THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT ALL: On TUESDAY, LE PUPILLE & THE SILENT CHILD.

THE SILENT CHILD(2017)



What sterling and timeless works like CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, BRIDGE TO SILENCE, CODA and SOUND OF METAL have time and again done, over decades altogether, is to bring a world of empathy for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. It’s to bring the world of silence and empathy to prevail and if not prevail then exist harmoniously within normative social spheres. Everyone needs a fighting chance to survive and thrive.

Oscar-winning short THE SILENT CHILD is in recognition of those able, empathetic communicators who bridge cultural and social gaps for those born to worlds where anything other than ‘perfection’ is anathema. The six year old here is a neglected child whose parents barely talk to her, don’t actually register her presence at the dining table when with the other older kids and desperately want her to master speech therapy as learning sign language isn’t for them. Hectic schedules, the supposed superiority complex ingrained in being parent and provider and a general disdain for a special child become part of the truth here.

               *****

There is a brief halcyon period in which teacher and student make the core of communicating through sign language their world. It constitutes the truth and a validation for each others’ efforts, for the natural bonding that is the strongest frontier to counter ableism and discrimination.

Parents are never necessarily supportive angels and can make us embrace our flaws a little too readily; their own disappointment with themselves and with a world that looks down upon their children’s special needs can be detrimental for generations. Here, the child’s parentage is cruelly peddled by a matriarch and becomes a complex subtext to further understand the manner in which she’s unfairly treated.

        ***



Compassion is key in THE SILENT CHILD. It is found in the child and her true guardian- her teacher. They are separated by those who claim to know better about her future. The ending moments, with them separated by a gate, the girl alone in the playground and the teacher outside meeting her for what may be the final time, is heartbreaking. When they sign the magic words I LOVE YOU, the full force of a cruel, inconsiderate world hits us. We can only enable change with multiple willing participants. What if there are roadblocks even before a legitimate breakthrough is reached? THE SILENT CHILD addresses this with tact and profound sensitivity.

Our world needs better. Our children deserve to be seen, heard and felt for the creatures of beauty and wonder they are, for who they are without precedents of perfection attached to their being. Kudos to writer and actor Rachel Shenton, director Chris Overton and Maisie Sly for imbuing us with the truth.



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TUESDAY (2015)



A life left ajar by the absence of a true soulmate- here, he being the protagonist’s father- is stirred by the entries and exits in a ghost house.

In AFTERSUN director Charlotte Wells’ eleven minute short film, we are stirred by the teenager’s combative interactions with parent, teacher and friend, most of them communicated by little actual words and more by brooding expressions. It is a perfect prelude to her celebrated 2022 masterpiece, showing us how even back in her foundational days, she was immune to making concessions to her penchant for realism.

The grey sky palette, foggy windows and indoor lamp lights, especially, help in situating the circumstances of alienation and teenage angst. So does a hole in the sweater or an empty glass of juice in the father’s house. Above all, instead of even sparingly opting for a musical cue, she lets the silence of realisation, the silence of coming home to strangers, capture that key moment in our young lives where we learn the harsh truth about being solitary voyagers.

Tuesday comes & goes. Here as in so many splintered young lives, we hang on to its arrival with a gasp of hope, for a reunion, a reunion with those we love.

Megan McGill is the perfect receptacle as essentially a younger embodiment of Ms. Wells. Note how the dialogue, “why did you do that for?” here channels Frankie Corio mouthing the same lines in an agitated state in AFTERSUN. The authorial, thematic unity in both is one of empathy brought on by memory. It’s brought on by a longing for the father who is lost to the horizon.

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LE PUPILLE (2022)



Pupille is a term that means an orphan and the centre of the eye( i.e. pupil); in a simplified and obvious sense, the word can mean a pupil/ student. These are all various ways in which a single word can be interpreted by us. All of them mean well in the case of Alice Rohrwacher’s Oscar-nominated short LE PUPILLE ( currently streaming on Disney+Hotstar)

The eyes of children living in a boarding school in war-time Italy see all that their immediate world has to offer. News of masculine posturings on radio, rationing of food, strict vigil by the young nuns who run it with an universally acknowledged steely resolve and discipline are seen and felt. But how can these innocent creatures truly grasp the humanity behind man-made wars raging far and wide? How can they relinquish little joys of childhood in service of the larger jingoistic cause that may never even take into its account these women and children pulling off duties of a mundane civilian life?

There is a whimsy, a keen eye for the details of adult life that children have a way of undercutting or offsetting with pure intent. Serafina( a lovingly priceless Melissa Falasconi),
at the center here and yet part of the larger tableau of girls living under strictures of religion and behaviour, finds out that it’s not her fault that she’s naturally curious and guileless to tell the truth, when the others are cornered by an authority figure into feeling guilty about listening to popular music and dancing joyfully to it. ‘Wicked’ is a word that is reclaimed and subverted by them, the children against few adults, to become a cause for rebellion, in the most innocent way that only they can. If that means refusing to let go of a delicious piece of cake so be it. After all, it’s for unity among them and upholding joy, in the little moments that bind them.



The prime authority figure here( Alba Rohrwacher) of course becomes the actual ‘wicked one’ but not without showing us the crooked, dispassionate ways of an order that prices detachment above direct engagement with the world at large. Wartime destroys an order of peace and stability for women and children who lose their loved ones or anticipate their return. It’s here.  In a Christmas tale where the legend of Scrooge finds a reflection in the nun and the universality of wonder and camaraderie comes full circle for the kids and those grossly underpaid chimney sweepers, the human truth triumphs. An elaborately created cake does it for them.

LE PUPILLE hence showers us with facts of life we all identify with. There is a reason why the kids’ eyes, shot in tight close-ups, occupy the frames here.



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‘Aftersun’: Exploring Father-Daughter Bonds in the Memories of an Eternal Summer – Screen Queens

https://screen-queens.com/2023/01/25/aftersun-exploring-father-daughter-bonds-in-the-memories-of-an-eternal-summer/

I feel extremely lucky to have SCREEN QUEENS JOURNAL publish my take on the semi-autobiographical cinematic work AFTERSUN(2022) that employs utter realism to beautifully illustrate the beauty and warts in a father-daughter bond.

It is a work that has gathered its director Charlotte Wells universal acclaim and has as recently as yesterday made its lead actor Paul Mescal, who plays the young father, receive a prestigious Oscar nomination. So in that backdrop, my essay becomes more relevant given how I trace its emotional core and truth.

Read it and share your thoughts.

A MULTIPLICITY OF SOUNDSCAPES IN A SEA OF BEAUTIFUL VOICES

SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES’ ECLECTIC, BRILLIANT DISCOGRAPHY.



Listening to an iconic group’s distinctive discography in just few helpings can be like touching the tip of an iceberg. Siouxsie and the Banshees is an unit that I’ve been fortunate to discover in late 2022 as it remained on my musical/ pop-culture bucket list since two years prior. HALLOWEEN, SPELLBOUND and its cover of DEAR PRUDENCE opened gateways to be immersed in the members’ creative play with light and darkness in thematic material. There is a greater joy when more eclectic, socially conscious subjects come into the picture, marking a cultural revelation, with an emphasis on the stereotypes that native social orders perpetuate through their own unchanging mores as well as their obvious negative absorption by other cultures.

There is capitalism, cultural appropriation on the frontlines of such numbers by Siouxsie Sioux and her bandmates as HONG KONG GARDEN( “chicken chowmein and chop suey/ Hong Kong Garden takeaway”) & LUNAR CAMEL where exotica and its superficiality is revealed in a sensual, lush arrangement that mimics the Middle Eastern soundscape we identify with.
Or in DESERT KISSES and ISRAEL where regional politics, native ideals of consumerism and Western encroachment driven by avarice break a cultural fulcrum apart, such as the juxtaposition of Noel with the young nationhood of Israel in the titular hit, making that specific thrust of its subject and politics universal.

Then there’s the acerbic heft in ARABIAN KNIGHTS’ chorus(” Myriad lights, they said I’d be impressed/ Arabian Knights, at their primitive best”), with its “I heard a rumour/ what have you done to her?” refrain questioning conservative gender roles as well as personifying the region and larger ethos in the image of a woman wronged at the hands of corruption. I also love the martial invocation in the second half here where singer Siouxsie Sioux’s “ho, ho, ho” packs in a fierce war against such levers of control sanctioned by patriarchy above all. The synth soundscape enhances the bold confrontation with passive reception of culture on ARABIAN KNIGHTS as also on DESERT KISSES and ISRAEL.

The thematic companion to this series of songs is the excellent CITIES IN DUST, again a bold takedown of civilizational backlog and cultural hubris that is timeless in the way it dissects its concerns. The chorus and its delivery by Ms. Sioux are impeccable.



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To make this list more diverse, I had to share my appreciation for the group’s sombre take on Billie Holiday’s iconic STRANGE FRUIT that utilises the orchestra and Siouxsie’s urgent, soaring vocals to reach a point of discernment about the tentacles of race and violence. On the other end of the spectrum lies their peppy, absolutely uplifting take on IGGY POP’s THE PASSENGER. It is an upshot of pure joy and a welcome addition to the canon because the gothic drama of FACE TO FACE next is deliciously pegged to play to the group’s strengths, with the refined orchestral arrangements echoing an area of darkness they interpret beautifully. The elegant manner in which Sioux enunciates, “You’ll never know” here is unforgettable, as if she’s about to slip off a precipice with the last word but retains her stride and the mystery which makes her so unique. Almost as if she’s indefatigably immortal.



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Of course, I save the very best, most unique among this discography for the last. That honour belongs to RED LIGHT, a potent cultural moment that is sensual, acerbic in its look at materialism vis-a-vis erotic impulses embedded within pop-art. Siouxsie Sioux’s sinister, at times almost ice-cold delivery is a suitable showcase here, complemented by the synths, the drone effect and the use of camera shutters.

In this collective whole, the futuristic sound echoes our concurrent A. I. age where the lyrics pertaining to the camera being an universal eye, i.e.,”the aperture shuts/ too much exposure”; see the red light rinsing”) is topical. Exploitation of physicality and gender roles are covered with a stark tonality. RED LIGHT is a song that makes one sway to its rhythm, listen and take notice of the lyrics while utterly captivating us by its aural distinction. I love it. It has to be the creative peak for SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES among a whole list of worthy ones. 



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WHITNEY HOUSTON’S ICONIC MEDLEY AT AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS, 1994.



The greatest figures are those with a Midas touch, such that decades down the line their impact finds renewed resonance in cycles of unimpeachable artistry.

The medley of I LOVE YOU, PORGY, a Gershwin standard already made iconic by Nina Simone, Jennifer Holliday’s Dreamgirls touchstone AND I’M TELLING YOU and Whitney’s very own The Bodyguard ballad I HAVE NOTHING receive an epic treatment by The Voice. The stance, the Goddess- like stage presence, gesticulation enhancing the swell of emotions and the stretching of that blessed spirit to its edge of euphoria all get validated in the ten minutes we are fortunate to be privy to and make our very own.

The fact that Naomie Ackie has embodied these iconic ten minutes in the final stretch of I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY, an official big-screen biography, cements its timeless status. 

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UNTIL I FOUND YOU by STEPHEN SANCHEZ.



When a song’s timeless appeal makes one cite the silky likes of an Elvis, Etta James, The Platters, Roy Orbison, Skeeter Davis and The Righteous Brothers, you know you have discovered something special indeed.

Stephen Sanchez has made his impressive beginnings with a classic template, complete with wistful sentiment, resonant central melody and assured vocals on UNTIL I FOUND YOU. One can only hope the purity of the first step ahead paves way for more such earworms, consistent in quality.  This one here is worth all our love. 

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ANTI- HERO & CAROLINA by TAYLOR SWIFT.

Taylor Swift’s ANTI-HERO is a modern earworm and her impeccably written lyrics have a lot to do with its instant appeal. The melody and comforting use of synths further help us to entwine ourselves with its journey of catharsis. “It’s me, Hi!/ I’m the problem, it’s me” is a wonderful piece of confession that is self-effacing, in a Me-Myself-I scenario where accountability has become plastered to complicity.



For this listener, CAROLINA is a true work of beauty. Melodious and characteristically poetic as it is, the song is Romanticism at its best, staying true to its credo of nature and imagination being equal stakeholders in a journey of life. It befits the journey Taylor traces for the WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING soundtrack. I am in awe of its serenity and it is now there among Swift’s best works such as SAFE AND SOUND, BACK TO DECEMBER, BEGIN AGAIN, THE LAST TIME down to her latest output in EVERMORE, CARDIGAN, EXILE and THE LAKES et al. It constitutes a discography soft as a cloud, precious and unsullied as memory.

***

WHATAYA WANT FROM ME by PINK & ADAM LAMBERT respectively.



There’s something original, no-nonsense and wholly unforgettable about Pink’s WHATTAYA WANT FROM ME. Of course, it goes without saying that she has always been a prime catalyst of lyrical honesty, set to music shorn of overarching statements. On WHATTAYA WANT FROM ME, the arc of a relationship is offset by its use of guitar that makes up its impressive body of work.

The second take on this song, reiterated faithfully, word by word and in terms of instrumentation, is by Adam Lambert. This is the version I heard a decade ago and fell in love with, turning to the original fairly recently. Collectively, they showcase two powerful vocalists who make this seemingly simple song full of angst, edge and longing, even redemption from the constant pall of insecurity.

Both of them count equally. 

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FRIDAY I’M IN LOVE by THE CURE.



Another dispatch in favour of the Robert Smith fronted band that has become a staple for this listener was inevitable.

It had to include the innocence and wonder of FRIDAY I’M IN LOVE. So it is here, part of my playlist and making its presence felt for its sheer ease. Its joie de vivre for the eponymous weekend.

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BOTH SIDES NOW by JOSH GROBAN & SARA BAREILLES.



Joni Mitchell’s sonic poem on the vagaries of time and churn of humanity keeps adding meaningful iterations to its sustained legacy. 

Josh Groban, fresh from his successful stint on ABC’s 30th anniversary celebration of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, churns out the standard in his timeless voice and giving him betokened company is none other than songbird Sara Bareilles.

It’s a perfect match to provide this solitary testament with the confidence of a duet. This reiteration earns its plaudits, thanks to the production and the vocalists’ united front.

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MILEY CYRUS’ NEW YEAR’S EVE PERFORMANCES.

Miley Cyrus is an artist who you can bet will put on a show with all her notes perfectly in place and with an electric charge to her stage oeuvre to stand by. Her partnership with Dolly Parton then can be nothing but epic in a joint scenario as we’ve seen time and again. As is her love for covering a classic songbook across genres.



I deem myself extremely fortunate to have watched her NBC New Year’s Eve Special last night on YouTube. It is a total blast, with WRECKING BALL and I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU by the duo reinforcing our sense of musical solidarity; let us also raise our fists and inner guitar gods with their combined force for Joan Jett’s I LOVE ROCK & ROLL while David Bowie’s LET’S DANCE receives a great turn with her and David Byrne. MIDNIGHT SKY comes together for a fitting fifth spoke.

Watch it to be mesmerised by these dependable artists and anticipate Miley’s new material in the new year.

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AN ODE TO SIBLINGS, TO THE TRACES OF FADING AMITY AND AN ARTIST AS LYRICIST.

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN(2022)





What happens to a fragile being when the foundations of amity which had been the last unsullied frontier, nourishing one’s mundanity and survival within its praxis, are severed? What if your closest confidante, the one you poured your heart to along with pints of the local drink, chose to shunt you away, as if you were a liability? Fully grown adults have a lot to answer to themselves, to their conscience and to the discomfiting stirrings they harbour here in this instance.

The answers to workings of the human mind hardly ever suffice. One man’s painful epiphany, of being almost nothing in the course of his life so far, is offset by his buddy’s fledgling ambition. The sting in the tale is at once distinctly local to this picturesque Irish backwater. But it’s alarmingly universal because loss of a network of amity, a mutual bond can entail a fate worse than enforced solitude. You can choose your friends and they always tend to establish a family, an unsullied frontier against which all of life’s regrets can be defeated.

Martin McDonagh’s THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is concurrently about the love shared between siblings where nothing of a depressive shade can really eclipse the sanctity of blood bonds.



Of course, the heart wants so much more than being nothing in a one-horse town. The soul demands nourishment. Ambition or the lack of it is, under such circumstances, a casualty. Crossing over to the other side, for the sake of creative discipline, for the sake of an Identity, to escape parental abuse and the rank imagery of genders and location is at the heart of this melancholic, visceral, heartbreaking original scenario where the pithy cast rises to the occasion and then some.

They are victims in the sense that the place they call home has held them by their throats all their lives. The juxtaposition with the innocence of animals and the elegy for a friendship that can no longer suffice are fodders for the universality of this work. Loss is oftentimes a sudden brigand. It has a way to assault our collective senses and upend our notions. Nowhere has that been more organically realised than here.

At another more disturbing level, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is about the impact of masculinity and our implicit violent tendencies that perhaps spring from our place within the most elusive corners of the map.



***

SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME(2015)



Much of what lands with an internalised thud in THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is even more heartbreaking in the context of Chloe Zhao’s debut feature. It is an elegy on childhood and teenage ransacked by history.

A distinct shade which is personal to a fault and generational to the siblings here is because as Native Americans, they have been ousted from the mainstream and made to exist in a default stance, dictated by a culture that exiles them to poverty and the open expanse of their reservation. History is their foe and doesn’t allow them to have anything of merit or exception even in contemporary days.

We can sense the love and affection they innately have for each other, the fear of ever hoping for an escape for either of them that’s writ large on their young conscience. The fear of being like their preceding forebears. The fear of history already afoot and at play in their present, moulding a less than meagre financial and educational footprint for their future.

The performers are absorbers here, looking over a sociological plane that possesses the poison of polygamy, multiple children left to a deep, engulfing void, prison sentences and absentee parents who fail to drown out their disappointment with what life seemed to preconceive for them.

The naturalistic, almost documentary-style purity of filmmaking here gives us peeling walls, overgrown grasslands, broken souls and the vista of nature that’s never beautified as a contrast to the marginalised reckoning of these young people. Yet, like in NOMADLAND, compassion is a central force here, forcing us to reconcile with the humanity of this community, the steadfast way these individuals attempt to create a center even if it doesn’t hold itself for the long run and caves in at the slightest sensation of change.

There’s a beautiful moment in the final stretch where the young boy picks up sand in the Dakota badlands and scatters it around; the smoke-like effect there mimics the clouds above, as if interminably becoming one. That’s the naturalistic imprint that is Zhao’s own. In SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME, she employs her eye for realism in every frame, letting the beauty and the inescapable line of inheritance for these folks hold our attention. It is a work of empathy.



***

HOWARD(2018)



Any brother who enchants his sibling with his imaginative prowess, a true gift of childhood, is beholden to that shared legacy to create a colossal body of work in the future, unaffected by mere nostalgia.

Any man who dares to fill up a space, be it a loft or a page, with words that can build bridges between fables and real-life, is worthy to be recounted as a lyricist, a musical mind with an ear for the inner child ensconced in our very souls.

Howard Ashman, a man who gave BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, THE LITTLE MERMAID and ALADDIN their lyrical immortality, receives a respectful, dignified tribute in this Disney+ original documentary. He is a prodigious child, an ambitious young man, a lover, lover of musical theatre and also a conscientious professional who turned each project into a gold standard, giving artists their due place under the sun. His contributions as an unceasing creative is celebrated here without flash, with depth, compassion and an arc of redemption, in the event where his partner till the end of his days receives his posthumous Oscar, declares his love for Ashman and asks the world to take stock of AIDS without stigma or hushed whispers.

I love how it inures us to the creative process behind some of our beloved Disney classics as also to the plays that Ashman helped to make permanent fixtures such as the oddity titled Little Shop of Horrors. Catching more than glimpses of someone like the irrepressibly iconic Angela Lansbury or composer du jour Alan Menken et al be full of joy while embodying Ashman’s original vision is a veritable treat. Archival interviews and photographs help further in capturing the haunting quantity of a life lost too soon but enduring to the present with its credo of good cheer.



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THE VANISHING LION(2003)



A quirky short by the ever-prolific Agnes Varda upends a star-crossed track with a surreal image of her pet cat in place of a national monument, the title coming alive in a pithy whole of childlike wonder and creative absurdity.

Watch it closely to know how the absence of someone who we grow fond of has a psychological import in the way we look at the world around us.

***

FOUR FOR THE VIEW

THE SWIMMERS(2022)



In life, a siren of sudden, jolting change sounds. To let us know that what once was a civilisational cradle and is now powdered by ruins and perpetual wartime was also a land of eternal summer. The siren makes us privy to the biography of two sisters who lived, laughed, swam, won hearts, had doting parents and a steady family of friends to hold them close in a modern world.

THE SWIMMERS is a siren that resounds in order to recreate, with utmost sincerity, the real-life tale of Syrian sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini who bring to us the natural, normal, peacetime rhythms of a prosperous and educated middle-class settled in Damascus. They are sirens who then uphold the courage to cross borders, an endless sea, seek refuge in the comfort of strangers turned allies and swim for the glory of survival. For the glory of every immigrant life that means so much more than a sinking graph defined by hardship. They are sirens for the loss of home, of family and friends, of a nation in ruins and the international network of people who take them all the way to the Olympics.

The sirens are of bombs and shrapnels that enter swimming pools in a war-torn state, of the transition of a suburb and a city to a graveyard. The sirens are for the blood bonds that pull and push these sisters in so many disparate directions yet their tryst with destiny is like holy water that runs in their veins. One that is of victory without scooping an Olympic medal but of representing their nation and a transformed state of mind to the world. Where the body vests strewn across a Greek island tell a million tales of those who disembarked, stepping feet into the new world.

Kudos to this team for making it about the sportsmanship, the empowerment of daughters and breaking barriers about the kind of liberal, happy life one led in a place that is now atomised by violence.

Kudos for having real-life sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa enact and embody the siren of courage and change that make the Mardinis’ human passage one of such great virtues.



***

THE GOOD NURSE (2022)



In this chilling new work, dim tubelights, a vein-like greenish/blue tinge is an appropriate tonal scheme to enlighten us about how human life affixed with physical ailments is such an open package, to be tampered with and tarnished, within a stone-cold medical complex.

The siren is low, with an ominous thrum and a throb of mortal danger is a living truth for patients as their pulses rise and fall, their heart rates plateau. The dilemmas are complex for the titular nurse as she stares down a bottomless barrel where complicity of the ubiquitous establishment under whose purview she has to survive and shield her own failing heart condition makes for an implosive arc.

She cares for these lives, cares for her children, fears for her physical state and stress levels gobbling her up and then cares for and eventually fears the one man who she has called her best friend in a long time.

In THE GOOD NURSE, Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne recreate the reception to horrors within hospital corridors where one eventually becomes a siren of realisation while the other sounds bugles for the underhand violence that comes visiting ailing bodies and grieving lives, respectively.

An outcry, an outburst, a methodical confrontation with truth, an unresolved diagnosis of a murderer and the psychological precincts where tenderness and simmering angst coexist make this a chilling study. All of it inspired by a real-life case that’s stranger and thousand times more penetrating than fiction.



***

ELVIS(2022)



Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS is a veritable siren, a call for attention for a new generation that may think that Elvis has left the building. No Sir, he is right in the vicinity, in our hearts and conjured to life here to pluck out any semblance of a forgotten legacy.

The chop and slice tempo, the frenetic rhythms and mass adulation, the unforgettably sensual and slick live performances, the hand of management that toys with genius to serve its own means, the toll of being a worldwide phenomenon, a mother’s bright light, a conflicted man of true principle who transferred his R&B influences to power a cultural revolution, leaping into the interdependence of music and relationships untouched by race- they are all here. A life’s history of music is resurrected to capture the sweat, efforts and transcendence of showmanship unlike any other.

There’s the electrical component enshrined in Beale Street- a mecca for such enduring pioneers as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, B.B. King and Little Richard, all of whom influenced Elvis and were allies, injecting him with the harsh truth about those very racial and cultural facts he railed against. But most of all, it’s the music that stood out.



He railed like a mighty siren with the political force of his music, incorporating a protest song into a Christmas special, refusing to toe the line of conservative brigands by keeping up with his iconic moves, ushering in for his audiences gender fluidity, a physical freedom of movement and self-expression and nirvana unencumbered by societal norms. He hence is the siren who went out with an ‘Unchained Melody’ even as the world of opportunity and an unrealised global tour had eaten him alive.

His music was his detour from the norms, from the thorny paths of suppression and censure. From the forked bylanes of cultural expectations. That force to bury his detractors with his own free-will in his repertoire grounds this screenplay with all the musical predominance that makes Elvis a lodestar.

With profound moments that we have already committed to our vaults of memory, Austin Butler becomes his voice, soul and body, literally uniting the three to capture a spirit that found its calling in artistic upliftment.

This siren is breathless like the life it corresponds with so electrically. But it is also a sound of sombre recompense for a man of all seasons. Long live the actual King. Long live Butler’s glowing and beautifully realised tribute to him.

***

FUNDAMENTALLY HAPPY(2015)



Like 2008’s consistently compelling DOUBT, this screen treatment based on an award-winning play sounds a siren of confrontation for two people.

Joshua Lim and Adibah Noor let us view this reunion transform into something that evokes the classic and all-too human templates of pity and fear. They are evoked when the shroud of abuse that has gathered dust imprints its permanent pigments into shattered souls, when shame and guilt cannot be reconciled individually. Where the foundations of touch are so fundamentally complex that what separates or constitutes love from abuse is absolutely impossible to detect.

The dual interplay among these two individuals within the shadowy, trauma-lashed landscape of a home is heartbreaking, especially when the victim/survivor is shamed, his sexuality shifted according to the other’s own history of denial and the idea of forgetting becomes an escape. But forgetting and forgiving never become lived realities when the oppressors are so shadowy and elusive.

FUNDAMENTALLY HAPPY is a psychological exploration of trauma that is didactic when contrasting the local nature of law and order and religious diktats among a wider global purview but is realistically, universally cognisant of how abuse is rampant all around. Where boys fall as silent victims and carry the cross of guilt and shame, in a complex world which makes their ordeals a constant rigmarole.


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LIVE GLORY OF LIVING MUSICAL LEGENDS & AN ICON’S NEW LABOUR OF LOVE.

DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE’S A TUNNEL UNDER OCEAN BOULEVARD? by LANA DEL REY.

The ever-consummate artist brings her favoured piano notes, world-conquering melody to us through this latest song.

Sometimes, an artist is so consistent and her motif so characteristic of purity of the soul that we run out of words to describe each song-cycle she gives identity to. Lana is one such artist, making minimalism and the elemental quality of her voice her enduring traits. DID YOU KNOW……. further gives us proof about her living legend status, unraveling with the potential and bonds that lie underneath our mounds of layers as we navigate life in its constant churns. The tunnel is not just ‘tunnel vision’ per se but a more lucid exploration of the manner in which we can be nurtured so that we don’t have to wait for ‘my turn’ and be utterly singular in our pursuits of artistic truth, in a world sold to the devils of avarice and easy fame.


It’s beautiful, bountiful in its universality of lyrics. What is heartening to me is that she continues to make music that reaches for the constancy of melody and purity, proving all cynics wrong who feel that success can only come now by some sort of ideological compromise.

She is the poster-child of that oft-maligned and misunderstood word- AUTHENTICITY. This song is a new lodestar. Our lodestar before a new year comes into view.




***

LOVESONG & PICTURES OF YOU by THE CURE.

My love for THE CURE’s discography remains strong and steadfast. The ease of the guitars, the unpretentious simplicity of the vocals, touched by no technical adornments, and an instant appeal for the listener’s ears mark their trademark sound on PICTURES OF YOU and LOVESONG ( the latter has been covered by Adele on her landmark 21)

Listen to them with the  complementary benefit of the band’s excellent live performances of LOVESONG, BOYS DON’T CRY and JUST LIKE HEAVEN at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where it was inducted. You’ll come to cement the members’ legendary status by how effortlessly they rule the crowd, by just singing and being a committed musical unit. Vocalist Robert Smith makes it au natural.





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BRANDI CARLILE’S EVER-TRIUMPHANT PERFORMATIVE APTITUDE.


Brandi Carlile has remade herself as a bonafide musical powerhouse, who like Lana Del Rey, Adele, Maren Morris and few select names, delivers with her powers of songcraft, always stirring lyrics and authenticity of being.

They say, a good heart and commitment to one’s vocation doesn’t ever go unrewarded. Ms. Carlile has all those profound qualities that make her an artist before a star get amply highlighted on her recent live arc on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, often hailed as the holy grail to test one’s abilities in front of audiences. YOU AND ME ON THE ROCK featuring the soothing harmonies by LUCIUS and her classic THE STORY ruled our hearts, giving these singles more deserving ascent in popular culture.

For more live perfection from her and the band, watch her completely own every note on RIGHT ON TIME at Grammys 2022 or her SNL set with that latest cut and the roaring and flawless BROKEN HORSES ( the latter has scored nods in the Rock Category at the Grammys, 2023 while her album IN THESE SILENT DAYS and its corpus is spread out over Americana, Pop, Album berths).



Here’s to her thriving with her judiciously nurtured gifts.



***


JONI MITCHELL’S HISTORIC RETURN TO THE WORLD STAGE WITH LIVE RENDITIONS OF CLASSICS.

With a little help from friends, one can challenge mortal coils, the hard shell of artistic hiatus and heal physical limitations.

This is at the very heart of 2022’s greatest pop-culture miracle, in my estimation. Yes, it’s that moment where one of the greats, Joni Mitchell, took her stage at Newport Folk Festival after nearly fifty years and sang her eternal classics BOTH SIDES NOW, BIG YELLOW TAXI while also harnessing the guitar to give fans of multiple generations memories to cherish and preserve.

Buoyed by her good friend Brandi Carlile, Marcus Mumford and others, this is the return of the native to her original domicile- the world stage which makes her a lodestar for the ages.


For another instance of camaraderie and reminiscence, watch her Apple Music interview with none other than Sir Elton John.



***

MASHA’S THEME from ANNA KARENINA.

Tanishtha Chatterjee’s performative excellence is spread out over her national and international repertoire.

Her vocal skills on the Bengali lullaby MASHA’S THEME from ANNA KARENINA is another integral part of her legacy. As I belong to a Bengali heritage myself, the mother’s love for her child captured in this minute and a half capsule is heartwarming.



MUSIC TO GUIDE US AS THE DECEMBER CHILL SETS IN

JUST LIKE HEAVEN by THE CURE.

Good musicians always tend to grow on you. For someone like me who loves to revisit the classic template left behind by artists as they continue to contribute to the cultural canon, it’s a point of discerning the very best.

A LETTER TO ELISE began that journey with The Cure’s discography. Adding BOYS DON’T CRY and DISINTEGRATION to that list amplified my love for the sound and texture of music that’s definitively theirs.

Now JUST LIKE HEAVEN has deepened that bond with a style that’s full of admiration for the subject of one’s attention, a style that’s wonderfully youthful and celebratory of the swings in emotions that accompany our life-choices.




To further amplify the fact that there’s a reason why these classic acts endure, look no further than the latest live performance of this hit at the NME AWARDS, 2022. Robert Smith and company are in fine fettle here.

***

CAROLYN’S FINGERS & PEARLY DEWDROPS’ DROPS by COCTEAU TWINS.

The use of synths in terms of a continuum of sonic sensibilities along with Elisabeth Fraser’s lucid vocal turns has cemented Cocteau Twins as permanent fixtures in my playlist.

The benchmarks of illegible but enduring, pure vocal performances on HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS, CHERRY-COLOURED FUNK and PANDORA(FOR CINDY) gave this listener a key to unlock states of euphoria and joy that they occasion.





I’m glad then to be in thrall of the operatic style of singing employed most commendably on CAROLYN’S FINGERS and the gospel-tinged turn on PEARLY DEWDROPS’ DROPS. The enigmatic titles, the air of building an individualistic myth around these phrasings and textures are perfect for afficianados. We can imagine words in place of the free-flowing streams here or we can be immersed without a second thought in the bird-like feats of musical transference by Ms. Fraser.

I highly recommend this group to every discerning audiophile because it taps something elemental, pure in the very arena of art. That’s precious to me, mostly because the members are wonderful conjurers of aesthetics & sounds.

***

DEAR PRUDENCE by SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES.




Going further into the gifts of a classic group’s output, we have a Beatles cover by Siouxsie and the Banshees here.

DEAR PRUDENCE is originally gentle as a breeze and primarily acoustic, a most intimate number to be savoured with a delicate ear attuned to its melodic cadences.

In this other iteration, the rhythmic use of the guitars, drums and  general ’80s sound evokes a stark, resigned aura in the form of Siouxsie Sioux’s vocals. There is no overreaching, no unnecessary flourish and that way the simplicity of the original tune remains intact. It’s a good addition to the group’s songcraft after HALLOWEEN and SPELLBOUND.

***



SAY YOU, SAY ME by LIONEL RICHIE.





I had listened to Lionel Richie’s SAY YOU, SAY ME many times before and felt it was another overrated ’80s song that was a little too conventional in structure and composition. Richie’s voice was nevertheless his own instrument evincing gentle, practical charm.

Now having returned to it in recent days many times over, I find it quite an impressive melody, written with heart and sensitivity. That sudden change in tone in the second half is abrupt and largely forgettable but the use of piano evokes the smooth as butter ethos of HELLO, PENNY LOVER and ENDLESS LOVE, gems from Mr. Richie’s oeuvre.

The piano, synths and echo of the vocals get more affecting so give this one a chance. It will definitely grow on you. It was also recently performed at the American Music Awards where the legendary singer was feted with a Lifetime Achievement honour. Reason enough to dive into his discography all over again. Reason enough to be sure that a classic treasure trove hardly goes out of rotation.

***

TRACES OF YOU by ANOUSHKA SHANKAR.


Anoushka Shankar is another illustrious talent who makes me proud of being an Indian, by dint of her legacy and the singular manner in which she has enhanced the beauty of the sitar in the contemporary world.

Her module of fusing the classical purity of this always soul-stirring instrument with worthy collaborators on vocals is a gift, as with Alev Lenz on Bright Eyes, Shilpa Rao on Those Words, Udhero Na with Arooj Aftab and Traces of You with sister Norah Jones.

Traces of You has been a favourite for so many years that discovering other instrumental pieces from the epnoymously titled album is a soothing experience. MONSOON, INDIAN SUMMER and IN JYOTI’S NAME are highlights. They are showcases for her being a conscientious practitioner of the sitar and the way this instrument always creates a pleasant ambience in any given form.

MONSOON especially will evoke her father, Pandit Ravi Shankar’s Pather Panchali theme.


***

JAGGED LITTLE PILL & OTHER ALANIS MORISSETTE GEMS.



If anyone has forgotten what an album as iconic as JAGGED LITTLE PILL(1995) can do to an avid listener then just go back to it again and again. And Again. IRONIC, YOU OUGHTA KNOW, YOU LEARN, HAND IN MY POCKET and MARY JANE have been staples on my playlist since the last five years and counting. They hit one in the same way as the first time, with their impeccable production, lyrics, spunk and overall compositional coherence, taking rock guitars, exemplary use of bass and even the warmth of balladry as on the excellent, piano-backed, ever-poignant MARY JANE.



***



Apart from that consistently beloved album, UNINVITED, THANK YOU, two songs inspired by her trip to India, fill us up with their transcendental value in terms of the instrumentation used in the former and the joyous note of gratitude in multitudes that flow like nectar in the latter. UNINVITED is just spiritually uplifting, as much now as it was on the first listen back in 2016.

Which makes the power and compassion of the rock guitar-fuelled GUARDIAN more endearing in totality.


***

The carousel reaches her recent success with the release of songs like eternal favourite ABLAZE, the vulnerable SMILING and the bittersweet ode to camaraderie written in the pandemic era in I MISS THE BAND.

These are songs I’ve listened to over and over again and truth be told, their restorative agency is one for the ages. Alanis is a guardian and a champion of meaningful quests. We love her for her collective discography.



***

SONG TO THE SIREN by THIS MORTAL COIL.




Another instance of Cocteau Twins’ Elisabeth Fraser rising to the occasion with her voice arrives with SONG TO THE SIREN.

This time around, the words are clear and the somber mood, stately and majestically serene, is how one conjures a vision of nature in its unspoilt beauty. The tone is melancholic here but equally focused on the evolution that comes with time.

SONG TO THE SIREN is an ode, a dirge and a soul-stirrer, ghostly and yet life-affirming, befitting the invocation of the muse as per its title.




***

THE WORLD’S TOO MUCH WITH US

THE WONDER(2022)

It’s a cruel, passive world, so cold and unaffected towards our children’s suffering that imminent death becomes almost like a sideshow. Superstition and spiritual fraud plague our amoral consciousness when the inner chamber of the home is fraught with sexual dissipation towards the youngest.

A mediator and rehabilitator comes to separate the trifling halo of divine intervention from the actual history of this cold, cold open country.  Her natural instinct is to annihilate this insincere constituency assigned to her care and vigil with her firm belief in a steadfast rationale.

Sebastian Lelio’s THE WONDER breaks the fourth wall in its pursuit of truthful storytelling at the onset. But it has the wisdom to inform us consistently about the veracious tenacity of fiction drawing its utmost power from the duplicity of human motivations, especially when in the service of patriarchy that brands the life of a young, starving child as inconsequential. Her imminent death turns out to be a necessary exercise for absolving the sins of her family, namely her dead brother who gravely wronged her. The horror, hence as always, is in humanity playing God for concepts defying any moral logic.




If I continue to be haunted by this feat of intense storytelling then it’s because an elegy for the betrayal of childhood gets under our skin, by the cold open land and its bristling wind, by its suffocating indoor imagery and the stances and silent moments for the saviour here who, by dint of gender, knows a thing or two about the loss of innocence and the transience of life. By writer Emma Donoghue’s constant exploration of childhood and the female experience curtailed by forces and spaces governed immeasurably by patriarchy.  Florence Pugh, Kila Lord Cassidy make that specificity and universal location of facts possible. Ari Wegner’s cinematography creates an asphyxiating precedent for the emotions of repression here and the rankling centre along with the sighing in the restrained musical score suit the cold vibe. The fog of compromised faith and reason is consistent then.


Note how the conscientious nurse walks among the sparse country landscape and it gets seamlessly juxtaposed with the girl sleeping with her covers on, in her room. Images like this employ natural sounds and sights to make THE WONDER an indictment of society and its constant exploitation of one gender as also a tale rooted in historical precedents.

**

MY LEFT FOOT(1989)

In this cold, cruel world where any minor physical shortcoming can be stretched around our bodies as a handicap for life, just by the verbal disparaging even from our ‘loved ones’, it’s a privilege to have a mother like Mrs. Brown. A woman who knew what her son Christy was up against when a condition such as Cerebral Palsy wasn’t even known or articulated in the mainstream.

To her, he was the son who needed extra care and support to prevent the world from imprisoning him, in a society almost always preferring able-bodied men and masculine strength.

MY LEFT FOOT is the extraordinary story of the Browns, people so ordinary in terms of their small home, living spaces and finances and so overflowing with multiple family members that a passing thought of courage sounds out of the world. But adversity breeds counter-resilience. Ableism is never in a mother’s share of unconditional love. This beautifully portrayed life-story of the painter and author who inked his own legend with just one foot, beginning his journey with the word MOTHER chalked out on the floor, is enlightening.

Brenda Fricker, Hugh O’ Connor( as a young Christy) and Daniel Day Lewis
counter the world that cannot fully fathom Christy’s condition or his presence.



Fiona Shaw makes the other half who allows him the therapy to embrace himself but in turn is witness to real heartbreak.

***

QALA(2022)

Anvita Dutt has amassed a mastery in locating the universality of complex human relationships, set in past eras, since her auspicious debut with 2020’s BULBUL. She and her leading star Tripti Dimri return to form an alliance that explores the challenges of being women while being pulled back by forces of patriarchy that is internalised among mothers, among those who should naturally be allies but instead become lifelong detractors.  QALA is steeped in the same richness and veracity of period details, complex interrelationships and historical perspectives of gender issues as her debut.

But we must create an individual space for its profound psychological stakes. We must accomodate its appropriately paced and photographed recreation of the third and fourth decades of the 20th century where colonial legacy sits on the same throne as native cultural heritage. Where the verisimilitude of the interiors, lighting, mannerisms hardly mask human motivations existing since time immemorial. Temporal and spatial landscapes have a quaint way of transporting universal concerns across successive eras. A story like QALA uses as fodder familial legends and urban myths of personalities to break the illusion of perfect parental ties and artistic forebears. Things were always muddy, morally bankrupt even as immaculate outlines blinded us by nostalgia.



***



QALA is, to me, a gut-wrenching indictment of mental splinters that cannot be reconstituted to issue apologies for a past where childhoods inherit hate and the cold, cold cruelty of an adult world commissions guilt and shame for a lifetime. 

Go in for the period flourishes. Come back from it with an urgent thematic probing of mental health and loveless denuoements. Swastika Mukherjee and Tripti Dimri create that realistic reproduction of a mother-daughter matrix that is far from perfect and is toxic and damaging from the get-go while Babil Khan, in his foray into the inner world of a musician, captures his own father Irfan Khan’s immersive early part as a classical singer in Govind Nihalani’s DRISHTI.

I am haunted by the parental cruelty that is so realistically fleshed out here, a deconstruction of the mother figure independent of the halo we accord to them. If mental health needs to be further destigmatised then we should reevaluate the role of our guardians who don’t usually refrain from giving us our first, incurable scars by their misogyny and culturally sanctioned dominance.




***

THERE’S NOTHING BETTER THAN TAKING THE CLASSIC ROUTE-A NEW BATCH.

In January of this year itself, I devoted two essays to cover the wealth of classic television content that an exclusive channel on my cable operator had made available for discerning viewers. The pop culture aficionado that I was, I had instantly become a fan. Now almost two years since April, 2021 marked that betokened rendezvous, TATA PLAY HD has continued to gift me with heartwarming, funny, intense moments to fondly cherish.

In this new part before the end of 2022, I include few other standouts that made their way and charmed me.
Of course, I had always read and heard about these series but watching a title you had eagerly anticipated, in person, elicits an altogether different feeling of joy.

In no particular order, here they are.

***

CHEERS

Based mostly inside a Boston bar titled CHEERS, this comedic ensemble series is pure gold as it pitches the close-knit camaraderie among the employees and regular patrons against tensions from the outside world. In a nutshell, the snark, bite, topicality and earnestness of the everyday never goes out for a toss.

In the two seasons I’ve watched , it’s no wonder that along with the writing and timing of the comedy, the central ensemble is its heart and soul. Like all great cultural touchstones, the performers and characters become indistinguishable here. Be it the loveable, sweet to a fault and sometimes hopelessly naive Coach, the blow hot, blow cold nature of the accountant Norm who loves his pints of beer, the know-it-all mailman Cliff or the feisty and admirably independent waitress Carla, all score a place in our hearts. To me, Carla, played by Rhea Perlman, is a particular favourite.




**

Of course, CHEERS is anchored by Ted Danson’s charm and effortless screen presence as the titular bar’s young owner and former sportsman Sam. But its true trumpcard is in the form of Shelley Long’s Diane, an academic who begins to work here as a waitress and lets everyone learn a thing or two about themselves and the evolving zeitgeist with aplomb. She is supremely intelligent, grasping the nerves of a given situation and while she does give out an air of overconfidence, her brand of honesty usually triumphs. Long has exquisite timing, whether she’s learning an order by rote, delivering an empowering speech about the futility of beauty pageants, practically assessing a team’s chances of victory or calling out some of the patrons’ inherent homophobia. Her and Danson’s verbal fireworks stick the landing because he has much to undo in terms of his inherited biases while she has much to impart to him and his ilk. They are all well-meaning individuals at the end of the day. Together, they tide through the days.

Some fun is also to be had when Cliff’s knowledge rankles another visitor and comedic elements are mined from toxic masculinity tropes . Carla’s sudden pregnancy becomes another instance to balance the index between humour and emotions as this extended chosen family joins in the milestone and contributes to a welfare fund for her child. Supreme hilarity then ensues when her seemingly coy sister turns out to be a bolt out of the blue.

I loved watching CHEERS and the opening credits gives it an interesting historical perspective, of being a centuries-old establishment where a sense of community has always been nurtured. It helps that the men and the women are put on an equal footing in terms of opinions and on-screen content without condescending towards the latter or patronising the former.





****

ARE YOU BEING SERVED?

I remembered this British series, set within a departmental store, used to definitely air here on Indian cable when I was younger. That was just a random recollection.  So it was delightful to watch ARE YOU BEING SERVED?  as an adult.

Given the pithy nature of British formats, I was able to cover atleast three or four seasons and was bowled over by the wacky, genuinely laugh-out loud moments among the employees here comprising of people of all ages.

There’s the head manager who’s got a practical head to assess his staff and genuine concern for each member, the grand old man who owns the decades-old store and has lost none of his naughty charm, the former armyman Captain Peacock whose adherence to protocol is often at odds with the others, namely the flame-haired, middle-aged head of women’s section Mrs. Slocombe, her younger colleague, the veteran who’s been there since the store’s earliest days and the two fun-loving male buddies. John Inman and his iconic line, “are you free?” to rouse Mr. Grainger whenever he dozes off in the middle of a working day is unforgettable.




ARE YOU BEING SERVED? is the refrain used to interact with customers and everything from mannequins, new technologies, birthday celebrations, a dance rehearsal, staff reappraisals, fluctuating sales to the purchase of umbrellas and changing eras get expertly incorporated. All performers are spot-on and the maintenance of heirarchy within this miniature set-up is a telling commentary. 

Go watch it. Tongue-in-cheek and sometimes wildly double-entendre but always effortlessly entertaining, it is a comedic minefield that joins the ranks of other Brit classics like MIND YOUR LANGUAGE, YES, MINISTER and FAWLTY TOWERS.

***

COLUMBO

He’s not a dandyish presence on the lines of Poirot and Sherlock nor an unlikely mystery-solving wit like Jessica Fletcher. He’s COLUMBO, the closest to an everyman a detective can be. In Peter Falk’s wholly distinctive performance, the L.A. based man comes into his own. Like Mrs. Fletcher, he’s an entity created by an original team and not inspired by some literary source.

Oh, Mr. Falk. Looking back at the alchemy, mischief and irreverent styling of your act as a radio personality, in the underrated TUNE IN TOMORROW on the MGM channel years ago, I can proudly say you had made me a fan. That experience had very obviously then informed me of your class-act as Lieutenant Columbo.
So it’s a bonus to watch few episodes  from the first two seasons.




The deal here is that Columbo can seem so ordinary, so unobtrusive amidst the ritzy people with manipulation on their minds, whom he is to investigate, that it’s easy to see why they would take him for granted or visualise him as less than stellar in his work ethic. But he’s his own person: congenial, never truly aggressive, nosey, yes, intent on reiterating details and being verbal yet a first-rate observer of human foibles.

That is the beauty of his methodology as the criminal is already known to us ; the intrigue is in tracing the whole case with Columbo, back to its minute points. Atmospheric and utilising outdoor locations to their advantage, the hour and a half episodes take their time to look into the innards of these twisted minds, allowing Falk to work to his great strengths in the process. 

I also love it that such great talents as Ida Lupino( I also watched her wield  directorial duties on an episode of BEWITCHED on the same channel), ALL ABOUT EVE and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS star Anne Baxter, Leonard Nimoy as well as Steven Spielberg, bringing his usual gravitas as director of the pilot episode, round out a wholesome package for every aficionado.



Above all, it’s Mr. Falk to the rescue. What a man. What a singular way to interpret this lieutenant, making his trenchcoat and great discerning skills a showcase.

***

FAREWELL, MRS. FLETCHER

Finally, this post is to bid the original Jessica Fletcher aka Ms. Angela Lansbury a heartfelt farewell. You are gone but just like your iconic oeuvre on MURDER SHE WROTE permeates this writer’s treasure trove, so will it define every discerning viewer’s cultural benchmark.



Thank you for showing us the way of grace, dignity and ageless artistry.
This is also to remember her beloved co-star Ron Masak who so memorably essayed Sheriff Mort Metzger on the series; he passed away merely days after Ms. Lansbury. As I watch and then go back to their joint scenes, I am reminded of how goodwill translates to good company. These two have definitely rejoined their seats as friends and allies of a lifetime in the high heavens above.

***

MUSIC MAKES A MELANGE LIKE THIS ONE.

DISINTEGRATION & BOYS DON’T CRY by THE CURE.

A LETTER TO ELISE was my proper introduction to THE CURE’s catalogue last year, around the same period of October- November. In fact, Cocteau Twins, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds among others like The Verve and Bjork were part of the same ensemble of artists discovered by this audiophile.




It feels good then to have two of these numbers by THE CURE grace my recent playlist along with others by Cocteau Twins and Nick Cave, to mark a pattern of continuity. One of these is the punk-rock classic BOYS DON’T CRY, with its memorable guitar line its highlight. DISINTEGRATION is an expansive eight and a half minutes deep dive, complete with warm guitars, synths and drums. The instrumental dominance is appealing to me and I also love how Robert Smith’s vocals are not aiming for  perfection. Every voice has its own trademark and Smith’s lies in the lack of formality and grand technique. He is very natural in that regard and that’s why he is the perfect fit for these songs.








**

PANDORA ( FOR CINDY) by COCTEAU TWINS.

There’s something rightfully mystical about the illegible, incoherent lyrical properties of Cocteau Twins songs. I find that particularly uplifting because the vocals and musical blends are so seamless that reckoning with a recognisable lyrical set is never a priority.

HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS and CHERRY- COLOURED FUNK made that amply clear to me. Now, PANDORA ( FOR CINDY) is where that blend of mystery, beauty, pure musical resonances all come together.

Call it one palatable dream vision in the form of a five and a half minutes soundscape.









**

HALLOWEEN & SPELLBOUND by SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES.



This is one band that I really wanted to add to my playlist within 2022. I received that opportunity when two of its signature songs came my way vis a vis a Rolling Stones Magazine list of the best Goth songs. In fact, most of the new songs here are culled from that list as it gave me a further peek into the works of artists I had come to like over the past year and a half. 

HALLOWEEN has become one of my absolute favourites. It has got a vocal performance, lyrical interpretation by lead singer Siouxsie Sioux that’s very powerful, her crisp and yet earnest voice given greater flourish by the instrumental ensemble around her.

The same unforgettable core is present in SPELLBOUND, its bouncy rhythms and breathless energy buoyed by its catchy chorus,

“Following the footsteps
of a rag-doll dance

We are entranced.
Spellbound.”

More songs of this legendary band will sprout into the open for this listener. But these are the very best to start with.






***

RED RIGHT HAND by NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS.

Somehow, Nick Cave and his repertoire seems to find a way to expand its base in my playlist. WHERE THE WILD ROSES GROW, the sublime INTO MY ARMS and the beautifully twisted duet with PJ Harvey in the form of HENRY LEE were there, part of his 1990s portfolio.

This year, his musical scores for DAHMER and BLONDE offered me an insight into the recreated worlds of savagery and pathos these works wanted to salvage, for the victims of a serial killer and a media culture that breaks more than makes a superstar.

Darkness is not a viable human pursuit but we cannot ever escape its clutches. Mr. Cave understands that very well. So on RED RIGHT HAND, that restraint and slow-burning effect is in service of another sinister tale, of our inner demons that get manifested in the form of a metaphorical monster. Listen to how well he utilises his baritone to capture that spooky, sinister edge. The use of alarm bells also builds anticipation.



***

LISTEN by BEYONCE

With another record Grammy haul for the 2023 ceremony, Beyonce has proved her versatility and creative power is one for the ages.

Every now and then, however, we need to acknowledge her as the powerhouse balladeer she is, quite simply one of our very best. LISTEN off the DREAMGIRLS soundtrack is her at her most persuasive, empathetic and glorious, asking for the world to take judicious note of her gifts.

It’s a beautiful moment where the artist and individual become one, inseparable entity. More than the steady stream of accolades, it’s Beyonce’s voice that always stands tall. We need to remember that.





***


UDHERO NA by AROOJ AFTAB and ANUSHKA SHANKAR.



Two musicians from the subcontinent have done more to bring often disparate worlds together through  cultural footprints that cannot be erased by bigoted preliminaries.

What a wonder then that Arooj Aftab’s Sufiyana stylings and soulful meditations build up a sustained aura of thehraav( calm) on UDHERO NA, complemented by a kindred in sitar maestro Anushka Shankar. Grammy winners, these two are up for another Golden statuette for this timely collaboration. My fingers are crossed and more than the studio version, I recommend you listen to the seven minutes of transcendence that a live performance offers.

UDHERO NA is also a worthy follower to Ms. Aftab’s seminal breakthrough MOHABBAT. It’s hence heartening to listen to words we are familiar with reach and reverberate on world stages as these.  Fusion music delivered with a native sincerity is hard to find. These two pioneers are putting in the hard work to honour their legacies.







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FORGIVENESS, SEND MY LOVE TO JOHN and MINOR FEELINGS by RINA SAWAYAMA.



HOLD THE GIRL is Rina Sawayama’s sophomore success story and to still not have it on a Grammys nominee list is utterly disheartening.

The politics of determining success on awards ballot may continue to be muddled but for listeners invested in her musical evolution, it is another chance to resound the merits of the album.

Three other songs from the album apart from the five singles that I’ve already written about make it a winning streak for her. These are FORGIVENESS, MINOR FEELINGS and SEND MY LOVE TO JOHN. The first is an all-out belter from her part which sees a key change in the second half as also possesses a memorable chorus, something that anyone with half a singing voice will definitely want to sing along with while the second is the album’s prologue, a pithy but powerfully resonant declaration of catharsis that this set promises and delivers on.

SEND MY LOVE TO JOHN is finally a gentle, country ballad that aims to build bridges while acknowledging the roots of immigrant anxiety, parental distance and judgement,  religious diktats and failing to recognise true love owing to internalised homophobia.

It’s beautiful and a perfect way to recognise Rina’s evolving trajectory that can accommodate confidence, pathos and constructive statements seamlessly.












***

THE 30TH and TV by BILLIE EILISH


If there’s any further proof needed that Billie and Finneas are modern-day geniuses then these two new songs by this prolific team are a perfect showcase for their collective talents.

The state of the world, mortality, resignation and changing loyalties all get subsumed in the acoustic melodies here. They are earworms and mark a further frontier for Billie’s subdued vocals and mature handling of subject matter.