Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh

It is joyful indeed that Aligarh released in the small town I live in. So without further ado I set off with my mother to watch it. Wipe off that disbelieving expression of your face, please. I have made her watch Angry Indian Goddesses too. It was a time before solo movie watching became the thing to do.

Prof. Siras is a shy man, who dedicated his life to teaching a language. He was  thrown out of the university because of his sexual orientation. A man who has served the university all his life is treated with so much disrespect and disdain when only three months remained for his retirement is heartbreaking. He was not  given a chance to explain himself and a charge-sheet was filed against him without an inquiry. Why should a section of people not be allowed to live their lives and be discriminated against be ostracized or live in fear of being outed because of their sexual preference as long it is consensual, is beyond my understanding.

Rajkumar Rao plays Deepu, a journalist in the film. He lights up the screen when he’s around and, no he does not always do weepy films as a friend pointed out the other day. The movie shows how journalistic stories should be done. With sensitivity. It is not only about the scoop. These are real people whose stories are being told so you might as well have some compassion or choose another profession. News sensationalism is subtly noted. In a scene Arnab Goswami’s show is running in the background and Siras was asked to sit in front of the camera but the debate rages on without his inputs. He is bewildered by the media circus. A shy, quiet man who loved language and found poetry in the messiness of everyday life thrust into the limelight for all the wrong reasons is a sad thing.

Prof. Siras, who writes poetry, says this in response to Deepu when he says he doesn’t understand poetry.

Poetry is not in the words but in the silences, the pauses between the words.

The film is a commentary on our hypocritical society which allows men to visit prostitutes when they are married but a consensual act between two adults is termed immoral because it is homosexual in nature.

The loneliness of the professor is haunting. Manoj Bajpayee has become Siras. Aligarh surprised me with its tenderness. The long takes made the scenes real; as if you are not watching someone act but seeing a real person which is brilliant because it is based on a true story. It unnerves you. Team Aligarh should take a bow for this wonderful film. Hansal Mehta’s film is real but never melodramatic. It is a film  where the quiet scenes are the most devastating.

Spoiler alert!

While returning home my mother asked why did he kill himself after fighting for his rights? We don’t know if he killed himself or was killed. There was poison in his system but the police refused to conduct an inquiry. His life would never be what he wanted it to be. A life with no respect or dignity. He had thought of going to America to start a new life but later on must have realized the futility of that dream.

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk

My first thought as I watched Dunkirk was remembering Ian McEwan’s Atonement; both reading the book with its long war passages, and watching the devastation unfold on screen.

The  pounding musical score by Hans Zimmer in Dunkirk isn’t what you would ever want to download and listen to (Do listen to the OST of Atonement by Dario Marianelli.) but it works for the movie,​ pumping it with urgency. And how the movie is shot adds to the tension so we are able to feel the rising​ panic and helplessness. Cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is outstanding.

Dunkirk was emotional for me. The movie has a beating heart. A war movie without any of the goriness but all the urgency thanks to the way it is shot which puts you in the thick of action, and that’s something that appealed to me. I don’t know how people found it cut and dry. Dialogue is sparse. There was pin drop silence in the hall. Everyone was listening intently and watching like a hawk so as not to miss anything because the narrative is such; we weren’t being told just shown. We don’t get a history lesson here. Nothing is explained. We get to see a dramatization of experiences of how the soldiers themselves might have experienced it.

Both for a war movie, and the cinematic flourish that Nolan usually brings, Dunkirk was understated and subtle.

I loved the patriotic spirit of the people, civilians who went out to rescue their people on being urged by their government, knowing fully well that they are undertaking a a huge risk.

Honour and bravery  are all very well but it is survival that matters in the end. Survival by any means possible is what the movie focuses on. I chose to believe that survival in this case isn’t an act of cowardice because staying alive they will be more useful to their country’ the war was far from over.

Survival isn’t fair.

There’s no melodrama and some scenes are almost clinical in its brutality but no fuss is made about it. If anyone says it’s not engaging, it’s probably not their cup of tea. Even though the outcome is widely known we (those of us in the hall) were watching what was unfolding on screen with bated breath, till the credits rolled on.

When the movie ended there was applause.  Clearly the audience was moved. Continue reading “Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk”

The Postmaster

After watching Satyajit Ray’s adaptation of The Postmaster, a short story by Rabindranath Tagore, and I am forced to think how little I had understood of Ratan’s plight, and the subtext, when it was taught to us in school. I wonder if the opinions were even our own. Then the only interpretation that flew was the teacher’s. We weren’t encouraged to apply our brains much those days. So many years down the line I don’t even remember who taught it. That’s what memories are. Fleeting and evasive, just beyond your grasp when you need them. You seem to remember some things while forgetting others. That’s where people come in. You ask them what they remember of an incident or something that happened, and you will be amazed to hear the stories, real and imagined. Everyone thinks they remember it correctly, the way it happened. But it is the prism of perspective that colours everything we view.

Chandana Banerjee as the young Ratan is outstanding. I couldn’t have expected more. She brought Tagore’s Ratan to life. I have no love lost for the postmaster but it was portrayed well by Anil Chatterjee. Incredible acting. The fish out of water-ness and his loneliness were apparent. I can’t exactly call him unfeeling or unkind but in the end he thought only of saving himself. That is human nature, the survival instinct kicking in. I won’t reveal much that may spoil your reading or watching. But I shall say this, you will be surprised by what you feel once you have finished watching or reading it.

It’s a pity I found subtitles only for a part of the story.  It wasn’t that big a problem because I do understand a bit of Bengali, especially when it is spoken slowly, it being similar somewhat to Odia and all.

The Postmaster is one of three short films collectively titled Teen Kanya. I have only seen The Postmaster which is so nuanced that even though you don’t understand the language completely, by dint of what’s unfolding on the screen, the feeling will find its way to you. What the director was trying to convey  is in tandem with what the writer was trying to say. Do you know how rare that is?

I loved the black and white minimalist cinematography where every single thing that unfolded on screen added something to the story. Nothing was extraneous. I found this podcast online where Anita Desai narrates The Postmaster which is followed by a discussion. Listen to it now. It is of course thousand times better than me reading the text. Needless to say I love and admire Anita Desai having read her The Village by the Sea when I was young (for school again) and the book has stayed with me all these years.

It’s been a while since I read Tagore. It’s time to reacquaint myself with his prose. And what better time than the monsoons, when loneliness and desolation walk hand in hand.