It’s quite the feeling to be tongue-tied, try to come up for air when answers are next to nowhere. But of course, there is the all-intelligible human consciousness; a life guaranteed with a voice, the greatest faculties among everything that makes us whole and legible. A voice to help us make a passing guess at the politics of living with all the flaws that society heaps upon us, a shovelful of doubts mounting like a hillock of complexity and boy do we know about that now more than ever before.
Yours truly, too, was unable to manage a turn of phrase for almost two and a half weeks as the voice that dictates those profusions of words for him had been gagged. No, no, it wasn’t the pandemic though I sure thought it had blown its bugle over my family. An upset stomach and changing weather united us all in observing the boredom of the days and bed rest all this while, as we were all a little under the influence of the climate that always leaves us vulnerable at this time of year. The worst never came to visit unceremoniously and I’m grateful for it.
Hence, today, all these days later, I mustered up my courage to share my thoughts on, once again, works of art that have a similar pattern of buckling under the strains of a gagged voice when situations are less than palatable and socially demand an unhealthy observation of silence. As my title says, it’s the voice within love songs and distress calls.
KAPURUSH (THE COWARD)
At a little over an hour, the always inestimable eye for human complexity, by master filmmaker Satyajit Ray, conquers and floods our own feelings of isolation with an uneasy meeting of the twain. This twain unexpectedly unites two former college sweethearts ( Madhabi Mukherjee and Saumitra Chatterjee) at her marital home, in an instance where her husband(Haradhan Banerjee) offers the man shelter from the remote reaches of this place in the countryside, famous for its tea gardens and natural resources.
The situation is ripe for dramatic interventions of fate or breakthrough in communication. But the formality of the situation prevents the sense of restraint from spilling over to too much honesty in terms of words. The dance of eyes, however, makes this a prime frontrunner for the aesthetics of nervous tension. Both lovers now communicate as strangers reconnecting within an aura of silence while the seemingly raucous one(Haradhan Banerjee) is actually bored out of his wits in this place where human interaction is sterile, to say the least.
The three principal embodiments of repression, desires barely concealed but never threatening to shatter the veneer of an established order and the compromises of life come with the prefix of that ‘gagged voice’ I talk about, here in KAPURUSH. Its realism is in the fact that it doesn’t let go of the changes apprised to one’s present. It is perfectly suited then to life in quarantine as the emotional quotient in our own capacities is very much reflective of this nervous tension, that turns up like a long running refrain among people. Or like a stranger amidst the greatest of friends or lovers.
Ingmar Bergman’s WINTER LIGHT is quite literally about a voice gagged by tridents of faith, love and social anxiety. Which are actually more alike than we realize. It is, again, a work so rich in the claustrophobia of repression that you could see it among a thousand viewers and yet it will be specifically solitary to just you alone. That’s the tenor of life Bergman always captures so well and here he finds the SPIRIT in complete isolation, trapped within holy environs of a church, a congregation, lost in the melee of one’s own torment and barely registered sermons to the public. Above all, it is suffering on account of and by dint of the greatest emotion available to humans, also the most elusive: LOVE.
WINTER LIGHT is about the cold light of realization in which we all feel drawn apart from God, a distant figure or a conceit we tend to lose contact with even as a source of comfort, with the ‘gagged voice’ that grief begets. It is the hallmark of grief, loss of loved ones and the inability to mourn that is powerfully trenchant. Ingrid Thulin’s almost ten minute reading of a letter, the rattle of a train breaking the overbearing silence of this tragic tale, the church staff member’s climactic clarity of the realities of Christ’s true suffering and Gunnar Bjornstrand’s effective portrayal of all of this subsume its lack of communicative texture.
It’s an ominous silence that gags our voices. This, here, is then how we feel at this point in human civilization. That’s why WINTER LIGHT makes sense to me now.
The movie’s title itself relates to the voice, the singing voice that is able to communicate so much to millions yet is bestowed as God’s gift to only a chosen few.
It’s also of the fight to find one’s voice in a world desperate to divide and advance careers, produce an unsavoury narrative for one’s kindred, of the gagged voice that those older to us pass down as some kind of inheritance to be silently accepted.
SAAZ is, ultimately, about the legacy of music that celebrates a tenacious sisterly bond among the complexities of ‘industry’, wry gossip and the pursuit of love. SHABANA AZMI grasps the gagged and the liberated voice of her generation with elegant grace. Her vocalizations take it a notch higher than the effective character study it is. It is the voice of individuality that shines here.
The voice of rage, passionately running roughshod over cruelty of the basest kind, while searching for the lost flame of enduring love, drives MANDY like nobody’s business.
It’s troubling visually and deeply painful to internalize owing to its delicate relationship between two beloved souls. But then from the pits of inferno that comes in the guise of human intruders encroaching upon the peace and calm of nature as per its setting and its protagonists, a scream echoes.
The silence and expressive mobility of Andrea Riseborough’s eyes as MANDY and the whole arc occasioned by Nicolas Cage’s committed rage, however, convey, to me, the poignancy of their tragic separation. Director Panos Cosmatos accords it with their mutual harmony beyond the nightmare of its alternate, retro inspired take on dregs of society. Grief is the prime motivator and equalizer here. Emotional volatility of the spirit takes precedence here than words.
A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA
Another life lost to police brutality and the disappearance of civility among us, even as a pandemic rages like a wild fire. Another trial for George Floyd refusing to embalm a racist society’s shaky foundations.
LATASHA was among the many first among equals in that unfortunate regard, back in 1991, at just 15.
The legacy of her hopes endear in A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA, a nineteen minute visual essay that has, in its grips, the vitality of her protectiveness for others of her community, her ambitions of academic excellence and a career in law and the dream to rise above just a statistic.
The gagged voice is here but I, for once, feel no closure or even a flicker of recognition of humanity from others, to be very honest. Perhaps it’s the sign of the times. Perhaps it’s because I was born in the year Latasha passed away or was cruelly snatched from earthly realm. Thirty years down the line, we are still grappling with the same fight for dignity. That’s why I wish she is today a bird. Which is what I wish for all after death, to be birds in paradise as flesh and blood humanity is certainly no shorthand for life.
IF ANYTHING HAPPENS, I LOVE YOU
The twelve minute running time of this animated short is quite literally about the gagged voice of joy in the face of incalculable loss, a voice that never quite regains its tenor and prefers to accept silence and distance.
The images of a family’s shadows omnipresently(and literally, in this case) hanging over this changed household will not let one dry one’s eyes. It is very, very painful and in this era, it guts us emotionally.