Anantaram: Scratching The Surface, A Narrator’s Duality

Ever felt tormented recalling some events from the ‘past’? Well, that’s what catalyses each one of us to form a ‘future script’ of our lives. What begins as a nervous-breakdown might soon morph into madness, if it remains uncontrollable! Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s ‘Anantaram’ (1987) deals with this subject thoroughly albeit from the perspective of our unreliable narrator, Ajayan. And watching the film for the second time had a quite different effect on me.

Being abandoned during his birth, Ajayan spends his early years getting nursed by the hospital staff. Later on, his life changes for good when he gets adopted by ‘Doctor Uncle’, as Ajayan addresses him. What follows further is a set of two stories, exactly opposite from one another, both told by the narrator. Thus, it is the style of Adoor’s storytelling that creates a lasting effect on the viewers, leaving them with a choice to segregate the truth and imagination of our protagonist, based on their ‘own experience’.

The first story begins with a smart, athletic, bookish Ajayan who stands out from the rest of the children of his age. Growing up as a confident and opinionated young man, Ajayan’s life turns topsy-turvy when he gets attracted to his foster brother Balu’s (Mammootty) wife Suma (Shobana). This leads to a series of conflicts, with Ajayan unable to move on with his so-called love or obsession.

Upon reaching the conclusion of his first narration, Ajayan has second-thoughts as he starts afresh. The second story lays a much more focus on his adolescence where our protagonist is highly influenced by the three servants of the house. And what’s Ajayan for them? A mere toy boy or just a play time. They unknowingly make Ajayan feel tormented at a very young age. To the contrary of the first story, Ajayan, here has a seemingly happy love life until reality strikes again!

At the end, it’s up to the viewers’ perception to figure out the thin line between truth and imagination in Ajayan’s life story.

Credits to Adoor Gopalakrishnan for another fine work of art, ‘Anantaram’ has topped my list of personal favourite films.

(Do Watch Anantaram, Available on YouTube)

The Disciple: “…Of Being A Mediocre”

Etching the best of yourself for more than three decades in an art form, only to end up being mediocre will surely leave you in a dilemma. And that’s what piqued me (not to forget ‘Court’) into Chaitanya Tamhane’s The Disciple. It is the story of Sharad Nerulkar (Aditya Modak), a young man who aspires to achieve mastery in the devoted Indian Classical music. 

The film opens up in a musical concert where Sharad’s Guruji Vinayak Pradhan (Arun Dravid) is performing. And accompanying him is Sharad playing a veena while being delved into his master’s hypnotic music. In this first scene, you can see the fascination Sharad has towards his master, very well conveyed through his eyes. And that’s how the beginning lives up to the title, The Disciple.

Opening Scene from The Disciple

A Choice That We Make

The film gives you an impressive insight into the Hindustani classical art form whilst treating you with many fascinating stories bound with this art form. Keeping that aspect aside, it is Sharad’s journey that you personally dive into. There are many instances you’d find yourselves relating it to your own story. Well everyone has one, that can’t be overlooked, at least subconsciously!

Though Sharad has been relentlessly practising music for years, he’s not completely immersed into it. His restlessness and the “fear of being mediocre” unwantedly restricts him from achieving his dreams. Unlike his friends, Sharad is quite impatient and scouts more into the philosophical side of music. Avoiding the surface, his ideologies about the art form is what becomes a catalyst to his restless mind.

He often bikes around the city listening to the philosophical take of Maai (Sumitra Bhave). And this leads to Sharad setting up a different perspective about music, listening to Maai’s views. His old-school thoughts become a conflicted side amid the changing world around him. Decades have passed and still Sharad continues to live with his dilemma. But for how long? There comes a time when he needs to make a firm decision and he does so.

A scene from The Disciple

The Evolving Mumbai & Dawn Of Commercialization

Sharad sets out on a journey to achieve his musical aspirations, he’s unaware of the fact how the world he resides in is constantly evolving. The dawn of the internet has fueled commercialization to the next level wherein Sharad struggles with his mediocrity and his norms about music.

The evolving Mumbai blends in Sharad’s conflicting life and Tamhane stages it perfectly with many subtle scenes. Also, there’s a ‘singing TV reality show’ angle that commingles in the narrative. Wherein, a young girl gets selected in an audition for her impressive classical vocals. Later, throughout her journey in the show, we see her singing romantic ballads and pop songs. This is another way Chaitanya very beautifully resembles the change.

A still from The Disciple
A still from The Disciple

The Disciple Ending: The Selfless Artistic Truth

Chaitanya Tamhane leaves us with a self-decoding climax. Well, there’s no mystery to unfold here, it just gives us a more-humanized conclusion to a failed artist’s story. After discontinuing his journey towards mastery, Sharad, just like most of us, decides to accept the truth of his life. In the closing shot where Sharad is seen travelling in a local train with his family, a beggar enters the train, playing his musical instrument. As he is roving around the compartment, a couple of passengers are busy shooting him with their phones.

Through this scene, Tamhane might be implying upon the changing views of the society. The artistic world that has just stoop down to the aspect of fame and fortune. And from Sharad’s point of view, he experiences the blissful music that this young beggar is performing through a folk song. Apart from his daily bread, there’s nothing more the pauper wants to achieve, and thus he lives the selfless artistic truth. And this is quite contrary to that of Sharad’s views who was glued to the outcome more than the process.

The Disciple is now streaming on Netflix.

‘Kamlabai’ Documentary: Fading Portrait Of An Artiste

Documenting the declining years of an artist or even a common man makes up for an interesting subject of a story. Well, it’s not that joyous when you’re the ‘subject’. And that’s what you experience in Reena Mohan’s 1992 documentary ‘Kamlabai’ that essays the old-age life of Kamlabai Gokhale, one of the first actresses of Indian Cinema. The film was shot when the late actor was 88 years old and she was as charismatic as her early years!

In this 47-minute docu, Kamlabai narrates her life-story, the unfortunate incidents that led her to the world of theatres and drama. It’s a moving film and trust me, by the end of it there’s a lot you take in consciously. Portraying an artist’s life in a documentary is all about his/her career’s highs and lows. However, it is not the same here, Kamlabai very casually expresses her beliefs about the changing society.

Screengrab from Kamlabai Documentary (YouTube)

Kamlabai recounts the tragedies of her personal life while also talking about her journey on stage and on the screens. She recalls working with Dadasaheb Phalke in the film Mohini Bhasmasur. The best part of the documentary is the oscillating times that set the film in an apt tone. One where Kamlabai talks about her life as an actor and the other being her present state as she lives by herself in Pune.

At 88, Kamlabai seemed mischievous as a kid and also sustains her artistic personality. She delivers one of her films’ dialogues, though it’s not accurate but speaks more of her liveliness. Also, watching her interacting with the filmmaker Reena tells more about Kamalabai’s spunkiness. To be precise, this documentary is a fascinating and moving portrait of Kamlabai’s “not-so-ordinary” life.

Cache: Michael Haneke’s Film Is A Subtle Blend Of Memories & Mysteries

A white luxurious house, high-raised buildings in the background, and the road in the front occupied with cars. This is the opening scene of Michael Haneke’s 2005 film Cache (Hidden) which runs longer than you could expect. The still frame makes you aware of the chaos lying ahead, but what’s wrong? While you try to decode, the image breaks down and a videotape is being played.

Opening Shot Of Cache

The Laurent family lead idyllic lives until they start receiving video tapes containing absurd and lengthy footage recorded outside of their house. It becomes a matter of debate if they are being watched or stalked. They try to track down the anonymous stalker and while getting close to the truth, past memories resurfaces for Georges Laurent.

The beauty of Cache is that Haneke never reveals the true identity of the “stalker” or the “victim,” whatever you call him/her, it all depends on your perspective. While the stillness of the film makes us uncomfortable, the mystery of the story is what keeps us rooted. Without exploiting the time frame, Cache tests our patience.

Closing Shot Of Cache

In the last scene i.e the closing shot which takes place on a crowded stairs of a school two characters of the story are engaged in an “unsounded” conversation, beware! you’ll miss them if you aren’t completely hooked to the frame. Either the closing shot tells a different story altogether or is just an uncertain moment in the story, that’s how life is.

As Georges tries to revisit his past and his childhood memories, we hope that finally we will be able to decode the real mystery. But Cache is not an usual thriller that has a set of answers pre-defined, it relies on the subtlety of the story and the way we perceive it to find our own answers.

Cache has a subtle-yet-a-political approach which sets it apart from the contemporary thrillers.

Kali: Anger & Love Seeps In Exploring Human Psyche

They say anger and love (a vague pairing!) comes unexpected. But for Siddharth (Dulquer Salmaan), all of it starts just like the film’s straight-to-point title ‘Kali’ (Rage). His short-tempered nature dominates him in every phase of his life, creating problems ahead. However, in the beginning of the story, Siddharth’s ‘anger inducing’ situations creates a base for the film’s entertaining side as it also briefs us with our protagonist and his life-story.

A scene from Kali

Romance in Kali is not ‘larger than life’ but filled with heartwarming moments just like the one we see in the above frames. Anjali (Sai Pallavi) acts as a catalyst in making Siddharth aware of the realities and uncertainty of life, she mirrors him with his flaws, and their romance blends in throughout the story. Anger and Love, both these emotions go parallel in Siddharth’s life, one makes him a flawed character while the other humanizes him.

And rage comes to life again in the pre-climax but these are not the moments we earlier laughed on or enjoyed. Unexpectedly Siddharth and Anjali cross paths with sinister heads, which ultimately tests their patience. The story shifts as a gripping narrative in the climax and the closing shot is where ‘Kali’ is reborn but with a change.

Kali, available on Disney+ Hotstar.

Art Parallel: There Will Be Blood (2007) & Tumbbad (2018)

Rewatching ‘There Will Be Blood’ made me observe the various similarities of it’s story and characters with the 2018 film Tumbbad. Both the stories in a way deal with an inner demon of the characters and it concludes in the same manner where the characters confront the reality of life beyond greed. In Tumbbad, we follow Vinayak Rao (@sohum_shah ) right from his childhood, throughout the film we become well versed with the character and his needs. In a similar way, ‘There Will Be Blood’ follows the story of Daniel Plainview who gets into oil business and steps in the business world dealing cruelly with his competitors and going all against humanity. Both these characters are driven by the sense of greed and position in the society.

Scenes from There Will Be Blood & Tumbbad

They both believe that resources of the earth are for the men of the earth to uncover. Though in different times, settings, etc the conclusion remains the same, the intent of both characters and their story remains the same. And at the end, as a viewer we take up various interpretations from their stories. The inescapable cycle of greed continues until their lives come to an end though in a different way for Plainview. The emotional peaks hit up at the right places in the story and the cycle of greed and humanity continues to go on. Apart from the characters, the transition of both the countries are also highlighted through the story.

Eventually, Vinayak and Daniel are mirrored to the real life at the end, but what did they worship, wealth or power?

Decoding the song ‘Jhelum’ (Haider)

A river which flows through mountains and valleys is divided and now shared by two nations India and Pakistan. The water flows without any restriction but carries within the sorrows of many people who have suffered and lost the true shine of their lives. Capturing these moments is the song Jhelum from the film Haider. Lyrics by Gulzar accompanied by a haunting composition by Vishal Bhardwaj highlights the grief of the people of Kashmir. Be it Muslims or Kashmiri Pandits, all of them have suffered loss, a loss of loved ones.

The river is searching for an anchor, an anchor which it can call it’s own and which does not intend to go against humanity. Will there be peace? Jhelum seems to be questioning people both the sides. Jhelum is filled with tears, the sweet water has turned saline. It questions again, Who won?

A scene from the song Jhelum

The above frames from the song is where a boy is seen celebrating as he’s amazed of surviving a massacre in which hundreds of people were killed.

Eternal Love for Alaipayuthey (2000)

Watching a film and then completely falling for the same, it takes a little time for us to get over it. We feel an eternal love for the beauty of our favourite film and it’s characters. And Mani Ratnam’s ‘Alaipayuthey’ is one such film that makes you admire it in different ways altogether right from picturisation of the songs, to the very small story arcs in the film. Ratnam’s second film after Mouna Ragam which has a central theme of romance and explores the dynamics of a young couple’s relationship post marriage.

Rewatching Alaipayuthey now gave me a deep insight into the blissful cinematography of P C Sreeram, I would say that his camera has been a perfect match for every Mani Ratnam film right from Mouna Ragam to OK Kanmani. Highlighting the song ‘Evano Oruvan’ through it’s divine frames and the meaningful lyrics, the film opens a new arc and concludes it quite as a new beginning for Karthik (@actormaddy ) and Shakti (Shalini).

Taking the narrative forward and mapping it through images, making it a symbolism of grief that goes within these characters. The shots follow a medical camp being threatened by stormy weather, a wide angle shot of a bus approaching, and some other beautiful shots accompanied by dark shades and wind continuously stating the inner state of mind of both these characters. Finally they both meet at a bridge across a river, giving a closure to this beautiful song and initiating the story further.

Lost in Illusion: Guddi (1971)

Have you ever been obsessed/attracted to an actor for the character they essayed on screen? We have been nurtured by the media in a way that our minds have been framed and stuck to just one side of the coin that we in reality miss the flip side of everything around us. We tend to believe what we see rather than questioning it. Kusum’s story is on similar lines in the 1971 film Guddi which intends to be Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s conversation with the world on the glamorous world of cinema. The film follows Guddi, an ardent fan of the film star Dharmendra which indirectly takes her far away from the realities of the world.

A scene from Guddi

The comic approach and Dharmendra playing himself in the film is one element that I have always loved in every Mukherjee or Basu Chatterjee film. The craft of connecting reality with fiction is what they were masters of. Guddi is one such comedy-drama that gives us an insight from the glamorous world of cinema and at the same time shows us the flip side of the illusions which we see on screen. The film talks about the ‘heroes’ of cinema who work behind the camera. The film even after fifty years of its release marks its relevance. Through this film, you will relive the thoughts you had about cinema and actors when you were a child.

A scene from Guddi

In a scene where Dharmendra talks about his beginning in the industry, he narrates a story of a destructed studio in which many classics including Do Bigha Zamin, Bandini, etc were shot and the place which should’ve been a center of art is now like an outcast in the world of glamour.

#22yearsofDilSe: The Relevance of Title Track!

Kashmir has been the boiling point when it comes to Indian Politics. Though the film is out and out framed as a romantic drama, the political stance it took in a subtle way is highlighted through its metaphorical story which represents the obsession of two nation’s over the reign on Kashmir. Leave the film aside, but even if one watches the title track of the film, Ratnam has a lot to say about the political tension over the place. It is not about the music or lyrics of the song but the way it has been visually portrayed tells a lot about Kashmir and the trauma of it’s residents.

The song starts of with police sirens and men in uniform guarding all over the small borders within the place. The army is marching all across the street strongly implementing their presence. The picturization of how people walk away with the daily guard and one shot where all children in school uniforms are expressing their freedom on streets might represent the future of Kashmir.

People are running from the hauntings. You feel like you are the hunted and you are the hunters stuck in the midst of political tensions. The fear of change, the fear of acceptance and the endless chase continues.