Hamid

It’s been 24 days since I am under house arrest thanks to the pandemic that has brought all our lives to a standstill. So instead of losing my mind I am trying to make it as productive as possible and since I suck at watching movies during my regular routine, I thought this is a good time to watch all the movies.

So I watched Hamid last night, a movie that also made me be thankful and question my privilege that lets me watch a movie on Kashmir but the people whose lives the movie is based on have been in dark for months, without access to even basic information, forget entertainment.

It is a heartbreaking movie about a 7 year old Kashmiri boy whose father disappears one night and like zillions of other Kashmiri men never returns. Later he figures that 786 is Allah’s number and somehow tries a permutation and combination of numbers in an attempt to speak to Allah and request him to send his father back. Coincidentally, the number belongs to an army soldier (who is also struggling with his own baggage) and over the course of the movie we see a bond developing between them, a bond that transcends all man-made barriers and politics that straightjacket right from wrong. The innocence and perseverance of Hamid is enough to move even a stone to tears, for he is only seeking answers that will lead him to his father. He wants to know why has his father mysteriously disappeared one night and will never return? Who will tell him that he is too young to understand the price the likes of his father have to pay for being caught in a quagmire so big that all of us fail to comprehend its tenacity?

I was crying bucket full of tears and for people who know me they know that it might not have to do entirely with the film but how deeply I am invested in Kashmir and Kashmiris. I was pausing every now and then, bawling cause every moment stirred so strongly that I felt like I am running out of breath. It is also a story of triumph of the age old adage of good over evil cause Hamid does not give in to the evil of radicalisation and tries to be a boy of good words and character, something that his father always wanted of him. I was wondering is it just me who feels so strongly about this? Or if anyone who only knows about Kashmir through movies and news articles also feel the pain? Will they also question their privilege and acknowledge that people in the valley often suffer at the hands of an uneven power? There is so much I can go on and on about but since this post is about Hamid and how an indelible mark it left on me, I will conclude the post with the following thoughts and hope that you’ll will watch the film and question your privilege as well.

Last night I was hankering you,

For you had forgotten the cell of my remote

I had waited patiently all day to watch the match.

You immediately sprang out to fetch it for me.

I waited.

For days turned to months.

But you never returned.

I would sit by the window sill

And wish for you to walk in through the door,

hold me tight and,

take me on a ride to the Dal singing our favourite song.

Since it had been a while,

a while that I felt the magic of your smile,

piercing through the deepest pore of my skin

and taking away all that had been weighing down on me.

I spoke to Allah and asked him to send you back,

To give me another chance,

Another chance to be a better son,

so I could show you my good character.

But you never returned.

I was angry, broken and directionless.

I kept pleading to Allah to send you back,

even then you never returned.

I wanted to run away,

to a land across the mountains and seek revenge.

But Allah told me you may never return,

but you’ll still want me to be a man of good character.

And in that moment, the pain turned into strength,

Strength that would propel me to finish the Shikara that you had started,

So I could take Ammi for a ride to Dal,

Singing songs to her the way you did.

And when she finally smiled,

I could feel my soul coming back to life.

I wanted to treasure that moment safely in a box

So no one could steal it away.

Little Women

Last night I watched my first best film of 2020. I know the year has just begun and there will be so many great films that will come to the fore but no matter what, Little Women will top the list for me even then. Even though it’s an adaptation of a well known novel by Louisa May Alcott that many of us have read while growing up and there have been numerous adaptations of the book in the popular media but this one surpasses them all by a huge degree. For all those reading ahead, there might be spoilers and if you haven’t watched the film, I suggest exercise restraint before you read further.

The story is about a modest family going through the challenges of domestic life centred around the March sisters in ways that are relatable, inspiring and empowering in its portrayal. The film moves through the perspective of Jo March, who is hellbent on carving an identity for herself and not succumb to the pressures that a woman often caves in and eventually gives up on her ambitions. She works as an anonymous writer in New York where she keeps visiting a publishing house often submitting her work under the name of another friend cause she feels like her mother wouldn’t be happy with the kind of gory writing that she is into to earn some money in order to support the family. Friedrich who is another professor at the house where Jo lives happens to read some of her writings and on giving her an honest feedback, Jo is hurt and breaks their friendship. Soon after she also receives a letter from her mother informing her that her youngest sister Beth has gotten sicker. The story keeps cutting between past and present. As Jo returns home and Amy has met their childhood friend Laurie (played by the gorgeous Timotee Chalamet) again, the movie goes back to the time when they all met for the first time. There are some tender moments in the movie where Laura Dern who is playing their mother (fondly called as Marmee) comes home one Christmas morning when the girls are excitedly waiting for their mother to join them for breakfast requesting them to give their food to their needy neighbour and her starving kids. She tells them their father (who is at the American Civil War during that time) would’ve done the same and reads a letter from him to them.

As the film continues, Laurie starts to befriend the March sisters since he is the only and a lonely guy in the neighbourhood. Beth, the youngest of them all finds a fancy with a huge piano at their house and Laurie’s grandfather even lets her play it since she reminds him of his dead daughter. During one of the times, Jo, Laurie, Meg and Laurie’s professor go to the theatre which angers Amy and she ends up burning Jo’s writing that leads to a huge fight among the sisters. Amy soon realises her mistake and tries to make up to Jo but she doesn’t give in. Next day, Jo and Laurie are out skating when Amy follows them and ends up falling in ice cold water. This saddens Jo who realises that how could she be so selfish that she didn’t care about her sister’s well-being. Her mother explains to her that how she reminds her so much of her younger age and Jo is surprised to know their mother who she has always known to be so patient and resilient could have been temperamental ever. To that Laura Dern tells one of my favourite moments between a mother and daughter, “There are some natures too noble to curb and too lofty to bend.” This is followed by Meg (who has always been a good actress) falling in love with Laurie’s professor and deciding to get married which Jo tries to resist since she thinks that her sister shouldn’t be giving up so easily on her dream of being an actress. She tries to convince Meg by telling her that both of them will flee to New York where Jo will work as a writer and Meg can pursue her theatre and both of them will never get bored of each other. Meg then tries to assure her that just cause their dreams aren’t similar doesn’t mean that they are unimportant.

One of my another favourite moment is when Beth makes a shoe for Laurie’s grandfather as a token of gratitude for letting her play piano at their mansion regularly. This makes his grandfather so emotional that he ends up gifting Beth the piano with a heartfelt letter of how even after owing so many pairs of shoes, hers make him feel the best. Throughout the movie one wants to see Jo and Laurie end up together but you also know that somewhere that’s not going to happen. Laurie confesses his feeling to Jo and she simply turns him down saying if they get married, eventually he will get bored of her writing and she wouldn’t be able to adjust to his lifestyle and then they will squabble and it’ll be horrid. And in that moment Laurie tries to convince her by saying that they’ll be enough but Jo simply isn’t prepared to give in yet. It makes you sad cause you want to see them together and you are like why is she giving up every good thing coming her way cause she thinks it’ll hamper her personal liberty. After this they go their separate ways and in the present Laurie’s path intertwines with Amy who has always loved Laurie but never wanted to be a second fiddle to her sister.

Beth and Jo spend a lot of quality time together since she is trying to help her sister feel better. Beth requests Jo to write something for her and thus begins a serious of heartfelt stories and the subsequent demise of Beth that pushes Jo back into resuming her novel. The grief of her sister is too much for her to bear and she starts finding solace in writing. During this time she also realises that love and companionship is probably what we all eventually need and she tells her mother that perhaps she was too quick in turning down Laurie and if he asks her again, she will probably say yes. To which Marmee asks her, “Do you love him?”. Jo responds “I care to be loved. I want to be loved.” Marmee: ” That’s not the same as loving.” This is followed by a powerful monologue by Saoirse Raonan, one of the best I have watched in a long long time.

Amy finally comes home with Laurie to announce that they have gotten married and this hits Jo like a rock but she pretends to put up a happy face for her sister. During the time when the entire family is spending good time together they have an unexpected visit from Friedrich (the professor from New York who likes Jo). And somewhere you know where the movie is headed and although Jo and Laurie do not end up together, but she eventually finds her happily ever after in Friedrich, under the umbrella 🙂

I personally loved how Greta Gerwig has portrayed every character so strongly that it makes you feel empowered and you simply cannot help but marvel at the way small yet important nuances have been highlighted. Little Women for me is a winner in every sense. Too bad the Oscars didn’t see the beauty of it.

Life is indeed beautiful

While we crib and whine about unimportant things in life, which, might not even matter the next day, those are the times I truly hope (for myself as well) that I am reminded of the movie Life is Beautiful. It is a 1997 Italian film directed by Roberto Benigni that won him the Oscar in the Foreign Film category. Since then, the director hasn’t been able to make anything memorable as such. The movie is sensitive, emotional, strong on characters and will make you cry towards the end.

******spoiler ahead******

life-is-beautifulThe story rides on the shoulders of the director who is also the lead in the film, Roberto Benigni, who is portrayed as a Jew by the name of Guido and dreams of starting his own bookstore in a country that discriminates against the Jews in the pre Second world war time. He works as a waiter in a restaurant where he loves playing riddles with a doctor appointed with the German concentration camp. Guido falls in love with an Italian teacher Dora (played by Nicoletta Braschi), who he meets at several occassions and tries to woo her every single time with his antics. Dora finally gives in to Guido’s affection and they get married and eventually have a beautiful son Giosue. When the World War II breaks out, Guido, his uncle Eliseo and son are captured by German army to be sent off to a concentration camp. His wife, Dora, although not originally a Jew volunteers to go to the camp too, just so she can stay close to her family.

As an audience, you’ll expect that the movie will take a serious turn and there will be blood, gore and all sorts of unpleasant things, but Roberto gave the series of events such an interesting treatment that it wouldn’t be non-violent visually, yet it will break your heart. Like everyone would know how old people and children were gassed in chambers under the pretence of a hot shower, Guido’s son Eliseo escapes the holocaust every single time as he hates taking bath and on other occasions Guido convinces him to stay hidden under the garb of projecting the concentration camp as a game and the one who manages to stay alive until the end wins a tank. He chooses to hide their true situation from Eliseo so as to not affect him mentally. There will be times in the movie when his son is unconvinced by Guido but Guido manages to get him along every single time.

As the war comes to an end, Dora and Eliseo are united after Guido loses his life in order to ensure their safety. Guido in all respects, fulfils his promise to his son who gets to ride on an American tank that he assumes he has won as a prize. It is only years later that his son realises the sacrifice his father made for him and his mother. More than them, it is the sacrifice for your loved ones. The love that is pure, selfless and unconditional. I was weeping profusely by the end of it, merely by the performances and the narrative. Even as I am writing this (although it’s been a really long time that I watched the film), I can feel the exact emotion I felt when I watched it for the first time.

One of my favourite movies of all time.

 

My Mother

  Mumbai film festival or MAMI as it is fondly called is one of the most awaited festivals for movie loving Mumbaikars and all those who specially fly down to attend a series a well- curated films chosen from all over the world in different sections. Thanks to my commitment towards my regular job, I don’t really get to watch all the movies but I do try and watch some of the interesting international ones.

Today I got a chance to watch this beautiful French- Italian film Mia Madre (My Mother) directed by Nanni Moretti. It is about this film director Margharita who is shooting a social drama and going through the personal crisis of an ailing mother. This film portrays the confusion, frustration and a plethora of emotions felt by Margherita as she is trying to juggle between hospital and shoot. She is emotionally supported mostly by her brother Giovanni played by Nanni Moretti himself who has taken a sabbatical from work to tend to his mother. The film particularly traces Margherita’s initial discomfort and denial about her mother’s detiriorating health through the emotional and mental upheaval she goes through the process. I could feel her confusion, agony and pain throughout.

One of the entertaining characters in the film to look out for is John Turturro who will make you laugh with his antics throughout. He was extremely adorable to look at. What I really loved about this film is the way in which Nanni has portrayed the bond of a mother and daughter, the pain eventually death inflicts and no matter how much you deny, acceptance eventually comes about. The movie stirs emotions within you without making it look unrealistic. The plot was clean and crisp. Definitely worth a watch! Do catch it at MAMI if you can.
PS- the festival is until 5th November.

Whiplash

whiplashThanks to the Oscar 2015 fever, this time I was determined to watch atleast all the films nominated in Best Picture category before the event, just to be updated with the presentations. And I was fairly upto the mark with all films ticked except Selma. Last night I happened to watch Whiplash and I couldn’t have been more impressed. Before watching the film, I just knew it was about this kid trying to make it big in drumming. But there is so much more that you learn as the movie comes to an end.

The kid, Andrew Neyman played by Miles Teller is learning jazz at the prestigious Shaffer Academy in New York. He is discovered by a senior conductor at the school, Terence Fletcher who selects Andrew, from among his peers to be a part of his studio band that goes on to compete at jazz competitions. Andrew is excited to have got the opportunity and eager to learn since he has always been interested in becoming a drummer from a young age. Fletcher, who is known for hurling abuses at his students during rehearsals, insults and almost beats up Neyman for disturbing the tempo of the band while practising a piece ‘Whiplash’. Facing public humiliation, Neyman is determined to prove himself to his teacher at any cost and puts in his blood and sweat (quite literally) to perfect the piece.

This leads to a series of events where Andrew gets the opportunity of performing at one of the competitions as a core drummer until Fletcher gets a competitor, Ryan to threaten his position.  During one of the competitions, Andrew gets late due to unavoidable circumstances- bus breaks down, the car he is driving meets with an accident, he forgets his drumsticks at the car rental store; cause of which Fletcher is about to replace him with Ryan. At one point, when Andrew has to rush back to the car rental store to fetch his drumsticks and eventually meets with an accident since he is speeding to reach the venue in time, I felt he is not going to make it cause he is bleeding profusely. But the kind of competent lad he is, he cannot let go even an opportunity like this to impress his teacher and makes it to the venue anyhow(which impressed me immensely), only to disappoint everyone as he is not in a condition to play the piece. Post the competition, Fletcher agonises him by rebuking ‘ He is done’, that leads to a on-stage scuffle between the two.

Andrew is expelled for his unsolicited behaviour and gives up drumming since he feels that he isn’t worthy of becoming like one of his inspiring legends Buddy Rich. On his father’s coercion, Andrew testifies a lawyer’s statement who is representing a suicide case of one of Fletcher’s students leading to Fletcher’s dismissal from the academy.

Andrew and Fletcher meet again at a club where Fletcher tells him that his ways might be different but he only wants to push his students beyond what is expected of them. It is an inspiring conversation between a teacher and a student, where the teacher thinks that the two words in English which are utterly harmful is ‘Good Job’ since that would always deter a student from giving his best. Fletcher invites Andrew to play at a concert in his band where the so-called art loving critics of New York are going to be present, avenging Andrew with a piece, sheets of which aren’t present with him while drumming. A humiliated Andrew gives it back by playing an impressive solo piece of Caravan on his drums and stuns Fletcher as well as the audience by the sheer brilliance of his scale. The performance was worth an encore; sharp, electric and spellbinding.

Watching Whiplash made me question some of the core exigencies of modesty. Cause, sometimes, we authorize a force to govern our life to such an unimaginable extent that we forget our own inner voice or gut instinct, so to say. In this case, Fletcher was the governing factor in Neyman’s life, so much so that Neyman gave up his dream of becoming a drummer on being expelled and failing at Fletcher’s expectations. During the entire movie, Neyman was struggling with his insecurities and a constant threat of proving himself to his teacher. He needed Fletcher’s validation to ascertain the talent he had cause otherwise there was no source of inspiration for him to struggle and excel. I am glad Neyman came back after almost giving up and won everyone’s hearts including that of Fletcher. But, shouldn’t there be a line where you decide when and how you give up rather than somebody else imposing failure on you?

I think there should be and this movie teaches you that in so many ways.

 

Haider

This is not a review of the film at all. This is purely what I felt after I watched another masterpiece from Vishal Bhardwaj.

After all the hype and expectations brimming over the top, I abstained from checking any Twitter and Facebook updates just to avoid clouding my thoughts before I watch Haider since I was strongly looking forward to it. A film which, according to me is Vishal’s best after Maqbool portrays the grim relationship the beautiful people of Kashmir share with the armed forces. Kashmir has been under Armed Forces Special Act since 1958 due to the threat it faces from our divorced partner Pakistan. This act has time and again come under scrutiny for flouting human rights, inflicting unimaginable torture on innocent citizens, random killings and disappearance of family members. A lot of films have been shot in Kashmir for its breath-taking beauty and scenic locations but Vishal Bharadwaj presents a lesser known Kashmir.

From the lead actors to the supporting actors, everyone has done absolute justice to their role in the film. Shahid simply nailed it by getting into the thick of his character and mouthing certain powerful dialogues that left me stunned. It would be unfair if he does not win a National Award for his performance (although an award isn’t necessary to validate his performance) and even the movie for that matter. There are some beautiful, meaningful and situational renditions, thanks to the great great legend Gulzar saab that accentuate the intensity and relationship between the characters.

I was sobbing long after the movie ended because having visited the place and interacted with the locals closely, I could feel their struggle just to live a normal life in their own homeland. I have been told horrible incidents of torture (where hot iron rod was pierced right through their little hands) inflicted on kids as old as 5-6 year old who probably do not even know how to spell the state they live in, being accused of militancy for accidentally trespassing the LOC (Line of Control) while playing. It deeply saddens me to even hear or imagine a democratic 21st century India where a child cannot enjoy his childhood normally, a woman cannot stay peacefully even for a minute when her husband is away, unsolicited curfews are being imposed bringing the city to a standstill and innocent citizens being beaten, locked and tortured without any warranted proof after which their mutilated bodies are sent to their families for cremation.

I understand the security reasons and infiltration threat which requires the army to control the state but why can’t there be peace between the inhabitants and the armed forces? Why is there so much of hostility among Kashmiris towards the security personnels? Not even one person I came across during my stay in Kashmir who had anything positive to say about the army there. We claim to have the paradise on Earth but why do the people of the paradise constantly experience hell from a country which very much owns majority of the state? Why do the Kashmiris yearn for independence from India?

Haider is just an example of devastation of a single family and there are so many similar and even worse scenarios that have appeared and continue to happen even today. When will ache din come for this crown of our nation is only something only time can tell. Till, then do yourself a favour and watch Haider because I can promise you, you won’t regret.

Once

Once_(2006_film)poster So I saw this Irish musical film with two unnamed protagonists called Once directed by John Carney. It is an hour and a half film based in the streets of Dublin where the Guy (that’s what he is called throughout   the film)played by Glen Hansard is a musician playing guitar on the streets trying to make a living for himself and his old father. He also works at Hoover repair shop owned by his father. During one of his late night gigs on the street where he is playing his own composition, a young Czech girl (played by Marekta Irglova) is impressed by his music. She insists on knowing if he has written the music for his girlfriend and he denies having one. Upon insisting, he confesses that his girlfriend left him years back and now he has nothing to do with her. During this short conversation, the Czech girl learns that the guy happens to be a hoover repairer and requests him to fix her broken vacuum cleaner.

The next day she gets her vacuum cleaner to the guy where he is playing a famous composition to which   she quizzes him the reason for not playing his personal composition. He says that the crowd on the street     during the daytime is busy and occupied with their work and themselves and hence they find it easier to connect to popular songs than self compositions. The girl confesses that she is a musician too and takes him to a piano shop where the owner lets her play for free. They both start singing one of the guy’s compositions which he teaches her on the piano and they both play the lovely song from the movie ‘Falling Slowly’. I like the lyrics of this song although my personal favorite out of all the soothing compositions is If You Want Me. Later, the guy sort of offends the girl when he asks her to stay back at his apartment after fixing her broken hoover, although he makes up for the silly gesture immediately the following day.

This is followed by a buzzing chemistry between the lead couple where the guy starts to motivate the girl and asks her to record one of his compositions along with him (that’s how the song If You Want Me shapes) and you cannot help but admire the lovely couple on screen. It is a plot where two heart broken souls come in contact with each other through the most powerful emotion evoking medium, that is music and help each other grow and open up like never before. He is heartbroken because his girlfriend cheated over him and she is living a clueless life away from her husband who probably has disowned her along with a toddler to take care of.

During one of their trips to the woods, the guy asks her if she still loves her husband she answers shyly in Czech saying ‘Miluju Tebe’ and refuses to translate the phrase in English (it basically means It is you I love). They decide to record a couple of songs before the guy plans to move to London to make a musical career and woo his girlfriend back. There are some amazing situational compositions that they record and the lyrics of the songs transport you in a different world altogether. Even you might start reminiscing about a loved one cause the songs sound real and simple to the ears as the singers have sung it from their hearts. Even during their private recording moments, as a viewer you secretly hope for some magic to happen so that the unsaid chemistry surfaces on screen.

It is not a happy ending that as an audience you would have expected cause the girl reunites with her husband and the guy gets on to make it big in London but before going he gifts her a piano so that she can continue pursuing her talent in which she excels. Before leaving, the guy calls her over to spend sometime and though she is aware of what would happen if they spend time together, she agrees to meet but later stands him up. The piano acts as a reminder that got them closer and served as a crucial element in their bonding. There is a happy yet aching feeling when the film ends because you are left wanting for more. The movie is emotionally gripping and you feel the pain, emotion and heart in every word and stanza of the lyrics as the lead couple sings it for you.

With the next film from the director Begin Again out in the theater, this film is a must watch for novices like me to get an idea of the filmography and style of direction that the director posses. It might not be the film to be looked at in terms of direction but the way John Carney has blended the story and the lyrics of the songs to present a marvelous musical is definitely worth a watch.