COURAGE UNDER FIRE: my essay on ZERO DARK THIRTY has been published by SCREEN QUEENS.

https://screen-queens.com/2020/04/27/review-zero-dark-thirty/


https://youtu.be/EYFhFYoDAo4

https://youtu.be/k7R2uVZYebE

We all know about Kathryn Bigelow’s intensely mounted whole of the hunt for world’s enemy no.1 in a gruelling post 9/11 era, by American forces in ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)

I had watched the screen adaptation culled from accurate facts back in the day and written about it in 2015 in my notebook. That manner of writing everything down in my notebooks first before typing and then sending my essays/poems/articles for publication remains.

So I was overjoyed when one of my articles on ZERO DARK THIRTY finally got published by SCREEN QUEENS yesterday. More than the thrill of having it grace the pivotal publication where I felt it perfectly belonged, I wanted more people to know about the painstaking efforts of the agent Maya (Jessica Chastain in an Oscar nominated and Golden Globe winning performance) who headed this decade long mission before justice was served in 2011.

So I thank the team at SCREEN QUEENS and all readers who make it possible for me to put my thoughts in one cohesive written capsule and share them with the world.

ZERO DARK THIRTY is a must watch experience and so those who haven’t seen it must do so at the earliest. It recreates one of this century’s historic events.

Read my written output here and share your thoughts. Thank you.
I have included the link to the article above, the one in blue.

A DIVERSE ARRAY PART 2

***

PAROMITAR EK DIN(2000)

It’s such a sad convention that pronounces mother in law and her son’s wife as harbouring cold feet against each other, sometimes for a whole lifetime. At least, that’s the frame of mind that sometimes psychologically makes them refuse to open up to each other. Our patriarchal values also blatantly adhere to that and so things remain unchanged and it’s a particularly universal fact.

PAROMITAR EK DIN( A DAY IN THE LIFE OF PAROMITA) is a Bengali feature film by the iconic Aparna Sen in which she and Rituparna Sengupta show us a bond on those dual lines, interconnecting with understanding the commonality of experiences from one generation to another. Devoid of malice and pitted against the forces of marital disintegration on the daughter in law’s part as also her specially abled son’s rehabilitation in a progressive school, this screenplay is recounted in flashbacks as a middle aged and greying PAROMITA is present at the prayer service for her deceased mother in law, friend and confidante. They were always the only common links in each other’s often empty lives, with PAROMITA nursing the elderly lady after she contracts medical conditions and even as she leaves her wayward son and marries the man who looks out for her(Rajesh Sharma); I found it very convincing how the director shows wagging tongues uncomfortably acknowledging this relationship as it upends time-tested conventions.

Ultimately, PAROMITAR EK DIN beautifully interweaves issues of mental health as it offers hope and reformation for Paromita’s only child and spotlights the extraordinary performance of Sohini Sarkar as her schizophrenic sister in law who invests her part with rare empathy and realism. Be it Paromita escaping from clutches of an unhappy marriage by her own agency or her mother in law still maintaining a cordial bond with her male friend (Saumitra Chatterjee) who once loved her but never mustered courage to express it and is now dependent financially on her, it is a complex and layered presentation and like the best of Bengali cinema remains on an even footing, refusing to overlook this cyclic thread of sadness that governs lives. The unlikely and naturally endowed bond of love at the center of this film is a refreshing reflection of individual lives. Coming from a female director, it shows their outer and inner selves as essentially independent of prejudiced societal norms.

**

SHIKARA(2020)

Two films that I was privy to in this extended moment of a month and a half lockdown seemed more than relevant to this writer. Each dealt with tales of people forced to be isolated from common society due to irreconcilable differences arising from within the fold of people who once were their very own. Or seemed to be one amongst them.

MY BROTHER NIKHIL (2005)

In SHIKARA, the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus and overturned social structure of a once secular state is echoed by the lenses of the extraordinary Vidhu Vinod Chopra. He directs it with rare precision and particularity of emotional engagement as he himself is one of the millions of Kashmiri Pandits uprooted from their paradisiacal land. He casts two actors from the region(Sadia and Adil) in their debut performances and they imbue the life story of refugees with lifelong patience and persistence, not letting narrow minded bitterness define them or their collective worldviews. It also keeps track of how once dear friends(Zain Khan Durrani) now stand to be militants and anti-social frontrunners in a contentious socio-political battle of statehood.

Then the real life trajectory of champion swimmer DOMINIC D’ SOUZA is recreated with heartbreaking urgency in MY BROTHER NIKHIL. It is a story constructed with such sincerity that the sallow intricacies of prejudices for HIV positive populace comes to be seen as essentially arising out of the kind of cruelty that only flesh and blood humans can subscribe to, for another fellow being they so far raised to the top as a role model, ultimately discounting the physical and emotional pain of the victim.

But here the titular protagonist’s(Sanjay Suri) journey is elucidated with uncommon humanity by his sister(an ever endearing Juhi Chawla) and true soulmate( Purab Kohli). Their real fight is in educating people about HIV and evincing sensitivity in the late 80s era, a fight we continue to wage even as we have come a long way in eliminating misconceptions.

I write about them because as this period of quarantine in the wake of a pandemic makes us antsy and uneasy, we must realize the very real struggles of people who have seen the worst of human endeavours. For them, self-isolation had become a forced reality. Hope still never left their hearts and minds. So we must guard our own sense of place in the world to ensure better days lie ahead.

This is cinema meant to sensitize us and draw attentions away from our own morbidity and yet reign in a sense of shared experience because nobody wants to be alone in self-imposed exile.

**

THE TWO POPES(2019)

The meeting of minds and exchange of wits between Pope Benedict and incoming Pope Francis sets the stage for conversationalist cinema of the highest merit, imagined with great clarity by writer Anthony McCarten and director Fernando Meirelles in this decidedly graceful Netflix original film. Their clashing ideologies and the period of modern transition for the Roman Catholic Church occasioned by Mr. Francis includes every nuance of issues facing the clergy as well as a young Francis’ journey in native Argentina that shapes his lifelong beliefs.

Little nuggets like Francis sharing his love for football with his senior and Benedict relishing in the taste of pizza while in the Vatican are welcome as are the trenchant procedures of selecting a new Pope, made transparent and simpler here in the execution of minute details whether in terms of production design or use of live footage juxtaposed with the recreation. Also socio-political turmoils are not left out in the process.

The spiritual journey is there but THE TWO POPES is best conveyed as a clear-eyed examination of the decisiveness of a world leader like no other who chooses to escape antiquated values and espouse change with diligence, gaining favour within his country and community to then take the world with him.

Jonathan Pryce, uncannily similar to the real Pope Francis, and Sir Anthony Hopkins are excellent as is Juan Minujin as the younger version of the former.

**

THE HOUSE THAT MADE ME

This is a beautiful show that, like me, you can find on Netflix and in collaboration with a prominent paint brand aims to humbly trace the roots of some truly inspiring Indians as they take us back to their childhood homes and cities, some of which had been fogged by years of distance and nostalgia. Host Vinay Pathak is the perfect narrator and confidante, dotting this diverse yet innately common journey of innocent musings from successful adults with his simplicity.

Among my favourites are the homeward trajectories of such icons as MARY KOM, SHAAN, JAVED AKHTAR, ILA ARUN, WAHEEDA REHMAN, TERRENCE LEWIS, SAKSHI TANWAR, RATNA PATHAK SHAH, SANJEEV KAPOOR, JEETENDRA, SAINA NEHWAL, NAWAZZUDDIN SIDDIQUI and IRFAN KHAN. But it’s the episode with SARIKA, spent visiting studio sets,that captures our hearts like no other owing to the fact that she never really had a real home or a genuine childhood to speak about. The studio was the teeming ground for her life script.

**

A SPECIAL SPOTLIGHT ON THE BEST, OFTENTIMES UNDERRATED PERFORMANCES OF EVERGREEN SUPERSTAR REKHA

The name needs no introduction. Rekha is one of those screen immortals whose charm, sensuality, beauty of embodying multiple worlds within limited frames and sheer versatility can be cited as a justified exemplar for classic era of motion pictures. Discerning viewers must seek out her best performances, some of them still underrated in my opinion and I take note of these here.

GHAR( HOME, 1978)

This sensitively etched tale of a couple’s gradual recovery from unspeakable loss in the wake of the lady’s assault finds the brooding, ruminative portrayal of a survivor in those eyes that can say a thousand words just by one simple glance or faraway look.

Love, loss and redemption all find a graph in her soulful distillation of human endeavours, beautifully complemented by Vinod Mehra.

KALYUG( THE NEW AGE, 1981)

As a dominating yet essentially trapped victim of hollow privilege, overseeing two families’ eventual downfall, REKHA again revisits her silent power of communication through plangent eyes and controlled gestures, aided by the drone like score by Vanraj Bhatia, in this Shyam Benegal directed ensemble drama reimagining the Mahabharata in a capitalist socio-political ethos of Bombay.

IJAAZAT( PERMISSION,1987)

With Naseeruddin Shah and Anuradha Patel and a score capturing more ebbs of the soul than the downward spirals, IJAAZAT is about an unusual love triangle where memories of first love omnipresently linger even as marital constancy takes hold. Rekha is its mature anchor, harbouring no ill-will against people in her past and yet holding fort for the strength of her first love, in order to never shake its yoke of permanence. A lyrical performance in a simple, lucid and complex tale drawn from the lives of people who steer clear of hatred or malice.

VIJETA(VICTOR/ THE WINNER, 1982)

Rekha is palpably central to the coming of age of her Air Force bound son(Kunal Kapoor) as she guides him patiently towards the discovery of new experiences, away from his father’s conventional strictures and grounds her own oftentimes strained personal equation with her husband(Shashi Kapoor) with a tenacity that’s intense to the core.

The most touching is the amorous bond that continues to be the heart and soul of the couple.

SILSILA(A SERIES OF EVENTS,1981)

A more pathbreaking imitation of real life spilling to the screens has probably never occurred or perhaps will so SILSILA is intensely intimate as it maturely dissects the fallouts of repressed emotions snowballing to what is termed as illicit relationships, undertaken outside domains of marriage.

Mixing its conflicted core with the poetic beginnings and burning rage of an unfulfilled first love and an eventual arranged marriage, REKHA gives it her all, surrounded by brilliant performers all around. But here the veracity of the real life issues keeps us guessing if there was catharsis for the parties involved after pack up. The emotions run deep and REKHA burrows into her private shelf to bring out things that often sting us but by law we are forbidden to discuss. Her bravest, most consummating performance in an era of her career where she got to essay truly complex individuals on screen.

WAARIS( THE INHERITOR,1988)

Ever the consummate professional, REKHA gave credence to her overall artistry by utilizing the persuasive powers of her voice, dubbing for the deceased SMITA PATIL for one of her final stand-outs committed to screen.

From one great to another, such is the wavelength established by her vocal performance, in a world before sync sound, that we really spot no abject difference as REKHA gives heft to Smita’s on-screen fire in declamatory, theatrical monologues, upending male ego and an ugly property feud with the right balance of fearlessness and apprehension. It’s a true measure of her gifts.

Let us all bow then to the inimitable,evergreen superstar that she is.

**

SPECIAL LOVE FOR MACHER JHOL(2017)

This feel good film about a Michelin star, Paris based chef’s return to Calcutta and his reunion with an ailing but ever supportive mother is primarily about the titular Bengali dish that is their lifeline.

Emotionally fraught bonds come into the picture but the vitality of the man’s love for food, flouting conventions and unconditional love for his mother give MACHER JHOL(FISH GRAVY) a due place in the annals of cinematic works meant to be literally savoured for their tasteful culinary and interpersonal designs. Plus, the film’s director himself cooks all recipes shown here.

***

TWO OF MY ESSAYS FROM WATTPAD COLLECTION ARE SHARED HERE.

Your’s truly has been devoting these extra hours to more soul-searching and is committing each thought to the store of words, whether personal or emerging from popular culture.

I thought this will be a good time to hark back to two of my earliest essays published on my WATTPAD collection A LETTERED SOUL, going back to mid 2017.

These two essays hence trace personal narratives through some of the best poetry and songcraft espoused in Hindi cinematic cannon. I will share more in coming days. I think they convey a lot of what we may be experiencing in the current scenario, subconsciously and even directly .

So read them and share your thoughts. I am enclosing the links to the original essays on WATTPAD below. Go to the fourth and fifth essays from the contents. Those two are the ones I intend you to read entitled THE HEART IS AN ISOLATED ISLAND and THE VERDANT HEART SETS ITSELF FREE respectively.

**

https://my.w.tt/8tbE3KmKK5

https://my.w.tt/T4crYioKK5

A DIVERSE ARRAY, INDEED.

More musings on some of the greatest cinematic works to influence me over years, including those hailing from 2020.

**

DELHI 6(2009) and EKLAVYA-THE ROYAL GUARD(2007)

In peak winter season, at the commencement of 2020(or maybe it was late December, 2019), I revisited two of my favourite films of the late 2000s era, the timeline in which I was a school student and was striving to discover more experimental works to aid and abet my personal choices in the realm of art. I was always proud of the Indian film industry then more than at anytime else because it had such rich stories to convey, with such an inclusive and universal character of its own.

Take DELHI 6, for example, as it collects the distinct flavour of an anthology within a composite screenplay in such an interesting and timely manner that mini-tales emerging out of the bylanes of the old, walled location of the title pit tradition against modernity and vice versa. As I watched it again, I could feel its nature of addressing sectarian conflicts/ religious partisanship to be straight out of the current RAM JANMABHOOMI conflict. With allegory, theatrical acuity, satire and symbolism as its creative weapons, it boasts of a dream ensemble bringing multiple generations of actors together and makes sense as a quintessential Indian tale, generating the local even within the country’s capital city. It’s a diverse array indeed and powerfully adept in its diagnosis of society.

EKLAVYA: THE ROYAL GUARD

This carefully constructed screenplay is meticulous in its evocation of a princely estate in Rajasthan and pits the past against the present, with traditional mores paving way for a modern outlook on what it means to be responsible for precedents set by our ancestors. The serpentine shadows, slow burn of revelations and graceful performances fit into the larger picture of intrigue within aristocratic citadels.

Suffice to say, EKLAVYA, like DELHI 6, benefits from its primacy of location and like the latter deals with class tensions and hegemony of relationships. It has a cast consisting of India’s finest including Saif Ali Khan, himself a scion of the princely estate of Pataudi. Each scene, each colour palette and of course its earnestly fertile Shakespearean ethos is earned and minimalistic. The mighty Amitabh Bachchan is the sentinel of dutiful tempers and upholding truths here. Without him, this tale based on the ancient Indian myth of EKLAVYA will be nothing.

**

KHOOBSURAT(1980)

In times of LOCKDOWN where we rely on the tenacity of families more than anything else, there’s nothing better than watching a Hrishikesh Mukherjee family ensemble.

An exponent of everyday, educated middle class units with their cadences of witty conversations and intelligent narratives, the director is at his very best on KHOOBSURAT where evergreen star Rekha plays a happy go lucky proponent of joy in her sister’s marital household governed by strict decrees of the matriarch (legendary Dina Pathak)

Immensely charming and a must for everyone, KHOOBSURAT(BEAUTIFUL) has a timeless innocence about it and shows us the depths of understanding and happiness beneath the most stern surface appearances. They truly cannot create stories like these anymore.

**

TIGERTAIL(2020)

The present can often be an unreliable narrator of our complete journeys, especially when we associate the weight of past actions on the part of our parents.

TIGERTAIL, released this past Friday(10th April, 2020) on Netflix, bears the marks of first and second generation experiences among an immigrant Asian-American family disintegrating in the absence of warmth and lack of words exchanged, in short by the taciturnity of one’s closest relations.

These silences of internalized truths, regrets and a lack of communication bind them as part of a fraught bond between father and daughter, between man and wife, a continuum stretching to generations. An effort to fill in gaps is found towards the end patch of TIGERTAIL and a slow process of catharsis is triggered by trial and error. There are no grand overreaching elements here which keeps it relevant and uniquely relatable. The detached ethos reflects, in turn, the distance of years.

It is a quiet film, inspired by so many true journeys and sought after for its realism and poignant design. It will reverberate for so many families universally.

**

GUILTY(2020)

GUILTY, for me, is almost as powerful as 2016’s eternally game-changing PINK. It is set among the youth and takes not just a social vantage point but a clear interest in the patriarchal mindsets that are ever- ready to exonerate males because that is usually a point of convenience for everyone. No amount of advocacy or awareness about something as severe as non-consensual sex (and sexual assault, in general) can truly make our general public discourses refrain from questioning the survivor. That is the mental make-up inherited by our youth and GUILTY captures that fact unsparingly.

Flitting between lies and half truths as it often is with complex cases like this, the screenplay launches its laser beams at the idea of privilege, elitism and the cultural impact of the ME TOO movement.

I laud it as here the survivor( AKANSHA RANJAN KAPOOR) refuses to be trapped by a false sense of shame and modesty because the onus is not on her even as she is outlawed owing to her so called dressing, brash behaviour and other such pre-judgements. Which makes the final judgement all the more powerful for exposing the accused. GUILTY is a contemporary film cuing the lingo, sensibilities of the times and suggests how one ripple and a bold stance can change equations for survivors even when society largely remains unchanged. That responsibility has to be shouldered by both genders.

Watch it.

**

TRIKAL(1985)

Shyam Benegal is not considered a national treasure for nothing and TRIKAL (PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE) is his underrated masterwork that reached for far more than just aesthetic perfection or formal accessibility of the issues.

With a screenplay rich in behavioural and socio-cultural accuracies of the vibrant Indian state of Goa, TRIKAL is poised at a post colonial epoch for the people represented here. Love, loss, intrigue, inter-generational clashes unfold in the backdrop of a prominent patriarch’s death and a fair dose of dark humour, magic realism and horror are integrated with political barbs.

Shot in natural light and boasting of an ensemble cast, it is flawed but so innovative in its use of cinematographic intimacy and music that the storytelling becomes one complete package. It is in a zone of its very own, theatrical and sometimes jarring, just like the various moods and voices it undertakes to address. All of it is balanced by a sense of nostalgia and the meditative passage of time.

**

RAJNIGANDHA(1974)

I watched this celebrated slice of life drama on NETFLIX three days ago and it was rewarding as a viewing experience as there was no artifice in the treatment, so liberally and eloquently did it borrow from everyday concerns. Truly, it is made in a manner that encompasses the evolving timeline of the 1970s as also spills over to this day and place.

The protagonist ( a wonderful Vidya Sinha) is a woman of her times, with the agency to choose her own trajectory when it comes to work, love, torn between her first love (Dinesh Thakur) and a cheerful present paramour ( Amol Palekar), and supplanting her roots from Delhi to Bombay to give heft to her post-doctoral career. Her interior monologues captured in freeze frames and the lilt of two background songs perfectly create the texture of a life gently approaching with its confusions and complexities towards a young person, unencumbered by the influence of a dominant male hegemony and managing to hold its own.

Whether it is her working best friend, her interactions with people from the advertising field in Bombay or her own views, it is universally applicable to any era. The best films do that. RAJNIGANDHA (TUBEROSE) uniquely sways to its pragmatic melody and is a must watch.

**

MASAAN(2015)

Director Neeraj Ghaywan has crafted one of the most humane documents of our times in his debut feature that won a special commendation at Cannes. Set in one of the world’s most ancient cities Benaras, it puts two young people( RICHA CHADDHA and VICKY KAUSHAL) at a parallel course where their respective identities bring them chastisement and some deep-seated shame for no real wrongdoing of their own. Societal prejudices invade their personal spaces. Yet a burning passion for liberation and courage to confront those complexes make them rise above their present status.

SANJAY MISHRA, SHWETA TRIPATHI and PANKAJ TRIPATHI are channels that funnel their compassion to these personal narratives and give them a welcome outlet for self-forgiveness and hope. Hence, a rebirth of sorts is accounted for those with no real material comforts.

Life and death are at the heart of MASAAN. The former is there as a ripple, purifying souls struck by the burden of conventions, just like the holy Ganga. It’s a beautiful intersection of souls.

**

DADDY(1989)

Mahesh Bhatt has always put his own shortcomings and vices as central conceits in his filmography. DADDY is no exception, rounding out his 1980s run of personal recollection with another hugely effective dramatic presentation of his own struggles with alcoholism.

He stages a casting coup by putting his own daughter POOJA BHATT as the sobering influence here while the great ANUPAM KHER is Bhatt’s proxy representative for his darkest days, tracing his descent and then painfully gradual rise to achievement. It starts on a shaky foundation of tonal inconsistency but the bond between Father and Child takes over and evens the telling with stirring sequences and fundamentally truthful dialogues.

Also watch KAASH(1987) by the same filmmaker tracing a similar tale with equal parts innocence and vulnerability.

**

LADY BIRD(2017)

In LADY BIRD, Greta Gerwig sculpts a film that is like a picture book curated with care over years where each photograph triggers vivid memories of times in our adolescence when we loved, fought, chastised and felt alienated, all of these and more beginning from the familial home and spilling uncontrollably to the diving point at high school.

There isn’t one moment here that didn’t speak to me personally and LAURIE METCALF, TRACY LETTS and LOIS SMITH have such wisdom as senior prefects watching over the young ones like SAOIRSE RONAN, BEANIE FELDSTEIN.

After AN EDUCATION and JUNO, LADY BIRD captures those best and worst years with striking grace. That it’s based on Greta’s own life makes it more resonant as a storehouse of memory.

**

NOBLEMEN, HAMID (2019)

Two different films showed two sides of the coin regarding a child’s psychology, at the point where unblemished innocence is confronted by the larger world’s hostility and challenged by conflicted bunkers of adult authority. One takes a dark turn provoked by senseless violence and toxic masculinity while the other finds the last sunshine even amidst closed borders of emotional engagement. Both frankly discuss taboo subjects and we are the wiser for them.

The underlining pursuit is to stir us intellectually and allow us to review the kind of environment we wish to create for our younger generations. Alas, we fail because we pay lip service to even our own offsprings’ well-being. NOBLEMEN and HAMID need to be watched for that realization to dawn.

**

THE REVENANT(2015)

THE REVENANT is a beast that’s subdued and tactical, opting to hinder the more feral of his lot with unexpected resolve, clawing his way through death, starvation and the elements. He happens to be a flesh and blood human on a quest to explore the wilderness and the man who betrayed him, consigning him to the chill of winter.

The naturalistic, transcendental tone of this survivalist drama is breathtaking. Be it the titular character being mauled by a bear, saddled on a horse and falling off a cliff , imagining his Native American wife in the Dream Hour or taking refuge in an animal carcass, this perilous journey is spiritually cleansing and pits one man’s struggle against the moral impotency of another fellow being.

**

SPARTACUS(1960)

Stanley Kubrick, the original maverick, made his imprint with this lavishly mounted epic. His envelope pushing resume followed this spectacularly noble take on a civilization’s fight for dignity.

It has fully embodied emotions, bravado, relationship arcs and the kind of cast that commits to the many ravages and glories of history. Watch it and tip your hats to the great KIRK DOUGLAS who lived long through a whole century and another and left us this year for his heavenly abode.

**

LOOKING BACK AT THE TREASURE TROVE OF 2019 AND EARLIER.

Looking back at some works of art from last year tells me that creativity is never in dearth. Nothing that I say will be novel perhaps in applauding the spirits of these works except that they all firmly look at society beyond rose tinted glasses, for what it truly is.

Here I very briefly write about them.

**

THE IRISHMAN

This three and a half hour dramatic presentation coming from the illustrious pedigree of Scorsese and company is a mood piece, the most sombre iteration of a Greek tragedy or Shakespearean tale, as I look at it, that deals with the nonchalance of the mob and the amoral fabric of a nation hailed for its entrepreneurship and dynamic dealings. It’s hard to say where its loyalty to love and relationships begins and where fear and spontaneous actions take over.

It’s like GODFATHER for this era, laying bare the last bone of society’s raw underbelly, run by men who are monsters in Everyman garbs.

But for me it is ANNA PAQUIN playing Robert De Niro’s daughter,who, with her silent looks and staunch stance against this muckraking, steals the show among this gallery of veterans.

***

MUSIC TEACHER

This gently cascading tale from Netflix is worthy of Indian cinema’s aesthetic transparency getting a boost from the streaming platform.

A tale that never cheats its audiences, showing the realistic nature of a modest life saddled with sacrifices and regrets, every bond here reveals the cost of goodness in a materialistic world. Pictured with the same sense of modesty with its transitions between past and present putting it together, MUSIC TEACHER finds MANAV KAUL, AMRITA BAGCHI and two of my favourites NEENA GUPTA and DIVYA DUTTA absorbing the nuances of smiling through moments of pain and attempting to let bygones be just that. It’s just pure.

**

As for these four below, well let me just say that PARASITE and JOKER especially dare to show the fallout of an unequal society in ways too close to the bone. I mean we just can’t escape references to North Korea and the ultimate implosion of the have nots as they burrow into a rabbit hole of their own making in the former Oscar winning cult or the grubby, gritty streets of Gotham, littered with trash cans and the stench of divisive antipathy in the latter as it breaks down the consequences of a corrupt foster care system and non-committal attitudes towards mental health for our protagonist, with definite performances that strive for the deepest possible impact.

PARASITE

JOKER

**

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Then there’s the easy flowing rhythm of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD that in its episodic nature is very much akin to Pink Floyd’s great musical masterpiece A GREAT GIG IN THE SKY. It’s true to its era, depicting normal conversations and situations then teetering just on the edge of danger; danger of losing work, sanity and ultimately life at the hands of the Manson cult or all of these in varying degrees. It simmers and gradually implodes before deadpanning in a pool of observational humours.

The screenplay is vintage Tarantino, doling out cinematic lore, tenacity of bonds and the cross-section of Hollywood and beyond with his usual panache. As for the ensemble, well all I can say is that he gives every person her/ his due, relying never on the length of a role.

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME

Finally there’s the brusque, brash, unapologetic finesse of Eddie Murphy’s form in DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, based on the hitherto anonymous life of unlikely showman Rudy Ray Moore.

That’s the greatest achievement of cinema. It often tends to reevaluate cults and underground legends and transmits the stories of survivors to the largest denomination of cinephiles possible. This hilarious work is never in your face and milks empathy out of the collective strength of its ensemble as they mirror every dollop of good faith invested by the people who made DOLEMITE a rip-roaring phenomenon in the 1970s.

As for Mr.Murphy, man, he makes everything look easy with his mega watt presence.

***

A SPECIAL BOW TO SHORT FILMS FUNDED BY FILM INDEPENDENT, a bonafide American organisation that has shaped future careers of filmmakers and given them a diverse starting point for exposure to the mainstream. It is also the body behind INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS, held each year a day before Oscars, which have gone to embellish substantive, long-lasting careers on and off camera, continuing to champion rising stars in the creative realm.

On that very positive frisson of equal and diverse representation, I give shout outs to three short films that caught my eye. Incorporating cultural forebears, interpersonal relationships better than feature films can, in a short time capsule, they espouse the melting pot that is America thus solidifying a global voice for the subtle undercurrents of filmmaking.

MY DEAR AMERICANS (2013)

Directed by Arpita Kumar

This short about a married Indian couple settled in the USA deals with an ugly instance of racism directed against it, jolting the rosy picture of the great ‘AMERICAN DREAM’ trope and within its timespan of six minutes reversing the damage and reclaiming the idea of HOME and one’s dignity with characteristic minimalism.

CARE (2016)

Directed by April A. Wilson

Two women at an old age home forge a bond that hardly robs them of the solitude of companionship and gaining an upper hand in their personal experiences, at a juncture of their lives where society wishes them to count their days. Nope, the expressive felicity of the two ladies enacting their parts marks this one out as truly special.

That’s because there’s nothing fancy or philosophical about the connection here. It’s a breath of fresh air to have a work so beautifully transparent and free of judgements. It’s a miracle of filmmaking that lifetimes of desire gets covered in eight and a half minutes.

TOUCH (2015)

Directed by Lulu Wang

From the acclaimed director of last year’s breakthrough hit THE FAREWELL, TOUCH is a work that is heartbreakingly immersive in its dissections of innocence and cultural differences affecting an elderly Taiwanese/American man’s world as also percolating down to the second generation experience of his son.

Without giving anything else away, I will say that it’s an unusual piece of contemplative filmmaking that leaves us with a lot of questions.

Below I am including the links to all three short films. They are available on the FILM INDEPENDENT channel so you can watch it there, subscribe to the channel and download as well, whatever suits you best. Remember to catch all the other shorts there apart from the ones mentioned above as also the prestigious INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS of years past, an award ceremony that has now catapulted some of the major talents to Hollywood and beyond, driven by the first impressions of independent filmmaking and blurring lines between mainstream and niche offerings.

Also isn’t it triumphant that all three are helmed by women and consist of a racially fluid cast?

*****

THROUGH ERAS AND YEARS: STORIES OF DIVERSITY COMMITTED TO SCREEN

I had the opportunity to watch these diverse works over the last three and a half months. Some are more widely known than others but it’s time to give each storytelling form and cohesive vision espoused by these a fair and equal chance. One of them I finished watching last week .

So here they are, diverse life-scripts committed to screen through eras and covering material spread across decades.

**

A WOMAN CALLED GOLDA(1982)

While reading about Ingrid Bergman’s filmography, I was fortunate to discover her final work in the form of this four hour, two part CBS television film that saw her valiantly portray the founding mother of modern day Israel Golda Meir.

What an incredibly poignant and robust tale of an individual who left the comforts of her life in America to arrive at a contentious landmark in erstwhile Palestine, to the far reaches of another continent and alien culture, in hopes of uniting the Jewish community at the site of the Promised Land denied to them for millenia.

It was a long cherished dream and to a common mind a distant fantasy. But this incredible visual presentation captures her sturdiness, strides as a political icon and a woman of substance who turned the dream into reality, knowing very well that fractious borders and neighbouring middle Eastern countries can threaten it with civil war anytime. A true statesman, she tided over all of these obstacles and more to make her own way. Hats off to the global community of Jews who gave their blood, sweat and toil to truly honour that overwhelming vision for the Promised Land.

A WOMAN CALLED GOLDA absorbs the mobility of those efforts on the ground with a graceful structure of her biographical trajectory and escapes the time-honoured warp of sexism to show her as her own person who didn’t let gender so much as occupy her passing thoughts. Her thoughts were with her people and the same sense of dignity, temperate humour and above all an obstinacy to achieve statehood for Israel get transported to Ingrid Bergman’s exquisite performance. You never doubt her embodiment of the lady’s temperament and spirit. Also, the parallels between her and Golda are striking in terms of their last years and death by terminal disease. As also by their service to humanity till the very end.

Assembling a diverse crew of able performers including Leonard Nimoy and Judy Davis, shot on location in Israel, scored and cinematographed with the sweep of its history unwavering, this is a true life legend recounted with rare cinematic integrity. Created without sentimental overtures to melodrama. You must watch it, available as it is easily on YouTube. As it employs the narrative technique adjunct with GOLDA’s visit to her school in Wisconsin, the relaying of her personal life to children makes it imperative for posterity.

**

INTO THE WILD(2007)

This film is uncomplicated and hones its narrative appeal to go into the very soul of youth and adventure, in its recreation of the short, eventful life of Arthur McCandless, a young man exposed to mental abuse, duplicities of society from his earliest years who literally took the road less travelled, by embarking on a solo trip across the breadth of America. All the way shunning conventional societal templates, to escape the cocoon of relationships usually reliant on insincere means and ends even on the part of our families.

In Emile Hirsch’s liberating commitment to his subject’s ideals, we find a boy who is self-dependent and yet never a bitter misanthrope or pessimist, as is evident with the likes of Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart , Vince Vaughn and especially Hal Holbrook, people he encounters and who touch him with layers of human decency, positing the warmth of unlikely bonds and the kindness of strangers.

Actor Sean Penn directs INTO THE WILD as a poem to the senses, to the beating heart of a youthful reawakening that cares for others and finds the open expanse of nature free from diurnal judgements. Watching this collective work is like going back to our roots even though here tragic linings end it on a sombre note. The spirit endures. Perseveres. Flies.

There is nothing abstract about this journey we all tend to internalize to undertake but never really can. Here’s to the man who had nothing to lose. JENA MALONE, MARCIA HARDEN and WILLIAM HURT lend it credible support.

**

LOST GIRLS(2020)

Liz Garbus’ uncompromising eye for unsavoury personal details of her subjects was clear-eyed in the arresting Netflix documentary WHAT HAPPENED,MISS SIMONE? (2015)

In etching out soul/blues legend Nina Simone’s lifetime, a brief snippet of the late singer recounting marital rape, following a moment of jealousy on her abusive husband’s part, drove home the fact that not even our idols ever had it easy, in a patriarchal system meant to put women at the lowest rungs. I know I still shudder at the very thought of that part in the film.

Given her credentials for pure facts unblemished by judgement, Ms.Garbus brings to her homefront of NETFLIX one of this year’s earliest offerings via LOST GIRLS, again captured from truths of a real life case. Amy Ryan brings an unsentimental gravitas here to her role, given her specialty for summoning strength in less than ideal social junctures as in her parts on CHANGELING and GONE BABY GONE.

A working class woman, belonging to a silent little town in New York State, she is a witness, mouthpiece and advocate for the fate of her estranged daughter who goes missing under mysterious circumstances. Gradually, she brings the spotlight to other girls caught in the same undertow of negligence of policing officials and a compromised civic society up against the isolated affluence of a Long Island community concealing facts in its own secretive backyards. It’s powerfully conveyed by way of her fight in freefall where she knows class differences and the easy branding of females as ‘bitches’ and ‘whores’ will win at the end of the day. Yet she does her best even as any legitimate form of closure doesn’t come.

LOST GIRLS is etched in our minds by the marshalling of female unity and the need to press more for women’s safety, often represented patronizingly by apathetic male officers. The cast represents mental pathways of those living under a perpetual haze of violence. Ryan’s spirit, holding on to hope of finding her daughter and at the same time breaking apart with the personal weight of her station in life, is to be marveled at, equaling her subject’s concerns. It is work with a rare understanding of the human condition under duress.

**

DEV D(2009)

Indian cinema’s always productive enfant terrible Anurag Kashyap brought a neon-drenched, drug fuelled ecstasy to his postmodern interpretation of the iconic story DEVDAS, written originally in the 19th century by Sarat Chandra and adapted numerous times on screen before. His is the most potent take on youth riven by circumstantial tragedy and pain where literature’s three iconic leading parts are essentially enfant terrible themselves, each one of them usurped by fate within their milieu and falling deep into the abyss of grit and grime far below their formerly upper-class citadels.

DEV. D knows the socio-political and cultural principles of the Indian north, the familial and interpersonal manipulation by older members of an unit and a latent rebellion that the younger generation unwittingly implodes with, finally leading to a tunnel vision of dreams and reality colliding with hallucinogenic potency . It knows how the linguistic and sexual mores of the youth works and buoyed by definitive visuals and music, this script sets a benchmark for realism, strapping it with pure cinematic aesthetics that doesn’t call undue attention to its own craft; rather it revels in the broken columns of structures, locations, class transcending friendships to create the self-destructive protagonist’s classic saga anew, in the hopeful yet simultaneously pessimistic yoke of today and the everyday.

DEV.D startles us ultimately because it is filled with empathy for these young people thrown to the very deep end of the pool who at least possess the courage to wade through their current situations than their older guardians. It is a complete, incisive look at the India we know and recognise all too readily, reckless, selfish, worthy of great care and companionship even amidst emotional meltdowns and sinful precedents. The editing is pure nirvana for those seeking its core of loneliness and good intentions marred by a culture of repression.

**

SPECIAL MENTION- TIGER KING: MURDER, MAYHEM AND MADNESS (2020)

This smash-hit documentary series has been devoured by anyone clued into popular culture’s renewed visibility in our current climate. But what starts out as an unlikely coupling of man and wild takes darker and twisted turns, like a Shakespearean intrigue gone rogue with redneck sensibilities and moral ambiguity, plumbing at the very depth of human resources. A battle of the sexes and a glaring look at personal equations, rivalries, it leaves us numb. It’s like an inverted mob saga and a multilayered murder mystery that’s firmly in the realm of flesh and blood personages who still blatantly live to tell their side of events.

Watch it to know that truth indeed is stranger and ten times more devious than plain fiction. This documentary series also blatantly confirms that humans are the real beasts .

**

TELLING IT AS IT IS: on films/stories we need to watch right now.

The following is a list of cinematic works that covers the vast gamut of every attributable emotion, in the larger service of humanity, in ways forged by their particularity of situations. A lot of them owe their central thrusts on unlikely biographies of living individuals and those who have left this mortal coil but lived during their day to veritably turn the tides of history as well as personal experiences.

Here they are and we must watch them, at a time when the quarantine has made us hold cinema in a higher traction like never before. Nearly all these films were watched by me prior to this period of solitude and lockdown and in their realistic cores inform us that our lives are always governed by certain insurmountable facts that we must face and get ahold of.

Hence, these are true to our spirit stories that look at our daily trajectories in unusually uplifting ways.

***

MARGARITA,WITH A STRAW(2014), SPARSH(1980) and KOSHISH(1972)

In times like these, we have to especially turn our collective attentions towards specially abled compatriots, for they don’t need our sympathy or even the usual patronizing smile. All they want is an equal footing as human beings going through the same degree of societal pressures as anyone of us. I say that because sensitivity and empathy have been heralded at a time of sequestered living and perhaps by the end of this year, the worst among us, the most flighty and insincere will be forced to jump off their high horses to ground realities of a changed world. That narrative must not exclude the specially abled, the ones with heightened sensory perceptions and intelligence to everyday life because in real time all they lack are opportunities, chances to even be seen in the mainstream. That must be overturned along with greater emphasis on mental health for all irrespective of affiliations of any kind.

Three Indian films’ subdued brilliance are beacons of that, beginning chronologically with KOSHISH( EFFORT), about a couple navigating life’s pleasures and pains without possessing the power of speech or hearing. However, when does one aspect ever overpower our agencies? Watch this film to be humbled and sublimate our complaints with a greater realization by valuing our faculties. Jaya Bhaduri and Sanjeev Kumar are authentic to the very source of each emotion and suffice it to say their friendship with a blind man( Om Shivpuri) builds a base of communication reliant on the instinct to be considerate and selfless. Directed by the great Gulzar, KOSHISH is steeped in uncompromised silences that truly speak louder than words.

The same goes for director Sai Paranjpe’s SPARSH (TOUCH) where complexities of a tenacious relationship between a blind man ( Naseeruddin Shah) and a sighted woman( Shabana Azmi) suggests the gaps between normal day to day interactions and the alienation that comes with occupying those two unique sides of the spectrum. It is special because their interpersonal evolution intersects on the platform of a school for the blind. A more sensible and uncompromisingly colossal work as this cannot be sought for understanding nuances of our world beyond the tropes we keep into account.

Finally , there’s the very recent MARGARITA, WITH A STRAW about a young graduate with cerebral palsy whose condition is incidental and never detrimental to her well-being as she doesn’t let that fact come first while her family lets her out into the larger world to diversify her choices. She is a songwriter for the popular college fusion band, goes to New York for higher studies and finds out the nectar for self-discovery on her own volition, discerning the conflicts and joys with her inquisitive heart, never, for once, hemmed in by her condition.

Director Sonali Bose has in recent times wielded her powers behind the camera for another story on a girl with a rare medical condition whose spirits run parallel with her limited years on Earth, in THE SKY IS PINK(2019). There too humour, individual agency and the power of family reigned supreme. It is never a sob saga for those who wish to honour every living moment . The health issues do take a righteous toll, the pain sometimes seems greater with passing years and flaws of human resources often come out in the open. But courage is the only hope. That’s the natural blueprint set in her works, all inspired by the lives of those she has seen from extremely close quarters as kindred.

Kalki Koechlin, Revathy and Sayani Gupta weave such a world of empathy and love here on MARGARITA, WITH A STRAW that a better statement to life cannot be produced. One bubbling with ripples of productivity and bottomless faith. For there is never a crutch as void as baseless sympathy or forced care. Or a greater companion as The Zeal To Succeed. If you ask me then I will say that these three should be cited as textbook examples of visual representations that will matter a lot in advancing the conversation for specially abled people of every age and hue. Something we as Indians must be proud of.

***

FIREBRAND(2019)

Sexual assault or gendered betrayal are known to produce a dehumanizing chain reaction that takes lifetimes to overturn . In the Netflix original FIREBRAND,opposing poles of strength and vulnerability, personal histories we represent on others’ behalf and the one of our own, past and present and that sometimes indistinguishable line between truth and conjecture/ lies are charted in what is, thanks to the streaming service’s broad outlook, one of the most important visual pieces of modern life put to screen.

With its tale concerning a lawyer’s triumphant professional streak offset by her clients’ personal experiences, showing us society for all its worth in the present timeline, it boldly takes strides to address the residue of collective trauma where victimhood may disappear but a sense of guilt deadens the urge to open up to a better half. Also the bond between genders suffers from established roles and the moment of trust is earned after years of undergoing the same loop of what ifs and what nots.

FIREBRAND achieves a rare liberation by its final shots as it is feminist in terms of its most healthy association of equality among genders and patiently traverses complexities of the heart. The performances are uniformly excellent, with the lead USHA JADHAV reminding me of vintage Smita Patil. Watch it to know how independent filmmaking is the way forward for bringing out universal tales for our era .

***

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB(2013)

What can one say about the manner in which Matthew Mcconaughey and Jared Leto subsume themselves into the very core of who they essay onscreen, that is people who lived through judgements, prejudice and paranoia at the height of the 1980s Aids crisis and yet managed to be unassailed in spirit and deeds? The greatest compliment is that they transmute the term acting or even performance to something of personal integrity.

I still cannot get over the fact that Mr. Leto can embody a different persona with each new role when this writer can only afford to cower before expressing so much as righteous anger owing to his usual placid nature. He truly defines gender fluidity for me. Also, Jennifer Garner occupies the sweet spot that balances the extremes of the topical subject with her subtle work just like the direction by Jean Marc Vallee has a common nerve. That jingling sound as part of the audio design also powerfully expresses the physical state of the protagonist than any curative musical cue could.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is impactful precisely because it’s fact- based and rarely panders to hollow sentiment as that hardly saves lives.

**

UNDER THE SHADOW(2016)

I did not find the traditional aspect of horror as in the invisible apparition/ djinn culled from cultural precepts of the East to be as interesting in Babak Anvari’s UNDER THE SHADOW. What is most potent about the screenplay is its approximation of the political and social condition of Iran in its post revolution heyday of the 1970s (and continuing) where the rule of law is extreme, putting a lid on personal voices, down to the choice of attire, entertainment and strict gender stratification.

All of these are integrated into the scenario such as a Jane Fonda fitness videotape being played in secrecy by the protagonist within confines of her home and the threat of being flogged by authorities for wearing a ‘Western’ outfit while outdoors. Or the nightmare of being verbally abused by a close male aide on phone, with the worst invective reserved for a woman uttered spuriously. The real horror of wartime isolation and quarantine is palpable in UNDER THE SHADOW. Sadly, the country has somehow been at the receiving end of that sense of fear for decades now, compounded by this film’s recreation as well as the threat we face. It particularly adds a sombre cloud of verisimilitude as Iran has been one of the hotspots of Coronavirus fatalities.

I notice here that Babak shows the female protagonist’s neighbours not being as judgemental as the thumb of patriarchal values governing society by decrees of authority.

***

DARKEST HOUR(2017), ARRIVAL(2016)

DARKEST HOUR ,to me, is very imperative to grasp one person’s resolve to uphold a country’s morale during wartime when the imminent threat of fascist forces marching to shores of homeland was a clear possiblity. Now, our own premier Mr. Modi has been marvelously employing his station to unite our own fabric as also the world with a similar discernment of global values.

That’s the manner of veracity that this take on Winston Churchill’s first months in office as Britain’s unlikely Prime Minister achieves with lucid direction by Joe Wright, the recreation of Mr.Churchill’s historic speeches and first-rate performances. But I find it accessible because it looks at one moment in time where we have to rise above self-interests to make a push towards peace and stability despite the possiblity of adverse initial spells. We compare the COVID19 outbreak to days of World Wars as far back as our recorded knowledge goes. We might as well watch DARKEST HOUR to get a clear idea of what it means to be thrust into its frontlines. Don’t let the earnestness of the title be lost as well.

**

On the other hand is the mystical ARRIVAL that is like a beguiling trap, at first, toying with scientific research to build a story on. But its linguistic approach of studying extraterrestrial life opens up an interestingly presented rather transcendental portal to demystify that very mystery we contend with : of our place in the larger scheme of things.

Denis Villeneuve’s fearless vision is triumphant as it’s inwardly a deep study of pain, grief, empathy and the chronology of lives free from normative trajectories. Faith is what we must entrust in films like these because they collate facts with fictionalized narratives to heed the unknown and hence creatively ascertain humanity’s march through progress, one nifty step at a time. What a pleasure it is to also have Amy Adams’ expressive eyes take us on this journey. I will always be transfixed by ARRIVAL for all these reasons and more.

**

BULBUL CAN SING(2019)

My maternal roots lie in Assam, in the city of Guwahati where I have spent such wondrous years with my unassuming relatives, watching the kindness of neighbours, communal spirits galore while being fed a lifelong store of humility by my Nani(maternal grandmother, may she rest in peace) I called her MaNani (suffixing the Indian words for Mother and Grandmother )

Oh, there is a relish to the simplicity of life there, a warmth in revisiting the place and feeling life as the very mirror image of bliss while seeing the earliest rays of the rising sun( a common occurrence in Northeast India where Mr.Sunshine rescues us from idling our day by )

I felt drawn to those memories, a pang for not being able to go there in three and a half years and an inevitable surge of pain for departed members, all punctuated by the mighty image of river Bhramaputra while watching the deeply felt and extremely realistic BULBUL CAN SING by renaissance figure Rima Das, the pride of Assam owing to bringing out the beauty of the state and its people to the world in her inimitable style.

Only she could make it this universal paean to eternal friendships, adolescence, clash between tradition and modernity and find not a single false best or extraneous image to go with the flow of storytelling. Like Assam and its resident river featuring in the film, she knows the sensual charge of embracing nature first and foremost. She also understands the gravity of love, loss and repressed emotions better than established filmmakers of yore, given her documentary style of filming and the excellent work she extracts from her cast.

Justly hailed for her debut VILLAGE ROCKSTARS at such global congregations as TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL and CANNES as at the prestigious Indian National Film Awards, Ms. Rima lets the melancholy and tragedy of BULBUL CAN SING coexist with her protagonist’s mark as an unsullied voice of innocence. Like Nature, she sings her low notes, knows that a silent resignation is her fate at present but that doesn’t dictate who she can become in the future. BULBUL CAN SING is imprinted in my mind. You must watch it and inhale its pure essence.

Know that writer, director, cinematographer, editor, costume and set designer Rima Das is a force of creative malleability.

****