There are films that make you love an actor, and then there are others, where a character grows on you. A Death in the Gunj by Konkona Sensharma is one where an actor and his character both made sense. Vikrant Massey played the protagonist Shutu in the film, and I’d like to call him that as I know the reason behind it. Years before, I had read a book in Bangla called Ghunpoka. It’s one of the finest novels by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay and one of the best on Melancholia, ever written. The protagonist there, Shyam, was a melancholic youth, eating on his own life in bits and pieces. I wouldn’t say Shutu has a great resemblance with Shyam, but there is a faint familiarity.
The film begins with visitors entering the gunj, McLuskiegunj in Bihar, 1978. There’s a couple and their child, visiting their parents with a friend and cousin Shutu. More friends arrive and it is a fete on cold winter evenings that turns mostly into a melee – in the sense that more people are hurt. There’s no denying that Shutu seems unimpressive in the beginning. He’s shy, a little less masculine in his looks, that may even be bordering to cute, and he’s timid. You notice the flamboyance of the other characters immediately – the retired father, the then modern mother, the pragmatic son, the endearing daughter-in-law, the sexy friend, the flirt friend and a nice kid. Everyone flourishes, has their own scenes, frames, and dialogues, while Shutu sulks at a corner. Well, he has his own reasons, primary being the untimely death of his father.
Sacred Games is the first Netflix India original series. It is in vogue now, so you couldn’t have missed hearing about it. I recall purchasing the book many years ago for my birthday. It had almost become a tradition to gift myself these voluminous books – from Sacred Games to A Suitable Boy, and borrowing Shantaram from a friend, around my birthday too. While Shantaram was an elaborate but great read, Sacred Games wasn’t in the beginning. Having grown up in Calcutta, I was pretty used to and I used (not prettily) Bangla curses. But when it came to the Hindi ones, I winced a bit. There resided, probably a little Sanskaari me within, who felt uncomfortable. Years pass by and I laugh at my hypocrisy now. It feels like those memes – “If you can’t take me at my Hindi C word, you don’t deserve me at my Bangla B word.” True.
When I login to Netflix each day, a troupe of amazing ‘Netflix Original’ films await for me, but none from India. I kept wondering why Netflix wouldn’t invest in a few interesting films that are still made in the country. I still wonder why it took a few years and a Valentine’s Day to release an Indian film on Netflix worldwide before it came out commercially. There are controversies around this as well since critics claim that Love Per Square Foot is not a Netflix ‘Original’ as it wasn’t commissioned by Netflix (just acquired from the producer), but it should be labelled as the first Indian film to be released on the platform. Unless, of course, you consider ‘Brahman Naman’ by Q last year, which was carefully sided as an Indie film and not a commercial one. Setting aside these intricacies, Love Per Square Foot is officially the first Indian film to be released worldwide on Netflix. And that, I hope, would start an era of good, relevant, and necessary films on this virtual platform.
I watched Love Per Square Foot on a cold, depressing evening, probably wishing for some warmth from my comfort zone where it is set – Bombay. I can’t say it wrapped me in an incredible duvet of emotions but it did replace some of the chill with a warm, fuzzy feeling that is so indigenous of seaside Bombay.
I have been coveting to read Ismat Chughtai’s books since long, in Hindi, preferably. I started with Manto, however, picking up a translated copy (by Atish Taseer) from a friend and realised that I didn’t savour the translation. Taseer might have done a good job in trying to extrapolate Manto’s writing to those who cannot read Hindi/Urdu but I wasn’t one of them. The anguish and dilemma in Toba Tek Singh must be read in the original flavour, I thought. Thus, I procured Manto in Hindi, read, tried to fathom and moved on to read Chughtai too. Ziddi was my first choice as I had already watched the film (1948) starring Dev Anand and wanted to read the original, rich text that Chughtai is so famous for.
Ziddi is the story of Pooran and Asha. No, it is not an easy love story as it may sound. The book starts with a very old woman on deathbed who wishes to glance at young Pooran one last time before she dies. She’s the nanny who looked after him all childhood and leaves behind her only grand-daughter, Asha. After naani passes away, Asha takes refuge in Pooran’s palatial house. An unequal love blossoms, though the rest of the family treats Asha as the nanny’s kin-turned-gracious-househelp. Due to this socio-economic imbalance in their statuses, they are stricken apart every time they come close. Years pass, but the unavowed love lingers as embers in a dying fire. Ah yes, fire plays an important role in the climax of the story. But that is for the readers to find out.
Udta Punjab begins at night, in the lush green fields swaying merrily in the winter breeze. A disc that lands flying on the crops costs millions and is picked up by a young immigrant contract labourer from Bihar. And the mayhem commences.
With all the controversy that the film has garnered over the past months, might I say that it is worth almost every minute of watch. The scenario it reveals about Punjab is astounding. Despite the motley of disclaimers that label the film as a work of fiction, it seems shockingly real. I have never been to Punjab but had doses of the silky yellow mustard fields – courtesy Bollywood. I know that romance in those fields is not what Punjab is only about; just like Calcutta that is not entirely resting on Howrah Bridge and roshogolla. The innocence of that romance has long been veiled by the white powder that rules. It seems, the penetration of powder (and liquid) in Punjab is an issue that has been carefully concealed from the rest of the country. In a humongous nation like ours, keeping track of the maladies in each state is something that even Governments haven’t managed to accomplish. It is not an excuse to be oblivious of that scenario in Punjab, it’s a shame that a state is gradually crumbling into ruins.
‘Khet banjar te aulaad kanjar’ – probably sums up the film’s true essence.
Disclaimer: The piece below is NOT a review, merely a humble analysis or something similar, thereby not covering entirety of the film or its plot.
Lootera made me cry. That perhaps, could say it all. But the film deserves much more to be written about it. To begin with the laurels, it opens with an elaborate Durga Puja at a Zamindar house somewhere in Bengal. We have watched Durga Puja portrayed in quite a few Hindi films, none of them much to my liking except Kahaani, perhaps. There were Parineeta and Devdas with gaudy, pompous imagery of the festival and over-jewelled women hovering near the idol rustling their expensive designer sarees. Kahaani, for the first time presented a real piece of the puja from the streets of contemporary Calcutta, normal women resplendent in plain red-bordered-white-sarees performing the vermilion ritual on Bijoya Dashami. Then came Lootera, with an old world Durga Puja in a village, exactly the kind of story many of us have heard from our parents and grandparents. There used to be one hundred eight earthen pradips (lamps) and the same number of lotus blooms for the Ashtami puja, there used to be makeshift bamboo platforms staging the local village play or hired ‘opera’s from Calcutta, there used to be wealthy Zamindar women dressed in dhakaisarees and full-sleeved blouses with their neatly plaited braids and silver brooches. All these recreated perfectly in Lootera made me wonder about the director being a ‘non-Bengali’ as we term such people. I don’t know if he did the research himself, but it is nearly perfect. I say nearly for minute glitches like a stud on the wrong nose of Pakhi’s sakhi Miss Majumdar. Bengali women wear their studs, pins and rings on the left plateau of their noses. There is also a minor aberration of the ladies wearing coloured glass bangles in a few scenes. Unless the village shown in the film was meant to be set in precise vicinity of Bihar, the women of Bengal never wore coloured glass bangles, especially Zamindar women who had kilograms of gold to spare.