Sunday 26 December 2021

Sang-e-Meel Se Mulaqat [1989]

 Ustad Bismillah Khan was to Shehnai what Ravi Shankar (or Vilayat Khan) was to Sitar, Alla Rakha was to Tabla, and Ali Akbar Khan (or Amjad Ali Khan) was to Sarod – viz. not just an exponent of Hindustani Classical music, but also someone who was synonymous with the instrument he played. But, despite his unparalleled mastery of Shehnai – the notes of which, as Tagore so unforgettably wrote in Kabuliwallah, sound as if one’s heart is weeping – his existence wasn’t limited to this prowess alone. Goutam Ghose, in his poetic and mellifluous documentary Sang-e-Meel Se Mulaqat, provided a rare peek into the life, thoughts, love and experiences that shaped this extraordinary artist. His passion and excellence, of course, were at the very forefront of this deliberately paced work, and which was further amplified by a number of absorbing “live” performances – both solo and with his troupe. And, what made it further interesting were the depiction of his all-consuming love for classical music; anecdotes recounted by him that brought forth his immersion into and journey with this form; his ascetic life; his incredible bond with the city of Benaras which he called home; his penchant for singing – which he expressed quite a few times – and his love for “Thumri” which, unfortunately, is viewed rather pejoratively by many; his ever-smiling and jovial disposition; and, in perhaps the most fascinating display of the maestro, his syncretic, broad-minded and secular mindset, while still being deeply rooted in his faith and culture. All these facets were captured through leisurely conversations, and were regularly interspersed with beautifully shot vistas of the teeming ghats, ancient mansions, winding lanes and the unmistakable atmosphere of Khan Sahab’s beloved city.






Director: Goutam Ghose

Genre: Documentary/Musical/Biopic

Language: Urdu/Hindi

Country: India

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan [1978]

 Diverse existential shades – from ennui and dilemma to crisis and even angst – were at the forefront in Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s absorbing and ironically titled debut film Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan. It was laced with a tantalizing dose of stylistic confidence, lazy elegance, offbeat charm, wry political commentary, and a simmering expression of individual and societal malaise. And, alongside that, it provided a rapturous ode to the myriad hues and locales of the city of Bombay – local trains and taxis, bustling thoroughfares and rainwashed lanes, street performers and pedestrians, stacked chawls and art deco houses, cricket ground and seafront promenade – with deadpan lyricism. Its titular hero, Arvind Desai (Dilip Dhawan), is a lost guy grappling for straws while striving to resolve the contradictions that surround him. He’s the scion of a wealthy businessman (Shriram Lagoo) from whom he’s bequeathed an elite store that deals in luxury handicraft items and expensive carpets. He’s not averse to displaying his privilege, though ostensibly disinterested in it; he wallows in riches – driving in his Fiat, visiting expensive restaurants, mirroring the period’s fashion – despite his fledgling political and class consciousness, as evidenced by the loaded questions he posits to his intellectual Marxist college friend (Om Puri); and he’s in a casual relationship with his secretary (Anjali Paigankar), while also occasionally visiting a seedy brothel. This, therefore, was a melancholic, reflective work made palpably personal by the understated tone, deliberate pacing, underlying sense of befuddlement and entrancing soundtrack that alternated between a quirky score during the beginning and end credits – which also portrayed the impoverished lives of those who make the expensive carpets and handloom products – and haunting jazz riffs that accompanied the Bombay vistas.






Director: Saeed Akhtar Mirza

Genre: Drama/Existential Drama/Urban Drama

Language: Hindi

Country: India

Saturday 18 December 2021

Aakrosh [1980]

 Govind Nihalani – former cinematographer who became one of the doyens of the “Parallel Cinema” movement in India (so-called because it ran both artistically and commercially in parallel to the country’s thriving popular film industries) – made an explosive and unflinching directorial debut with Aakrosh. It brilliantly straddled the lines between lashing social commentary and gripping conspiracy thriller – where both powerfully cohabited thanks to the foundations laid by renowned Marathi playwright Vijay Tendulkar’s gritty, angst-filled script (who Nihalani would collaborate with again in what remains his most well-known film, Ardh Satya) – while delivering a ferocious indictment against caste-based discrimination, marginalization, exploitation, oppression and violence that have been perpetuated against those in the bottom-most social rungs. Its central crux – where a group of chauvinistic, power-drunk upper-caste men brutalize an Adivasi woman with brazen impunity – was as prescient then as it’s now, reminding one of the ghastly recent incidents of Unnao, Kathua and Hathras. The story broadly revolved around two men – Lahanya (played with scorching power by Om Puri, who emoted through his eyes and hardly spoke), an impoverished daily labourer framed for the death of his wife (Smitha Patil), and Bhaskar (played with vigour and idealism by Naseeruddin Shah), a young lawyer who upon being assigned the case doggedly pursues it despite increasingly ominous threats. In an ironic play, the person prosecuting Lahanya is a hotshot lawyer (Amrish Puri in a commanding turn), belongs to the Adivasi caste himself and regularly receives anonymous hate-calls, though he hobnobs with fellow bigwigs and coldly believes in legally admissible evidence. The film also featured Mahesh Elkunchwar – another noted Marathi playwright who’d later collaborate with Nihalani in the lacerating satire Party – as a Marxist social worker.






Director: Govind Nihalani

Genre: Drama/Legal Drama/Conspiracy Thriller

Language: Hindi

Country: India

Saturday 11 December 2021

About Elly [2009]

 Upper middle-class morality, entitlement and hypocrisy – and the social capital they possess which allows them to conveniently switch between casually liberal and conservative dismay, and from self-centeredness to self-preservation – formed the crux of Asghar Farhadi’s brilliant, gripping, and fiercely cutting About Elly. In this superb reimagining of Antonioni’s arthouse existential classic L’Avventura – a premise that involved the ripple effects produced by a person’s mysterious disappearance during a trip – Farhadi provided as much a lashing commentary on the bourgeoisie as he did on the Iranian society, through a compact tale composed, constructed and delineated with striking formal and emotional precision. It began on a lively note with an exuberant group of upwardly mobile families from Tehran – old-time friends, their spouses and kids – who’ve come for a short vacation. Sapideh (Golshifteh Farahani) – who loves organizing and troubleshooting – has taken the lead in arranging the gate-away, including getting hold of a beach-side house on the Caspian Sea through some smart maneuvering. The carefree bonhomie aside, she also intends to use this opportunity to hook up her friend (Shahab Hosseini), who’s recently got divorced and is on a short visit from Germany – with shy, stunningly beautiful and quietly vulnerable kindergarten teacher Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti) who belongs to a lower social rung. This initiative is progressed, however, without either trying to properly know Elly or taking her fully into confidence, and hence when she suddenly disappears amidst the frolic, what was playful fun turns harrowing and devastating to the point of even potentially shattering some of the familial bonds. Tightly knit, marvelously enacted and bereft of non-diagetic sound, the way the film’s tone, mood and dynamics imploded was akin to an exquisitely crafted thriller.






Director: Asghar Farhadi

Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama

Language: Persian

Country: Iran

Tuesday 7 December 2021

The White Balloon [1995]

 Jafar Panahi’s tender, delightful and warm-hearted debut film The White Balloon – it was, interestingly, written by Abbas Kiarostami, who Panahi had earlier assisted in the latter’s spellbinding Through the Olive Trees – had interesting parallels with Kiarostami’s stunning Where Is the Friend’s Home and Majid Majidi’s much loved Children of Heaven. The premise of all three, incidentally, chronicled disarming odysseys involving kid(s) searching for something; and, these were portrayed from the POVs of kids with infectious simplicity, empathy, mundane beauty, and an engaging sense of suspense. The movie began with a riot of colours and sounds, and a flurry of activities, as a vibrantly composed montage captured a busy Tehran bazaar which, intriguingly, provided snippets of characters – women and men, old and young, shoppers and passersby – who’d feature over the narrative’s course. The focus then zeroed in on Razieh (Aida Mohammadkhani), an adorable and pouting 7-year old girl who wants to purchase a “chubby” goldfish that has captured her fancy. It’s the Persian New Year eve, and hence her mom is short of cash, but she relents to give her the money thanks to some coaxing by the kid’s elder brother (Mohsen Kalifi). The rest of its brisk length – shot largely in “real time” – comprised of her dash through various obstacles, and thereafter – upon realizing that the money has inadvertently fallen through the grate in the pavement – desperate attempts at recovering it before the store closes. The two kids aside, Panahi filled the film – laced with wry observations and detached humour – with a host of characters, including a couple of hustling snake charmers, a sympathetic old lady, an irate tailor, a homesick soldier and a lonely Afghan balloon seller.






Director: Jafar Panahi

Genre: Drama/Urban Drama

Language: Persian

Country: Iran