SUBLIMATION

I acted like I was possessed,
on the way to the dragon’s mouth.
They asked me to be committed to the one sedate sector I had made my own and hence I spit out the poison, straight from my gut.

I was handling the world and all the miscellaneous miseries of my existence spilled out of the little cotton bags I had stored with condiments of despair,
leaving them to dry out in the damp, moist spot behind the door and sprinkling them on my wounds everytime the end of the world was near sight,
the end accustomed to parental egos and sarcastic resolutions.

“ANGRY YOUNG MAN, settle down please to sweetness,
Listen to us, we think about your very best”
Then why this dutiful continuity in never having to read any of my works,
Or even bothering to turn around a page.
It’s worth nothing, the pulp and the paper,
the intellect and warmongering for recognition.

“HERE HE IS, the prodigal son, dutiful, bountiful, a little better looking than before and always concerned about filling water bottles, keeping clothes in shares, cleaning up the dust, running errands, running the office, writing on multiple media and yet taking out time to go for a brisk walk and checking the lights and their sleeping faces”
Prodigal, eh.
This callow is just too sensible, too alienated to think about a move to the outskirts or a green card.
He thinks a lot,
his furrow lines worsening and becoming coarse
He should have taken the psychological counseling instead, I say to my inner head soul.

Scream, be feral, shout at the family tree that presents itself as an Eden.
But. Yet.
But gagging my pain took a little longer for I had conquered my self hate and my self hood,
sublimating myself in the dwarfed inches below the head at the table and other assortment of faces and voices, with the white noise for melodies of assurances.

They sang and laughed,
I sang like a minstrel and gagged my inner voice like a beheaded antelope,
as he sat at my heel and attempted contact.
The natural world, for all its worth, still hummed and buzzed.

Till a giant agony the size of Awadh rose from the pit of my abdominal divisions and painted stricken lines of Picasso and Munch on my ebony set.
Everything is in the same place
Except my youth, more elusive than a Rosebud.
My gut has cleared up but my soul is a lake in the urban desert.

And so I growled, preparing to meet the rush hour traffic at nine, like the aggressive omnivore I had become
and picked membranes of concrete fingers and toes that had grown out of my feeble skin for four winters straight.
Sublimation, tis the solemn occasion.

Reins of a son
The thin shoulders now made stout by responsibilities, apportioned with neat shares.
The grass is greener on the oval ground, squared with too many key boxes to remember and drive ins.
Crickets sing and hum from way afar
and the wooden work tests my bones.
As for my intellect, it is lonely at the mid point,
Publications and posts all my own.
Not one look at my pampered papers, piles and reams of my words.

“WE’LL GET YOU TO THE PINNACLE,
YOUR WORDS ARE NOT JUST FOR SELF MEDITATION,
YOUR TIME WILL COME”
At 26, all I want are your hours for reading my writings and accepting your failures.
Admit it world and the frontrunners,
A race with commerce, economics and science would have balmed you all.
What’s to be made with mighty humanities?

My voice is hoarse, not a child’s, not a man’s but a Munch’s, that I know.
My inclination is towards warm skins and affectionate touches.

Sublimation, tis the occasion to apply monochrome to my existential angst,
Sublimation, I am your fruitful claimant, for now.
But what is sublimation?
If not the renunciation of youth,
by a soul yet to be uncouth.
Sublimation, tis the professed occasion for it.
*****

This poem primarily appears on my Wattpad poetry collection FRONTIERS and has been published here as well. It’s a deeply autobiographical work for me, primarily about a writer’s frustrations with an unfeeling, indifferent world, the refuge of so many poetic works.

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THE 2018 TABLEAU PART 6

These were cinematic works I had sought out to watch after a long spell of exhaustion owing to work and other commitments. I finally watched them in 2018 and they funneled real life experiences with acuity and multiplicity of concerns.

*****

Here they are, the trinity of works that had me hooked and emotionally engaged.

DARK PLACES(2015)

The eyes of Charlize Theron – possessing inner worlds of evil( SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN) , pain and despondence(THE BURNING PLAIN) , mythic strata( PROMETHEUS) , mainstream control( FAST AND THE FURIOUS 8), maniacal rage(MONSTER) , love like spring in peak season(SWEET NOVEMBER) and the thirst for vindication(NORTH COUNTRY) all embody the versatile actor’s life in images and the subtle panoramas of a multi dimensional soul. Here too in DARK PLACES , her blank slate is a microcosm of tragic personal histories multiplied over the years. That look is at us, a haunted mirror of ourselves.

An iron clad exterior is what she adopts to fend off a largely unfeeling world that voyeuristically consumes her life script thirty years down the the line and this hawk like precision is reflected in Lyle’s(Nicholas Hoult) fan club which ends up reopening Libby’s perspectives on the scope and truth of the true crime that she witnessed (or was privy to) as a mere eight year old. Her brother becomes embroiled in the ensuing fireball of identity crisis recalled again and again by newsreels and a flawed legal process. Nicholas Hoult is a fascinating presence and so are the pitch perfect renderings by Chloe Grace Moretz and one of my all time favorites Christina Hendricks.

DARK PLACES suggests an incentive for normalcy and the dark trail of crime as not the be all and end all of an individual life. Though the soul sapping trauma chips away one’s belief in stability, life has to be led with the same penchant for, well what else other than existence, morbid as the outcome is at the end of the day.

The subtle hints of a life painted in cold blood reaches the point of articulate unfolding in DARK PLACES .
For me, an America in crisis and the deep reaching tentacles of poverty, especially debilitating for single women in a patriarchal set up, is at the center of this screenplay , based on a book by Gillian Flynn . The generational count of rancid personal regression is hence haunting .

*****

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

The great Roger Ebert believed cinema to be an instrument generating empathy. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA dives deep into the true nature of melancholy, grief and a personal nature of sadness – separate as these emotions are by varying degrees – to generate empathy for those we pass by and overlook as nothing but common people.

This cinematic take on life in throes of a lull is also completely divested from the feral brand of raving and ranting that adults so often give in to. The pain here unfolds with silent obstinacy where alienation becomes the ultimate refuge of a janitor ( Casey Affleck, in an Oscar winning role) who is forced to grapple with his conscience after his beloved brother( Kyle Chandler) passes away and he is left to fend for his teenaged nephew (Lucas Hedges). Financial and emotional crunches aside, his haunting past has made him withdraw into a shell, a misanthrope who walks, talks and subsists on bare minimum like a ghost among flesh and blood humans.

Watch it to turn back a poignant page from his past, for the economy of expressions accorded to everybody, internalizing a legacy of pain, and the back and forth juxtaposition between what transpired then to the current paradigm. Michelle Williams again lingers in the undertow of the tale as a bruised and battered soul who is not above the decency to understand that grief made her weaponised words hurt her good natured husband; and we completely get the normalcy or the lack of it that the teenager attempts to broker but never achieves because he is suffering within. Lucas Hedges is quietly effective here.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA has a surface that is tidy, gleaming as per the natural beauty of the sorroundings in New England, USA. But the aftermath of loss is meditative, barely above a whisper like Casey’s voice ; heartbeats quicken with every moment and in its realism finds humanity in uncomfortable situations. Casey and Co is phenomenal here. To me, it’s a modern elegy on the ways men and women equally grapple with the turnarounds of life.

*****

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

This is one film that does not have a single concrete center and in lesser hands, that very center would not have been held together with the same finesse and stoke of creativity as in here. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS has a one size fits all thematic structure. It’s about the mental depletion associated with employment as in the nature of every job, the simultaneous pomposity and baselessness of the art world, a good man’s position in a putrid culture of masculinity, a cop’s moral quandary while delivering justice and the crime infested pockets that become hotspots of sexual violence against women.

Amy Adams is an art curator who receives her ex husband’s manuscript and as she reads it, she is deeply moved by the violence and poignancy of it all, like the simultaneity of her own field where both extremes converge. The tale of a mild mannered man whose family is overrun by a gang of hooligans and the night ends in mayhem of the worst kind along the stark stretch of the highway. She imagines the whole tale ( or we are shown in the recreation) with her former husband as the substitute for the stricken male protagonist who watches his wife and daughter taken down by those who have morally eviscerated him. Jake Gyllenhaal is absolutely riveting as the young man who is betrayed by the woman he loved in real life, owing to an inadequacy of ambition and ‘softness’ of being and in the tale within the tale he haunts our living, waking consciousness.

The issue of tainted ideology, materialism and a certain neccesity for extracting revenge in one’s own ways from those who wrong us and maintain a point of impunity about it all come barging into the center then. Michael Shannon as the cop and Aaron Taylor Johnson as the vile convict are excellent. Through the complexity of the tale wrought in print, the lady reflects on her marriage and the stakes that were always stacked up against her husband, she being implicit in his fall even though it is nothing like the murderous rampage in the book. The price of fiction also makes us wonder if the tale is the author’s true life account. So narratives within narratives, a film within a film emerge and this frame device is highly effective. Tom Ford’s frames are decidedly beautiful but the brutality of it all has a reptilian snare. Both clash and clang against a fevered mindscape.

I liked the employment of Jake as the protagonist of the novel’s recreation and the seamless transitions with past and present dynamics of former spouses. We certainly imagine those closest to us in the garbs of people we read about in fiction. It’s how the mind conjures visions. Images are important in NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. Ultimately, the emotional core sustains it. It’s an excellently calibrated representation of multiple voices mingling with good, evil and everything in between.

*****

THE 2018 TABLEAU – HALL OF FAME

Here I advance my caravan with writings on acclaimed and versatile works of years past that I had the profound opportunity to watch in 2018.

***

MONSTER’S BALL (2001)

MONSTER’S BALL is a human document of the highest caliber. I finally watched this immersive drama early last year and it left me with images of such humane power that they have been etched in my mind, fortunately forever.

It is about one man’s iron clad bigotry accumulated through will and history ( Peter Boyle), how its burden is wrought by his middle aged son (Billy Bob Thornton) who has simmers of racial hostility but has tempered it through tenderness and loyalty to his duty of preserving the dignity of death row inmates as a Corrections Officer in a prison while the youngest in the lineage ( the late great Heath Ledger) cuts off the poison ivy, that had been growing for generations, with a direct engagement with innate humanity. This trifecta of personal experiences and resistance to hate bind them both but a price has to be paid.

The legacy of loss is twofold for a woman ( Halle Berry) who has lost both husband and son in a culture where her skin colour does the bidding for her outcast status. But one act, one moment of solidarity and one single patient word is all it takes to know that our minds and hearts are clean and we can build up a community of support and constancy amid painful indoctrinations.

Monster’s Ball finds compassion for others and spotlights the nobility of our inner being with precision and memory’s worth of depth. It is about loss, love but is portrayed with the felicity of life itself. It told me that nothing can come in the way of our own evolutions. The cyclical nature of loneliness and mutual camaraderie between characters portrayed by Berry and Thornton finally posits it as a stroke of equality for the modern world. MONSTER’S Ball is a film but more than that it is the definition of humanity.

NOTE: this review by me appears originally on Google under audience reviews and my name PRITHVIJEET SINHA for MONSTER’S BALL everytime you search for it. The short review is reproduced here.

*****

A CONVERSATION WITH GREGORY PECK (1999)

The man of infinite grace that Mr. Peck is, this snapshot of his august years celebrates the eventful life and times of someone defined by humility by way of individuality and not just the icon he is.

This documentary is among a rare breed in that its subject himself relays life lived in all hues, mostly centering around the tenacity of family and acknowledgement of the chances he received to tell stories. He is unassuming and though it’s a given for someone who had touched his eighties, it shows that ego never drove the man.

Kudos to Barbara Kopple for presenting a truly intimate portrait and to the diverse library of Netflix. As a cineaste who imbibed the humanity of his performances in Roman Holiday and To Kill A Mockingbird recently, I am humbled rather than awed and that’s the simplicity the nineties had.

NOTE: this review was also originally on Google, written by me and appears under my name Prithvijeet Sinha for audience reviews everytime you search for A CONVERSATION WITH GREGORY PECK. It is reproduced here.

*****

THE 2018 TABLEAU – HALL OF FAME PART 2

This is another addition to acclaimed works of years past that I had the privilege of watching in 2018. Hopefully, for those who are uninitiated, this is an opportunity to spread the word about worthwhile cinematic approximations of life events.

***

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE(2007)

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE proves that my affinity for heart rending dramatic representations is an exercise in cathartis and sublimation of feelings that suffocate us all. Meaningful and full of human endeavour, it is measured, tactful and delineates adult loss as it is.

Halle Berry is an alchemist when it comes to conveying pathos in the minutiae of everyday gestures and Benicio Del Toro traverses the other side of the spectrum from his Oscar winning turn in Traffic as a drug addict scraping bottoms of the barrel. It is about the essential goodness in all people and those willing to go to extreme lengths to counter our darkest hours as kindred.

David Duchovny’s model citizen and family man, John Carroll Lynch’s compassionate characteristics, the role of a solicitous individual in Kelly(Alison Lohman) , a former addict who turned her life around and now looks out for Jerry ( del Toro) and the children, especially Harper, all make it a kaleidoscope of great profundity. It is as complex and striking as Berry’s very own Monster’s Ball. A perceptive and realistic reflection of human behavior, it is optimistic in its ultimate impact.

*****

**this was my original review of the film for Google and is reproduced here . It appears in the audience review section everytime you search for THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE and is under my name PRITHVIJEET SINHA .

THE 2018 TABLEAU PART 5.2

Continuing the medley of memorable works that gripped me, the caravan of my writings moves on with these following names from the mediums of cinema and television. United, their impact is more pronounced as the months progress.

*****

WILD WILD COUNTRY ( NETFLIX)

A friend of mine from college, who always swooned at the ideas of the great Indian/ global mystic Osho, made me privy to the varied possibilities of the man that was couched in years of enigma. Who knew NETFLIX would come to the rescue of discerning intellects and sate our hunger to know more about Bhagwan Rajneesh’s collective snare?

WILD WILD COUNTRY is a six part documentary that takes no sides in delineating the minute inner world of an alternative spiritual movement as it emerged out of mid 20th century psychedelia and a generation’s tilt towards Eastern philosophies. Born in Bombay and Pune, the Osho mania then was supplanted in the 80s to a remote location in Oregon, USA which became the fabled Rajneeshpuram . There was no looking back for the community. Or so it seemed.

The movement as cult or vice versa is as difficult to comprehend here as a separation between the two. These six episodes are armed with the juiciest of details, half of which had been buried within archival vaults, following a huge setback to the supposed paradise and hence each and every perspective counts. So at one moment you marvel at the communal spirit of the Rajneeshees ( disciples of Rajneesh) who built Rajneeshpuram from the ground and transformed it into a thriving, bustling kaleidoscope of enlightenment, drawing foreigners like bees to honey. It was a phenomenon indeed. But then the flip side emerges and keeps getting murkier legally, personally and most importantly on a moral plane. Our loyalties are tested as viewers and this roller coaster ride keeps us guessing the nature of absolute truth. The clash between a meagre local population of Oregon and the Rajneeshees is the stuff of inverted myth or xenophobic tempers all at once.

Expertly directed, the one quicksilver figure who emerges as a frontrunner for our attention is the organisation’s head MA ANAND SHEELA. Her inimitable presence, in the past and present, and meant to linger in our conscience points at the very inscrutable traction of humanity. At the end of it all, WILD WILD COUNTRY unveils a whole new paradigm for non fiction programming, further reviving interest in the world of Osho / Rajneesh whose publications still capture popular imagination next to none. The enigma is captured in all its glorious continuum, whether we choose one side or remain neutral. Or affixed. It will be hard keeping one track after viewing this excellent, cerebral exercise in the art of multiple narratives.

***

RELATABLE (NETFLIX)

My sister swears by her. The eternal

livewire that is ELLEN DEGENERES. Like millions of her acolytes, I, too, am always looking to be inspired by her joyous center in the brightly lit studio from where she transmits her show worldwide. That glint of her sorroundings and the perpetual cheery audience has become legendary plus her hosting gigs at the Oscars are to lap up.

RELATABLE, her solo stand up special, comes after her last one in 2003, a year when I was too young to know the very nature of STAND UP or TALK SHOWS. Of course, in India, we had the one and only SIMI GAREWAL with her eponymous show that became the gold standard of interactive class for all times. But coming back to RELATABLE, it came at a time when I struggled each day to beat down negative tendencies that were gnawing at me. So I finally chose one late weeknight to watch this hour and a half special from Ellen and smiles decked those hours and in turn gave me a reason to believe in the simple pleasures of laughter.

In RELATABLE, Ellen, with her trademark naughty glint in the eye, observes, parodies her own personal shares and evinces that child like quality every comic legend has to the bone. She was always a comedian first and foremost. Here she spreads the cheer and if I may say so , I would love to see her live someday, with my sister in tow. I think that will be a priceless moment as it has always been about her connect with an immediate audience and the omnipresent ones ( that is extending to television watchers and those who tune in to online platforms) For now, she will be serenading us weekly with her show and this special is an added bonanza. Her easy going wit is everything for me.

****

WHITE FANG (NETFLIX)

This Netflix original is a charming marvel proving why the animation sector is the most heartfelt canvas on which universal tales of ultimate goodwill converge and disseminate hope, even when the core is one of sadness.

LET’S FACE IT : ONLY GRACE AND FRANKIE CAN TICKLE OUR FUNNY BONES ( actually, I put up this picture by mistake and so this defensive line. I don’t know how to remove it) so that and a wholesome offering as WHITE FANG is ideal for those who like their entertainment in the good old style.

WHITE FANG is a tale of the eponymous wolf dog who watches a hunter kill his mother, is raised
by another surrogate figure and in a twist of fate, in which God’s creatures who cannot speak get caught in ever so often , experiences pangs of separation, survival of the fittest in the frigid wilderness, is schooled and raised by two kindly humans who are one with nature and faces the axis of life and death in the process of growing up, which, in the natural world, happens way too fast.

I’ll be honest: the sheer idea that humans separate animals and birds from their habitats and families and these innocent incarnations of God endure all that and more makes me misty eyed ; watching WHITE FANG, I couldn’t help from crying at the difficult journey for this young one. This is a tale where the world of speech and silence collides and good is pitted against evil. It’s gentle, unobtrusive, beautifully articulated in a painterly canvas for all ages, old fashioned in the best form; a vessel of humanity.
The heart of the tale is in the emotional investment we make and how the natural world is one where humans and animals live in unison as living ‘beings’ above all. We must pay heed to that everyday.

*****

A QUIET PLACE

Subsisting on bare minimals, foraging for food, looking out for one’s immediate circle of kindred and staying dead silent : these are the essentials of survival in the post apocalyptic America seen in A QUIET PLACE. For one loud sound can bring death swift as a gust of wind. This one and BIRDBOX will always be spoken of in the same breath as they share a basic premise.

But A QUIET PLACE is markedly different as it operates on absolute silences, down to the spare soundtrack, to show a family (EMILY BLUNT, MILLICENT SIMMONDS, NOAH JUPE AND JOHN KRASINSKI) in throes of an extraterrestrial force. They are insulated from the larger world and take us back to a rustic lifestyle and earliest models of existence where the way was through manual labour and of course a joint attuning to the natural order .

A QUIET PLACE is able to design some genuinely tense moments where the absence of speech invites an unparalleled sense of dread and the performances are uniformly compelling. It, to me, is also an allegory of the great migrant crisis in which scores of families are forced to go undercover to evade unseen dangers. By rallying together, they persist. The sound design further gets the heightened sensory attributes at the heart of this tale right. It’s a contemplative look at the lives many already lead.

***

BIRDBOX (NETFLIX)

This superhit Netflix feature is a thrilling conceptualization of the post apocalyptic embers of our civilization, that is fictionalized in the artistic realm to render our real life paranoias urgent. BIRDBOX goes into the entrails of a world where citizens are forced to blindfold themselves from an invisible entity that leads to a grave moment of fearful realization and then suicide.

I have seen it and it kept me invested throughout. The idea of navigating rife situations and physical challenges in the name of survival has become order of the day, what with natural disasters and man made wars occupying our mental berths at all times. In its own urgent manner, the world of darkness and subsequent courage sans vision and the idea of mental health in the way victims of the entity self harm came out as timely reminders from the script to me. Also the way it incorporates the heightened sensory attributes given the circumstances here is emotionally engaging, keeping us on our tenterhooks as possibility of death nips at the heels of all. The entity is never seen in full and a huge development never arrives. But the apprehension is gradually built up. A sense of loss pervades and then a zeal to rise against the strain.

A salient feature is the interpersonal bond that a select group of survivors share comprising of performers like DANIELLE MACDONALD, LIL REL HOWERY, JACKI WEAVER, TREVANTE RHODES, B. D WONG, JOHN MALKOVICH, ROSA SALAZAR and in a memorable cameo SARAH PAULSON. Above all are SANDRA BULLOCK and the kids who undertake a perilous journey down a river and follow their instincts to find a safe harbour. I can understand the challenge that befell them while shooting with a blindfold.
They rise to the challenge and make BIRDBOX worth the hype. Director Susanne Bier has another success story to her credit.

***

THE HANDMAID’S TALE ( SEASONS 1ST AND 2ND)

Mad Max : Fury Road (2015) gave us the first grimy taste of an apocalyptic patriarchy, as if the real world was any higher. There too, women were reproductive vessels till Furiosa( Charlize Theron) upended rules in the sun scorched purgatory.

Two years down the line, in a post Trump era, THE HANDMAID’S TALE(first and second seasons aired in 2017 and 2018 respectively, I saw it collectively in the past year ) reiterates the disparaging status quo governing our world, even if the setting is decidedly futuristic for the series . The truth of our world is stranger than fiction as we know it so this tale, which I had read about while studying the original source novel’s writer Margaret Atwood’s profile, is guaranteed to singe our souls more than ever. Actually, the future hardly tiptoes around what came before in our immediate present. Every contentious topical element of the here and now resonates in the expertly staged scenarios here and I’m proud to say that Elisabeth Moss has continued to champion scripts that dare to show blisters and scalded innards of our modern existence without flinching from the results. That flinching falls on our part and the internalization benumbs us owing to its approximation all around us. It personalizes and politicises current issues with a primary focus on the stature of women – hard working, career oriented, powerful in some cases and survivors of their present states – who are then inoculated against freedom and are sought as chattels.

Ultimately, in its battle hardened stance for championing equality and a collective of women upliftment, it finds astute performers who embody the whole and the micro. The anger, hurt, searing cries of the soul all come under one umbrella unit here in THE HANDMAID’S TALE. ( coincidentally, as I write this, the teaser trailer for its third season has just dropped)

***

A KID LIKE JAKE

This is one of the most practical, relatable cinematic examinations of real life to have come out in recent times. A KID LIKE JAKE is about the rat race that adults, as parents, inadvertently end up participating in and in no time pass on the mantle to their children, even before they hit kindergarten.

Getting into schools was so much easier and the meritocracy of our educational system was simpler, we say. How challenging has it become to get our wards into elite private schools. ELITE open to countless interpretations as it is. A modern, enlightened, well meaning and happy couple’s (Claire Danes and Jim Parsons) unraveling in the wake of their son’s admission trail tells us a lot about the fabric of reputation we seek from our earliest days, through society, through our parents and then peers. Individuality is lost and this couple too finds its longing for a stable beginning for the child receiving pressures all too familiar and in our face. The idea is compounded as A KID LIKE JAKE doesn’t remain a hollow title; the four year old’s gender roles become the bone of contention between those not parenting him, thereby affecting them. Can we just let him be? Watch the film to know the subtle treatment it espouses, evolving with the idea of how words are seldom enough to comfort us and can often hurt beyond repair. Its complexity is navigated with ease by the whole cast, including our very own Priyanka Chopra.

Our kids are our treasures and we must preserve their innocence, more so when they bloom with it. A KID LIKE JAKE looks for no quick fix solutions but in Silas Howard’s deft touch, it finds a tale of its times that thoroughly touches us in many ways, questioning the idea of gender fluidity and our modern posturings beyond lip service. Low key is the word. Hence it is highly effective.

**

This post also simultaneously appears on my WATTPAD profile, on my essay collection A LETTERED SOUL .

THE 2018 TABLEAU PART 5

These are further writings on the eclectic mix of works that I was lucky and glad to unearth from the immediate year that passed . Spread out over the last few months of 2018, they made me aware of the sprawling output the creative industry rolls out with such alacrity. Here they are in no particular order.

*****

ROMA( NETFLIX)

Alfonso Cuaron’s paean to the everyday and those who are content living on the frayed edges of personal histories, so much as popular consciousness, centralized the very humanity of every good soul committing to the mundane like a champion.

There is no false bravado or big statements on the surface here in ROMA yet in Cleo’s tale and of the family she looks out for as a housemaid( and surrogate mother figure), Cuaron honors the epic journeys we all undergo and in his nostalgic, sepia toned palette, the stark imagery fuses with the elements (earth, fire, water) to become symbolic of the way even a so called insignificant existence is transmuted through universal affiliation to love and a kind of sisterhood that women of two differing classes involuntarily heed to. Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira are au natural in this unforgettable collection of individual moments that is traced through the lens of present day remembering. Cuaron looks back at his own childhood here and the adult’s pragmatism shows the world as it was and still is.

CLEO, for me, is one of the many heartbeats of global cinema. Yalitza has a presence of calm and collected dignity that cuts across gender and class lines and lodges itself in the memory forever. I know that’s true for me.

*****

OUTLAW KING(NETFLIX)

The recreation of the life and times of Scottish ruler and enfant terrible ROBERT THE BRUCE ( a fine Chris Pine), who dared to initiate a strategic crusade against English overlords in the medieval epoch, is a finely layered representation of bare beginnings for a country and populace. In the Brexit era, it posits echoes of the uncertainty and many moral compasses that pointed towards dangers of decimation and death in the face of a righteous, well meaning uprising.

Director David Mckenzie gave it an epic sweep, savage primitivism of the setting without beautifying the edges and still mounted intimate moments of personal experiences for the king and those on his side while also plumbing the depths of Prince of Wales, Robert’s direct opponent, who’s a product of a skewed gender hegemony.

As for the rest, the cinematography, musical score, detailing and focus on historical authenticity was spot on while FLORENCE PUGH and AARON TAYLOR JOHNSON made the most out of one dimensional stereotypes with their interpretation and direction by Mckenzie. Above all, CHRIS PINE towered in this respectable cinematic traction of a historical life script. OUTLAW KING relayed the legend and myth with practical chops of storytelling.

*****

NAILED IT (NETFLIX)

Who said too many cooks spoilt the broth? Not if comedic icings decorated the most irreverent brand of unconventionality. The other side of MASTERCHEF, NAILED IT believes in the credo of try and try until you succeed and overturns the presumably highbrow concept of a soul kitchen, peppering the proceedings with an array of disaster artists – who attempt to recreate some of the greatest desserts ever.

Of course, the creme de la creme of the business are here as judges and overseers. However, instead of a straight face, they let it all go for a decisively funny, bonkers ride of kitchen fails ; take my word for it: putting that cherry on top of the cake looks like the most entertaining exercise ( and the most impossible to achieve )

NAILED IT, for me, is the most fun I’ve had in recent memory, less a competition and more of a trial run for aspiring bakers. It revels in its uninhibited livewire host Nicole and inherent sweetness of expert confectioner Jacques Torres. 2018 has seen three seasons already inclusive of a delightfully entertaining Christmas special.

Our verdict : it’s so novel, the next time your cake making ventures go downhill along with that undercooked dough and incomplete flavor, you will be reveling in the spirit of trying to go against the strain. It’s relentless fun and games, invoking the brio of a child at heart.

God knows we need laughter right now. The effort is truly what counts, along with some chocolate. After all, when it involves food, our interests are always piqued? NAILED IT will lift your spirits.

*****

THE ROMANOFFS (AMAZON PRIME)

Matthew Weiner’s personal vision after his historic ascent as writer and director with MAD MEN (2007-2015) was something to relish in THE ROMANOFFS where he fulfilled his double duties very well. This miniseries, about a group of disparate, globally scattered citizens with often spurious links to the erstwhile Romanov dynasty, was a distillation of our quest for privilege in a world that celebrates and denigrates elitism in equal measure. Here the personal halves of the larger whole occupied centrestage.

I’ll say it again : watching the eight part compendium was like reading a short story collection and I will not be surprised if a condensed screenplay /reworked draft was released as a book. Such was the novelistic technique in the storytelling, a polished, refined repository of people, places, affinities and life long bonds that were explored without the excess baggage of the royal lineage. This was particularly liberating as contemporary universality was ever the stakeholder in intimate dialogues of personal value in each relationship, tackling myriad hues of marriage ( THE ROYAL WE, EXPECTATIONS), filmmaking ( HOUSE OF SPECIAL PURPOSE), ropes of fact and fiction ( HIGH AND BRIGHT CIRCLE), medical malfeasance ( PANORAMA), parenthood ( in BRIGHT AND HIGH CIRCLE and most importantly in END OF THE LINE), heritage (THE VIOLET HOUR) and as in the last installment( THE ONE THAT HOLDS EVERYTHING) , a direct example of the pleasures of frame storytelling. It was a tale within the tale ensemble in this final episode, probing the essence of truth and marrying the contours of that entity with an Oliver Twist like melancholy, a commentary on alternate identities and the inestimable sting of lifelong bitterness.

Overall, THE ROMANOFFS was a pitch for the idea of finding a narrative and in its yen for rediscovering legacies, it sought the realism of the settings and performances, achieving them beautifully. A class apart is the term for it. Striking originality and humanism are hard to come by and both were hallmarks of this pleasing miniseries.

*****

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY?

The roots of conservatism are so deep, they have the power to outgrow modern, rational thoughts and gnaw at a youth’s future. Community is the vile force spreading its seed to one unit and soon enough love for one’s child gets chided by those buoyant forces and is overpowered by dangerous cultural precepts.

That’s the harrowing truth of Iram Haque’s own life that she brings to larger notice in the appropriately titled WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY? These are the lines we use to stifle our desires and shield ourselves from any turn towards the unconventional. The stakes are chilling here.

Its pivot is on a young, promising teenager who is the apple of her family’s eyes; one misunderstood action leads to doom for this Pakistani girl born and raised in Norway. She is packed off to her native land, tamed by those around her and yet her burgeoning sexuality and flight of freedom refuses to budge. This film explores how innocence is plundered, others’ unqualified opinions shape mindsets and repression makes way for more untoward passages for a young mind.

MARIA MOZHDAH makes an appropriate case for female dignity under siege as the lead while ADIL HUSSAIN and EKAVALLI KHANNA play her parents poised between offering love, clemency and unbending cultural fiats of their original land while enjoying stability in a foreign one. It’s a tale where humanity is not crushed so much as denied and echoes a subcontinental hypocrisy in passages of unpredictable mental horror for the young girl’s unraveling.

*****

GRACE AND FRANKIE ( NETFLIX, SEASONS 1-4)

For starters, I never looked at the protagonists from the prism of their age because this universally beloved comedy showed them with the foibles, fears, absurdities and adventures that would have suited any demographic. But I’ll agree, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin have experience and the kind of vintage charm that turns GRACE AND FRANKIE into comedic gold, mining laughs and heart from issues of middle age and upwards. After all, experience counts for a lot especially if your gifts of performance get highlighted better than ever before. That’s the case here.

From being dealt a bombshell by their husbands in their seventies to reframing the very idea of ‘late in bloom’ friendships and down to their business acumen and personal entanglements, the four seasons I watched in 2018 gave me endless joy while putting into the center a talented cast. Coming from FRIENDS creator and writer MARTHA KAUFMANN, the laughs are plenty and the realities of life bittersweet. It’s one for all ages. (By the way, season fifth has already premiered in January 2019 and I have seen the first two episodes)

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER is the enduring motto of GRACE AND FRANKIE. The earned chalk and cheese dynamic among the two is an added incentive.

******

SONI ( A NETFLIX ORIGINAL RELEASED IN 2019 OFFICIALLY )

Lord knows if the collective marshaling of Ivan Ayr’s direction and naturalism of leads GEETIKA VIDYA OHYLAN and SALONI BATRA, demonstrated in Neflix’s original Indian feature film SONI, will multiply their clout in the lop sided scenario we find our artistic fields in. But I’m praying for their continued presence for voices as original as these should not struggle anymore against the routine ballast of mediocrity wrought by the mainstream. Netflix has been a boon for voices as these and may this continue manifold. The film they topline has the same concerns in the premise.

SONI, properly released in 2019, after touring various festivals including the prestigious Venice Film Festival, is centered on the titular protagonist (Geetika), a young police officer with fire in the belly, and her senior ( Saloni). They have to wrestle with the frustrations, ennui and gendered hostilities of being cops in the notoriously sexist belt of Delhi and the National Capital Region. Their uniforms do not shield them from loutish behavior displayed on the streets of the city while on regular nightly vigils in various pockets, with the hot headed and tough as nails Soni using her physical prowess to bring them to book and getting the higher establishment’s reprimand for it. Her senior Kalpana tempers her position with an eye for the way our society pushes women to either be cowed down or raise hell, by hand or words. A female cop is no more the better for it in either cases. She understands the precipice at which Soni is pushed to on a regular basis and how her aggression is not without reason. She gets the axe for her flouting of protocols while the men, some of them flaunting positions in power, can get away easily.

Kalpana and Soni’s camaraderie and competence shows what females in uniform can accomplish without any overt push of the law. But the male dominated scenario or rather a lop sided system is so rampant that honesty is crushed and consumed by the way things have always been.

SONI looks at all of these with a realistic eye, uncompromisingly and the world of humanity is palpable amidst the challenges of field work, like the kindly elderly lady from the building who looks out for Soni after she comes home, having committed hours of night duty. The personal halves of both women is a picture of cloistered spaces where good intentions and concern coincide with ways of the world subscribed to all, blindly followed by each. But these two attempt to make things right by the conviction in their competence.

In the course of the film, young girls cross their paths, one being Kalpana’s niece who suffers humiliation by her classmates as she hits puberty, the other being a silent, shuddering teen who finds her way to the police station after being found in a mall’s parking space and another is a toddler who is witness to a scene of sexism at its worst. They each represent different stages of the female experience. Just like the fully adult women do too.

There’s a brilliant touch here in how a male subordinate addresses Kalpana as Sir instead of Ma’am, an example of the stringent gender codes we have fallen prey to and the appropriation common among the less educated in North India. This unintentional continuum is striking. SONI is masterfully adept at evincing such details. It’s powerful and quietly assured of its place, just like Kalpana and Soni.

******

THE USUAL SUSPECTS AMONG 2018’S MANY ORIGINAL WORKS RELEASED WORLDWIDE VIA NETFLIX

These are cinematic works that were theatrically released in the USA but distributed in several territories exclusively by the streaming giant and two of them (THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS and HOLD THE DARK) were originals from the behemoth. As an afficianado, the NETFLIX ORIGINAL title for all ensured quality above everything else and in the long run, the versatility on display quantified the liberal model helping many independently funded features in finding a footing, in regions where they were not released. I have written about these in previous blog posts so I need not elaborate. As a last resort, I mention them as honorable works of art that must be lapped up by many more.

*****

A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN comes first in its descent into the heart of darkness within a Thai prison and the British pugilist and drug addict lodged there who punches above his moral weight to find one thankless spot of redemption in a place teeming with codes and rules of its own. It’s also teeming with repressed humanity that bursts through the cracks and in the low key, naturalistic choice of execution, this real life tale finds a fitting approximation. Class, gender and the essential prison both build around us get examined in this haunting take culled from a memoir.

The heart of darkness pervades the spare, claustrophobic panoramas of HOLD THE DARK most fittingly , a naturalistic drama that draws from the frigid reserves of nature itself to blend myth with secretive facts of almost any and every backwater. The images have stayed with me, lingering like a hypnotic lull in which a wolf howl and piercing human look enter the soul and render it asunder. It’s a chilling dreamscape that comes to reality.

ANNIHILATION toplining Natalie Portman is a beast of another nature, fusing scientific fervour with an enigmatic, futuristic and probable riff on the origin of mankind, tracing it to the most fundamental nucleus of all: cells. The creeping sense of horror, discovery and incisive mythology of terrestrial life was credible to a t, coming from a filmmaker(Alex Garland) familiar with his own penchant for genesis for the future ( his first film was EX MACHINA) ANNIHILATION ultimately merits its slow burn and gets flexible by the final denouement.

*****

On the other hand lies THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS, criss crossing generational melancholy with worn out truths about suburban exhaustion, marriage, parenthood and the grasp of material comforts, with a cast that reflects all of them perfectly well. Last but not the least come REVENGE about a young woman eviscerating male ego with counter violence to boot and OPERATION FINALE that crests on the recreation of a mission by Mossad agents trying to capture one of Hitler’s last surviving handymen. Both are propulsive in their own ways and show curdled forces of explicit evil clashing with sudden bursts of internalized bedlam by the wronged.

*****

In the next post, more works will find pride of place.

THE ROMANOFFS FINAL EIGHTH EPISODE : OF THE TALES WE KNIT FROM MEMORY AND IMAGINATION

THE ONE THAT HOLDS EVERYTHING

Dramatis Personae :

Hugh Skinner as Simon.

Hera Hilmar as Ondine.

Ben Miles as George.

Adele Anderson as Candace.

Oliver Zetterstrom as young Simon.

Deirdre Mullins as Natalie.

Rebecca Root as Dana.

Christopher Goh as Christopher Ming.

Jing Lusi as Kiera Ming.

J J Field as Jack.

*****

As you, my readers, know I have devoted nearly a dozen blog posts on this amazingly original Amazon Prime miniseries that occupied my weekly imagination for two months, given its eight episode run. I relished each installment on the wide screens of my television and the visual panorama of this series befits that dimension. I am happy to say the images and narratives have lingered with me, always a sign that the artistic creation has managed to convey something meaningful, beyond the archetype of consuming them for momentary pleasure. THE ROMANOFFS is far more insightful than any average work and in its global character delves deep into intense, intimate experiences among adults.

Now, I have procrastinated on writing about the final episode so here I am, grasping the continuum of tales that emerged from a script where someone was descended from royalty but their place in the immediate present was all that mattered. The creators and writers ( most of them from the iconic crew of MAD MEN) made their presence felt with a mature, intriguing conceit and then building on it with extremely human tales of individuals whose desire for recognition and trappings of wealth never distanced us from their pursuits.

It was a worthwhile journey and the novelistic technique worked in its favor as each mini film, lasting 60 to 80 minutes, gave the impression of flipping through minute details and exactitude of short stories, with the eloquence of words finding a facsimile in the clarity of the images on screen.

I will write very briefly about the final episode because I want viewers to find its storytelling for themselves, as it handles its thrilling central idea of tales knit from memory and imagination in a frame narrative. The multiplicity of voices is intact and the strength of its compendium style finds fruition in a tale that takes place through many years. Condensed in its present form, THE ONE THAT HOLDS EVERYTHING finds the true pulse of storytelling, which is what THE ROMANOFFS is all about. The last bow, hence, is impactful in the best ways.

*****

In THE ONE THAT HOLDS EVERYTHING, we begin the multidimensional odyssey in the beautiful Grand Terminus of Paris where Jack( J J Field), a successful writer, arrives to board the train to London. This is shot with the same evocative sense of space and ethos by cinematographer Christopher Manley, with David Carbonara’s score punctuating the structure’s grand design and wondrous character. ( Both had been regular contributors on all seasons of MAD MEN too in their respective capacities) They trace this journey from the very word go.

In a series that has managed to make us privy to some truly remarkable locations and its own distinctive, sublime style , the camera manages to go inside the classical European space of this station. As Jack boards the train, he is seated next to Candace ( Adele Anderson), an enigmatic middle aged English lady who is particularly loquacious as opposed to Jack, a reserved young man who would rather read and mind his own business on this short journey. As an Indian, I instinctively understand that we are never accustomed to the idea of privacy, especially on train journeys where almost everyone is liable to start a conversation from scratch with absolute strangers. I guess it’s about the ubiquity of communication, that striking up a rapport on journeys is universal and not just relegated to a cultural preoccupation.

What I can say is that Candace, with her perpetual sly smile and fox like appearance, is not here for the sake of small talk and Jack, being the gentleman he is, obliges. The point that piques their common interest is the Romanoff history. As we will discover, relaying a story about someone she knew who hailed from the royal background on the part of Candace is offset by the fact that Jack has written a series on the dynasty, the fictional recreation of which occupied the brilliantly twisted third episode of this series HOUSE OF SPECIAL PURPOSE starring Christina Hendricks and Isabelle Huppert. He is oblivious of what the verbose stranger has to offer and she weighs in multiple stakes in a life script with many parallel lines. This ticks off the idea of the episodic title. The One That Holds Everything can be the narrator or the listener. Or the shifting stakes of the tale told and the reliability on facts or lack of it. Fact and fiction align with personal histories here and you need to watch it as three fold stories come from different perspectives of people, all somewhere connected to the other, the beginning, middle and end all positing an exciting epilogue about the art of storytelling. Candace begins it and then many narrators dive in. Jack is the passive listener who receives a monumental twist in the end, a sting in the tale that hits home for him and this mysterious bookend is like classic reading material ala Agatha Christie. You have to watch it to appreciate its multiplicity. The difference is in the realism and naturalistic approximation of intimate human bonds.

****

There’s the first part that deals with an adult Simon (Hugh Skinner) dealing with the life long pangs of a cold, dismissive father( THE CROWN ‘s Ben Miles) and a woman younger than him Ondine who has become his son’s stepmother( Hera Hilmar)

The quiet melancholy of parental neglect and the backlog of losing his beloved mother years ago as a child is there to haunt him every waking moment. I could relate to his pangs and the unwanted suffering thrust upon him since years past owing to a tragic familial foregrounding and a feeble father who’s blind love for the other woman leads to ultimate disintegration. Simon suffers silently, never able to rise above his station or situation, weighed down by his own inadequacy as a youngster and bearing a secret that directly implicates Ondine in the unraveling of his life, especially his mother’s untimely death.

The narrative then switches to Hong Kong where a heartbroken Simon finds financial stability in the booming Asian corporate echelons. What he finds is love and friendship with Christopher ( Christopher Goh), the kind that fills a void and alleviates his pain. However, Christopher soon gets engaged to be married and a rupture in this tender bond reveals societal hypocrisies that allow many to lead double lives. Christopher is willing to do that but Simon won’t. When overcome by another sad turning point, he discloses Christopher’s indiscretion from his bachelor party to his fiancĂ© Kiera (Jing Lusi) ; then the narrative shifts to the former. When confronted by her, Christopher blames it on Simon’s overwhelming sense of loss, deep friendship with him and the insecurity of his marriage affecting their amity. But more than these to save his skin, he reveals the intimate part of Simon’s childhood that he was made privy to.

Simon, the child ( Oliver Zetterstrom) then comes to the picture as his seemingly fraught family life implodes, even his beloved mother Natalie (Deirdre Mullins), who is shown as a Romanoff descendant, gets consumed by it and Ondine takes over, his once favourite babysitter whose passive cruelty, beauty and involvement with his father changes the scenario. From becoming a mute witness and sent to boarding school to years later relegated to the absolute sidelines, owing to the birth of his stepbrother who is showered all his parents’ love, his is the kind of melancholic lifescript life throws on unsuspecting few since a young age. I even found the younger Simon’s travails to be Dickension, as the child bears the weight of the world and cannot make sense of it all. The image of his burning home and his mother dying is haunting. The complexity of the seemingly civil, doting mother Ondine cuts deep too. We never really know the internalizations of evil in others. The mystery about her appearance at the time of the home being on fire haunts Simon forever.

What I liked is that even though Christopher operates out of fear of discovery by Kiera and preserves his duality (as Simon is true by disclosing his actions from the night of the party) , he somehow shares facts about the lifetime of alienation that has befallen Simon and in turn Kiera acknowledges that he has endured too much to let his friendship go. Maybe his love for Simon is preserved through this intimate recounting. But by Kiera saying Simon may love her fiance with a chuckle, the double edged mindsets come into play. Empathy, thus, is hard won and is seldom exercised with sincerity. Simon is essentially a loner.

To his painfully caustic reunion with a dying father, confrontation with Ondine, meeting with his grown up and intellectually sharp stepbrother to the sum of his life’s history coming to a moment of seeking self identity above everything , THE ONE THAT HOLDS EVERYTHING grasps his trajectory with empathy and does it without making it downright depressing, as the outline / content may suggest. The novelistic back and forth of perspectives keeps us guessing as to which parts are true and which pure fiction, suited to the narrator best. The standout is a scene of genuine camaraderie between Simon and Dana ( Rebecca Root), an acquaintance from a support group, and for the first time, seeds of change don’t really warrant a lack of independence for him. Identity is paramount here.

****

Ofcourse the progression returns to Candace and the volte face of the climax is effective. It’s sudden, unexpected and maintains the yen for versatile multiplicity that makes this last entry for the miniseries extremely watchable. It’s a contestable idea as to what transpires between Candace and Dana in the end on the train, in fact within the confines of their seats with neither moving away from it to facilitate any action. The muddled dynamics of bitterness lingers. The tenousnessness of truth as well lingers, never in one hands and often colored by personal agendas.

****

As is par for the course, THE ONE THAT HOLDS EVERYTHING is wonderfully performed and mounted on a technical scale including the costumes by Mad Men’s punctilious Janie Bryant.

It leaves us with the form of exciting storytelling shorn of excess and thriving with the verisimilitude of lived experiences, never mind the climactic U turn.

*****