A woman here is solitary in her lived experiences. Yet her voice and body, her seemingly calm body language and diurnal patterns speak for the rest of the world. Solitary tracks, universal pangs- they become one in this moving tale that gives us a predictable layout of life spent in a coastal California town in the 1960s. That it was shot in the radical and politically active late ’70s, literally a decade apart from its date of setting, and still holds its emotional and personal weight for every discerning individual is a glowing testament to how storytelling is the greatest form of anarchy and rehabilitation.

It becomes obvious here that Jane Fonda is everywoman who’s bogged down by a lack of judicious agency and domesticity, receiving reprimand from her boorish husband for volunteering at the local veterans hospital while he’s out on duty. She’s also breaking out of her self-ordained social position. An army kid perhaps all her life, while the valour and national pride rested with the men, she learnt how to bask in the shadows. But true glory, even the penumbra of being a military wife hardly touched her. When she confesses here that she’s been on her own for the first time in her life, we immediately respond to the implicit backstory as well as the current scenario.

Perhaps it’s the cold, almost clinical misogyny endemic in army circles and present in perpetuity in the only man in her life ( Bruce Dern), a lack of commiseration or plain warmth, that draws her towards the embittered but wise, jolly and empathetic ex- armyman( Jon Voight); the latter especially becomes the voice of a social churning that looks at war as a man-made construct that subsumes misogyny, gender disparity and jingoism to achieve its ends. As a paraplegic receiving medical care and shelter in the very hospital where Sally works, Luke, along with other veterans now rendered specially abled but above all shattered in spirit and soul, calls out the propaganda machine for what it is. He is everyman too.

Both their coming of age is a second act, a point of attachment that finds the former high-school classmates  beaming with warmth and commiseration that comes gradually. Their individual selves become universal.


This army code prescribing patriotism  claims two siblings too, with one losing his will to live( Robert Carradine) while the sister Vi( Penelope Milford) does her best to settle in with the patterns she knows all too well. But both snap. Penelope is also a proud representative for all working, independent women who eventually allows Sally to be enlightened about her own choices. But without any direct gestural influence or making big bullet points on freedom.

COMING HOME lets these interrelationships come into their own, at their own pace, with the mighty Vietnam era acting as an ungainly unifier.

By the final act, the maturity in dealing with the effects of a man-made war that already soaks up every volatile temper and social inflammation finds an honest reckoning with ‘the real enemy’; fragile male egos and the ability to branch out of limitations imposed within any particular pecking order is presented. Jon Voight’s final speech to a hall packed with men old and young signals a liberating honesty that stands tall with every peacetime effort. With a soundtrack comprising of classic cuts by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf et al, a cinematographic simplicity and a realistic rendition of gender relations vying for something beyond judgements and societal surveillance, COMING HOME humanises the manner in which we fall prey to and then can come out of the very patterns that mentally consume us.

There’s a moment here where Sally realises how much Luke means to her. The way this scene develops, the manner in which Ms. Fonda gets misty-eyed and then she and Mr. Voight design their current history of interpersonal intimacy is unforgettable. Hats off to Hal Ashby, the revered director whose debut THE LANDLORD(1970) rests in my eternal Hall of Fame. This here, too, is something special and life-affirming. The personal becomes organically political and vice versa through the deft strokes from Ashby and his team.



Kelly Reichardt- the storyteller whose genuine humane touch is perhaps as close to the elemental quality of mortal life in consonance with nature that shapes us- wins us over with her triad of tales in ‘Certain Women’

How I had yearned to watch it ever since being deeply moved by its trailer back in 2016. How wonderful to find it in the digital space and gather its serene charm that celebrates the lives of those who persevere even when finding real human connection is gruelling, especially given physical distances and sexist mindsets. The premise is centred on situations where women are ‘thrown under the bus’, as the expression goes.

In that context, Laura Dern is a lawyer dealing specifically with a man( Jared Harris) who’s emotionally battered, nurses a fragile ego, is suicidal and willing to use the gun to get his way. Exhaustion of a challenging job and dealing with an unstable individual shows in her tense looks and professional implosion. Mr. Harris is equally good as Dern here in dealing with a mental fallout that affects his health and future. We have empathy for both. But in the way that she is made to negotiate a hostage situation with her client, risking her life while male law enforcers think of it as just another procedure, Dern gets her final look of bewilderment at this casual approach and realisation about male hegemony right. Of course, she laments that had she been a man, her client would have believed in her line of reasoning and not insisted on having a second opinion with a male lawyer. The details here count. Some said, some left for observation.

Then we have Michelle Williams as a woman resented and given cold shoulder by her husband( James Le Gros) and teenage daughter. A camping trip ends without a trace of warmth for her from either and she’s almost begrudgingly labelled as a hard worker by the man. Turns out she’s a real-estate developer whose career choices are devalued by her husband. His position as not the boss is taken to be a great anamoly by an older man( Rene Auberjonois) whose property she wishes to redevelop soon. That lack of reaction to her friendly wave to the man at the end tells us everything we need to know about the state of ingrained misogyny.  This cold state of affairs is countered by the warmth she genuinely exudes when interacting with him. A disarmingly charming moment is when both discuss about the birdcall in the area. There’s genuine warmth there. But human hubris is to blame for a premature end to mutual sense of bonhomie being developed here.

Yes the man sees her as an opportunist perhaps but it’s her gender that’s the real challenge to his set ways,  the real plank that he places for ideas of ambition and business conducted with the opposite sex.


The third and final segment is, hands down, the most heartwarmingly beautiful and simultaneously heartbreaking. Lily Gladstone, currently finding global acclaim for Killers of the Flower Moon, shows her raw, delicately tuned naturalism as a rancher pining for a lawyer ( Kristen Stewart) conducting night classes on school law.

The diurnal repetition of her work at the ranch, her touch of grace and bonding with the animals there, and her interactions with the emotionally recessive Liz at the diner paints a quietly effective study of human behaviour and building a relationship with someone else. Ms. Kelly is empathetically tuned to her position of racial and social isolation too as a Native- American woman.

The cold shoulders received from  middle-aged Caucasian attendees at the law class, her seat that she occupies at the very end row make up one end. Then in the manner that Liz opens up to her about her wearying job, blue-collar antecedents and the part about ‘shoes’ or shares a horse ride to the diner and back make a charming other half.

Layers of womanhood can be felt here, layers of friendship and bonhomie that never reach their potential breakthrough as the other one is just too distanced or maybe even apathetic. There are great sociological leanings and conditionings one can infer from this relationship where the sincerity invested is definitely one-sided. The final exchange attests to that with heartbreaking results, one of the most moving scenes put to modern film in my opinion. Gladstone does what silent cinema greats achieved- the internalisation and presence in any given moment without resorting to verbal communication. Kristen uses her awkward body language and repressed inner core beautifully.

Operating alongside the cold winter months and intimate, depopulated beauty of Montana, CERTAIN WOMEN brokers a need for human connection. But when it doesn’t come, one’s professional agency and self- determination has to prevail. This is where the storytelling here is so transcendental.



A teacher- student bond is one of the most endearing or fraught bonds comprising human society.

Director Erica Tremblay employs twelve minutes of screen time to present both aspects of that relationship with empathy and tact to spare. Offering a student a car ride to school. Scouting for basic supplies like soap and other toiletries at a casino/ hotel. Being deeply affected by a student playing on his own at recess. Minding a class of pre-teens and striving to broker faith with a troubled young boy who’s targeted at home by inadequate guardians and by the casual cruelty of classmates.

All these get problematised and hence become more poignant as the issue persists in a Native American location in Oklahoma. Economic hardships and personal, generational survey of being have-nots unite both teacher and student here. Lily Gladstone and Julian Ballantyne are pitch-perfect, mirroring two lives multiplied by centuries that still weather the storms of being at the farthest reaches of mainstream culture. Yet they are there for each other. That is the muted source of hope. It is beautifully realised here. Moreover on multiple viewings.


All above images are courtesy IMDB and Google.



Ties are fragile. Life isn’t always fair to honest, hardworking folks who only strive for dignity, a roof on the head and a secure future.

But what is life really if not a sport devised by reckless mobs?

Till this date, the carnage that ensued in Gujarat in early 2000s has been made to stick in the underground even though the establishment’s complicity in this man-made hellscape has resounded for a greater part of two decades. Parzania, referring to a young boy’s dreamland that he only shares with his beloved sister, is one such tale among thousands, of a family that has never come to terms with a member’s disappearance. History has failed them because it has been written by the state and its venal stakeholders.

This film will always remain timely precisely because it’s a stirring human document of state-sponsored sectarian violence. Innocent lives will always be erased. Human trauma and grief will always be compartmentalised. Children will always grow up to lose their joy. Courtrooms and committees will deliver hollow judgements.

As the right-wing wreaks havoc and a traumatised woman’s tormentors are set free on singularly devious grounds propelled by faith-based prejudice, in the very same state and nation which bore witness to the Godhra epoch, Parzania becomes hauntingly relevant.



This is another cinematic feature where dynamics of the family go through the emotional wringer.

Societal apathy and the fear of being the ‘other’ when age and mental faculties begin hoodwinking us are universal concerns. Who are the ones to stand by us then? Who are the ones to let us be vulnerable and weak when our resolves fail? Who can weather the storms after halcyon days ?

A father-daughter bond is of primacy here but so are the scars of childhood that wrestle in the inner chambers of our minds. Memories can be our blind spots.

The state of the world, fueled and funnelled by familial ties, becomes poignant and socially conscious here. The struggles of old age and caring for our guardians in a world that prefers to let them go is addressed in a manner we can relate with, on a deeply personal level. This is why cinema endures when it finds a pure, soulful home in screenplays mirroring lived experiences.



Watching Lukas Dhont mine his own childhood for this deeply personal account of an adolescent friendship gone sour, I recalled my own ‘best buddy’; how ten long years of togetherness through junior, middle and first two years of high school faded away for him as soon as my academic performance hit a nadir and my emotional state made me withdraw to my own shell. His betrayal was cruel, unapologetic and never cared for reconciliation. He flung me to the other side of the city and out of his life as if I was a dry twig, a social pariah who was not be a part of his hierarchy of overachievers.

The unraveling of a beautiful friendship between two boys here is affecting because it gives us a deep dive into how social hierarchies define us from the moment we step into childhood; they keep conditioning us. Till an implosion occurs. Till a life is lost.

Friends become our families until society creeps in to dictate terms. The sum and residue of those strands become soulfully realistic here in CLOSE.



Like Parzania, Trial By Fire deals with the human cost of lives lost and familial dignity distorted in an immeasurably corrupt society. It’s a cost that the state, carriages of law and societal apathy keep incurring but are never held accountable for.

The Uphaar cinema inferno in Delhi was a man-made disaster, like all mortal conflagrations literal and figurative; but while a child’s unsolved disappearance can be a soul-gobbling strain, death and its finality numbs the mind. Both scenarios find the survivors and aggrieved lost. Forgotten.

The fight put up by the Krishnamoorthys, who lost both their teenaged children in the tragic event addressed here, was ripe for discovery. This limited series spotlights their lifetime dedicated to finding closure, justice and delivering  rehabilitation to all the families affected by that fated day in the late 1990s. The void is gaping, the sustained struggle for common folks reiterating a script that makes the personal universal and political.

The imagined last moments and days for few of the unfortunate souls who went for a movie screening, only to never come back home, is rendered with empathetic strokes. Life is transient. Most of the times, it’s our own unwillingness to effect change. Many a times, human apathy designs doom.

Trial by Fire also hits hard because its perspectives are multiple, the fact that the accused are scot-free dampening our resolve for those who see no new dawn for justice. As a building just five minutes away from my own apartment fell down like a pack of cards back in January, 2023, with the loss of lives becoming centre of attention and just as easily dying down with the embers of yesterday’s news, this series hit hard. The fact that both buildings, the Uphaar Cinema and the apartment in my own locality, stood in posh areas, in provenances of supposed comfort and privilege in the heart of big cities, is another dimension to this never-ending saga. Imagine how convenient it is then to turn the other way when a haphazard structure in the older parts of a city or in a low-income area suffers the same fate. It cannot happen to us, we think, until it does. Real-estate boom and under the table negotiations are doggedly pursued despite the warnings and prior histories.

That’s why these storytelling feats matter. They are delivered with the dignity and truth we deserve to be privy to.



Uttara Baokar is one of those people whose very presence breeds familiarity, warmth and knowledge of filmmaking craft preserved in a register of discipline and effortlessness.  She belongs to an epochal class of performing arts stalwarts who abided by the sheer simplicity of the everyday, never hovering around for the fame or attention associated with cinematic portals. For them, opportunity bred integrity, a knowing ardour for how others live and draw from each life experience.

You look at her formidable body of work and there’s no pretence or grand sweep. Naturalism, the way we are within situations imbued in her elegant personality, Ms. Baokar is not one to be forgotten but instead is an individual torchbearer of what Indian artistic form stands for cinephiles when practiced with due diligence, mirroring social realities. She is a purist’s delight.


Our lives reach towards that final gloaming; all our lives are spent in  embodying meaning through our actions. Our legacies speak for us within this lifetime.

For me, Uttara Tai’s passing away is a profound loss. But I will never speak of her in the past tense because her craft transcends her mortal coil. Over the years, I have seen many of her performances. More than awe and admiration, a sense of humility dawns with each part.

Every time I watch her on-screen I  recall how as a child, traces of her as the mother-in-law to Renuka Shahane in ‘Kora Kaagaz’ (on Star Plus) never left my mind, just as much as the melodious title track sung by Sadhana Sargam.  Or how even in her very brief presence as Madhuri Dixit’s mother in the utterly unforgettable ‘Aaja Nachle’, she packs in so much of her concerns for her free-spirited daughter whom society and a small-town feel free to rein in. There are never small parts with Uttara Tai. Only myriad shades of humanity.

In recognition of the woman I so deeply admire, here are the parts that she fills and illuminates with life on screen and stage.



Uttara Tai’s singular presence is the most memorable in this dramatic study of two women drawn towards each other by tragic circumstances. Friendship is part of the journey but empowerment that flickers and yearns and is then earned becomes this iconic screenplay’s hallmark.

Over countless viewings through the years, memorizing almost each scene and dialogue, Uttaraji as the eternally widowed grandmother is instrumental in travelling from a point of detachment to exercising true empathy. She gives her recently widowed granddaughter-in-law(Ayesha Takia) the freedom to express her disappointment over her social position and herself evinces the psychological insights that divide women from each other further in a world of patriarchy. She takes her own initial apathy into account.

Her observant face surveys the site of tragedy, the young woman’s retaliation and then her flight to freedom. In Meera, she lets her own stifled spirit get released, the curse of one generation sublimate into self-respect and liberty for the next. An agent of change within the home as much as Zeenat(Gul Panag) is outside, she pulls the three women together and closer than they could be.


As Rukma, India’s very own answer to Federico Garcia Lorca’s Bernarda Alba, this powerhouse performer proved why her stage oeuvre is peerless. To this writer, her screen presence in this perennially favourite play transformed to an excellent television film by Govind Nihalani, is instrumental in launching his WordPress blog in 2018( four essays on it graced it in its early weeks)

A film I have watched over and over again to commit each moment to memory, half of its power is extracted from the way Uttara Tai models Rukmavati, an aristocrat and recently widowed mother of five girls in Rajasthan, who lets her characterisation escape every cliche associated with those conventional social roles.

Presiding over the mourning period with her walking stick as her armour, her words stinging like the summer heat and her authority producing fear in one and all, she is one complex lady. Refusing to let her daughters be tied down to matrimonial expectations or the company of men, she knows the world is full of loose tongues and illicit desires. Her stance is hence unwaveringly committed to protect her home (and family) from doom that others can readily invite by dint of their jealousy and patriarchal mindsets.

She is a victim of the patriarchy herself and yet dares to challenge it. She can use the gun and manage her financial and legal affairs but can be brutally cruel towards her children.
In this shadow world where women are anyway meant to comply with status quo, she doesn’t want favourable indices in her share; she wants her lot to not fall prey to easy distractions.

That is her tragedy and when doom falls in line with looming shadows on this mansion’s imposing walls, she finally breaks down with the one word she has used to silence others, “khamosh/quiet”; Uttara Tai is to the manner born here. She is Rukmavati every step of the way, taking society to task for all her complexities and fallibilities.


One can never erase Jasbir, the elderly couple( Dina Pathak and Bhisham Sahni)’s daughter they are united with in a Gurudwara at the height of Partition woes, from his mind.

Marshaling her community with a divine song that is a call to arms as well, she sings it herself, the projection of her voice embodying strength, fear and the mythmaking we all fall back on when doom is imminent.

That voice guides those layers as she leads her army of women towards the well, in an act of ethical suicide that has marked subcontinental narratives. Uttara Baokar is gone here. She is Jasbir, millions like her captured through her brave front when violence pushes women to the very edge of mortality.


Her husband has disappeared. Her children grieve. She has to grieve, internalise loss and find clues to his mysterious unraveling without breaking down completely.

If a mother is the glue who has to conventionally hold her family intact, the one here is vulnerable, unpacking the financial toll, her better half’s possible infidelity and her futile hope.

Vulnerability breeds strength to acknowledge loss, examine its outer space and inner wounds. As the mother and children sit together and reminisce about regrets regarding their interactions with the lost paternal figure, we never forget that the matriarch has encountered a lifelong void. Uttara Tai gets that instinctively.


As the elegant woman who is also privy to her husband’s penchant for womanising, Uttaraji lets her face and eyes convey the tribulations of women cutting across social and class lines.

She is a princess living in an estate where wealth begets musical soirees and patronage. She is the mute lesser- half whose protestations against her husband’s burgeoning interest in a young singer fall on deaf ears. She is not altogether lacking in individual agency. It’s just that she has no one to turn to.

In later years too, she recalls her heartbreak without unlocking its direct contents to strangers. She detects betrayal and illicit desire in men and levels bitterness with empathy. But her words and face give us a whole lifetime of suffering in the shadows even as she occupies the same rooms as her influential husband.

The mannerisms, sartorial sense, turn of the head and voice modulations all fit perfectly with her emotional graph here.


Once again relaying generational survey of patriarchal values and breaking away from them, Uttara Tai and Amruta Subhash are women who gain much-needed respite from the man who emotionally shunts them as son and husband respectively. In the segment titled GHOST IN THE MACHINE in this anthology feature, they grasp their sense of liberty.

In the abusive man’s extended absence owing to a health crisis, they create an utopia of positivity, with trips to the beach, financial independence for the younger woman and their shared love for a soap opera centring on the perfect male figure. The rhythms that these two wonderful performers create are unforgettable, the support they extend towards each other is winsome. Still, the return of the male presence threatens.

The realistic patterns of middle-class joy get restored as the final image finds these two women and the happy kids celebrate Diwali and watch their favourite show together. Sometimes life is a series of moments spent together. Uttaraji and Amruta attest to that often fleeting feeling. 



I had not expected to see a day where one of Uttaraji’s theatrical performances could be viewed by me.  While searching for that one elusive title, I found this filmed rendition of Dharamvir Bharti’s famed play courtesy Jairangam Theatre Festival, held in Jaipur in 2020. The powers of manifestation triumphed here.

Set in the aftermath of Mahabharata, the actual war produces a somber reckoning with truth that finds expression in monologues, charged confrontations and beautiful interludes by the chorus. It’s Uttaraji as Queen Gandhari, the blindfolded royal letting loose with her tragic loss, her perspectives on this futile war orchestrated by the hands of men with fragile egos, who shreds their platitudes. She has a mother’s pain and a woman’s practicality to know that it is not she who has willingly covered her vision with falsified ideas of valour or honour.

She doesn’t spare the otherwise omnipotent Lord Krishna too from falling in her line of fire. She is a woman scorned. In the final stretch, humbled by her own ire against mankind and the subsequent curse she places upon Krishna, she breaks down and falls on the stage, lamenting the loss of humanity that war entails for even a mother.

To watch this feat is humbling to me.


This 2004 Marathi feature previously couldn’t be found anywhere except a few clips here and there on YouTube. Finally stumbling upon it in full on the always eclectic Amazon Prime Video, I honoured Uttaraji’s legacy by watching it.

The dramatic piece here has a verite tone, with meetings and recollections invoking a wonderful sense of the everyday. Uttaraji is Mai, a once lovely family woman whose own daughter falls prey to the hands of fate after suffering through a violent marriage and roving father-in-law. Their house sold, with the modest outhouse their abode now, both women, one divorced and the other, aged and widowed, still don’t renounce their innate decency towards others.

Uttaraji opens herself up to Shivaji Satam’s Raghu, a friend of her children whom she doted on years ago and who she’s reunited with years later, with her creaking voice and tears signifying the guilt, regrets and melancholy accumulated for a lifetime. But in this tale about second chances, the nuanced screenplay makes her witness the rejuvenation between two individuals she loves the most: her daughter and Raghu. Through their rekindled friendship and then her rapport with Raghu who looks after her in her ailing days, she finds a reason to live without any previous baggage.

Everybody is redeemed by the gradual steps they take to change their present destiny. So what if they are not in the thick of their youth?

Her singular scene where she bares her heart out to Raghu, a man she trusts without doubt, is the ultimate winner for me. So is the final scene where this chosen family returns to Nagpur to live together as one happy unit.


I have already written about this one few days ago. Suffice to say, Uttara Tai is everywoman but situates herself within a particularly harsh rural milieu where grief is held hostage by social restrictions.

Both her daughters suffer due to this involuntary adherence to customs and narrow mindsets where there’s no value for a woman’s life. Uttara as Aai is bitter, despondent, concerned, unlikeable, contemplative, regretful within this survey of her compromised humanity in the face of  financial toll.

It is she, fuelled by her younger daughter’s reasoned awakening, who decides the circle of life cannot stop at convention. The moral complexity within her contains multitudes. Only a performer so natural and effortless can justify this arc. She does.


In another work helmed by National Award winning duo of Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhthankar, Uttara Tai is the actual protagonist.

She is the lone female presiding over a crumbling landed rural gentry, in a post-colonial era, who wants the adult males in her household to wake up to a new world and not rest on their haunches. Her fierce determination to let her younger son receive the best education is everything. A host of beliefs pervade her inner circle, from her naive son to her Gandhian husband and her brother-in-law who’s dead sure that the secret to their future fortunes lies in the treasures buried underneath their home.

She will have none of it. Her practical voice and outlook for a bright future for her son who has actual promise doesn’t waver once through the ups and downs. In fact, her influence and a medical supervisor’s(Renuka Daftardar) imprints of courage leave a lasting impression on the teenager. They become anchors to his voyage of self-realization.

Uttara Tai anchors this astutely observed tale with memorable scenes galore. She is its spiritual core. From mother to son, a legacy endures.


In just ten minutes, the naturalism of her craft makes a brother-sister renunion here, in this journey home for a man troubled by his tumultuous past in his native Uttarakhand village, lucid and hauntingly beautiful.

In a work set in the aftermath of the flash floods of 2013, traditions that choke and relationships that sting continue to haunt this homecoming. Apart from the spare screenplay befitting its stark inner landscape of memories and striking cinematography, this supporting arc from Uttaraji as Priya packs in so much. Patriarchy looms large as she doesn’t receive visitors since her two sons left for the city while her sense of pride is evident in her refusal to ask the government for land. Her love for her brother is evident and in none of the cloyingly sentimental ways we expect. That’s where her concerned looks and smiles come together to enrich a full characterisation, for the way the past always lives in the present but doesn’t have to demerit the latter’s appeal for reconciliation.


There are levels of complexity and nuances in this ‘film within a film’ scenario where an artistic creation’s potential is unlocked. The inspiration is life in all its vicissitudes.

Like Bengali cinema at its finest, this Marathi feature from Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhthankar probes societal roles, man-woman interactions and the way writing one’s script has to come with greater empathy than we estimate as humanly possible.

Uttara Tai is the author of the story on which the filmmaking protagonist(Devika Daftardar) bases her next feature. She gives the latter freedom to explore her own narrative, her own authorial voice. By this beautifully structured film’s final stretch, she, revealing a crucial birthmark on her left face profile, leaves us with an autobiographical taste of the story closest to all the women here which includes another subtle turn by Rajeshwari Sachdeva. 

It is also the work that reunites her with Jyoti Subash after their excellent pairing in Rukmavati Ki Haveli twenty years prior.


Last but not the least is an excellent interview where for the first time we get to see Uttaraji reveal her artistic evolution to the gentlemanly host Irfan Sir.

From singing a part from Threepenny Opera from her NSD days to delving into her roots in theatre that gave her the lifeline to pursue film and television and excel in all three formats and her parents’ unflinching support, she is her usual elegant self.
It’s a treasure trove for all cinephiles indeed.




Christopher Nolan has this triumphant habit of going beyond human concepts of space and time and yet without relinquishing earthbound values. That humble bedrock makes a work like ‘Interstellar’ defy the by-now strictly speculative nature of science-fiction.

This is what cinema must abide by: uphold expansive mortal ideas and self-enquiry encompassing humanity’s choices. Yet the emotions, the familial strains and that longing for comprehension with those we love and leave behind when on a voyage beyond terra firma remain soul-stirring.

The stakes here are executed amid a future where cornfields dot an agrarian geographical landscape while the 1969 moon landing is scoffed at as a fabrication. Facts persist with fiction, scientific reason with speculation, the present beholden to no discernible past or prognostic future.

It’s a trip through cornfields, interplanetary water bodies, icy surfaces and upturned cities where a father-daughter bond endures through stalled time and inverted ageing. One where a reunion encompasses years, decades and eras. But humanity remains sacred, intact among surviving siblings and their contentious ideas about the imminent timeline in which they live.

Everything makes sense and is molded with reason and compassion. The cast is excellent. Hans Zimmer’s usual musical gravitas, especially that organ instrumental in the soundtrack, elevates the material by multiple notches.



Ridley Scott’s masterpiece was finally sought by this cinephile last Saturday (dated 15th April, 2023); the fact I watched it late into the night with both my mother and sister made it so much more memorable.

That nighttime zeal to let a cinematic moment’s contents grow on you is infectious indeed. ALIEN is a slow-burn and is invested with reasonable tempers on the part of Ellen Ripley(Sigourney Weaver) who continues to be the first action heroine of a pedigree that has now produced the likes of Furiosa ala Mad Max and Prey’s Amber Midthunder as well as Viola Davis’ formidable tribe of Agojie warriors.

I loved how as much as it is set up for an extended universe of sequels, the idea of discovery, fear, apprehension, interpersonal tensions are kept even-keeled. Nothing is for effect. The sound design, lighting and production design, cinematography and performances are never limited to the era in which it was shot but geared with naturalism as regards a future expedition it delineates with detail. Those details are everything.

The destabilized gender ratio, male hubris, a surprisingly subtle disclosure about artificial intelligence on board Nostromo all complement the unraveling. The titular creature then is an enigma, a threat and a powerful counterpoint against all the accumulated apparatus and human intelligence here. The alien carrier and its expansive interiors open up to us as would an anthropological discovery laden with practical facts and research samples for these scientists.

Ms. Ripley is the lone one standing by the end moments. The mothership is an extension of the gender norms she has been shattering since the last fifty years. To me, ALIEN is a mood-piece, a study of human behaviour under duress where the gore comes second to the demystification of life-forms we cannot fathom or control even with the best infrastructure.

This work is ahead of its times, inextricably linked with the present and the future alike. Such is its ingenuity.



The satiric tones, the flawed comic register persist, the ensemble cast is golden. Everything about this one is iconic even if you’ve not watched it.

But for this first-time viewer, it was all about the way earthbound corruptions were captured, such as a top-angle shot on a makeshift lift, looking down on a city that communicates with its high-rises as symbols of apathy. The silhouettes of all the players up there, the dealings, the sycophancy and the sheer ordinariness of this exchange makes it powerful. The rich and the unscrupulous are up there, looking down and orchestrating our destruction while from the same heights, engineers and labourers fall to their deaths. Nobody cares for them.

The eating of ‘Swiss made cakes’ and then throwing away of the extra portions exemplify the mentality that brought down a naive Marie Antoinette but not global elites who bid for their lack of complicity by buying their way through a mortal underworld.

Similarly, the second-half finds its look at the tentacles of everyday corruption becoming trenchant and effective. A press conference atop a high-rise overlooking Bombay’s lush urban areas, confrontation with a real-estate developer then the inauguration of a bridge dedicated to a murdered officer who was in cahoots with this party, the platitudes and tears in his memory and green lamplights around this same bridge where two photographers search for truth create a noir-like feel. The interactions among these two strugglers and best friends for life hit us in the gut because they are contemporaneous with you and I.

A journalist’s true colours reveal themselves, a body is carried around by a drunk, hijinks ensue and quiet moments too prevail. In the end, the comic register, concluding with an epic being shredded to pieces in terms of the staging and dialogues, points at hollow diktats of society.

JAANE BHI DO YAARO arrests in its contemplative moments and its satire is deeper than we assume. To this cinephile, the scene with the two protagonists on the bridge is golden as on the poles you can find posters of arthouse classics such as GAMAN, CHAKRA, USKI ROTI and MAYA DARPAN. The nod to the new-wave is befitting and meta here. It’s a detail cinephiles will savour.




Charles Chaplin’s Tramp is to cinema what the very medium represents: the ability to be self-effacing in overwhelming situations and to generate infinite empathy through simplest gestures.

In City Lights, the blessed writer, director and musician uses his eternally child-like physicality and an innate sense of wonder at the world around him to save two individuals from polar opposites of the socio-economic spectrum. One is a suicidal millionaire who then instantly warms up to the humble man with a bowler hat, cane and spring in his step. The other is a visually impaired young woman who sells flowers and is barely able to make ends meet. The man dotes on his saviour by night when he is hungover and discards his ‘friend’ by the light of day as he gets sober, as if he lives with selective amnesia while the girl is grateful and comes to deeply forge a bond with the man she cannot see but whose hands and words generate kindness manifold.

The fact that they both exist in pre- World War 2 America makes it clear that human propensities hardly transform. The Tramp is still persona non-grata within a society where lacquered halls, lavish dances and artifice prevail.

CITY LIGHTS is cinema that astutely holds a mirror up to society’s fixed norms, making us laugh at the points which are indeed amusing but often highlight the futility of extravagance, alcoholism and the arrogance that money brings with it, so much so that one can make and dispense with flesh and blood mortals as he deems fit.
The poignancy of the girl’s situation also earns its merit. There is always hope enshrined with her arc.

The choreography of the sequences, whether it involves a sculpture, water, a slippery dance floor or a boxing match, is invested with flair and innovation, timeless feats that cinephiles must savour.

As for that ending where one good samaritan suffers owing to his appearance and misunderstandings while a benefactor of his selflessness finds the light in her eyes to see the world around, it is beautiful. Both these voyagers finally recognise who they are when face to face. It is a moment frozen in the annals of time and memory.

THE KID(1921)

Empathy extended towards an abandoned child is further proof of the Tramp’s sincere charms.

In The Kid, Chaplin shows a world of poverty without any concessions to a larger than life model. The squalor of the slums, of slovenly, cramped interiors, torn raiments, little food to come by and performing menial tasks for survival all serve this tale where a young child’s upbringing is nevertheless a cause of joy and personal triumph for the have-not.

Here too, Chaplin is acutely aware about how appearances and backgrounds create a preliminary of suspicion and ill-treatment among others. As if human empathy is the reserve of the well-off alone.

The scene of separation between father and child still retains its appeal to make us shed tears. The Tramp hardly despairs. He knows his sheer will-power and zeal to challenge authority will yield results. It does here memorably, unforgettably.



Sunil Sukhthankar and Sumitra Bhave’s DOGHI/BOTH took me back to that time in 2010 when reading Kamala Markandya’s novel TWO SISTERS, about the trials and tribulations of Prema and Saroja through adolescence and young adulthood, made such an impact. The mother’s personality was inadvertently rooted with her daughters in that instance.

Renuka Daftardar, Sonali Kulkarni, Uttara Baokar have similar emotional stakes up against them in this realistic portrayal of rural life where joys are temporary and never exist in a continuum for the near present or foreseeable future. Half of these folks’ ideas about life are thwarted by unruly stigmas, the bitterness of human behaviour which is inured to centuries of what came before and has since dictated their myopic outlooks. Where real empathy is always crushed under boulders of shame and the premise of daughters being somebody else’s ultimate burden to bear.

Within this skewed scenario, a fairly predictable plot tracing happiness and festivities, an accident overlapping with changing fortunes for the oldest daughter and her family and the shadows cast by a harsh decision and economic hardships become internalised and heart-rending.

Every woman and man who came before these two inseparable siblings has a part to play in the tragedy of severing their enduring ties. The nationwide curse of adhering to respect and blind faith in parents no matter what, sanctioned by a controlling patriarchy, churns here with a moral burden that is suffocating.

Ultimately, the younger sibling illuminates the path with her undying love for her sister, now unfairly ostracised by the mother who pushed her towards the big city herself. She comes forth with a resolve to break the chain of tradition without which they will continue to live as scapegoats.

DOGHI is brilliantly structured, with its subtle performances and realism informing us of an order where the young suffer as they are at the mercy of their older guardians whom they look up to. The latter end up destroying their innocence. But with a sister like the one here, every relationship’s burden can be overcome. A real kinship lifts us out of the dreary present if not from its scars. That is more than enough to sanction change. It is what makes this work so powerful. It takes cognisance of the pain of ostracisation.




Like a child, his diminutive stature and boundless agility restores humanity. Like a man without a cause scraping for bare minimum for daily sustenance, he looks at the world of hunger and poverty around him.

For the Tramp, life is an endless road, redeemed occasionally by one loaf of bread and tenuous friendships.

In this circus, comedic delights abound as the lodestar of motion pictures stumbles upon his natural penchant for entertaining myriads. He lives amongst opportunists. That’s the fleeting nature of fame.
For Chaplin, the trial by fire is a metaphorical odyssey of survival amidst belligerent human cruelty, levelled at him and others.

Monkeys, lions and donkeys are part of this menagerie while a tightrope walk is a literal test of making it through another day, to know that the next day’s meal can come if one succeeds against mortal danger and public judgements.

In the end, all the comedy is just another side of the forever flipping coin. The Tramp doesn’t despair. He ventures into the great beyond. The series of silent images comes to life for generations to come. Hope is the ultimate victor even if the legend or a whole culture slouches towards ethical retreads.



Like Lynne Ramsay’s YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, this work goes into the dank, dark interiors of its middle-aged protagonist who witnesses, first-hand, the dangers associated with being a law-enforcer.

The interiority is sans too many words. The recounting of events is struck by a present that has indeterminately been led to a lack of closure. DESTROYER is also about the arterial network of crime that is almost unbearably offset by decades of infiltrating one’s psychological impulses. The leads pointing towards justice are incriminating but the pursuer grapples with the soul of a society where an undercover operation is far from a heroic act. It seeps within, settles in the gut.

Nicole Kidman, supported by a great ensemble cast, is raw and gritty, letting years of clawing through the mud and heat of Los Angeles blow away the slightest puff of artifice. Her detective here is on an existential journey through a man-made hellscape. The maternal concerns and that final tender moment with her daughter leads us to a turning point from her past as poignantly as towards that bright glow of light that informs her final image in her car.

Karyn Kusama’s deft handling of the subject matter surrenders itself to the realism of the setting and takes the glamourised valour out of the uniform. Her approach is towards a systemic spate of lawlessness that runs through the land. That land and this cop here have universal footprints.


AD ASTRA(2019)

The very idea of outer space is unimaginable without the existential anticipation of how much we have truly learned as intelligent, sentient beings, earthbound that is. It is a fascinating enigma.

AD ASTRA takes that to heart with its two hour journey through familial terrain that literally encompasses the cosmos. It is one of contemplation, of man-made marvels and the power of the mind. It is also about the deeply felt reservoirs of unresolved grief that impacts a legacy.

The visuals and performances are apt here. The breadth of the visual appeal is always tied in with the technological seams that can unravel along with risks to mortality. 

ANNIHILATION, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, GRAVITY, ARRIVAL all have another worthy successor to a canon where science, reason and truth of one’s own individual worth become allies, in a more reflexive bid for empathy.




The arc of years, decades and eras have done little to dent physical and sexual violence against women. The most saddening fact amidst all the debilitating statistics remains that men and women are equal enablers to toxic masculine privilege that compartmentalises one gender on several agendas.

THE ACCUSED and PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN are not divided by three decades. For me, they traverse the unchanging societal jungle where men commit atrocious acts and continue to thrive professionally as also carry their beastly pursuit of the female body with impunity.

One shows the act of assault committed on a young woman. The other witholds graphic staging of the act to unravel with lingering and sustained trauma for the victim’s best friend. One finds solidarity among two women, the survivor and her lawyer. The other looks at the posthumous flashpoint for ‘a promising young woman'( Carey Mulligan) as she navigates multiple confrontations with those who failed her best friend  in their darkest hour of need. Both call for denouncing especially those who bear witness to an assault or cheer the vicious attack on in the form of peer-support.

The former work turns into a genuine showcase for empathy, renunciation of judgements and justice the moment the injured victim( Jodie Foster), in a post-assault run-in with one of her perpetrators, tearfully admits to having better expectations of being administered a sense of mental validation from her lawyer(Kelly McGillis)

The latter cinematic piece mines tension from the protagonist’s interactions with her concerned parents, a former fellow student, her lawyer, college administrator as also the various men who attempt to overpower her with the lure of alcohol before she surprisingly outsmarts them.

The empathy, pain of loss, of female bodies and minds, generations held together by trauma, is realised in both instances. One is marked by victory in bringing the perpetrators to justice and the survivor lives to see that day. The other finds the young woman, crusading for the truth singularly, put her life on the line, paving a roadmap involving all those in her immediate circle, in the event of an untimely end.

Both stir and give us unforgettable moments. Both tell us that in this world, justice is more than a double-edged sword. It is awake and yet mostly blind to institutional sexism and gender conformity. The road to justice travels long miles.


Florence Pugh emerges as a force of unremitting commitment to toppling patriarchy in both these works.

In the period setting of the first, the lack of a soundtrack is actually a brave choice to illuminate the claustrophobia of the era and the social mores that hold women down. It is a tale strictly told within interior spaces. So when the musical score does emerge with a sense of dread and doom in two pithy instances, repression curdles and cruelty passes on from the perpetrator to the one suffering its lashes, mostly verbally.

Eventually, the lady of the house becomes a perpetrator herself, inuring two orderlies in a plot that diffuses its horror based on particulars of race and class. Naomi Ackie, excellent in her recent outing as Whitney Houston, here is the eyes, ears and bleeding soul who watches a world of silent condemnation engulf her unsuspecting, innocent self. Pugh haunts as the one conquered then transforming into another replica of her class. Unusual circumstances hence produce this muted theatre of blood, perjury and internalised gender/ racial hostility. The effect is stark and numbing.

DON’T WORRY DARLING is a genuinely affecting social commentary disguised as a period drama. Individual scenes here give each performer the chance to express sinister elements at play, in a manufactured utopia which is just too good to be true. Olivia Wilde’s directing and writing credits make it clear it is never an idyll when malefolk operate from a default space where they gain an upper hand over every decision. The slant here is on exposing the post-War domestic bubble of America that was always fraudulent to begin with.

But its screenplay, in actuality,  gives us a simulated post-modern setting where women’s bodies and minds are further operated as marionettes, all for the purpose of gender conformity. Until Pugh exercises her agency. Whether in the desert or among the community of conformists, whether confronting the self-styled guru who has built this utopia on mysterious pretexts while her partner displays a manic show for an assembled lot or while remembering her former life as a surgeon, Pugh and co. fill this implosive world with genuine validation. It’s all extremely pertinent, sitting well in a culture where a touch of a button can create ruckus or nuke half of the globe. Here, male toxicity and technological tinkering with dangerous propositions detonates a saga where Pugh refuses to lie low or be gaslighted even as other women compensate for their losses in the ‘real world’ or disappear as they inquire about their place here.

Camaraderie, complexities of interpersonal relationships give it heft . That open-ended closing act too is a symbol of the subliminal level in which gender roles and technological ubiquity circulate their messages within mediums.



Bjork made me smile, cry, reach out to her and scream at the world that takes advantage of her disability and dreams. As Selma, she is a vessel of bottomless empathy and innocence, angelic even within the sheer ordinariness of the assembly-line that feeds her and makes her work double-shifts, often with a low regard for her optimism or failing eyesight.

This work puts her in the throes of tragedy where her hard-earned money and gradual fulfillment of the American dream, which she wishes to pass down to her only child, fall in wrong hands. Her well-wishers turn against her.

You have to watch this one to revel in Bjork’s spiritual aura as she battles the demons framing her for being as guileless and naive as she is. Everybody is on the brink, struggling with financial ruin and fear of abandonment.

There are moments of unbridled joy here, beautiful memories shared among friends and music to play to her strengths. But once the surrealistic sojourns amid her unraveling make way for her heartbreaking final arc, DANCER IN THE DARK becomes a great work, relying on kindness and empathy among the believers. Selma’s final cries and singing will haunt your days. It’s because her pristine innocence and spiritual core never leave those around her.

Her life becomes a study in the extreme ways in which the vulnerable somehow transcend their doom. But they suffer and perish nonetheless. The world is always ready to eat them.




It takes one moment grounded in the stellar facts of love where the naive heart befriends innocence. The future seems to have been charted on an even course.

But innocence lost once then twice then in a series of illicit encounters cannot be regained in the open.

Lars Von Trier’s masterful, disturbing work updates the skeletal frame of Lady Chatterley’s Lover to seek its misfortunes from cloistered backwoods, religious dogmas, illness and a man’s perverse whims. A woman with a child’s integrity then unravels like a lament to the age of nature, to a nurturing ideal where the body transcended earthly sentience.

Here, the spiritual core is defiled, womanhood violated by the unmoved fates who ordain her early grave. Her smiles are everlasting and her tragic end canonises her as the ultimate martyr.

It’s an unmoving society still that is emboldened in its castigation, in its death of reason. It’s the way of humanity’s annihilation.


THE NEST(2020)

A house made of splinters is what this nuclear family makes its own. For each member, guarded reconciliations become unguarded, the haunting of daytime follows till the wee hours of night where sleep is an escape from any event of mental displacement during waking hours.

Ambitions, male ego, capitalism and the brutal loss of empathy influenced by all of these make the woman of the manor lose her sculpted composure.

Rarely does a horse’s sudden death or an adult woman’s rejection of her partner’s lies in a room full of people blow us away as it does here. The scattered straws in this seemingly gilded nest doesn’t obscure the peeling away of conventional structures. The corrosion is imminent and internal. Everybody is a stranger. That’s the truth of life.

The needle-drop here courtesy Heart’s ‘These Dreams’ anticipate all that mortal and psychological worlds conspire to produce.



There is something startling and universal about a mother waiting for her child to come clean about the demons that have held her back from her own promising future.

There is grave, profound shared history among two women who nature has tied together so that nothing remains a secret. It’s a journey not of plainspoken disclosures but of rewriting the way recovery can become a possible recourse.

FOUR GOOD DAYS is brutally honest, startlingly empathetic in its delineations of a mother’s decision to walk out of a crushing marriage, leaving her child behind, the irony of an unselfish teenager now debasing herself for drugs as an adult, the consequences of medical prescriptions detonating a substance use epidemic and a mother-daughter heart to heart where the means of survival touch upon both body and soul, quite literally here.

From Diane Warren’s excellent use of music and lyrics in the soundtrack’s lone original song SOMEHOW YOU DO, Reba McEntire’s vocal empathy on it to the performances by Glenn Close and Mila Kunis, moments of truth are delivered with precision and care.

The symptoms of familial and societal breakdowns get in the same line of fire as the unsparing cycle of addiction.



They are unbowed, unbent, unmoved by traditional society that forever relies on uncontested beliefs. Their pounding strikes are against beliefs that germinate into dogmas and then into brute force.

Gina Prince Blythewood’s salt of the earth motifs make the Agojies a primal source but not without empathy, collective cultural import and astounding pride in the African heritage that usual stakeholders would have readily censored.

This feminist work is here to give these women their dues in the best possible manner. The tonal stakes are hence humbling, occasioned by the desire for victory over enslavement, history and rigid regimes.

The title’s final bow to gender conformity still lingers.




The condensed feature form, to me, brings all necessary elements to a coherent point from where they can be expressed favourably. Lila Aviles’ twenty-three minute short hence makes a strong case for the power of storytelling, in a way where the duration simply doesn’t matter as long as the inner world and delicacy of portrayal is supreme.

EYE TWO TIMES MOUTH is triumphant primarily because of its casting choices. The lead protagonist here is a Mexican woman(Akemi Endo), her musical mentor, friend and singing tutor is a specially abled man(Alan Pingarron) while her diction and mannerism coach is a Japanese/ Latinx polyglot( Irene Akiko)

Their cumulative efforts are in the direction of producing a favourable audition for the opera Madame Butterfly, the ultimate test for an artist who wishes to stride into the world of performative aptitude. Akemi is wonderful here as she imbibes the minutiae of body language, a degree of extraordinary patience observed for the same and the literary nuances of spoken language translated to expressive feats on stage. Mr. Alan and Ms. Irene are just as indispensable to the proceedings as they train and root for the young woman who patiently divides her time as an invigilator in an art gallery section and devotes her waking hours to being the best artist she can hone herself to be. The support of her friends and fellow creative minds lift her spirits, ultimately producing a dazzling audition where all that she learned alchemically comes to fruition.

By making Akemi’s perspective colour the conversations and training routine, ‘Eye Two Times Mouth’ becomes an exercise in understanding the sheer aesthetics of one’s evolving artistry, away from the dictated semantics of elitism that seemingly govern such forms as opera or art galleries. She is the anchor of humility whose ambitions get under our skin.

Ambitions and creative pursuits ultimately spring from sincerity and conscientious practice. Accomplishment is, after all, no one class’ domain. It is realised here beautifully.



Ruben Ostlund’s quintet of matter of fact vignettes in ‘Involuntary’ wryly observes human nature under duress.

Simple, shot in unbroken takes, Ostlund’s camera is an observer of instances of solidarity, horror of voyeurism and physical actions by those who self-destruct or initiate civic change.

Effective moments abound here because the stark tonality and documentary realism blur lines. It attests to a school teacher standing up for a child’s integrity when he’s physically roughed up by a senior staff member, refusing to listen to judgemental preliminaries about his troublemaking antics or his overburdened mother’s personal life. Or it could be a culture of toxic sexuality that infects teenagers who stumble their way around growing up and are justly reprimanded by concerned guardians.

It is about a community of men that abuses one of its own, a coterie of ‘friends’ that traumatises one, tracing a pattern since childhood that has now morphed into adult reckoning where the victim hardly knows what the resolution must be. It is also about an elderly patriarch’s loneliness that sits seamlessly with his casual attitude towards an eye-injury, a step closer to the anticipation of his mortal coil snapping while a bus driver’s anger is actually a civil display of protest against his passengers who wouldn’t deign to take accountability for damage to the bus’ property.

Class tensions, gender relationships, the confounding ballast among both men and women when confronting harsh reality as well as cultural toxicity impact these slices of life in modern-day Sweden. A recessive and repressive social order doesn’t help the causes.

INVOLUNTARY ultimately is about the universal idea of community which is more of an illusion than a source of comfort. Individual stands here make a difference. So the young teacher validates her concerns when she demands her peers to register her presence and is recognised for it while a passenger finally admits, to the bus-driver, about his young child breaking the curtain in the washroom. The rest hang in uncomfortable pockets of social mores and desolation.

It is compelling and the format of storytelling is perfectly suited.


Kasi Lemmons Justifies The Voice And Enduring Spirit Of Whitney Houston In ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’

Sony Pictures As a Whitney Houston super fan, this Kasi Lemmons-directed tribute to the life and times of an enduring pop-culture icon is absolutely sensational. It makes you behold the performative brilliance of Naomi Ackie who not just embodies ‘the voice’ with her pitch-perfect lip-sync, body movement, accent and graceful gestures incremental to Ms. Houston’s […]

I’m proud to have this film review of the stirring and musically uplifting Whitney Houston biopic I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY grace Screen Queens Journal.

Kasi Lemmons Justifies The Voice And Enduring Spirit Of Whitney Houston In ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’