MEMORABLE LIFE PORTRAITS

DEVI AHILYABAI(2002)

“DEVI” AHILYABAI Full Movie | Watch on EPIC ON: https://youtu.be/3lQLofQNN7U



Thanks to EpicOn, the wonderfully diverse streaming service of Indian infotainment channel EPIC, I had the opportunity to discover this impactful biographical portrait of the great Ahilyabai Holkar. We have, very obviously, heard legends about this queen of queens from Central India whose humility and acumen helped to establish a rarefied air of feminist valour in the Maratha kingdom. To see it portrayed with such finesse, with such simplicity of execution makes it rewarding for discerning cinephiles. This is not the historical take that immerses us in epic platitudes or grandiloquent visuals. No, this maintains the down to earth tonal quality of a woman who kept her humble roots intact even as a ruler, eschewing the supposed air of her station with a spirit of ‘karma'( work ethic) and righteousness of delivering justice even when faced with invasions.

Episodic in quality and yet coherently held together in terms of narrative, DEVI AHILYABAI is elevated by a wholly convincing performance by Mallika Prasad. She embodies the looks, ruab( grace and dignity) and vocal register of someone who blended the common good with impeccable administrative duties while also riding out to war in full armour without batting an eyelid. In her restrained and simultaneously fiery characterisation, she bears semblance to the historical figure we read about so fondly. She is excellent in each frame, whether refusing to accept communally divisive politics all too reminiscent of modern-day rhetoric or being headstrong when an opponent dares to send an army of thousands to intimidate her on account of her gender.





Other memorably etched turns are by Sadashiv Amrapurkar as the revolutionary progressive father in law who always saw in her the zeal to break through constrictions of gender and let her come into her own without interjecting; as also by Shabana Azmi as her mother in law who is there to give her a non-judgmental voice of support. It is all so heartening that such examples of unbiased equality came from pages of our past. Yet then and now, they can be so few and far between in deed and spirit.

Directed by Nachiket Patwardhan and Jayoo Patwardhan ( the former of whom was the male lead in Teevra Madhyam on which I had written recently), it uses actual locations of Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh and mostly stages scenes in interiors to let this dramatic effect be one of ideals and actions, not just lofty words or figures of beauty.

I, hence, highly recommend this unknown NFDC backed gem to reach your radar.

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THE MAKING OF THE MAHATMA/ GANDHI SE MAHATMA TAK(1996)

This is a Shyam Benegal classic. An underrated one at that. To me, on a second viewing of THE MAKING OF THE MAHATMA after having seen it on the Epic channel on television few years ago, I found it a true to life portrait of the almost obstinate path of virtue that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi took to find himself as an individual. Devoting this screenplay to unearthing linear and complex contours of his experiments with truth while in South Africa for twenty two momentous years, marked by patient struggles, is no mean feat.




Mr. Benegal, ever the consummate filmmaker, explores his unique coming of age journey with subtle momentum, simple strokes of courage of the people around him. At the same time, giving both Rajit Kapur and Pallavi Joshi the impetus to shine as a family unit whose bond is constantly tested by Gandhi’s single-minded pursuits. That obstinacy is also revealed with all-too human edges that can often be hard on multiple counts for others. Watch this work to uncover those layers.

Every movement towards change comes with sacrifices and bearing the brunt of authority. This work does it without malice or hagiographic outlooks. It also informs us about his efforts to pluck out racism in his adopted homeland and the true nature of an integrated diaspora invested in claiming dignity for itself. It is a collective act. It is acknowledged as such in this instance.

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MILDRED PIERCE (2011)

Watching this beautifully written and directed miniseries brought me to a point of renewed appreciation about Todd Haynes’ attention to detail and emotional articulation.

MILDRED PIERCE is, of course, about the titular protagonist essayed impeccably by Kate Winslet, her downward and then upward trajectory in an economically challenged era and the price of success one receives when personal relationships gobble up all the hard work and industry. It’s a delicate balancing act to constantly align these strands. Here, it is a seamless process of life choices and experiences being defined by the people who make or break us.



I love how the self-made Pierce is characterised to salute all such individuals who didn’t let class consciousness or societal judgements bog them down. Instead, they made their way even with initial apprehensions. Morgan Turner and Evan Rachel Wood are similarly excellent in conveying the thanklessness of certain offsprings who constantly make parents question their own merit. The same degree of excellence can be attributed to the cast in general.

Success is a roller coaster ride and personal equations have a way of getting in the way of faith in one’s own abilities. MILDRED PIERCE recognises that; also that judgements are mostly borne out of what others provide us with. I loved the period details, the expert cinematography, music and ethos, they all aid in putting the universality of human dilemmas right at the centre with such tact and care.

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THE NORMAL HEART (2014)



Sometimes, a battle is hard won. Sometimes, it is elongated. We battle prejudices and go on believing in a good fight for whole lifetimes. But every challenge has to be countered with courage to break the chain. To be heard. To speak. To let actions and words come from not just a place of anger but pain and hope suffused together. God bless those who take the frontlines to get justice for whole communities, generations and societies.

THE NORMAL HEART translates all that to put LGBTQ+ lives and the stigma around AIDS in the spotlight, informed by true historical fights in the 1980s by some undying advocates of social justice. Put in a cast this well-rounded comprising the likes of Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Alfred Molina and Joe Mantello among others and the intent translates to a potent vision.



This is an absolute must-watch. Period.

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