Georges Melies’ A TRIP TO THE MOON has been etched in my mind ever since a betokened Films and Literature paper at university opened up to me a world of creative pioneers.

This fifteen minutes short is one of the first efforts at developing a filmmaking idiom after the Lumiere brothers. The pithy runtime also caters to the audience’s penchant for discovering an art form in motion that was new and exciting. This is then a historical archive of the earliest imprints of 20th century, meant to educate and entertain our modern sense of wonder. Yes, there will always be naysayers who will discount this restored reprint as an unwieldy fossil. Just because they have been exposed to an advanced, sophisticated form of animation and science fiction today doesn’t mean the first advent, with its trappings of technology available at the time, is lesser or completely dispensible. Unfortunately, that’s the way culture gets its reception in the here and now.

For true cinephiles, the silent frames, comedic tone, theatricality, true to the form’s era-specific influence,  and stylistic imperfections of this film truly tip a hat to the child within all of us. It’s imbued with flights of whimsy and fancy without resorting to scientific precedents. The idea is to entertain with a madcap journey of how humans often trip on their feet despite their best intentions and willingly allow hubris to dictate their interactions with an extraterrestrial world. Yet, the design of the spaceship and crater-like surface of the moon are accurately presented while that iconic image of the spaceship landing on a grimacing moon is the stuff of legends, intimating us that human endeavours often end up breaking barriers of natural dispositions and expectations.  To even think of all this a good half a century before the space age is, in itself, revolutionary.

Martin Scorsese gave Mr. Melies'( played by the indispensable Ben Kingsley) spirit of innovation a lovely tribute in 2011’s HUGO. The painstaking craft behind the making of A TRIP TO THE MOON ended up enthralling us there. It’s then a positive coincidence that Mr. Scorsese’s own contributions in the restoration of an Iranian hidden gem CHESS OF THE WIND has led a cinephile like me to watch it and write about it, here below.

So, here’s to the spirit of revival and restoration in the realm of popular culture.



Sebastian Lelio’s quietly propulsive A FANTASTIC WOMAN is a work that informs us of how human advancements have only belittled our capacity for empathy for another fellow human being.

Marina’s journey here is not only of battling prejudices as a transwoman but of showcasing an inner peace and self-confidence with her identity dwindling in real time, around people who use the opportunity of her lover’s untimely death in her presence to bid for her failure. Daniela Vega catches hold of that not so rude awakening to present a series of interactions that really have no ranges or nuances other than being a reflection of a strictly heteronormative society.

Here is a citizen who is law and peace abiding but has to hold her breath as a cop, a doctor, her lover’s family members, even a female detective use their verbal indignities, sometimes laced with threatening hostility and at others tempered with faux concern, to attempt to show her place in society. Only the dead man’s brother truly upholds human dignity and decency, extending them towards her with genuine care.

Harking back to her former gender pronoun, name and identity, giving her an invasive strip search and disallowing her from attending her lover’s funeral and wake are part of her unraveling. Vega’s restraint is a reminder of these challenges she had internalised and was prepared for. Her grief then is often shortchanged by others for an interrogation of her real self or true intentions. In watching this, I often felt for those lovers and partners who are made to endure such an ordeal irrespective of gender affiliations. But this particular rendition is powerful precisely because it is implosive in its societal dissection of hate and opposition; individuals like Marina are not given the leeway to protest or be vocal about how they feel.

That surreal instance then of Marina engaging in a group dance and then being ushered upwards to the camera, like an aerial act, illustrates the real sense of freedom she perhaps feels innately but is denied because she is not alone in this world, she is among moral judges.

But her gentleness, endurance and grace, qualities which she doesn’t deserve to exhibit when all she should embody are anger and indignation given her situation presented here, become her talismans. Vega’s work is extraordinary here, transmitting her pain, joy, affinity with her lover and herself despite the odds directly to us, with the psychological and physical, reel and real marks visible.

Also given that it’s directed by Sebastian Lelio whose GLORIA BELL was my first foray into his world of filmmaking, I could draw similarities between several tense exchanges occuring in parking lots and apartment flats as well as music becoming an outlet for self – expression. Here, Marina is a singer at a club, trains for an operatic rendition and plays Aretha Franklin’s NATURAL WOMAN on the car stereo before meeting with another woman who doesn’t remotely approve of her.
Finally, the image of Iguazu Falls here in the beginning ties it in with another queer classic, Wong Kar Wai’s HAPPY TOGETHER.



This lost Iranian feature was restored and exhibited globally courtesy Martin Scorsese’s world cinema project. To this cinephile, CHESS OF THE WIND is as universal as it comes.

The fact that it was banned in its native country upon release and still cannot enjoy full screenings given  the cultural lexicon of repressive silence and authorised conservatism speaks volumes about how its own individual story needs to be opened up to discerning audiences. I would reiterate that in its thrust on profits and losses, property and jewels, inheritance and backstabbings, an universal sense of avirice overriding human interactions and familial infighting is instantly relatable. That way, it’s a familiar yarn.

Let me say that in CHESS OF THE WIND, there is a Shakespearean sense of intrigue where mutual hatred leads to murder. The grisly undertakings that make it especially hypnotic beyond the forty minutes mark and the moral comeuppance saddled with poison tinges of guilt and mental troughs are very much in the same brooding fashion as Macbeth and Hamlet. Cue the central male antagonist’s murder at the time of offering prayers and the latter work by the Bard immediately springs to mind.

Here, the production design and lighting are primary characteristics, integral to the mis-en-scene. Atmospherics of doom prevail.
As does the social commentary. Of note are three scenes where chatter at the back of the mansion finds women servants washing clothes at the fountain. They provide a requisite context to the upper echelons’ mystery and debauchery, their commentary shedding light on home truths and class structures.

More than these were individual scenes that stayed with me. The leading female protagonist who is wheelchair bound and her maid’s interpersonal intimacy has prominent erotic impulses. I could almost hark back to Bergman’s CRIES AND WHISPERS in that regard though that was a tender, mutual bond which transcended a lot of the pain associated with one’s immobility.

The last half of the feature then is appropriately haunting, shot in a seedy orange light, and blurs lines between pure fact and fiction or the versions presented to us and couched as truth. For most of the runtime, the mansion’s ornate and impeccable interiors keep these people enslaved to opportunism and antagonistic tempers. Only to properly open up to the outside world in the closing moments as the camera captures the neighbourhood and skyline beyond.

The old lady servant and a child server are left as sole gatekeepers of a violent, suppressed legacy that they had witnessed first hand. That, to me, was strikingly haunting. As was Shohreh Aghdashloo’s young housekeeper retreating from the mansion in a black dress, contextualising ‘a woman walks home alone’ imagery in its open-ended delineation. The call to prayer or evening aazaan too makes it pertinent. This gothic tragedy, then, becomes an extension of the ways class heirarchies imprison us even as the lead players perish. Their deeds haunt history. And posterity.

CHESS OF THE WIND is effective on all those collective fronts.



You know a love affair with a particular era has translated to the next stage, that of a permanent state of swooning admiration where each beat, every lyric and chord change becomes a part of your existence. Music has an innate nature to make memories fonder and evolve into successive eras and generations as we mark our own sweet passages on this earthly plane.

For this writer and music afficianado, the 1980s continues to be that infectious discography for the ages where emotions soared higher than an eagle, lyrics truly gave us gooseflesh and vocal performances ensured a place in historic registers of popular culture. So even as I use the past tense referring to the point when the music came into heavy rotation, its influence is spontaneously addressed for the absolute present and eras to come.


To begin with, TAKE MY BREATH AWAY by BERLIN off 1986’s superhit TOP GUN soundtrack has always been an iconic and wholly original composition. Its arrangements, use of synths and above all the carefully written and delivered lyrics make it a winner. Also it’s just one of the most passionate declarations of the rolling and thunderous impact love of any sort can produce in us.

Speaking about duets next, UP WHERE WE BELONG off AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN soundtrack employs the delicacy and practical beats congruent with its lyrical elements to come up with an unforgettable melody, made sweeter by the talents of Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, the latter of whom has already placed herself in the pantheon of greats with her contribution to I’VE HAD THE TIME OF MY LIFE off DIRTY DANCING. Irene Cara is our next muse as her high-spirited jolt of living life to the fullest comes in handy for FAME and FLASHDANCE (WHAT A FEELING!); Oh, how I have loved the inspirational latter title for years and have recently warmed up to the former’s joie de vivre. The fact that many of these songs are from original movie soundtracks just tells us about the surplus of talent attached to them. 

Since I’ve talked about the abundance of open-hearted emotions in most of these songs, the ballads are exceptionally well-crafted. Be it HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO LIVE WITHOUT YOU? by Michael Bolton and THE POWER OF LOVE by Jennifer Rush, both of which have also received raw and beautiful covers by one of my favourites Laura Branigan, or ETERNAL FLAME by THE BANGLES. The acoustic value of this track and the layering of the vocals from velvety soft to falsettos is equally arresting as the melody, use of strings and harmonies.


The rock brigade then hops onto the stage as customary synths, drums and impactful guitars create the vulnerable and peerless template for bands like EUROPE vis a vis one of my all-time standards CARRIE, THE FINAL COUNTDOWN and HEART OF STONE. Then HEART takes us by storm with its excellent vocals and hall of fame benchmarks as ALONE, WHAT ABOUT LOVE? while making us go back to its ’70s catalogue and discover the greatest hits’ potency on BARRACUDA and CRAZY ON YOU.

And while DOUBLE VISION, FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME and URGENT are good introductions to FOREIGNER, the uplift that comes from I WANT TO KNOW WHAT LOVE IS is monumental, one of those songs that come within a lifetime to sweep us by its transcendental power. This song has done the same for me for over a decade and a half. The choral section, the lyrics, the pensive atmospherics and serenity it generates make it unforgettable. For once that last term fits an artistic creation ever so comfortably.

To top it off is the sensual use of guitars and vocals on I WANNA BE ADORED by THE STONE ROSES. Its central hook and instrumental prowess had me obsessed for many years and now to finally make it a part of my playlist means everything.

Last but not the least is the certifiably classic NOTHING’S GONNA STOP US NOW by STARSHIPS, written by songwriting champion Diane Warren, with vocals and a composition that will always remind us about why the 80s were best when it came to music.


But we take  few exceptions and include some benchmarks from the 90s as well. That roll of honour includes ROXETTE with IT MUST HAVE BEEN LOVE, again a personal favourite that was made ever so identifiable by featuring on PRETTY WOMAN. Tina Turner’s enduring appeal and powerhouse voice takes WHATEVER YOU WANT to the same dimension of ubiquity for this listener as her unshakeable discography that I keep quoting as one of its kind while I DON’T WANNA MISS A THING lets AEROSMITH rip into the very heart of the matter with Steven Tyler’s unbelievable performance and Diane Warren’s simple and effective words. It’s a true-blue blockbuster of a song, for sure.

Also I would be remiss to not include the pull of Donna Summer’s sustained notes and overall artistic beauty on DIM ALL THE LIGHTS as also its cover by Laura Branigan, both of which I thoroughly enjoy. 

Coming back to Ms. Branigan, l have to recommend all discerning listeners to be immersed in the profundity of her two ballads CRY WOLF and DIDN’T WE ALMOST WIN IT ALL, both of which I now deem as among her signatures because the melodies and singing are so vulnerable,  beautifully sincere and mature. Just like SHATTERED GLASS takes her peak 80s glory to its joyous pinnacle.


I close this essay by giving shout outs to three new tracks. SIDELINES by PHOEBE BRIDGERS is a hushed melody backed by piano notes, HOLD MY HAND by Lady Gaga recreates the 80s vibe for TOP GUN: MAVERICK’s original soundtrack while the fierce pounce of Demi Lovato’s rocker SKIN OF MY TEETH is a great addition to our current playlists. The latter especially reminded me of Hole’s CELEBRTITY SKIN.

So keep reading my pieces as more musical offerings come our way.  Remember, a good listener matters. So it is with music.



In the long tradition of epic filmmaking, predestination or an oracle-like destiny for heroic lead protagonists has been a common motif. DUNE doesn’t toy any differently from that formula. Its science fiction antecedents, in this book to screen transfer, is also something we have become immune to, over decades of experiencing larger than life spectacles, most of them merging camp aesthetics with multiplicities of fantasy within its umbrella masthead.

DUNE is mostly redeemed, inspite of those established points of deja vu, by its understated journey, a ponderous pace and screenplay that lets its characteristically male lead( an always beautiful Timothee Chalamet) to not indulge in much action skirmishes and instead use his mental acumen to traverse terrains and hold on to mortality with his mother( Rebecca Ferguson) in tow. Other senior members of his inner circle do his bidding in terms of their corporeal presence against intergalactic opponents. That includes formidable likes of Jason Momoa, Oscar Isaac and Josh Brolin. Also can we applaud the casting team for bringing Tim and Rebecca together as a familial unit here? Their features are so uncanny.

Of course, the vast and often unforgiving landscapes are captured efficiently, with its technical finesse in top form.  Maybe, for me, a lack of overwhelming inclination towards the fantasy genre limited my involvement in this case. But the muffled tones and customary epic duration of two and a half hours are all in service of a predictable payback.

The ethical dilemmas, ethnic and cultural homogeneity in terms of the costumes and looks on top of the political allegory vis a vis control of spices and capitalist critique are all right with me as is a very good performance from Sharon Duncan Brewster as a leader and saviour who is tasked with looking after the mother-son duo’s passage to the desert. Ultimately, this one is not really my cup of tea. The storytelling is a bit stifled here, focusing instead on the visual aspect overall.

Trust me when I say that these tentpole blockbusters do not serve anything resembling novelty now. DUNE is a part of that pantheon despite its best intentions.



Let’s just cancel out all the post-Oscar narratives around this feature. The ego of stars and their absurd tactics, employed towards internal feuds on a world stage, shouldn’t come in the way of this extraordinary story of resilience and resolve.

Directed with the same defiant energy that Mr. Richard Williams, father to Serena and Venus Williams, espoused all his life, this biographical retelling shows us that he didn’t care to court popularity or even diurnal favour with those in the sporting fraternity. All he really had his mind set to was ensuring his daughters transcended gender, race and the stereotypes of being from Compton to become tennis legends. Realising that dream with a roadmap paved with grit and courage for them marks some of the greatest portions of this screenplay. In the process, designing him as a real human being, not a fountainhead of empty virtue.

Will Smith is absolutely tenacious in his embodiment of a man who had endured abuse, racism and the denial of his sporting talents. But he didn’t let the bitterness percolate down to his daughters, offsetting his indomitable spirit with a quest for instilling in them the virtues of discipline, hard work and importance of education. Humility too as when he leaves his daughters in a store upon listening to them running down their defeated opponents casually after a successful tennis match. I admire him because he never defends his not so palatable attitudes and deems it a right to be vulnerable with his family members instead of just being a stoic, detached father figure.

As a sports film too, KING RICHARD draws from the joy of two legends being shaped by their parents’ coaching. Credit of utmost importance here is to be given to the equal contribution from Orocene Williams, the mother and practical head of this family, who intervenes and lets wisdom occupy every room she’s in when attitudes get a bit too much to bear. Aunjanue Ellis is dynamite, whether she’s calmly asking her troublemaking neighbour to get off her case or running down her husband for assuming himself to be a veritable ‘know it all’. Her training acumen is covered to fit in with this narrative where lost histories of the Williams family is retrieved.

It ends on a note of defeat on the field for the future legends but the recognition of greater glory for their abilities in years to come. That triumphant, unbending tone permeates a portrait of this family like few others.



Repression has many forms. Neglect, socially sanctioned and cruelly demarcated gender roles to condition that distance are just some of the many layers that are extant within a relationship. These further get another dimension when the natural world of same gender bonding alleviates losing grip on one’s desires and fills the gaping void.

Ismat Chugtai’s LIHAAF/ THE QUILT gave them all precedence over the silence of conservatism way back in the 1940s. This understated cinematic work juxtaposes Ms. Chugtai’s obscenity trial emanating from the book’s publication along with the flashback to her younger days with an aristocratic relative who was suppressed under veils of tradition, genteel society, a queer better half and physical wants beyond her reach. That the couple here indulges in more than stirrings of same-sex relationships, each individually, unveils further a commentary on how individual lives and niceties are misshapen by social diktats.

The issue of the begum’s quilt making shadows that make young Ismat cower in fear is just one of ‘the elephants in the room’ in this case.

Watch it for its provocative subject matter delivered with subtlety as also Tannishtha Chatterjee’s caustic presence as the high-spirited adult Chugtai.


HARRIET (2019)

Cynthia Erivo’s powerful performance as legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman breaks with many conventions. Kasi Lemmons’ direction draws from her mythical stature and gives her a spiritual edge that gradually ends up becoming coherent and consistent with her mission at hand. Her communion with God has an almost Christ-like purity, an intuitive sway over coming events that aids in rewriting her personal quest to overcome the tyranny of white supremacy. When she miraculously crosses the river, intimating us that some kind of divine intervention ensured the depth of the water came down, and leads other folks escaping the ravages of slavery, this writer gasped at the manner it is staged, a commonplace occurence laced with the extraordinary.

But HARRIET isn’t a victim of  mythmaking reserved for this titular icon. Her agency and agility is at par with her verbal certitude. Erivo’s expertise is in how she never becomes too big for her boots, leading from the front in her almost solitary quests to the South after escaping to a free North and appealing for others’ belief in what she deems as God’s guidance in her dangerous journeys. That single-minded zeal is always channelized for the greater good, never for self-aggrandizement. She is upright, earnest and goes against her frequently cited petite stature to show us what a big spirit truly means.

Incorporating Erivo’s melifluous voice as her calls meant to signal other folks of her proximity during her rescue missions, HARRIET gets the folkloric frisson of her legend right, not concerned merely with being on the side of fact or fiction alone. Which is why this screenplay becomes one of immersion in her worldviews.



An ode to the performativity of almost all of our lives in the public eye, this short by maverick filmmaker Andrew Ondrejcak is impeccably made. To any cinephile, it’s a love letter to cinematic history right from its beginnings to the present epoch.

Lingua Franca filmmaker- actor- writer Isabel Sandoval is the muse who inhabits diverse eras in the form of embodying Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Fonda ala Barbarella as well as the metaphysical nature of Tree of Life’s maternal figure and the anti-social protagonist of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The most alluring recreation remains that of Isabella Rosselini’s singer from Blue Velvet. The mystery of life is evident in the pithy dialogic presentations that go with the visual imagery. An attention to detail regarding each scenario and period appropriate ethos enhance its appeal.

THE ACTRESS ends with the literal sense of an actor’s preparation to essay a part converging with the ponderous nature of things seen, felt and experienced. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this five and a half minute capsule on MUBI.




Westerns, by their cinematic nature, have a slow burning agency which hasn’t become derivative to the present day; even though the templates of amorality and emotional recession always concur with explosive duels and mortal dangers on the frontier.

Which is why the sparse Western palette of Kelly Reichardt’s FIRST COW is a welcome change of pace. It is as gentle and refreshingly serene as the languidly flowing brook by the woods or the morning wind. Something hence unusually compassionate gets under our skin, producing a haunting quality to the bond of almost spiritual amity among two men who sell edible cakes for a modest living within the 19th Century ethos of  Oregon territory. This is a location that unfolds as a settlement and source of opportunity for these two quiet men.


As Orion Lee and John Magaro mould them, they become emotionally transparent vessels who imbibe the dangers associated with the titular animal. More than the mortal danger and class heirarchies, their looks convey more than a simple friendship or even a transactional one. It’s a life force that belies definitions or easy labels. Cue the second time that Magaro meets Lee at a bar, note his instant attraction to the man he once rescued from a near death experience in the wilds. He looks at him with admiration now that he’s well dressed, confident and remembers his old friend. It’s a curiously, transparently innocent look that recognises the idea of attraction within the same gender so beautifully without leaning over to anything resembling lust or extraneous agency.

This achievement of an intimacy borne from trust and camaraderie needs to be taken into cinematic account because that’s how often it is in real life. In a world of brutality and debauchery, the leads in FIRST COW give us a retrospective look into how men should be and were, numbered perhaps among the patriarchal system of living. Yet they prevailed.

By being united in their last moments, the two pals further counter the brutality and mortal dangers of a frontier tale with something tangible. Delicate. Real and enduring. A viewer’s characteristic patience will produce that effect.



Ingmar Bergman’s FACE TO FACE was to the manner born for this cinephile and writer. Suffering from troubling thoughts of bodily siege and experiencing two near traumatic encounters of a sexual kind, I was intrinsically drawn to the psychological depth that Liv Ullman brought to her part here. She plays a woman who’s professionally a successful psychiatrist. During the course of a summer where her immediate family members are out of town and she relocates to her grandparents’ apartment where she grew up, she unravels. The unfinished business regarding her childhood traumas involving parents’ untimely death and disciplinarian and emotional abuse by her grandmother finally catch up with her. A near sexual assault by two miscreants at her under construction house further trigger her.

Dream sequences invoke the depths of a lifetime’s burden.  She breaks down mentally, unable to bear that toll. Especially striking is when she imagines being physically mired by her patients, mirroring her anxieties regarding the job, and when she encounters her parents’ ghosts and the darkness of being silenced by her authoritative grandmother. This sequence and her visual of being clad in a crimson dress ala The Handmaid’s Tale was very striking, eerily reminding me of the suffocating nature of our subconscious finding an outlet in dreams.

The way her experience with the two men acutely make her shudder and yet seek an almost counteracting interest in being sexually aroused bring out the manner in which tears and horrid laughter mingle in her unraveling in the presence of another colleague. A tragic experience, when piled on top of an irreconcilable past, can do that, break the symmetry of one’s understanding of evading or wanting the forbidden. I can absolutely identify with that inexplicable feeling. It’s like the body reacts to danger sometimes as an incoming challenge. As if fear as an entity is being traded for a bold moral compass, seeking to identify the depths of one’s threshold for pain, by calling the perpetrators towards its easy target. It has happened to me over the past year especially, consonant with a deluge of daily verbal and sometimes physical abuse, dynamics within the home that I’ve faced as a young man over the longest stretch of time, making me often run towards a point where I want to be defiled in some way. As an asexual person, I have been able to evade absolute danger perhaps owing to that trait of my personality and my innate faith.


The reality then of being naturally aromantic, asexual and being almost at the receiving end of sexual advances and threat to the body from members of my own gender ( and no I’m not calling out any orientation here at all, just individual responses)  hence was the most debilitating blow to me. FACE TO FACE was the first time I felt seen. It felt real to then finally write down aspects about myself that I wouldn’t ever speak openly among mortals. But by being visually stirred by a respectable and dignified, no holds barred take on mental horrors invading one’s adult personality, I could air my thoughts. So I want to accord Ms. Ullman the highest regard because the way she handles the final stretch of her confessions, imploding within and exploding emotionally in her body and spirit, illustrates the most accurate representation of how I feel. Only I haven’t found a personal agent or friend to lend an ear to my ordeal which bears scars of a lifetime, like she does with her patient colleague.

FACE TO FACE is also a realistic portrayal of the way mental health professionals themselves go through dangerous motions. Maybe that’s why they can possess the ability to treat their patients effectively or maybe it’s a reverse form of therapy for their own unfinished pasts and experiences. Bless Mr. Bergman for always probing the human mind with such empathy and tact.

Of course, the pain never goes away. But the feeling of sharing one’s life script lessens the pull of the psychological noose. 



Kelly Reichardt’s minimalistic strokes of realism again occupy this list. This time, it’s courtesy the linear journey of the two titular women, one a human, the other a canine,  in her emotionally wrenching 2008 feature.

Stricken by the sticky end of financial misfortune, Wendy goes through what we may view as fairly common trials of being a have-not. Broken car, almost no money, no job at sight and dissociated from her cash-strapped family members who anyway don’t want to even entertain a phone call from her. That’s her profile.

Michelle Williams is a miracle of a performer because she lends it the gut-punch of a documentary and the emotional implosion of youth falling by the wayside in real time. Those are the qualities she shares with her selflessly empathetic director/ writer/ editor Reichardt. The latter has a way of focusing on her subjects with a sublime lens that uplifts them from the modern desert of generational stasis without losing track of the way society is mostly composed of these sundry strugglers. They make up the demographic that occupy her ecosystem.

In WENDY AND LUCY, I was reduced to tears at several points, most poignantly where Wendy doesn’t give up on finding her true best friend after losing her in an inopportune moment despite the fact that she herself has nothing to keep up with. Her ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Lucy’s well-being with her current owner just broke me completely.

This feature is like that, offering hope, strength of character in people and slim chances but a real possibility of general, day to day decency as Wendy finds in the elderly watchman and the automobile shop owner. She is stranded in a ghost town and maybe these three are the only living souls occupying the margins of a forgotten economy reeling from a recession.

Wendy’s powerful tale then isn’t about her destination or her prospect of finally mustering up the courage to go to Alaska as she had planned. It’s about the fact that she just doesn’t give up on her dream of reuniting with Lucy, her only soulmate, and earning her share through honest hard work. Her struggles make up her living reality. To me, Williams’ authentic to the core embodiment here is a welcome precursor to the widely appreciated ethos of NOMADLAND.



That Elisabeth Moss can conjure darkest passages of our own lived experiences through her committed, intensely riveting body of work has become an international fact.

THE INVISIBLE MAN takes the mantle forward after her stellar performances in such titles as TOP OF THE LAKE, MAD MEN and above all THE HANDMAID’S TALE.

What I truly appreciate about Leigh Whannell’s scripting and direction here is that he is able to conjoin his technical forces with Moss’ singular trajectory which actually exposes the social faultlines we are only too eager to overlook in the context of private, domestic spats. Until it snowballs into a terrifying reality, a habitual demonstration of gender disparity, a nightmare demographic going beyond statistics of domestic abuse.

The opening ten to fifteen minutes themselves ratchet a very urgent, choking sense of things to follow, in the way lead protagonist Cecilia escapes from her gilded prison shared with her billionaire partner ( Oliver Jackson Cohen)

The financial, emotional, even legal struggles portrayed here in the wake of her flight let us intrinsically grasp the interiority of gaslit women; women and individuals who have to relive the blunt force of trauma again and again, in order to make others believe their truth. It’s a particular aspect of THE INVISIBLE MAN that makes it go above the usual beats of a science fiction/ horror/ drama hybrid.

The dramatic stakes are real and nerve-racking. It’s how the psychological sense of horror comes into play effectively, making the invisible perpetrator a symbol and stand-in for the very roots of abuse and mental disintegration. Whannell and Moss thus enable this iteration of an H.G. Wells classic title to possess a contemporary appeal.


The psychological portrayal of horror, literal and metaphorical, is again embedded in stark, universal truths of gender relations and gaslighting in SHIRLEY.

First of all, the dynamics of a middle aged couple hosting a younger one at its home, within an university town, and the interpersonal tugs is like a contemporary take on Edward Albee’s play WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? Ditto the domestic sphere where love, lust, normalcy and sheer mental anarchy rule the roost.

Josephine Decker here ups the stakes by making real-life horror literature legend Shirley Jackson an intriguing personality who’s utterly bewitching even as her lack of social graces gut her within a hypocritical ethos. But she stands her ground, combating her own husband’s narrative doled out to others with insight into the very foundations of isolation for women, the ‘lost girls’ who never find allies. This parallel of observing and imbuing her writing with details collected from daily experiences is stirringly put to the screen along with her eventual camaraderie with the younger lady( Odessa Young)

Both become an unlikely pair, giving SHIRLEY a charge that electrifies with the sheer magnetism of their individual performances. But collectively, this pair dismantles the patriarchal codes around it to bring a sensual reckoning with the very core of womanhood. 

I highly recommend this one, in no small part because its music and cinematography too elevate the material.


My Essay on MAATI MAANAS has now graced THE KOLKATA ARTS

My essay on Mani Kaul’s excellent documentary MAATI MAANAS has now graced THE KOLKATA ARTS.

It gives me such pleasure to know that more discerning readers and viewers will rediscover this gem that truly attests to the beauty of Art.



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

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

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

A must watch.


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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



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

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

and hypocritical,
the people
and their receptions.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Thank God
you came.




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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


          HALL OF FAME


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

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

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


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

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



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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


Halle Berry Is A Knockout In Her Directorial Debut

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

Halle Berry Is A Knockout In Her Directorial Debut

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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