified celebration of inclusive humanity. All these make up the fabric of a community that specifically finds takers in those above sixty years of age and even older. Having lived their years affixed to the conventional way, they now truly explore what it means to be alive without subsuming their thoughts with how much time they have left with them.
None of it is so difficult to understand. It’s about the choice to live without worldly burdens after tending to them for a long and often precarious lifetime. This arena of existence is a rebirth. Frances McDormand is the heart, soul and embodiment of that undying spirit, an individual named Fern who refuses to be defined by her circumstances. She becomes one with her peers, defying mortality, grief, dependency on others and even the loss of her whole small town in a post recession scenario. In a way, her story is distinctly the American one, guided by self-reliance and a joy for work even as the majority spells the option of an ‘early retirement’
Director, screenwriter and editor Chloe Zhao richly invests her observational growth and most of all evolution on the road. Apropos of her other creative partner Joshua James Richards whose cinematography captures the panorama of the American West as also Fern’s own practical odyssey. But it’s a journey of the soul, of the essence of life found in freedom and in the company of like-minded people. As one of the many voices inform us through the course of the story, Fern’s lifestyle is not very different from those of the pioneers who founded the nation by traversing so many roads not taken. Ultimately, it’s about self-love, a concept so foreign to us in all our years. Letting go of the past. Exhaling in the presence of nature. There are some truly magical passages here centred on her wordless sojourn in the lap of the elements. The open sea gives her a joy unlike any other. The open road takes her to unfamiliar terrains and into the hearts of many she loves dearly as friends. The wind becomes her constant companion throughout then. The water purifies her after she makes her RV her home and settles for an ablution in a serene stream.
Zhao employs real-life nomads like LINDA MAY, SWANKIE and BOB WELLS who play themselves and extend their own experiences in stirring portraits. I love how Fern becomes a receptacle and is portrayed here as a listener, given to no verbosity. They have physical and emotional pain to spare but choose to carry on than wallow in regrets, of what could have been. These are unforgettable moments that will not be lost in the bustle of cinema.
NOMADLAND is a cinema of serenity and its piano led score attests to that. In the face of financial difficulty and isolation in our own lives now, it helps to gain insights into how we can be one with our true selves. Even when we are written off as eccentrics and senile. That is the universal portrait that transcends age and location to become endearing to us. NOMADLAND is hence beautiful, poetic and very, very immersive.
I watched VOLVER(2006) over two nights on &Prive channel and the chance to savour the many flavours of a Pedro Almodovar work I had read so much about back in the day, in multiple publications, was cherished by me.
Coming from the acclaimed Spanish filmmaker, its setting in the arid countryside reminded me of Federico Garcia Lorca’s oeuvre while the cast of females of varying ages took me back to his seminal and widely performed play THE HOUSE OF BERNANDA ALBA.
VOLVER incorporates domestic abuse, financial difficulties, myths of the land and a family of three generations in one compact screenplay marrying the sordid with the heart-warming. They are handled in a manner that respects the agency of these lives and hence its universality is earned.
The universality can be found when a woman sings her favourite ballad at a social get together presided over by her after years of shutting herself off from her aspirations. Or when secrets pass from mothers to daughters. The camaraderie between all of them is marred by rumours, interruptive patriarchal behaviours and the whiff of generational madness.
But they hold fort above them all. This gifted ensemble comprising of Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Yohana Cobo, Blanca Portillo and Chus Lampreave is excellently attuned to each other’s bearings. VOLVER then becomes a complete experience, imbued with real and burning personal issues.
More films and experiences will be shared in this final part as regards the treasure trove from my FILMS AND LITERATURE CLASS of 2014-2015.
The quality of these timeless classics is faultless and you can imagine how overjoyed I was to watch works I had read or known so much about from annals of popular culture.
So without further ado, I share the next batch of titles with you.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
The day I saw this one classic title has been etched in my mind. A previous class which had been opted by another one of my fast friends and I only dragged on, surpassing its time slot. I was dutifully sitting there and knew I had missed the first few minutes of the film. But thankfully not all was lost as ten minutes later, I was in the library hall and for the next two hours or so was entranced by the visionary barrage of futuristic images that flooded the screen.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was everything I had heard about it as a standalone piece. It had the foresight to anticipate space travel, artificial intelligence not only a year before the actual moon landing in 1969 but from the prism of a whole generation away in case of the latter. No wonder myths still circulate about Mr. Kubrick being roped in to stage the Moon Landing on a soundstage, given his uncompromising stance. The giant leap for the space age had indeed by accomplished by the filmmaker.
To me, this adaptation of an Arthur C. Clarke science fiction screenplay was the original pre-HD picture, shot with such realism, in the style that would eventually define 21st century’s obsession with a world beyond our earthly realm. That is the eye for detail regarding lighting and other technicalities that allowed Stanley Kubrick to excel.
‘Timeless’ and ‘way, way ahead of its time’ fit its oeuvre perfectly then. As for that climactic inter -galactic odyssey through time and space for the protagonist ( Keir Dullea), well, all I can say is that it is the stuff that cosmic dreams are made of. From the solitary horror of the black monoliths to HAL 9000’s beam like presence and vocal frigidity to the fluid and balletic shots inside the spaceship and out of its confines, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is hypnotic and realistically mounted at every turn, eschewing the lure of easy fantasy for factual representation.
There would be no GRAVITY, AD ASTRA or THE MARTIAN and INTERSTELLAR today without its original benchmark. It probed the very origins of mankind along with its larger scheme of things for the future more convincingly than any scholastic tome ever could.
Another all time classic that we watched in two sittings, over two days, was this unbridled dissection of classicisms from ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST director Milos Forman.
Based on Peter Shaffer’s sensational play, this life script of the great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was interested in the God gifted genius’ quirks, idiosyncrasies and youthful indulgences that rescued it from being another reverent 20th Century post-script. His all-too human qualities apart from the obvious genius and prolific output are pitched against the stern discipline of the talented and zealously dedicated Antonio Salieri. Both are frenemies and Antonio’s jealousy of the prodigy turned national titan traces the poignancy of his own derailed career and lifelong regrets as also the self-destruction that entails. At best, AMADEUS can be termed as a post-modern fictional biography.
The sets and period feel, especially the lighting, brings out an Austria of yore to life. To top it all, the performances from TOM HULCE, F. MURRAY ABRAHAM, even an early part enacted by Sex and the City veteran CYNTHIA NIXON, are pitch perfect. It is Mr. Forman’s vision that makes it a cautionary tale about hubris and obsession with perfecting one’s art that often result in extricating us from greater reason.
ANGELS IN AMERICA(2003)
Talking about unbridled vision, Mike Nichols lives up to its minute contours by adapting Tony Kushner’s Reagan era play to a six hour miniseries format for HBO in 2003. We watched all six hours from mid morning to evening, with a half hour break in between. It was a rewarding experience because ANGELS IN AMERICA, which I was privileged to read and simultaneously watch as part of my M.Phil course a year after my Masters got over, is truly a pathbreaker. So it is very much a composite of the FILMS AND LITERATURE canon.
Just like Kushner’s expansive, epic vision of LGBTQ lives caught in the crosshairs of the 1980s AIDS crisis cut down stereotypes boldly, Nichol’s series gave credence to the format years before prestige miniseries and the likes became commonplace on our screens.
He managed to gather an incredible cast for the purpose. From Meryl Streep playing Rabbi Isidor, a Mormon mother, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg to Al Pacino playing the conniving and closeted real life law racketeer Roy Cohn to Emma Thompson enacting the titular mythic angel to a homeless woman; Conjuring series star Patrick Wilson and Jeffrey Wright add to the dynamic roster of characterisations, staying true to the play’s amorphous dramatis personae. Gender neutrality was the idea, as I see it and was fluidly captured in the screenplay. It was true to the original text with no alterations.
ANGELS IN AMERICA is about battling prejudices, the urgent struggle of owning a true identity. The worlds of reality and magic realism collide here to bring its power to fruition. After watching it, I am more than eager to experience the propensity of Central Park’s iconic Bethesda Fountain as the gateway to heaven. Hence, I deem that one day and the marathon run of episodes as unforgettable for this cinephile.
I never imagined myself watching this heart-wrenching portrayal of communal persecution on screen. Including this screen adaptation of the Thomas Keneally book( I am yet to finish it) was pivotal in hindsight. If Steven Spielberg could make it to look back at his own community’s burden of history then so could we as students expanding our mental horizons about the injustices that have, unseemingly, become building blocks of the modern world.
SCHINDLER’S LIST, shot in stark, evocative black and white, lets the past make its serpentine way to the present, with history balancing the tips in favour of mankind’s burden of morality and the lack of it. What is most striking is how it places children in the midst of history’s worst pogrom, positing a legacy that haunts us. Cue the only colour scheme employed here to the girl in the red jacket. Moments later, the body has gone and only the jacket is visible as a symbol of all that, unfortunately, defines our world. In our modern reckoning with children of war in such corners of the world as Syria, Palestine, Myanmar, compounded by the loss of families due to the pandemic globally, this work hits us in the gut. That loss of innocence is what I take away from it above all.
As also the manner in which Schindler Jews carry with them the arc of redemption occasioned by the extraordinary moral awakening of an individual (Liam Neeson); Sir Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes present two disparate sides of humanity here, first of a man from the persecuted community finding a way to survival and the latter being an instrument of racial purging and venal indignities.
The moral complexity at the heart of UNFORGIVEN is one of muted agitations, amid a way of life where no law is above one’s own volition or natural bent of mind. As a fan of Clint Eastwood, the original cowboy, and with particular predilection for the Western genre, passed on to me from my father, this was solid gold.
To watch it as part of the FILMS AND LITERATURE CLASS was like a reckoning with both the above facts, as a cinephile, as I had forgotten about much of the film I had watched years ago.
I believe westerns are a gateway to understand the foundations of America, it’s frontier life and the negotiations with forces of good and evil that reflexively allowed one to tweak one’s moral compass because there was no other way. THE HOMESMAN, SILVERADO, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, NEWS OF THE WORLD, miniseries GODLESS, GERONIMO, HANG ‘EM HIGH; DJANGO UNCHAINED, HELL OR HIGH WATER, TRUE GRIT, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN(2016) and WELCOME TO HARD TIMES are some of the many I have watched over the years. Just in 2020 alone, my father too was spared valuable time to watch a host of these titles owing to his admiration for their raw ethos and moral grounding in historical truth .
UNFORGIVEN wrestles with those truths with an ensemble headed by titanic talents as Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman. It arrived at a time when the genre was on the brink of riding into the sunset. Thank God for him, it continued to flourish. That is why it is such a benchmark apart from its skilled execution and technical fluidity.
WATER (2005) The final film of global filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s ELEMENTS trilogy, WATER is thought provoking without giving its subject any unrealistic dimension.
It’s spiritually affirmative of the sacred innocence of child widow Chuhiya(Sarala) and those defending her in a world where Gandhian reformation is afoot but sacrosanct traditions circumventing women’s choices overrule. The tragedy of tradition clashing with modern ideals is writ large in a tale where custodians of purity and faith are exposed as scamsters.
Still waters run deep in a screen treatment so quietly devastating that the final escape for the little girl is triumphant in the most transcendental manner. The lives of others around her extend from that initial point of tragedy, central here to its unraveling.
In a day and age where Asian-Americans are facing hate crimes, a revolutionary work like SAYONARA must be upheld for being far ahead of its era. In its confrontation with racism in post World War society, especially given the tensions between United States and Japan, it took a bold gamble with its thrust on intercontinental marriages, a reality that was an open secret for those serving in the far East.
With effective storytelling, SAYONARA benefited from a lead performance by Marlon Brando, a titanic screen personality who never minced his own words regarding socio-political issues. From returning his second Oscar in support of indigenous populace of America inclusive of their sub-human treatment on screen and beyond and getting actively involved in the Civil Rights movement, he is justified in taking up this part where his complexities of the mind prove feeble when faced with the natural rhythms of love. That tussle between reason and convention give it a heartfelt arc.
I’ll be honest, this was not a part of the FILMS AND LITERATURE paper but I watched this classic title by myself on YouTube, buoyed by the exposure to so many versatile stories. Here, Miiko Taka plays his lady love, James Garner is a fellow soldier, Red Buttons an American living a happy life in Japan while the standout is Miyoshi Umeki as his wife. In an era of PARASITE and MINARI rewriting cultural rules, I am happy to inform all that she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress way back then.
Stirring storytelling, beautiful cinematography interspersed with the cultural thrust on Japan and its people make SAYONARA a must watch. I fondly hold it as one of my favourites.
1957 was a strong year for stories rooted in the ethics and aftermath of war such as BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, PATHS OF GLORY, even a THRONE OF BLOOD by Kurosawa was about the politics of imperialism while on the other spectrum were unforgettable legal dramas as rich as 12 ANGRY MEN and WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION. So SAYONARA was winning hearts in a particularly strong showing, next to movies inspired by social realities writ large in that given era.
I am forever indebted to my university host department, Department of English and Modern European Languages, University of Lucknow, for making me relay the treasure trove of cinema through a perfectly curated Films and Literature Paper in my Masters Third Semester.
For an avid cinephile like me, who had already started exploring world class titles and obscure gems since the dawn of the 2010s decade, it was a dream come true. Just like getting the betokened opportunity to read some of the best books that I always wished to add to my bibliography post high school, vis a vis the excellent and eclectic curricula designed by the department, this paper fused works based on literary classics in their many cinematic forms and structures. You have to keep in mind that I read most of the original texts before watching them.
What a joy it was to stay back after regular classes as the library room became a mini theater and variety of titles held us captive from late noon to evening hours, even in the middle of winter weeks. Then to behold the wonder of the city in its evening glory while returning home, with lights bedecking the river and beauty of the hours arresting the aura, was something extraordinary.
Hence I take this chance to touch briefly upon some of the best works I saw along with my friends and fellow students, encapsulating the overall experience that I will cherish. Those were truly some of the best days of my life circa 2014.
Also since I have written much about pivotal titles like DEVI, BHUMIKA, PATHER PANCHALI, TOM AND VIV, HAZAAR CHAURASI KI MAA and KHAMOSH PANI earlier, all watched as part of this FILMS AND LITERATURE paper, they will not be included in the collective ensemble here.
*** So we start with works based on Shakespeare.
The first instance that comes to mind is 2000’s HAMLET starring and directed by CAMPBELL SCOTT, so compelling as the prosecuting lawyer in THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. He is very compelling here too, dangling somewhere between the mystique of a possessed soul and inuring madness, driven to the edge by senior prefects who only see his inexperience and youth as drawbacks. Also noteworthy is the colour blind casting that appropriately brings it home to the new millennium, given its release date. Hence, this is a contemporary adaptation that works effectively in its verbose segments in particular.
To say that nothing quite captures the intensity of the Bard’s most haunting play MACBETH than sepia tones and Orson Welles’ signature brand of painstaking fidelity to the text would not be wrong. I was a bit distracted during this screening owing to the teeming class which gave up on it due to its ‘literal’ adaptation of the text but I intend to revisit it sometime in the near future again. Lady Macbeth’s cry of despair still rings in my ears though as does Welles’ characteristic imposing posture, here made to cower and muse in face of self-doubt, like Rodin’s Thinker. This employment of a post- War noirish mood is the most evocative to portray its ‘gloom and doom’ archetype, imitating the history of violence that defined an unraveling generation.
The privilege of having watched THRONE OF BLOOD, Akira Kurosawa’s seminal Japanese adaptation of Macbeth, is etched in my mind. Once again, the sepia toned palette is hauntingly captured by the ace director, along with the traditional make up and cinematographic use of smoke. They all integrate with the interior desolation of its protagonists. Be it the blanche faced ghost who Macbeth encounters in the forest enveloped in billowing smoke, Lady Macbeth’s possession by guilt courtesy her washing of hands down to the final capitulation to an eventual fate where Macbeth is attacked by incoming spray of arrows by an opposing army are images I particularly remember, highlighting the play’s standouts too.
Also included in this prestigious list is Vishal Bharadwaj’s adaptation in the form of 2004’s MAQBOOL. Starring heavyweights as Irfann Khan, Tabu and the irrepressible Pankaj Kapur, in a dynamic performance for the ages, this is adapted beautifully to its local ethos, creating an imprint for the Bard’s universal appeal. It’s a worthy addition to the canon, exploring its moral lapses adjunct with the underworld setting. It’s a slow boil revelation of guilt and comeuppance. The idea of Nasseeruddin Shah and Om Puri playing corrupt cops, updating the fixed position of the soothsayers in the plot, is a particular masterclass.
Finally, the ubiquity of this play finds another exciting and extremely well executed portrayal in SHAKESPEARE RETOLD, a 2005 BBC series modernizing his plays within current settings. Starring James McAvoy as Macbeth, this one is set in the culinary world of Michelin star restaurants and interpersonal war of temperaments. As irreverent as it sounds, it is naturally attuned to the sense of competition underlining any profession. Human hubris hence works to extract its post-modern beats to the core here. It’s a must watch owing to the originality injected to a landmark, clocking in at one and a half hours.
Baz Luhrmann always knows how to redefine established tropes and his signature style mingles with the spirit of rock, hip hop stylings and a post-modern fealty to seeing things anew in ROMEO+JULIET(1996)
A riot of colours, textures get incorporated to update this tragic romance moulded by hate between two factions. Here it is a California drenched in restive tempers as also the thrall of first love. Claire Danes and Leonardo Di Caprio mix worlds of passion and innocence with the realization of reaching an early grave, all with the sparkplug glow of their combined screen presence. Also watch out for Lost star Harold Perrineau in one of his earliest major roles here. I’m sure purists had their eyebrows raised to this one. But it’s thoroughly enjoyable for audiences.
*** From his plays, the trajectory moves towards fictional imaginings of the Bard’s own persona.
In SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, a blockbuster, Joseph Fiennes, so memorable now as Commander Waterford on THE HANDMAID’S TALE, is everything we don’t imagine him to be. He’s rakish, sensual, outrightly attractive and a hopeless romantic. But this tale is all soul, pluck and ‘romantic’ owing to Gwyneth Paltrow’s expertise in melding those worlds together. This love story gains from her gender bending courage above anything. Recreating his plays, the social setting of Elizabethan England and especially the Globe Theatre as a hub of entertainment cutting across class divides, it boasts of an excellent supporting arc by Dame Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth, Geoffrey Rush and others.
This one is a treat for the senses and revels in its period essence. Also the tingling contestation regarding the Bard’s authorship of plays is first launched here.
It’s ANONYMOUS (2011) that dares to contest the Bard’s legacy with aplomb and storytelling that manages to demystify those claims with a socio-political urgency. Besides that central conceit and the buck of ownership of those iconic texts passing to several names, especially an Earl (Rhys Ifans) , Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson, all contemporaries of Shakespeare’s age, he is presented as an arrogant and lecherous male archetype, massaging his charms on those in his gambit. A lot is also unveiled on the part of Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave) and her younger life.
Elizabethan England, particularly, is recreated very well, with its stinking streets, smoke filled skies and dark characteristics intact, as we know it from history. ANONYMOUS is best suited to those with a neutral mindset because it is bound to avert purists. It makes a compelling case for its revisionist take on historical figures, informed by modern day scholarly interest in re-establishing facts. Roland Emmerich, the man behind box office juggernauts like INDEPENDENCE DAY, GODZILLA, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and 2012, sets himself on a justified course of reinvention. I really appreciated it.
Before the 2013 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s always enduring THE GREAT GATSBY by Baz Luhrmann became one of my favourites ( I read the beloved book few years ago than that and suffice to say, its one of my favourites too ) , there was a 1974 version.
Shot in the lighting and style of the day, it’s not very grand in its staging but has an all-star cast comprising of Mia Farrow as Daisy, Sam Waterston as Nick, Bruce Dern as Tom and the eternally charming Robert Redford as ,well, nobody else but Jay Gatsby.
All I remember are the swooning looks exchanged between reunited lovers Jay and Daisy, Nick getting off a boat, the silhouette of partying crowds behind tents and the considerably dim lighting that kind of defuses the supposed grandeur of Gatsby’s social life. It doesn’t really constitute for an appropriate period look. Its best part is the background score set to the instrumental theme of that classic standard WHAT’LL I DO? which is apt from the protagonist’s point of view.
If you ask me why I love the recent one then I’ll say it’s because the 2013 version truly captures the emotional breadth and soul of the novella and given its era of creation benefits from the technical experience marvelously.
Finally for this article, I must mention the movie adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s almost autobiographical A FAREWELL TO ARMS( the film released in 1957). An epic tale of a soldier’s duty in times of war, it’s an old-fashioned yarn befitting the grand 50s era that tips its hat to love and other relationships as also the promise to escape to safety, buoyed by the power of the four letter word.
My, I got to see such names as ROCK HUDSON, JENNIFER JONES on screen as also Italian New Wave auteur Vittoria De Sica in his acting shoes while Elaine Stritch ( who I had come to love from her turn on 30 Rock during this era) sure made my day, enacting the part of an empathetic nurse.
A counterpoint to this is the more down to earth autobiographical imprints of IN LOVE AND WAR(1996)
Helmed by Richard Attenborough, whose influence had reached its peak by the 1990s with his directing prowess in CHAPLIN and pivotal starring turn in JURASSIC PARK, this lays open the cracks in the bond between Mr. Hemingway(Chris O’ Donnell) and his love(Sandra Bullock), the woman who initially served him as a nurse back in Italy when he was a soldier. His ego doesn’t accommodate her sense of dignity and this makes way for a painful personal rupture of two souls who could’ve been together in a post-War world.
Home. A familiar abode to reap the harvest of good luck, hard work and financial stability. A space of personal growth and above all fit for settling down with family. A symbol that we are ‘all right’ in the larger scheme of things, safe in the comfort of loved ones.
Two cinematic works that I watched this weekend attest to another crucial fact that home isn’t always a permanent concept or overarching theme of our lives. Those on the move, looking for greener pastures for future prospects, have to find that idea of a home in places far removed from the comfortable cocoon of that familiar space many of us often take for granted. Family units have to find that reserve to adapt, change, leave behind beloved family and friends and condition a deep sense of loss, to make sense of a transformation motivated by factors beyond our control.
As is obvious, children bear the brunt of these changes and yet find in them a portal to store memories anew, memories made anew in the place they settle down in and memories of the sanctuaries they leave behind. We must remember Disney’s heartwarming INSIDE OUT that utilized the magic of animation to portray precisely these emotions on the part of a young girl, unable to cope with her move to another city with her parents. It’s a tightrope walk for a collective unit and nobody is the more wiser one to that realization as compared to the other.
Sacrifices and a desire to make a period of transition successful is hence at the heart of this human migration that army kids and those with parents bearing transferable jobs know all too well. Or those in boarding schools. Even adults who leave their own cities and towns for better working opportunities can easily attest to that.
The children’s perspective in both examples given here point out at the poignancy of growing up, within an age group where there is hardly any secure answer to life’s myths and idiosyncrasies in the first place. It’s a journey tinged with self-discovery.
MINARI, a global juggernaut as of this date, is beautifully crafted by breakout writer/director Lee Isaac Chung and gently illustrates his own childhood story. The migration is two fold for his family: they are Koreans who chose America, the land of plenty, for a future and the move from California to Arkansas for them is as fraught with the uncertainty of life’s roller coaster sojourn. Financial betterment figures prominently in this equation. A desire to prove his own individual merit besides a given 9to5 routine gnaws at the father( Steven Yeun) and the wish to own and, in turn, farm his own land is to sow seeds of self-sufficiency for his family members.
The pride of having one’s roots in the soil that one tends to, makes rich in abundance with crops, the purifying power of water that lets the titular MINARI plant sprout and the fire that engulfs the room holding the yield, pointing to the culmination of fiery and bitter words that never leave our aura and here also suggests a new start with the past getting charred in favour of a hopeful future, extracts great power of the elements. Also the gentle breeze and clouds in the sky being particularly companionable to this family, occupying a solitary tract of land with no human contact around for miles altogether. This is their ‘Eden’, as the father says in the beginning. They have to make the best of it, albeit struggles and uncertainty loom on the horizon. That is, anyway, just a part and parcel of life anywhere. Their Asian antecedents make it accessible to an Indian kid like yours truly too.
It’s a journey for the adults and for the children. That parallelism is rooted in everyday reality. Of the cast, HAN YE-RI deserved better in terms of accolades because she relays the vexation of her present situation beautifully, not very alien to millions who are unable to cope with new environs. Here is a couple relaying its bitter infighting of the soul when the possibility of depleting resources knocks at the door. Practical life lessons are sought in the course of this journey. A beautiful scene is where they talk about how their hope for nurturing the American dream slowly got lost in the struggles of fitting in and work. Perhaps it’s their constant fighting that is responsible for their son’s delicate heart condition. That’s something particularly Asian by nature: the belief that things said and committed often can come visit our loved ones in inopportune ways.
Also poignant is when the father tells his better half that she is free to leave with the kids to California if his farm yield fails to be procured in the market. He loves his family and is doing everything for them but in his heart he wants to individually succeed on his own terms, to make his children proud, above all.
That said, the universally beloved turn by Youn Yuh-jung as the affable, goofy and irrepressibly hopeful grandmother is everything we love in our own senior prefects. Her banter with Alan S. Kim, another cinematic discovery to behold, sprinkles this tale with natural humour. Which makes her physical turnaround all the more painful in the second half. She is the life force of this script, allowing the members to look at the beauty in the everyday and the power of good spirits. It’s a priceless screen performance and richly deserved her Oscar to go with numerous accolades. Noel Cho playing the older sister to Alan is good too and a special mention must be given especially to Will Patton whose deep hurt, religious optimism and idiosyncrasies make him valuable to the family, as an extended member rooting for their success, helping the father of the unit as a farmhand to realize his dreams.
MINARI hence conflates the inner worlds of the children and their adult prefects to touch our hearts, in a way which is authentic to the core of the immigrant experience and to the life lessons we draw from the everyday.
KILLA( THE FORT, 2014)
Regional cinema in India has always been a strong upholder of fluent storytelling and technical achievements, the ones from Bengal and Maharashtra taking the lead for decades now. KILLA is a Marathi feature which also serves as the directorial debut of noted cinematographer Avinash Arun. He has photographed such sterling works in recent times as MASAAN, DRISHYAM, HICHKI, PAATAL LOK among others, all made in the Hindi language. KILLA(THE FORT) is made in Marathi, honouring his home state while also reliving his own experience as a child constantly on the move owing to his parent’s transferable job.
Here, the move to a beautiful coastal town doesn’t sit well for the young protagonist ( a wonderfully wise and appropriately restrained Archit Deodhar). His pangs relate not only to leaving Pune, his home for many years and the company of his beloved cousin but also the pain of losing his father to an untimely death. That and the move to the country from the big city only compounds his inner struggles to fit in. All the while his mother, trying to make the best of this transfer and hoping to ease the pain of loss, is just as vulnerable; though like all parents and mothers, she juggles work, home and has immense concern for the present bearings of her only child. In Amruta Subhash’s delicate portrayal, she is shorn of any stereotypical tropes and is au natural, complemented by the nuanced writing. Again, KILLA is a corollary to MINARI because this migration is on the part of both parent and child. They both are conditioning change in all its contours. The child is unable to fit in the nondescript school although he is praised for his scholarship and academic excellence while the mother is privy to a male dominated workplace where protocols are not really given much note. The way they are framed as ‘outsiders’, discovering the way ‘things function here’ is subtly evocative of their parallel tracks, never sidestepping one for the other.
KILLA is beautifully evocative of loss as also the times when we find joy ,eventually, with people who enter our lives after we give them the space. The letting go of notions and doubts compounded by childhood innocence. It can be in something as simple as getting a new school bag or bicycle, taking bike rides through the beautiful coastal landscape with new friends, discovering the majesty of the fort ala nature in its most sublime form and jumping into a pool together with those same friends. Or even having dinner cooked by the protagonist’s mother. The power of friendship is the strong suit here.
Parth Bhalerao, Gaurish Gawade and Atharva Upasni play the friends with a natural rhythm one can only find in children.
From the poetry written and recited by the protagonist, in the presence of his mother, to the trip to the lighthouse with her, down to the final plunge into the pool with his friends, signifying a new move and the cycle of change coming to both with pain and hope, KILLA is filled with such outstanding moments, traced with an unhurried pace and such a profound photographic eye.
It is a wonderful addition to the canon of Indian works of merit, especially about the highs and lows of childhood. Its international recognition means it is here to stay. I know it will linger in my heart and mind for the longest time.
It’s befuddling how when societal progress makes us take a hundred steps forward, a single conventional trail of thought threatens to throw us back to the dark ages in an instant. It can happen within a moment or a considerable point of time. Therein lies the incalculable dichotomy of being humans in the first place. So such a fact of life is bound to be historically searing and I found that to be exhibited rather well in MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (2018)
Here is a mighty tale that involves two queens claiming their rightful share, owning their intelligence and agency in a world where the only administrative apparatus around them is populated by power hungry men. The smell of conspiracy as regards expansion of empire and acquisition is pungent. So while the conventional model of society is rampant, the gender constructs have already been broken asunder by their definitive presence on the throne. They call out their advisors’ recommendations coloured by their dog eared ideals and have the inborn authority to make their decisions. They also express the inevitability of this skewed gender ratio working to divide two women. So Mary’s beauty, youth is served as a counterpoint to Elizabeth’s middle aged monarch whose physicality has been literally scarred by a bout with measles. Mary’s ambition, too, is pitched against the veteran Queen’s experience.
Director Josie Rourke, a theatre virtuoso, gives it a very contemporary pulse then by stripping it of verbose arguments, making the timelessness of the issue central to the telling. This brewing cauldron of orchestrated sibling rivalry almost reminded me of how the distasteful feud between screen legends BETTE DAVIS and JOAN CRAWFORD was mostly pushed as an agenda by the studio machinery for decades. That creation of an intragender divide still rules our world as we know it and this is where the politics of its currency sparks this script to life.
This screen adaptation of the titular legend is given its power by Saoirse Ronan’s fiery commitment throughout tempered by an older Queen Elizabeth’s vulnerability in her later years, a kind of resignation that comes with the passage of time and advancing years irrespective of gender, when greater wisdom makes even the most legendary figure understand the futility of bloodshed orchestrated by male egos. Margot Robbie totally embodies those emotions. I’m only going by what’s put up on screen based as it is on a historian/writer’s scholarship regarding the epoch through the years. That dual interplay is a welcome embodiment of the parallels that united both cousins even if they never met in real life. On that note, the reversal of this fact makes way for the highlight of this screenplay where both meet in a modest cottage camouflaged by curtains and a tense and yet empathetic exchange of words reveals their innate humanity for better or worse. Also intensely mounted is the dehumanization of one of Mary’s beloved courtiers who is given an ultimate death blow owing to his sexuality and the politics of hate around it.
With all the misogyny around them and the mutual feelings of courage and fortitude to guide them, both are given a beautifully layered treatment by the two young actors. MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS hence becomes a cautionary tale and a dirge to the countless narratives of women becoming each other’s worst enemies, by dint of the world around them and not their own volition per se.
Also I love the fact that Elizabeth was the original feminist firebrand, choosing to not marry or have a child owing to her own choice and not just entertaining some grand illusion of becoming a veritable VIRGIN QUEEN for her empire.
AFTER THE WEDDING(2019)
From the heights of empire, we come down to humbler preoccupations of individuals in the everyday. However, AFTER THE WEDDING, an English language adaptation of Susanne Bier’s Danish original by the same name, recognizes the inequities of social positions dominated by wealth and the ego systems that control our behaviours.
That is evident in Julianne Moore’s millionaire entrepreneur and her condescending, sweet but haughty interactions with the humble and dedicated Michelle Williams. Their meeting entails a chance for the former to fund the latter’s orphanage back in India. The words exchanged clearly posit that class consciousness is pretty much a part of our fabric of existence. The one being provided for has to be vulnerable and meek to get share of finances for a cause she believes in. Director Bart Freundlich not only achieves this level of believability by keeping it real on those fronts, with subtlety and his actors’ facial expressions, but also by choosing to flip the male cast of the original film, to examine this particular gender dynamic.
Michelle playing Isabelle is a reserved, stoic presence whose journey back home to America not only makes her feel out of place but also answers, with again subtle cues, her way of dealing with others, with a restraint that is her primary behavioural pattern. This homecoming also reveals the depths of her attachment to Jai( Vir Pachisia), the boy she has raised as her own in the orphanage and with whom she shares a spiritual maternal bond that is beyond the miles dividing them. It’s a heartwarming aspect of the screenplay when their intercontinental phone calls show us that dynamic.
Then there’s Abby Quinn, playing Julianne’s daughter, who beautifully reveals the complexity of a young woman taking the plunge into marriage and discovering her birth mother at this new juncture. The scripting doesn’t shy away from the complexity and simultaneously the beauty of her being raised by Julianne, who she very well knows didn’t give birth to her.
AFTER THE WEDDING wrestles with these complexities with an unhurried grace and every relationship has threads that could untangle the way things have been for years. The ending, where Isabelle is caught between the desire to straddle her two homes and wants Jai to come with her to New York owing to her changed priorities, is heartbreaking. It’s a bit reminiscent of Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon’s classic STEPMOM to me though both films are far removed in terms of treatment and storytelling.
That ambiguity regarding her future is borne from her past and the present she saw unraveling while in New York. Hence, owing to these merits and its overall structure, it ends up becoming an effective drama and has stayed with me.
THE ETERNAL TRIUMPH OF E.T. (EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, 1982)
Almost 40 years after it became a cinematic family staple for the ages, E.T. continues to hit home for us.
I watched it for perhaps the fourth time in my life few days ago and boy, was I completely immersed in its centrality of alienation finding such a sweet, heartwarming parallel in E.T.’s own quest to return home, to a familiar place of reckoning and finding that on earthly realm with Elliot and his family.
Filled to the brim as it is with iconic moments celebrating an eternal quality of childhood friendships forged for life, in the most unique example, its final half is possibly the most emotionally wrenching down to the final goodbye.
Be it HENRY THOMAS, DEE WALLACE, the always dependable DREW BARRYMORE and ROBERT MACNAUGHTON, the cast members are cued to its sense of emotions and wonder. E.T. is a discovery of joy and must be watched by all.
I have already made my readers aware of maverick Indian animation filmmaker Gitanjali Rao’s underrated, still unsung genius in my essay on her brilliant short film PRINTED RAINBOW, published last year here. The discussion included her other shorts BLUE and ORANGE too ( the latter’s sensual depiction of the pains and pleasures associated with urban desires with a beautiful jazz score is unforgettable)
So I was obviously on cloud nine to know that her almost twenty year journey in the field of rejuvenating the form culminated in Netflix acquiring rights to her first feature length work BOMBAY ROSE. I watched it yesterday and to say I was proud beyond words and awed by her evolving, empathetic storytelling would not be enough.
Her rootedness in the Indian ethos, in the way various classes and sensibilities become one whole homogeneous entity in this Bombay set tale is visually striking, representing the palette of life in its good, bad and ugly personal contours. It’s a love story, a love letter and a tribute to human interaction. Something tells me it just wouldn’t have felt this beautiful and heartwarming if it was a regular live action film. The little details and the tug and pull of emotions feel organic given the frame by frame, painterly essence adopted by Rao and her team. Like little shafts of light falling through the canopy of evergreen trees on a road , in little squares and rectangles, the movement of the characters traced through eye view of a rose picked up by familiar hands, traversing familiar routes and then ending up on the grave. The evil man symbolized as a preying bird or the faces of two lovers melting in the pouring rain, reflected in a car window.
Or flights of fancy where the lead protagonist, a veritable have-not eking out a living by selling garlands, transforms into a princess of yore, with each shot replicating the iconic heritage of Mughal era paintings, especially the colours and images in the background down to the attires and locations. Pause a single shot among these and they resemble an actual painting from the era. You see, that is the eye for detail here that stands out. In a way, this merging of reality and imagination and differing classes inform us of the central character’s imprisonment in a system where she cannot rise above her station in life. That reality is never cheated or put out of context here in BOMBAY ROSE.
The modest home of an elderly Catholic lady and the shabby, almost ramshackle quarters of the protagonist facing the sea offer the intimacy of these spaces as indicative of the interior worlds they carry. Every home or living space is all that and more, don’t we agree? Especially poignant is the way nostalgia and memory is handled in the case of the senior prefects, like the protagonist’s grandfather and his decades old repair shop, the Christian lady’s home populated by knick knacks covering her profound journey through lonely, post-retirement years and her good friend’s antiques shop bridging worlds of past and present. Memory is a feeling evoked here, an entity not to be lost. In the film’s best touch, older buildings animatedly appear like creepers in sepia tones over the new ones as the lady takes a walk from home to the graveyard, signifying the passage of time. Like PRINTED RAINBOW, the director’s beloved apex in form and content in the shorter mould, an affinity for cats, the wise and experienced members of our world and the colours of a location in its specificity join hands with a penchant for make believe in the face of alienation.
BOMBAY ROSE, hence, is worth taking note as it merges culture, identities, trauma and interpersonal bonds to present a city life rife with very pertinent struggles. But it doesn’t put a lid on the moments where love of every hue binds us. It can be as simple as a mutual look of acknowledgement between people, helping a child worker escape his dreary existence or repairing someone’s beloved toys and mementos of a long life, to see them with a sparkle in their eyes.
This needs to be watched by multitudes and promoted as the work of art it is, notches and leagues above full length films featuring flesh and blood mortals. The essence of cinema is in capturing humanity. This one triumphs with its languidly paced journey maintaining the aesthetics of class struggles and a metropolitan national ethos.
Also watch Gitanjali Ma’am’s previous works to grasp why I am such an admirer of her portfolio. She is a painstaking artist.
I have always believed that death should invite silence, a dignified one at that, when we approach the aggrieved. It’s a life-altering state of mind for those who have lost someone they knew as an integral part of their existence for so long. Hence instead of unintentionally hurting them by employing careless words or misdirected reminiscences, it is best we lend them support, care without discounting their unraveling at a mentally and emotionally vulnerable juncture . This goes out to all those relatives who usually gather at these solemn occasions to indulge in petty gossip pertaining to the one who’s gone and those left behind, as if it’s a family get-together by default. It just goes on to show how we, so called evolved humans, find it so hard to even feel sadness and pain, rudimentary elements that constitute our being, especially for others. After all, life and death is nothing more than a status update and a tweet in today’s world.
PAGGLAIT (THE MAD ONE) is so relatable to me precisely because I’ve seen all this happen at such sensitive occasions and they make a large chunk of the dramedy that is this Netflix original screenplay, a realistic, slice of life presentation that charms us with its simple details. All the above aspects give heft to the tale of a young woman( always reliable Sanya Malhotra) who has been widowed just five months into her marriage. She is unable to cry or express the tropes our shallow society expects her to exhibit almost instantly. This deep sense of shock or bewilderment at a changed station in life, that too within a relationship that had only just begun, make it a compelling social commentary on the way our behavioural contexts govern us. The fact that her better half hardly ever communicated with her and was mostly off bounds or at work richly layers and levels her unique experience, which is not at all far from the truth.
Then subtle layers help it skew closer to an intimate drama where she attempts to piece together her deceased husband’s life script ( he doesn’t appear here physically or in terms of photographic evidence, making the ambiguity effective), eventually discovering the selfish ways of senior prefects on both her marital and maternal sides. Tradition and modernity beautifully clash with a subdued interplay of viewpoints within a patriarchal set-up.
So though she isn’t bashed around as a jinx within this traditional household, is not made to wear the white motif given her status in terms of attire and is even allowed the leeway to remarry rather hastily, these THIRTEEN DAYS OF MOURNING produce profound clarity on her part about how she is perceived now and will possibly be, her Masters in English credentials serving no real purpose at the present and inheritance of millions in insurance money left by her husband dividing loyalties. In the process, bringing out the true colours of those living in this old mansion and struggling to stay put as cash strapped have- beens.
SANYA centers it with an internalized intelligence about these universal strands of womanhood without showing these emotions explicitly and grounds it in utter realism. She is backed by a cast that behaves and acts as people of their ilk will usually do in the given scenario. PAGGLAIT then is a revelatory drama, quietly feminist in its tone, shot in my hometown Lucknow, capturing it in a subdued winter setting, and never letting us forget the youth and possibilities for the lead protagonist. I simply loved it for its confirmation of truths.
Especially how even in death, our elders seek their own selfish agendas. Also how life can be reconfigured with renewed hope after loss, for women most importantly.
MAYURAKSHI is another reason to uphold Bengali cinema as the epitome of nuance and emotional clarity.
This National Award winning drama is again centred on the lines between clarity and disintegration occasioned by one’s memory. Like the title of the film and a river in East India with the same name, life is like a free flowing stream, not always sedate and placid, maybe holding great cross currents in its depths. Like life, the river flows. That metaphor is beautifully apt in a work set in Calcutta, the eternally evolving city preserving its past in its dog eared buildings and lanes and yet moving ahead with the modern pulse. The river Ganga is witness to its trysts with destiny and memory, of the ones who stay and those who depart for other shores.
MAYURAKSHI then, in its intersections of a father of 84 years of age, grappling with his dotage and fragmented memory, and a middle aged son settled abroad, who himself has been through two divorces and is clearly unhappy, expressing that through a cultivated or perhaps natural state of reserve, is immersive. As a late child, his unsaid context of always staying on the precipice of his father’s mortality is not lost on us, having lost his mother in his youth.
The son has to return to his work life, the father has to somehow be in the care of extended staff who clearly are responsible and empathetic and life has to go on. In between that beginning and lack of uniformity of an uncertain future, this work finds a contemplative tone to understand how things change as we add more years to our life. Cinematic legends SAUMITRA CHATTERJEE and PROSENJIT CHATTERJEE ensure we don’t forget the reality of this situation. It’s the tale of a million parents and children wading through the river of life. Memory is their only source and internal narrator. It’s what binds them. ***
CHADWICK BOSEMAN: PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST(2021)
A screen Titan. A humble practitioner of his craft. An artist before an actor. A consummate professional and unassuming human being. You can have a million opinions about the monumental achievements of Chadwick Boseman but you cannot be sure of where his immortality lies, in the hearts of his admirers and in annals of cinema.
This 19 minute documentary short brings greats like VIOLA DAVIS, DENZEL WASHINGTON, PHYLICIA RASHAD and other collaborators from his last works DA 5 BLOODS and MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM together to look back at a miracle of a man who eschewed externalities of fame to truly become iconic with the power of his craft. On the tightrope of life and death, his spirit hence remains unwavering. This work briefly enters his world of words and thoughts through those who observed him and were blessed by his presence. ***
My essay on the timeless omnibus of legendary filmmaker SATYAJIT RAY and his era traversing modern tale MAHANAGAR (BIG CITY, 1963) has been published in the excellently collected latest issue of CAFE DISSENSUS.
SO do read it, share your thoughts and spread the word. The link to the published essay is below.
As the saying goes, man is born free but everywhere he is in chains. If practical estimates are to be taken, human individuality gets locked up either in gilded cages or in actual prisons. We see it with our eyes wide open, knowing that every enslavement is shaped by human hands and our resolve breaks and disintegrates when too many opposing voices get in our way. But the human voice is the most potent counterpoint to outrages and ostracization since by speaking out and refusing to observe indefinite silences, we challenge the status quo.
Garrett Bradley’s empathetic documentary TIME identifies with the voice that just doesn’t let itself be victimised by social networks of discrimination. Its subject and voice of reason is Sibil Richardson/Fox Rich, a woman who is so flawlessly determined in her fight to free her husband from the confines of an ill-defined prison industrial system that her words drive home the poignancy of her loss, quite literally, in this case. She is a compelling central figure since she records her life script, with each minute moment and big payoff in her fight for justice, in video diaries, to uncompromisingly capture the essence of family.
The camera is her most intimate friend, processing in real time the depths of her journey, from crushing personal grief to the joy of watching her sons grow up to be strong and confident, educated individuals, stepping on the precipice of a life with the backlog of their parents’ backgrounds in tow. It is her all-seeing eye, serving as both technical support system and a cathartic source. But her voice occupies her narrative powerfully, employing its vulnerability and extraordinary sense of fortitude over the course of two decades. Bradley harnesses her visual journal to craft a full-length exploration of human agency under duress. Trust me when I say that Ms. Fox’s belief in her husband’s freedom and, in turn, her family’s emotional emancipation, is totally unwavering even as the indifference of racist authorities shatters her from the inside.
TIME is obviously about the passage of the titular entity, refusing to gloss over its subject’s own rash decisions leading to the point of change for her family and offsetting it with her mother’s worldly wise moral take on our choices determining the course of our future, without being a judgemental springboard or diluting its compassionate whole. Mostly, it’s about actions seen through the prism of an unequal society. TIME is ultimately a personalized narrative that earns its triumph by its final passage. However, the voice of reason keeps prodding at the long road taken to reach that end of the line as it’s never a final destination, not when similar narratives abound still.
By dint of its storytelling voice and visual style, fluent, sophisticated in its articulation and with the jazz musical score underscoring the improvisatory nature of each unpredictable moment as it unfolds, it transcends the threshold of pain or melancholy to capture hope without bypassing the impact of all put together. It is an upholder of unvarnished realities.
THE PEREZ FAMILY
It’s not just a coincidence that THE PEREZ FAMILY, which preceded my viewing of TIME today by a week and a half, is also about the passage of individuals from their native land towards a place they can call home. One of the protagonists here, namely Juan, is a political prisoner who is released from the confines of his country’s socio-political turmoil and has lost contact with his family, settled in Miami for two decades. You see, the issue of unlawful incarceration and a separation of two decades unite both narratives.
Only here, from the passage by sea to the hordes of Cubans made to live in a stadium which serves as their temporary home, the people unite and some of them integrate their acquaintances acquired during the course of this journey to construct a familial bond of their own. It’s a tale of the immigrants’ progress to Miami, pointing at the rough edges of the American Dream as also the Cuban-American diaspora in Miami, a community that has thrived and cemented its roots there for decades.
THE PEREZ FAMILY is beautifully written and directed by the truly global filmmaker MIRA NAIR, the Indian luminary who knows how to straddle worlds in principle. Just around 2019, she canned her series A SUITABLE BOY in and around my very locality as also some of the landmarks of my city Lucknow. Here too, she infuses the spirit of these people with the flavour of their distinct voice, with humour and a welcome dose of local aesthetic to aid their progress.
The most poignant aspect of its veracity is the unrequited voice of love for those who are not bound to us by blood bonds or conjugal connection but nevertheless forge a long lasting relationship with us over a shared identity. ALFRED MOLINA and ANGELICA HUSTON are wonderfully close to their instincts, for grasping the complexity of pining for each other through two decades of separation and yet rebuilding their present, with the voice of love guiding them towards steady partnerships with other people. But it’s MARISA TOMEI as Dorita, a supreme scene stealer, who is pure gold as the individual leaving her dreary life in Cuba behind to chase the silver linings in Miami, with her love for Elvis, John Wayne and joie de vivre utterly enrapturing us. Her spirited voice of hope and fearlessness, for a future in her adopted land dispels the doubts associated with the sketchy reality of seeking asylum there. This trifecta of performers authenticate millions of immigrant dreams, making them specific and universal. With salsa legend CELIA CRUZ in the mix, it tugs at the voice of joy developing in hearts adrift and yet tethered firmly to their roots.
But it’s MARISA who symbolizes the true voice of freedom.
Finally there is the voice of rebellion that is pipped up against imperialism, as evidenced by the legend of the Scottish hero ROB ROY, much like William Wallace from the same locational provenance.
It’s Jessica Lange who utilizes her wit and concern to not only showcase her voice of love for her husband(Liam Neeson) but also makes way for passages of bitterness, practicality and the kind of push and pull dynamic one expects in a marital unit, especially when challenges are posed by outsiders threatening to sully its sanctity. So even as not so lovely words are exchanged between them, we appreciate how its emphasis on domestic struggles do not confine it to the panorama of history alone or just hagiographic male ego.
Lange is the central voice here. Watch her reaction to a bodily outrage visited upon her by the enemy and the moral complexity that she sets herself towards. It’s a slow burning charge, rescuing her from being another female endnote to a larger clash among men, in the fight against cruelty. ROB ROY benefits from her voice of intervention, limited as it is or was historically, Ms. Lange enhances its impact. The final return of the titular protagonist to hearth and security of being with the woman who bid for reason, is proof of that.