TREASURE TROVE OF CINEMA : UMBARTHA /SUBAH (1982),JANAM (1985), MUDBOUND and OUR SOULS AT NIGHT (both released in 2017)

UMBARTHA /SUBAH (1982 )

This film is about duty, the ones we fulfill towards ourselves, to then contribute constructively to society. However, most of us have to answer to our immediate order’s beck and call and that sense of responsibility gets clouded by dog eared expectations. Dilemmas of making a change come visiting upon the protagonist in UMBARTHA (THRESHOLD, 1982) as she decides to heed to the call of her conscience and come out of the conformist, upper middle class values of her marital home. Crossing the threshold is one big task for women after marriage and motherhood. When it involves working far away from the family and child, a battle is pitched on lines of gender.

The great Smita Patil, in a role that was almost a heartfelt tribute to her own socialist mother’s contributions to society that stood for actions and not just lofty words, holds her ground, exhibiting a rare humane strength and simultaneous vulnerability. She arrives at an institution for women who have been discarded from society’s center owing to multiple reasons and is firmly enmeshed within their world. Actually, she is trying to carve out a path differently from her familial ethos that is ruled by a matriarch, where her daughter is showered with unconditional love by her sister and brother and law and where her own understanding husband remarks that she is wasting herself sitting at home . Yet she realizes that seeking work too is dictated by limits set by her immediate members. If she sought that for one of the several organisations headed by her cold and indifferent mother in law, it was permissible. That she is an adult and has to seek everybody’s approval for the otherwise noble task of overseeing a social institution as head warden tells us how women are still far from exercising their franchise. It is doubly relevant for our times where misogyny has made an edged comeback into the mainstream. As exhibited in a crucial scene where the other members of her family denounce a woman’s plea for redressal after she has suffered an assault, using it as a launchpad for casual humour, we see and feel her inner unraveling. It’s a reality so many women have to face. Her zeal to have an identity of her own gets strengthened. Her introverted sense of detachment and eventual distance is etched beautifully by the writing.

Ms. Patil’s looks hold the thrall of discovery, anxious foregroundings, pangs and the ultimate loneliness of a pioneering mind. Her eyes and facial mobility do the needful, conveying every quiver and sustained note perfectly. Even the songs in UMBARTHA, evoked in the background, capture her multifaceted aura as she leaves confines of home and transforms her worldview as a social worker overlooking a women’s institute. There is nothing high and mighty about it and Jabbar Patel’s deft direction attests to that nerve of realistic value system ingrained here.

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Privy to the life stories of the women, corruptions, complex social mores and the sheer apathy of higher authorities, the final stretch in UMBARTHA is heartbreaking. The open ended resolution betrays none of its realism or the lady’s sense of unfortunate displacement in this world. She has nothing to lose and though half of the female folk wouldn’t opt for such a fate, she does. Her determination to have a meaning in life is incremental to her self respect.

UMBARTHA, a Marathi feature( belonging to the Western Indian state of Maharashtra) , is also available in its simultaneous Hindi version titled SUBAH(MORNING) . It, along with Satyajit Ray’s MAHANAGAR /BIG CITY, remains to be one of the most stirring commentaries on the plights of married working women. Smita Patil is astounding in her breadth of humanity here.

THIS FILM IS AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE.

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JANAM(1985)

There are some untenable moral compasses lavished on some. Identity politics governed by social conformity trap them. What transpires often is that children always end up becoming grave sufferers in adult’s playpens in that a family structure seldom shields them from warring psyches among their first guides, i. e the parents. Mahesh Bhatt’s earnestly autobiographical JANAM(BIRTH, 1985) throws a timely light on some pivotal issues of the adult world. In Kumar Gaurav, the lead actor, a monotone of questions and unanswered replies is broached and his raw presence merits the storytelling. ANITA KANWAR and ANUPAM KHER are the entrapped souls who portray the very urgencies of lifelong persecution with grace. These two particularly specialized in essaying people older than themselves and not for a moment do we doubt their authenticity or commitment as the leading man’s parents.

The screenplay and its naturalistic design make it clear that this telefilm, released in 1985, is culled from somebody’s personal vault of memories. Each moment is hence earned, not for attracting eyeballs but for telling everybody that this is the fabric of the unit’s life that is being transported to screen. This is what they experienced. Our empathy is awakened because the translation is no nonsense.

If there is one unforgettable image from JANAM, it is this: the protagonist takes long walks in his trademark kurta pajamas, accompanied by the lilting, practical strains of ZINDAGI. It becomes a soundtrack to this aspiring film maker’s life whose lifelong prick has been the taint of illegitimacy and as an adult, his ‘rambling man’ ethos seems to be for an answer to his hotly contested identity, one imposed by his own bitterness and one in which his biological parents married each other in an austere ceremony without the presence of a social circle but opposition to this match had tarnished their bond as one beyond moral consideration.

AKASH KHURANA as the loyal friend weathering our lead’s complexities with a fierce support system , an always delightful SHERNAZ PATEL in her early film role as his life partner and even ILA ARUN as the father’s legitimate ‘married partner’ who spews poison against her better half’s first born are all tuned to the many layers of life as it turns and churns out self discovery in service to achieving our goals.

JANAM has anger in its rough stead and sensitively delineates its concerns. Mahesh Bhatt’s legendary confessional tone here is a gift to us.

THIS WORK IS AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE. I SAW IT A YEAR AGO ON AMAZON PRIME.

**

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

OUT SOULS AT NIGHT (2017)

I have a soft spot for this 2017 Netflix original film as it was the first major title that I watched on the streaming giant which hitherto I had not been privy to in terms of viewership. Of course since then the platform has allowed me to watch all the influential works I often write about here and bring out my inner cinephile in the process. Secondly, it’s directed by Indian / world cinema auteur RITESH BATRA who has importantly helmed his acclaimed labour of love THE LUNCHBOX. His trademarks of looking at people outside the stereotype of the youth demographic and sensitively elucidating inner lives defined by loneliness and then a transient joint pursuit of companionship are universal, also seen in his other works as THE SENSE OF AN ENDING (also released in 2017) and this year’s PHOTOGRAPH.

Jane Fonda and Robert Redford bring sparks to the screen while young star IAIN ARMITAGE( made popular by his stints on BIG LITTLE LIES and YOUNG SHELDON), MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS, PHYLLIS SOMERVILLE, BRUCE DERN and JUDY GREER are equally impressive. You have to watch it to be drawn to the very real dawn of one’s advanced years that OUR SOULS AT NIGHT, based on a novel, grasps. Having someone by our sides at any stage is more than enough. From its opening strains of music to the last Americana tune, this work is vivid, simple and unforgettable.

MUDBOUND (2017)

This DEE REES directorial and the novel by Hillary Jordan are touchstones I preserve as some of the most influential. I will not, however, elaborate on it as all my best thoughts on MUDBOUND find sanctuary in my poetry collection SALT OF THE EARTH on WATTPAD, in which I imagined the unravelings of each central personage with detail and the unsaid that spring from psychology and social conditionings, based solely on a single viewing of the film around November 2017( I read the novel this year) Such is its layered exploration of two families surviving onslaught of the elements and odious human natures in 1940s Mississippi.

Below is the link to my completed collection

https://www.wattpad.com/story/138220519?utm_medium=link&utm_content=story_info&utm_source=android

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It’s closely aligned to the way politics of race and personal developments play out in our world. The performances, direction and especially Rachel Morisson’s cinematography cover the intimate panorama of this wet, bleak, universal landscape of minds. MUDBOUND is about humanity expressed in the interiority of words, deeds and history.

Also, it was the first major breakthrough for Netflix at the awards circuit, especially earning Rachel a historic Oscar nod for cinematography and Mary J. Blige for Supporting Actress and Original song (Mighty River)

**

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CONTINGENCIES OCCASSIONED BY POPULAR CULTURE PART 3

These are important touchstones from the artistic realm that told me some grave, insatiable truths while also making me revel in others’ success. So here are the instances in which popular culture made me wiser and joyous, in this third part of an ongoing series.

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‘MEN WILL BE MEN’ REALITY IN ARTH

Acclaimed director Mahesh Bhatt’s career was carved out of certain unseemly truths that he had to endure and some bleak realities he himself was responsible for as an adult, more so as a married man. His personal repository of memories was, however, never as striking as on ARTH (MEANING, 1982) where his infidelity and the price of longing for reconciliation and eventual freedom for his wife upped the stakes in its no holds barred recreation on screen. It was a confessional and an ultimate feminist breakthrough as Pooja ( Shabana Azmi) finds that her individuality is more pronounced than being attached to her husband Inder’s( Kulbhushan Kharbanda) surname of Malhotra.

The film is important on that count as Pooja, orphaned earlier in life and raised in an orphanage, takes it upon herself to find work and the power to be separated from her once weeping, distraught self who begged the other woman, the popular cinema idol Kavita Sanyal ( Smita Patil) to leave her man as she had nobody to fill her void even as her own husband accepts it is his own frailty and has nothing to do with her. In our world, these are the trademarks peddled to pacify women on the verge and it’s a given that she will take the straying male back, one who has shared his body and mind with another person. That circulatory progression is heaped on her. The storytelling is realistic and nuanced here as none of the leads are presented as petty caricatures or of one archetype. They are all victims of conventions, be it Kavita who finds comfort in a married man’s arms as her mental debilities make it essential for her to have company for alleviating her fears while Inder, too, is ridden with guilt for trespassing his boundaries. Pooja, at one point, is humbled by seeing Kavita apologize to her and at the same time expressing her helplessness and desire for comeuppance as Pooja’s suffering has been compounded in her mind, haunting her and exacerbating her mental state of paranoia post their heated confrontation at a party where Inder openly walked in with her while the wife became a pitch dark patch in the background.

So Pooja is the vessel imbibing every little emotion, her own suffering fluctuating with the deep support from her best friends ( Gita and Siddharth Kak), a hostel mate’s eye opening unraveling and burgeoning love from an upcoming singer (Raj Kiran)

Her own life takes a new turn as she earns her financial independence, however modest it may be, taking the bold step to leave the home she had yearned for with her husband as it was never her own and was financed by the rich mistress ; additionally she decides to adopt her domestic help’s ( Rohini Hatrangadi) daughter and find the courage to illuminate another life without being trapped by her disappointments. A woman walks out from a bad relationship and hardly turns back, no matter how difficult the ensuing postscript is, as my mother always tells me and it should be for every self respecting individual. Her life comes full circle yet one last exchange with Inder posits the men will be men credo that we have been made to learn by rote. Inder is jilted by Kavita who sees him for his insincerity, is left by his friend Harish who never approved of his philandering and stood for Pooja and meets his soon to be ex wife . He wishes to come back. Pooja looks at him and bluntly asks him whether he would have forgiven her if she were in his place. He gives a smug smile and almost instantly says a ‘no’ ; Pooja, firm and unwavering, bids him goodbye, ushering in a wave of change for women who refuse to see the uncertainty of such worldly arrangements with men who have already tainted the honor and trust in a partnership and allowing a whole consciousness to strive for a brighter identity. The circle of life and its meanings enlighten her because she chooses to not be trampled upon as a victim.

That Mahesh Bhatt chose to highlight his own ilk’s dented mentality and turned it on its head was relevant then and is more than ever before in our present.

ARTH remains one of my go to guides on interpersonal relationships and the bond we need to broach with our self, with our own first names. It informed me that bottomless egos always reach a dead end and the world moves on.

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THE POET – FATHER IN VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

In the 2008 film VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, the two titular best friends ( Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johannson) arrive in Spain to be swept by the cult of personality around Juan Antonio ( Javier Bardem) and later his wife Maria Elena ( Penelope Cruz), both of whom possess a kindred spirit of tempestousness.

In the midst of this elegant exchange among people, who often hold themselves in high regard and weigh others on account of attractiveness, there is a little vignette where Juan visits his father, a humble artist who is poles apart from his unabashedly exhibitionist son. That distinction is clear in this scene. The most important aspect here as related by Juan to one of the two girls from the title is that his father is a poet and nurtures a great vocation but by not sharing his creations with the larger world, he marks his protest at people who consume art for the sake of it. By doing this, the man scuttles their artifice and swooning impermanence in his own individualistic way .

It is close to my heart because we writers are ultimately caught in a dilemma whether to showcase our art and exhibit it to a largely consumerist culture or keep creating in our private sanctuaries. It’s a matter of choice, I think and yet multiplying our voice is the best measure of success. In the old man’s predicament, I found an extension of my own complexity of the mind where few even care to look at my creations with discernment. For the rest, it’s a ‘I’ll read it soon’ sentiment of indifference. That is the kind of consciousness the poet hopes never impinges upon the purity of his craft. It’s an enduring statement within this enjoyable film that probes human nature.

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JOHN LEGEND IS A REINCARNATION OF NAT KING COLE.

You hear him, you see him belt out the most rousing melody with crystal clear enunciation, each word audible to the ear. As for his stage presence, well he is commanding and inspires swoons and gasps of joy, almost the kind of respect this generation doesn’t easily identify with. Once the gold standard of NAT KING COLE, a figure of supple charm for generations altogether down to the present era, that magical aura, according to me, now matches John Legend. After listening to his flawless delivery on ALL OF ME, one of my all time favourites, I was amazed at how his phrasing and emotional range seemed to be a modern day incarnation of Mr. Cole. The smoky, sensuous vocals and even his overall persona is on the same dignified wavelength.

It’s as if Mr. Cole left a profound part of himself in John. The piano playing being another similitude. It makes you believe in miracles and I always see Mr. Cole’s legacy continue with John’s continuous ascent. Also let not this take anything away from John Legend’s individual stamp as an artist. He is one of the very rare gentleman of our times. I hope that if ever a biography on Mr. Cole is made, he essays the legend.

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ADELE’S ROLLING IN THE DEEP AND HOW I HAD PREDICTED A PROFOUND CHURNING ON THE CULTURAL FIRMAMENT. ALAS! I WAS RIGHT.

I don’t need to describe or even begin with the untramelled good graces of one Adele Adkins. All I have to say is she marked a tectonic shift in popular culture, directing us towards the classical style of musical excellence that had gone missing in the millennial timeline. We yearned for rare artistry from a singular artist and since 2008 Adele, barely out of her teens, gave the world a benchmark of timelessness.

My own brush with her was in her breakthrough year of 2011. As soon as I heard ROLLING IN THE DEEP with its opening drums, bass and those extraordinary pitches, I instinctively knew it was going to be special. Yet I wondered if it will be one of the great cultural fixtures like many pop numbers go on to become readily. In my mind, she had heralded a new tide. Lo and behold! As the song and her whole album 21 broke every conceivable record, I was reassured, as if I had a direct stake in it and today I realize that a listener’s keen eye can actually hold the power to change others’ artistic fortunes. All we need is the discerning ear and eye along with a pure heart to encourage greatness.

ADELE’S ROLLING IN THE DEEP too made me a participant in her saga of musical riches.

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REVOLUTIONARY ROAD – ABOUT THE EXTINGUISHING OF MORTAL WISHES

I have already written three pivotal posts on this exemplary film here on my blog last year, during the earliest stages of building up my profile so I will cover no new ground this time around .

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008) is a deeply personal tale for me as it draws on these very visible impulses we observe in our families, among our parents who have to trudge lonely roads while raising us and maintain collective facades of predisposed unity even as their individualities seem to go in opposite directions. It congeals their inner passions and a lust for life paves the path for bitterness, complexities and a love- hate dynamic central to two people who have said ‘I dos’ for the long haul.

April and Frank Wheeler have none of their mutual love lost but they want to lead a more liberated life together, with their young children in tow away from a post war, suburban American stillwater. It’s a pact they make with each other and are happy to share that confidence as life partners. But others, others’ opinions, constant smirks and banter lead to a resolution that leads to the couple’s untimely rift, atleast in spirit.

The extinguishing of mortal desires is realized beautifully and poignantly in Sam Mendes’ film and as I have observed life from close quarters now, the outer realm of acquaintances and ‘friends’ usually influence our thinking, sometimes leading to a permanent crisis of confidence within one relationship shared by two. In this year, that realization of couples drifting apart after being together for almost half of a lifetime became an instant reality for me, propelled by the emotional gravitas of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and parallels in people I know intimately . It is a page torn out from the everyday cranks and frustrations in almost every home for which you don’t need a neutral perspective as the issues hit close to the bone.

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THE CINEMATIC COLLAGE PART 1

I share my thoughts here on some fine works highlighting the realistic alchemy of contemporary Indian cinema, with actor TANISHTHA CHATTERJEE, a rallying figure for quality over the years and one I hugely admire , featuring in all of them. It is a genuine treasure trove implying how much of the good work put forward by consummate artists needs to be discovered anew.

Read this and share your thoughts.

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ISLAND CITY(2016)

ISLAND CITY is about the warped and sometimes liberating ways in which technology controls us. The inertia of darkness as regards humans who are insulated and occupy micro worlds within MUMBAI, the maximum city, is the core function of this tripartite. They are all suppressed by certain standards of being, repressed by limited choices and really have no voice or even any given opportunity to speak out. AMRUTA SUBHASH as the housewife inured to mundanity, VINAY PATHAK as another cog in the wheel of a robotic corporate enterprise and TANISHTHA CHATTERJEE as a factory worker who is arrested by the inferiority complex of her skin colour are hemmed in by the ironic silences throbbing louder than what the big city syndrome of constant noise would have us believe.

The housewife and her family’s reverence for a soap opera and its parallels with her husband’s absence from home, the office employee’s day out as an incentive for his outstanding performance and the poor girl’s dreams being forecasted by a mysterious figure : these are not BLACK MIRROR like situations but the payoff in each of the three tales are threaded by a preceding emotional lacuna and the ending is not so much abrupt as much as a humane and in one instance grim portrayal of crushing everyday lives that go under the radar in the great Arabian saga of Bombay nagariya (city)

Uttara Baokar as the senior prefect of the home in the first tale is another winning aspect of ISLAND CITY that marks a first for its director. I could feel the drone of the everyday buzzing in these ultimately humane explorations of people who have lost the battle with other beings owing to social neglect and in the one alternative in virtual means find themselves an oasis to build up some foundation of self hood. Until it crumbles before its due date. Watch this one.

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PARCHED(2016)

The underage widow, the childless outcast, the woman of the night – three stereotypes that every backwater would be more than willing to exploit in a conservative hot-spot of male dominion. They appear not as statistics here. These are the crises that separate the three women and at the same time integrate them with their skewed social structure. Their present conditions are natural to them. The world weighs them in hypocritical equations, a strain that sometimes goes proportional to their bond.

Leena Yadav’s PARCHED, set in the deserts of Rajasthan, highlights ready reckoners from the stagnated center of this socio- cultural ethos, the pure facts that have received little to no traces of erasure in a contemporary fusion, within this Indian state frequented by the world for its mystic charm and folklores.

The circuitous journey continues with the widow’s son’s marriage at the threshold of early adolescence. His burgeoning agency and ego fueled by peer pressure creates a cesspool of continuum for her even further. It’s worse for her young ‘daughter in law’, barely in her teens and replays the cycle the groom’s mother herself must have gone through .

The three friends share joys, laughters and giggles as much as the collective defeat of self definition. They are individuals who have nowhere to go even though the world is more diverse and expansive than the desert that surrounds them. The heat and dust is as elemental as suppressed passions. Leena captures that beautifully. Tanishtha Chatterjee is, no doubt, like a modern day Renaissance artist ala Smita Patil. She knows how to inhabit worlds. Radhika Apte and Surveen Chawla ally with her profoundly.

But Sayani Gupta, in one pivotal scene, took my breath away, in the same poignant manner she did by pitching credible support to Jolly LLB as the pregnant, widowed wife of a slain man. PARCHED is as spare and unforgiving of rank truths as her fate here. The other three, still, stoke the fire of hope and personal fulfillment by their universal presence.

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CHAURANGA(2016) , ANGRY INDIAN GODDESSES, GAUR HARI DASTAN and UNINDIAN( all the latter three films released in 2015)

All the above mentioned films share the privilege of having TANISHTHA CHATTERJEE at their helm. These features, released in the calendar years of 2015 and 2016, are being included as they are criminally underrated and still not as critically underrepresented as one usually will assume ; thanks to exhibition on television and on such streaming platforms as Netflix and Amazon Prime besides winning accolades in multiple film festivals , they will be lapped up by cinephiles. For me, they are as distinctive per se and not because they have the arthouse / middle cinema tag attached to them. For me, every cinematic representation means engaging with different tones and textures, attempting to alight corners of human nature and sociological conditionings restricted to hypotheses as we are sometimes far removed from certain demanding, often diabolically tense situations.

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CHAURANGA ( FOUR COLOURS) deals with the internalized fallouts of class hierarchies , loss of innocence and sexual duplicities within a rustic North Indian setting, where even a blind, old priest is not above toeing those lines and reminisces about a bawdy song from a blockbuster he ‘watched’ in the village theater.

A pall of sustained, centuried doom is palpable for everyone and with stalwarts as Dhritiman Chatterjee, Sanjay Suri and the younger cast bringing their best to this drone of backwater secrets and hushed developments, CHAURANGA becomes a dispassionate study of rural exploitation. Tanishtha is at her very best as a woman from the lower rungs of this society who is a caring, concerned mother of two teens and a prisoner of a system in which she has to use her wiles and head to negotiate daily sustenance, fending off the upper class’ bottomless storehouse of lust and hypocrisies.

ANGRY INDIAN GODDESSES, on the other hand, finds her among a slew of females in an ensemble cast. These are childhood friends who gather for one of their own’s surprise wedding in the scenic getaway of Goa and watch their adult lives unravel. Past differences, burdens of sexuality, impaired marriages and some of the most common truths and can of worms pertaining to bonding within and among the same gender dynamic emerge.

ANGRY INDIAN GODDESSES is director Pan Nalin’s cohesive look at the snapshots and interactions from our day to day urban lives and in this estimation of a modern world, these vivacious women meet and lay their cards on the table. TANISHTHA headlines a poignant, radical revelation in the story while the likes of SANDHYA MRIDUL, SARAH JANE DIAS, RAJSHREE DESHPANDE, ANUSHKA MANCHANDA, AMRIT MAGHERA and others emit their insecurities, fears with utmost honesty. That it’s directed by a man in the most gender fluid yet specific manner, intertwining topicalities and tragic shades by the end, makes this charming, slice of life, conversational film, full of good and earnest moments, a must watch. There is nothing artificial about it. It is also shot beautifully.

Then comes UNINDIAN, an Australian – Indo production that stays true to the credo of cultural assimilation and its pitfalls among the diaspora, directed by someone who belongs to it. The grey area between that hyphenated existentialism is occupied by TANISHTHA here as she plays a single, divorced mother of one who falls in love with an Australian charmer played with efficacy by cricketing superstar Brett Lee. The clash of cultures is typical, glaring and predictable as it comes. But there are enough good moments in UNINDIAN benefiting from the leads’ partnership on screen and it is ultimately memorable as the momentum of its narrative absorbs some fundamental principles of the diaspora, wherein the value system is neither here or there. But the second and third generations can make a world of change. It is so here.

Finally there is the unhurried lyricism of the life of former freedom fighter GAUR HARI DAS that was brought to my notice with the film GAUR HARI DASTAN ( THE TALE OF GAUR HARI) subtitled as THE FREEDOM FILES.

VINAY PATHAK, once again like in ISLAND CITY, lays bare his soul, this time as a Gandhian for life for whom the ideal of patience and a complete disregard for cynicism reigns supreme, in a journey that takes him nearly thirty years to be recognized for his work in the Independence movement. Bureaucratic webs of apathy, political neglect for the true unsung heroes of our national identity, a common sense of disproportionate relationship with the past among youth and dissonance from his own son who believes he fought for nothing now that hardly anyone believes him, all of these and more fail to deter him.

He gets his recognition after years of being led from pillar to post, all for the sake of proving his identity. This includes his frugal lifestyle, simple ways, community building efforts and the long journey from suburban Dahisar to mainstream Bombay for his efforts, in the heyday of his august years. He perseveres and endures as much as his idol Gandhi.

In GAUR HARI DASTAN, truly a beautiful distillation of the lost art of humility especially among men, actor /director ANANT NARAYAN MAHADEVAN touches our hearts and with a gallery of fine performers as KONKONA SEN SHARMA, RANVIR SHOREY, ACHINT KAUR, VIKRAM GOKHALE, RAJIT KAPOOR, NEHA PENDSE and TANISHTHA, he includes a multiplicity of viewpoints and perspectives.

In the view of Independence Day falling on 15th August, we must watch it ; the irony being that like its subject, this film too needs worthwhile recognition than what it already has.

*****

ANDREA THOMPSON’S ESSAY FROM BALDER AND DASH IS A MUST READ.

https://www.rogerebert.com/balder-and-dash/who-tells-our-stories-gender-progress-behind-the-screen-is-reflected-on-it

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This is an excellent essay on the manner in which tales written by women, for women can make a far more progressive dent in a still male centric dominion and how change can only be wrought by representation behind and in front of the camera.

I appreciate Andrea Thompson, the writer, who already writes prolifically for CHICAGO INDEPENDENT FILM CRITICS CIRCLE and this essay graces the BALDER AND DASH segment on ROGER EBERT’s website and is full of examples of contemporary films making a difference in the service of bridging gender GAP, many of which I have watched . As for me, Mr. Ebert is one of my all time inspirations when it comes to writings on film. So put together, this is food for thought that has all the right notes for readers.

** the above photo is from the original article by the writer.

Above is the link( in blue) to the essay. So read it and share your thoughts. Also read other essays / articles by Ms. Andrea.

* this photo of the author Andrea Thompson is courtesy her website THE YOUNG FOLKS.

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CONTINGENCIES OCCASIONED BY POPULAR CULTURE PART 2

The following are other instances of how art imitated life and left this writer with potent estimations of truth. In the second part of a series I had started earlier , here are the important exemplars.

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THE CLIMACTIC MORAL/ IDEOLOGICAL HEART TO HEART IN AAKROSH

AAKROSH (RAGE, 1980) is an Indian cinematic touchstone owing to its distinct ability in expressing a voice for subalterns, a social heirarchy in which tribals from forested reserves occupy the farthest, lowest rung. In this stirring screenplay written by Vijay Tendulkar, a playwright first and foremost responsible for fronting an ideological torrent in his own right with each work he penned, the Govind Nihalani directorial looks at the dehumanisation of poor, hapless tribals who subsist on bare minimum and are duly exploited by anyone who accrues a higher rank than them. The value of simmering rage is in the brilliantly realised, silent, dialogue free world essayed legendarily by Om Puri as Bhiku whose wife Nagi ( the great Smita Patil espouses its screaming soul in a cameo) is brutally assaulted and then killed by local authorities. He is eventually jailed for the crime he didn’t commit.

The moral crux of the tale is in the dilemma of the lawyer ( the always brilliant Naseeruddin Shah) who represents Bhiku and in his client’s sustained silences and withdrawn demeanour, complete with bulging eyes always fixed to the ground, discovers depths to which none from the educated middle class ilk will ever dive into. He takes it upon himself to collude facts and painstakingly search for the truth, eventually uncovering the wordly police – politician nexus that becomes hell bent on torturing him psychologically with threats and fear of imminent violence, literally leaving him to cower like a prey taking cover from absolute beasts. He bumbles and trips, thinking of the inconsequential manner of waging a good fight in this backwater by the seaside.

In the final portion of the film, both Bhiku and Bhaskar, that is the righteous lawyer come to see the accumulated darkness of societal ills that have been persisting for centuries. Bhiku hacks his sister to death to save her from the clutches of leery men who wouldn’t bat an eyelid before handing her the same sentence as Nagi and Bhaskar witnesses that first hand along with the distressed, lonely tribal’s feral scream of anguish, a howl of repressed rage against the system for which he is nothing, not even part of a statistic.

Bhaskar then has a climactic conversation with his mentor and senior (Amrish Puri), a man who always went with the tide and had advised his protégé to stray clear from controversies and local factions, in other words take his duties not too seriously and definitely not in the vein of changing the world. Here Bhaskar confronts him with mechanics of the world people like the senior lawyer themselves have helped perpetuate. The ‘experienced’ man tells him that his own consciousness cannot alter entrenched beliefs or wrongdoings. The young man feels the weight of letting influential people of the town get away with murder and worse, with characteristic impunity. He cannot do anything alone, says his mentor. After this heart to heart, Bhaskar has the revelation that the detached sense of respect that one accords on seniors has to be discarded. Ambiguous as this journey to get Bhiku justice is, he walks out and declares his intent to do it alone, as the film ends with a freeze frame, the most effective form of an open ended conclusion. This act, to this writer, echoes the lines by Rabindranath Tagore, ‘EKLA CHOLO RE( YOU WALK ALONE)’

The irony is that the mentor himself belongs originally to the tribal classes but with education, professional success and clout among the majoritarian all male club has renounced his past and integrated himself with the higher life, practicing amorality that comes easy to many in the field of law and in general terms as well. It’s a bold statement on the stinging cumulative effect of counter hypocrisy from even within the set of people who have historically been subjugated .

Bhaskar’s struggle is one that almost every righteous individual, fighting for the cause of justice, has to mount against the odds stacked up against her/ him. AAKROSH sublimates that sense of outrage with the slow path towards realization. I am sure every crusader for truth will identify with Bhaskar especially given the final frames. It has stayed with me, haunting the very core of this writer who can feel the pain of those shunted out of the conversation whether by virtue of their status or by voicing out against prevailing norms.

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FATHER TO SON LEGACY IN ALBERT PINTO KO GUSSA KYU AATA HAI?

ALBERT PINTO KO GUSSA KYU AATA HAI ( WHY IS ALBERT PINTO ALWAYS ANGRY, 1980)? is another uncompromising take on the life of the titular protagonist and those around him, all hemmed in by their statures of belonging to the minority Christian community, the working class ethos that is unforgiving and the personal evolution of Albert. His anger is more for the everyday, expressed in fits of irritation on the way a post colonial, third world structure doesn’t justify his modest ambitions and informed largely by his belief that through his hard working ways ( he’s a sought after auto repair expert in a garage) and friendship with few upper class clients who trust him with their automobiles, he will get a breakthrough. Of course there is his sister ( the great Smita Patil again) who acts as a foil to his lofty estimations of others and even calls him out gently and firmly for his naiveté as gadha (donkey)

It’s a funny predicament where his naiveté and genuineness meld together but the earnest core of his personal station is shaken when he realizes his father, a factory worker and labour union leader, had been right all along for protesting against the apathetic, capitalist apparatus that treated men and machines in the same vein. Albert had railed against his father’s( Arvind Deshpande) ways earlier because to him those who were better off and held reins of the economy could not be such two faced louts, not above petty trickery to deny labourers, toiling day and night in the factory furnace, their due. But the truth is stark and visits to their homes reveals the deplorable conditions they live in. Do humans live like this, a senior lady asks him on one such visitation. Hence, the fire of protest gets stoked and the father to son legacy gets passed down. This dynamic of male bonding within a familial unit is oftentimes uneasy and fraught with generational differences of opinions yet a transition like this happens when ground realities beckon and the child puts her/himself in the parent’s shoes for the first time.

ALBERT PINTO KO GUSSA KYU AATA HAI does that wonderfully, maintaining a static funk and then building up to a resonant coda where actions get the better of our man in the title. To me, it is a realistic approximation of the ANGRY YOUNG MAN syndrome that swept the post 70s generation and is reminiscent of the literary efforts of John Osborne whose works like LOOK BACK IN ANGER delved into the same phenomena with acuity.

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BOMAN IRANI’S LEGACY IN LAKSHYA.

A similar arc is present in the epical tale of the protagonist at the heart of LAKSHYA ( AIM, 2004) who becomes a decorated army veteran at the height of the Indian Kargil War of 1998 – 1999 ( a feat that is celebrating its twentieth year and so feels extremely topical here)

THE difference being that the father ( BOMAN IRANI) is a rich businessman while the son ( HRITHIK ROSHAN) is a drifter, a classic man child who would rather watch JURASSIC PARK than aim for the future. This film lets us look at the other side of privilege as in a crucial scene, the father relays how as a teenager post the Indian subcontinent’s Partition into two halves, he had to make do with meagre jobs to bring food to the table for his family members and how that sense of responsibility and fear of stagnation drives him to work hard at sustaining his business. He started young while his son has the luxury to laze around. The underlying theme here is on taking responsibilities for one’s life or else time waits for no one.

It’s a powerful moment, a wake up call that involuntary serves to instill self enquiry in the protagonist and feels personally close to director Farhan Akhtar who, himself, didn’t know a career path in his early years. We often deem our parents to be insensitive towards our failures. Here, like so many instances of tough love, the father wishes to let his son realize that life is no bed of roses and that nothing by way of our actions comes without a consequence. That shot in the arm sentiment of patriotism within the film and personal awakening is informed greatly by this instance of honesty that still echoes in my mind.

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THE M. F HUSSAIN PAINTING THAT INSPIRED MY POEM GOODBYE AUTEUR.

MAQFOOL FIDA HUSSAIN SIR has always been an undying inspiration to me, with his distinctive brushstroke and use of colours.

Around the year 2015 when I began to compose poetry and self publish it courtesy the worldwide community Wattpad, one of my earliest poems was GOODBYE AUTEUR, written in the wake of his death. His iconic painting on MOTHER TERESA was the trigger point that allowed me to put my thoughts in place then. The contingency was that on a visit to an acquaintance’s home, I was sitting in one of the rooms adjoining the garden and all of a sudden I saw the painting. Whether it was in a frame or on a calendar page, I don’t recall but the impact was immense. The visit was around 2012. That singular memory lingered in my mind and I took pen to paper three years later to be inspired by not just one work but, in essence, the influential grip of the man and his artistic oeuvre.

I guess being a doctor, the painting of another soul who contributed her life’s worth to service of the destitute, the image meant a lot to the man who had it, as he followed the same principle of selflessness . Till today, it is an event I cherish and it humbles me.

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MOSAIC OF DIVERSE CINEMATIC WORKS : on THE WIFE(2018) , TWO(1964) and TARANG(1984).

I’m lucky to be exposed to the variegated forms of storytelling in cinema. It reassures me that no matter what the various circumstances of our collective and individual lives, the cinematic eye will capture all and present them in the most intimately familiar manner.

Below are listed three diverse works in terms of style and mode of storytelling that recreate slices of life that we cannot escape.

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THE WIFE (2018)

THE WIFE has been in the making for a long time. It finally saw the light of day and was illuminated by complex shadings of a female’s experiences through a lifetime of misogyny and double standards. Above all, it’s about the muffled voice of not just a whole gender consciousness but that of an unique predicament on the part of an anonymous writer ( Glenn Close). Her husband( Jonathan Pryce) , by dint of the privilege of being a male, towers above her in terms of reputation and being custodian of intellectual heft. To be in the sidelines as the perfect better half somehow has been her decision but is informed by sweeping inequities of our lop sided worldly scenarios. The rest has to be uncovered by every discerning viewer because revealing much about the plot will mean betraying its core of implosive and simultaneously suppressed anger that puts it in an extremely realistic mold. Every tinge of ego within a familial unit – devolved towards children, spouses- even a society that is too fickle and grandstanding for its own good is handled here by director Bjorn Runge.

Here, the conceit of the husband receiving a Noble prize in literature, the passage to Stockholm and its ramifications on long held grudges and secrets strip the veneer of glory this event holds, adjusting the personal histories of THE WIFE with markers of past and present. The human mind is a Pandora’s box unto itself. In this instance, the psychological underpinnings are straight out of the everyday. On the other hand, the husband’s sexist ways hold a greater light in the era of ME TOO and scuttling of white male privilege.

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Watching this powerfully constructed work, based on the book by MEG WOLITZER, where social truths gradually build up by the mark, keeping our sense of perspectives shifting with each layer, I was reminded of Glenn Close’s Golden Globes speech. She had mentioned how her mother, in her 80s, had told her that she had accomplished nothing in life. Her mother ‘sublimated’ herself in the way of life dictated by the father, she said.

In our society, women are seemingly revered, respected, hold our center of the universe. Ironically, they get the least appreciated part in the way we depend on them and hence take them for granted. In forms and documents their names come secondary to the ‘FATHER’S NAME’ or none at all.

Then there we end up taking the vow of silence, one of the three proverbial monkeys to keep up appearances. Rules apply according to one’s present situation. If you are an ordinary person, you have no right to raise your voice, though ‘ordinary’, in itself, is a concept that eludes me. If you are established, you wish to uphold that surface veneer and if you are from the middle classes, protest has to be marked by an ultimately enduring sentiment of conformity. The lines blur among each section. The private sanctuary is a well guarded fortress indeed.

THE WIFE adds another complex dimension to it regarding the nebulousness of artistic ownership and the origin story of one’s genius is pitted on the etchings of gender consciousness.

Ghost writing and embracing the very complex idea of anonymity is paramount here. Scenes where a clashing verbal encounter merges with a good news via a phone call and an honour bestowed on one person leads to subsequent chaos in the aftermath create a parallel culled from the many uneasy transitions we, too, have to handle when the going gets tough.

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Virginia Woolf believed that a woman needs to have sufficient financial security and a room of one’s own to write and hence prosper based on her vocation. Here THE WRITER / WIFE / MOTHER finds these at the cost of her own dignity like almost all women are privy to in our world.

Led by the flawless Glenn Close, with her real life daughter Annie portraying her younger self, it boasts of a good cast, with Elizabeth McGovern’s lines ‘a writer must be read, honey’ reverberating in the annals of my present and every individual who has been denied her / his place vis a vis diktats of society. Watch this one.

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TWO BY SATYAJIT RAY (1964)

** image/ information credit : Wikipedia.

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A kid in a bungalow / mansion all by himself. A street kid outside the walls of the mansion. The kid inside looks at the other. The underprivileged one on the outside continues playing with his bow and arrow, wearing masks , flying a kite while the rich man’s kid tries every trick to obstruct his sense of enjoyment. His own toy trains, robots and other assortments do not engage him. Drowning out the ‘other’ one’s sense of merriment, he is ultimately defeated by the latter who refuses to budge. The mansion ultimately houses the lonely kid, the one aware of his class bearings . He knows the other one can never be his playmate and hence he tries to rein him in with his age appropriate naughtiness.

TWO, a nearly twelve minute short film directed by Indian luminary Satyajit Ray, is the most probing take on the inverted concept of ‘child’s play’ and highlights our earliest instincts especially regards class consciousness, the ones we inherit from our sorroundings. As is the wont with Ray, pure realism irrespective of addressing a particular age group dominates. Not every narrative around children involves unblemished innocence, fun and games. We know from experience how young ones are capable of great meanness, reiterating the patterns they learn from home or the world around them. TWO brings the binaries to a clear understanding of mindsets.

However, the irony is that the boy on the outside remains anonymous as just the ‘STREET KID’ while the other boy RAVI KIRAN gets a credit in the film’s cast details . He’s the lead almost by default, by virtue of his social class and birth while the identity of the poor chap recedes to shadows of poverty outside the bungalow. The ubiquity of class is universal and cuts across ages . It stings us and Ray works his wonders here with an uncompromising vision.

It made me hark back to William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES where the foundation for aggression in children was dealt with an iron clad resolve.

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TARANG (1984)

This is Indian auteur KUMAR SHAHANI moulding an expansive, penetrating and effortlessly effective yarn about the way we live, in an almost novelistic manner of simple, stark images, fluid camera work, naturalistic sound design and deft performances, not involving ‘acting’ of a cardboard variety.

Titans of the parallel cinema movement, few of whom have left earthly realm over recent years, such as Smita Patil, Amol Palekar, the enduring couple of Sulabha and Arvind Deshpande, Om Puri, M. K Raina, Rohini Hattangadi, Girish Karnad, Sreeram Lagoo and Jalal Agha all congregate here to brilliantly capture the essence of complex human values. Survival is the bone of contention among key players while class is entrenched in the manner in which they negotiate lives in the concrete jungle.

The most poignant strand is regarding the rich young woman’s (Kawal Gandhiok) tale who is betrayed by currents of internal corruption by all sides and eventually slinks towards an untimely end. Being in a position of social mobility and possessing material wealth, loneliness still grips her and a particular sequence, with the strains of a song sung by the inestimable Lata Mangeshkar conveying the plangent tones of her mindset, captures that beautifully.

The film ends with a surreal, dream like sequence and in its continuum of almost three hour runtime preceding the conclusion , capitalism, labour unions, a cold war of clashing ideals and amorality hit us to etch an impression of our world, exactly as it is.

TARANG (WAVE) is a coherent, many hued work of quiet strength. Its frames hold an inner storm, like the sea side cosmopolitan center of Bombay in which it is set. Sensuality and the play of lust have a direct as well as aesthetic core here in the telling. In the end, we are all social animals, it seems to inform us.

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SHATRANJ KE KHILADI ( THE CHESS PLAYERS, 1977), MY FILM APPRAISAL PUBLISHED ON CAFE DISSENSUS EVERYDAY BLOG

Below is my original movie appraisal of the classic Satyajit Ray work THE CHESS PLAYERS that was chosen to be published by CAFE DISSENSUS EVERYDAY BLOG on 13th July, 2019 .

I add few photographs here to offer visual cues to my readers in this. So the whole content, beginning with inverted commas and ending with them, covers my original work. You can easily search for it on Google or on WordPress under the originally published title ‘ Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari’ : an expertly crafted cinematic gem ‘

As is the norm with many of my writings, it is set within my hometown Lucknow and so I have furnished the article with that inside perspective as well.

Apart from that, it is a welcome addition to the ‘TREASURE TROVE OF INDIAN CINEMA’ series within my blog that has already included many of Ray’s works . So read it and share your thoughts.

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Cafe Dissensus Everyday
THE BLOG OF CAFE DISSENSUS MAGAZINE

” A conversation veering towards erstwhile Awadh and its classical epicentre Lucknow can hardly be espoused in ordinariness. It’s a city with an untiring passion for art, nostalgia and poetic grandeur. From the eternal sunshine of its spotless architectural heritage to its Ganga Jamuni confluence, from the ‘ras’ of its musical accomplishments to its global filigree of royal glory, Lucknow thrives in the past and awakens in the present chambers of timeless sensibilities to fly like a dove in the post-industrial sky – a messenger of unhurried lyricism and sophistication far removed from present day cacophony yet taking measured steps towards healthy urban evolution.

It goes without saying that a cinematic treatment meted out to this Eden of myths and princely charm has to be nothing short of epic or out of the blue. As a proud Lucknowite myself, I reserve my praise for Ray’s satiric langour and eye for detail in the Awadh-bound trajectory in Shatranj Ke Khiladi (The Chess Players). The complexity in a game of chess, by turns, tests one’s mental capacity or, should I say, awareness of life’s unheeding twists of fate. In his two lead performers Sanjeev Kumar and Sayeed Jaffery, the auteur, making his only full-length Hindustani language feature apart from his Bengali repertoire, finds his titular chess players and the funny bone to occasion the passage of time, the end of an era for the Nawabi realm. The film’s timeline is pre-1857 Awadh and both stalwarts play best friends for whom indulging in a game of chess is much more than a pastime. It’s an obsession, source of passion, even a lifestyle. They are among an ilk of landed gentry cut off from the social churnings within British India. The universality to this concern is common.

Their definitions of virtue, ambition, even ideals of competition and commitment ends and begins with victory in flexing their muscles within four walls of their mansions, every emotion thrown on the chequered chessboard. It’s the kind of brotherhood uniquely realized in such exacting screenplays as this and both performers ace their mannerisms, diction and overall body language to emit the high point of their period interests.

I laughed out loud at their amusing interpersonal tête-à-têtes, the integrity of this friendship and, of course, their imperviousness to their lovely better halves’ state of mind.

In this regard, Shabana Azmi is absolutely fiery as Kumar’s wife, a Begum characterized by the pride and Nawabi restraint, a hookah consuming ice-storm in a bottle making concerted efforts to connect with him. In a cameo, Azmi gives heft to her concerns, offsetting her earnest core of loneliness with a funny dose of seductive appeal employed to win her man’s affections. Her moment of rage falls within that given parenthesis. On the other hand is the flower-like Farida Jalal, expertly melding her innocent, petulant glow in manipulating her equally neglectful husband’s (Jaffery) unsuspecting nature to eventually turn him into a cuckold. This domestic dynamic is a perfect exposition of black comedy.

The character sketches for the lead males are unconventional, more so as they are polar opposites of gallant, chivalrous males presented in popular cinema. They are essentially sober, dignified individuals undone by their blind faith to a singular yen for recreation.

However, Ray mines the one genuine source of an epoch’s enigma in the form of its ruler Wajid Ali Shah and in Amjad Khan’s pitch-perfect turn; he emerges as a bundle of contradictions. He’s a patron of arts, a consummate poet (revered to this day), a secular figure celebrated for staging ras leela in his court, a devout Muslim offering namaaz five times a day and a somewhat decadent imp rumored to keep scores of concubines and enter into ‘mutha’ weddings. This survey of an aesthetic in the garb of an ineffectual ruler and eternal man-child is an emphatic and, in turn, bemusing gallery of myths. This local cult of personality keeps us guessing as to where the truth lies.

Khan has a musical ring to his expressions and his cavalier attitude to political agendas of British overlords threatening to occupy Awadh as their prized trophy is echoed by his disintegrating will-power in the face of mounting pressure. If you ask me, this is as good as you can get from the man whose strident, unapologetically flashy debut as Gabbar in Sholay is the talk of legends. ‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown’ is a maxim he internalizes beautifully, akin to what the actual ruler must have seen and endured.

The fledgling administrative apparatus, including Shah’s loyal minister (Victor Banerjee, playing the nervous wreck with prolific ease as he does) is witness to tables being turned on them by Lord Outram (the actual real life figure played by veteran giant Richard Attenborough). This is a specifically lucid performance and Attenborough does well to play his cards close to his chest as a smooth operator, in a bid to despoil Lucknow’s legendary peaceful high noons and thrust it into the middle of an impending 1857 turnaround. He imbibes every bit of innate prejudices and the weak resolves of an unsuspecting, well-meaning folk, to strike at the heart of the matter and prevail. The focus is on the part each denizen played in being noncommittal or perhaps naive enough to think that the colonial era machinations collectively cannot spread its tentacles here.

Going by this multi-dimensional collage, Shatranj Ke Khiladi could have become an intense meditation on survival, especially for the genteel folks of Awadh’s upper echelons. Ray builds up every arc to posit a humorous collage, a befitting way to visualize Munshi Premchand’s witty original text and hence it is devoid of unnecessary jingoism. He is a master of minimalism and is ably supported by virtuosos Shama Zaidi and Javed Siddiqui on dialogues and costumes. He recreates the essence of a bygone time and a pivotal juncture in Lucknow’s history which shaped its post-colonial fabric of representation. The deadpan pacing successfully appropriates the languorous lifestyles of each player. Leela Mishra and David Abraham are welcome members of the cast who further bring a lightness of touch to the proceedings.

Shatranj Ke Khiladi will take its own sweet time to perhaps grow on modern viewers but once it does, it hardly lets one beat a hasty retreat owing to its distillation of Awadh’s changing fortunes. Additionally, it may be among the very few retro classics to employ animation to put its points across in its opening moments, complete with Amitabh Bachchan’s narration. Don’t miss the chance to savour this expertly crafted gem. Among its accolades, it won the ever-exquisite Saeed Jaffrey a well-deserved Filmfare statuette for Best Supporting Actor (Male) ”

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