Title: Gandhi Release Date: 30 November 1982 Director: Richard Attenborough Production Company: Goldcrest Films | International Film Investors | National Film Development Corporation of India | Indo-British Films Summary/Review:
I saw Gandhi in its first run in the movie theaters which means I must’ve been 9-years-old at the time. That seems young to watch an epic historical drama, and it may be the only movie I ever went to with an intermission. But Gandhi resonated with me perhaps due to some combination of being a history geek inclined towards social justice and a budding cinephile. I saw the movie a few more times on tv but it has been more than 35 years since my last viewing.
I wondered if the movie would hold up since a lot of movies that received lots of awards in the 1980s are less well-regarded. There’s also the fact that the movie about a seminal figure in Indian history is directed and produced by British and American filmmakers. I did get the sense that throughout the movie the perspective is coming through white characters – a priest, journalists, politicians, and a pilgrim – which tends to keep Gandhi at a remove. Also the biggest criticism I’ve seen about this movie, with which I agree, is that it makes Gandhi too perfect. This has the unfortunate effect of making the characters around him look bad, even villainous, especially Muslim leader and founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Alyque Padamsee).
Despite these failures in cultural competence, I feel that Attenborough and co. were really trying their best to make a film that does justice to the life and movements of Mohandas K. Gandhi (Ben Kingsley). Kingsley performance is excellent and the cast features many top-notch Indian, British, and American actors, even in small roles. Compressing six decades of Gandhi’s life and the larger Indian independence movement into 3 hours is hard but the film has several memorable set pieces that I’ve remembered over the years, from the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre to Gandhi and his wife Kasturba (Rohini Hattangadi) sweetly recreating their wedding ceremony for a couple of reporters. The movie is also impressively filmed with beautiful cinematography framing intimate moments between a couple of characters ranging to massive crowd scenes.
So I’d say that Gandhi has held up and is a worthwhile introduction to his life and the history of India and Pakistan with issues that still reverberate to this day.
Title: Aparajito Release Date: 11 October 1956 Director: Satyajit Ray Production Company: Epic Films Summary/Review:
Picking up where Pather Panchali left off, Aparajito is the second installment of Ray’s Apu Trilogy. Set in the 1920s, the Roy family now lives in the holy city of Benares (modern day Varanasi) and continue to struggle with poverty. The central character Apurba “Apu” Roy ages from a child (Pinaki Sengupta) to teenager (Smaran Ghosal) over the course of the film. The central story is that Apu’s success in school earns him a scholarship that takes him away from his mother Sarbajaya ( Karuna Banerjee) and the strain that puts on their relationship. This could be melodramatic but the neorealistic style of the film steeps it in everyday lived experience. The sharp B&W cinematography captures everything in gorgeous detail.
Welcome to my first Midsummer Recent Movie Festival! For the past couple of years I’ve reviewed a bunch of recent movies on New Year’s Day. But why wait when there are new movies to review now! My only qualifications for the Midsummer Recent Movie Festival are 1) a US release date January 1, 2022 or later, 2) a Letterboxd average rating of 3.5 or higher, and 3) available to me at no extra cost on my streaming platforms.
Title: Badhaai Do Release Date: February 11, 2002 Director: Harshavardhan Kulkarni Production Company: Junglee Pictures Summary/Review:
Shardul (Rajkummar Rao), a gay policeman, and Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar), a lesbian PE teacher, decide the only way to get their families to stop pestering them is to enter into a marriage and live together as roommates. While Sumi has her girlfriend Rimjhim (Chum Darang) move in and Shardul pursues a relationship with Guru (Gulshan Devaiah), their families continue to meddle and begin pestering about babies. Sumi and Shardul begin to consider adoption. A whole bunch of hijinks ensue.
I didn’t thinks this movie was bad but I also didn’t think the jokes were particularly funny. That’s likely a cultural divide, though. I appreciate that the gay and lesbian characters were never made the butt of the jokes for being homosexual. The movie also has a good message of how taboos against homesexuality in India cause loneliness and real harm. It also shines a spotlight on the injustice of laws forbidding same sex marriage and LGBTQ people adopting children in India.
Title: Andhadhun Release Date: 5 October 2018 Director: Sriram Raghavan Production Company: Viacom 18 Motion Pictures | Matchbox Pictures Summary/Review:
Andhadhunstarts as a rom-com in which a blind pianist, Akash (Ayushmann Khurrana), begins a romance with Sophie (Radhika Apte) after a meet cute where she literally crashes into him with her scooter. She gets him a gig playing piano at her father’s cafe where he meets the aging actor Pramod Sinha (Anil Dhawan). Sinha hires Akash to play a private concert as a surprise for his young second wife Simi (Tabu) on their anniversary. But when Akash arrives to perform he witnesses Simi and her lover Manohar (Manav Vij) hiding Sinha’s dead body.
You see (pun intended), Akash actually is only pretending to be blind because he thinks it improves his piano playing. Now he’s caught in a quandary due to witnessing a crime he shouldn’t be able to see. If all of this sounds spoilery, it’s really just the set-up for an overly long comic thriller with a new twist every few minutes. I tend to not like the style of writing that relies too heavily on unexpected twists, so I found this movie to be more and more of a drag after a promising premise. But if that’s your thing, you may enjoy this movie more than I did.
Title: Pather Panchali Release Date: 26 August 1955 Director: Satyajit Ray Production Company: Government of West Bengal Summary/Review:
Pather Panchali (translated, Song of the Little Road) is a story set in Bengal in the early 1900s. It tells the story of a family’s slow descent into poverty over a period of a few years. Much of the film is told from the point of view of the family’s youngest member, Apu (Subir Banerjee), a curious child. His older sister Durga (Uma Dasgupta) dotes on him and teases him in equal measure, and has taken to stealing things to supplement the family’s meager income. Their stern mother Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee) is distressed by Durga’s thievery, her debts to their neighbors, and her husband’s directionless nature. Their father Harihar (Kanu Banerjee) is a priest who wants to be a writer and is perhaps too casual about bringing in money for his family, but also spends significant amounts of time traveling to earn money elsewhere. The final member of the family is an aged aunt, Indir (Chunibala Devi), a mischievous old woman who the children adore but is an irritant to Sarbajaya.
This is the first feature film directed by Satyajit Ray, beginning a career as one of India’s most notable auteur directors. It also the first of three films, followed by Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959), that tell the story of Apu’s life and are known as The Apu Trilogy. The film is very crisp and has a silvertone quality that captures a lot of detail. I’m reminded of Akira Kurosawa’s way of depicting the natural world overlapping the built world of humanity. The movie also draws on Italian neorealism influences which means that it didn’t follow a strict script and depicts many of the basic pleasures of life and the ordinary human tragedies without a strict plot. The score of the movie was composed and performed by Ravi Shankar, one of the earliest works in his career that lead to him being one of the world’s most famous Indian musicians.
Pather Panchali is a sad but beautiful film. It’s probably worth a rewatch at some future date when I have time to appreciate it better.
Title: The Music Room (Jalsaghar) Release Date: 10 October 1958 Director: Satyajit Ray Production Company: Aurora Film Corporation Summary/Review:
Set in the 1920s, a landlord in Bengal, Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas), neglects his responsibilities and squanders his family fortune in order to host concerts and dance recitals in the music room of his decaying palace. His need to gain prestige by hosting expensive entertainments only intensifies when a nouveau riche man, Mahim Ganguly (Gangapada Bose), moves into a neighboring estate. The film shows Roys descent into monomania and willingness to sacrifice everything, including his wife and son. The film is punctuated by three recitals in the music room which are fantastic displays of music and dance.
I continued my ongoing quest to visit every gallery in the Museum of Fine Arts by visiting the Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa wings. It’s unfortunate that the art of the two most populous continents and some diverse island cultures are all clumped together like that, especially since the MFA boasts having a large collection of Asian arts dating back to the earliest days of the museum. Nevertheless there was quite a delightful collection of works that had me hopping around geographically as well as through time. One gallery deliberately mixed contemporary and classical Japanese art in a provocative way.
After these eight visits, I believe I’ve been to every permanent gallery in the museum. Of course, art on exhibit is changing all the time, so I’ll have to go back and do it again. Maybe next time I’ll have a theme like art with families or bridges or pets or something like that.
Lahiri’s novel, like many of her works, deals with Indian expatriates assimilating to life in the United States and coming to terms with their past in India. The Lowland tells the story of two brothers Subhash and Udayan. While Subash leaves for America to study in Rhode Island, Udayan is drawn to the Maoist Naxalite movement. The Lowland is also about a woman named Gauri who is connected to both brothers.
A big spoiler here, but after Udayan is killed by the police, Subhash marries the pregnant Gauri and takes her to Rhode Island to help her escape living with her oppressive in-laws. The marriage built on expediency cannot sustain and the desires of Subhash and Gauri to pursue their own goals and carry on in their lives with the memory of Udayan drive the conflict of the narrative. It is in many ways a quiet story with a lot of the passions tempered under placid exteriors and one that offers a sympathetic but not nonjudgmental look at each of the characters.
Lahiri’s collection of short stories demonstrates that she is one fine writer. The stories – mainly set in the Cambridge/Boston area or in India – cover some common themes such as the meetings of peoples of different cultures, strained relationships, and children with a growing understanding of the adult world. The last theme is best demonstrated in “When Mr. Pirzada Came To Dine” told through a child’s perspective of her parents’ Pakistani dinner guest and how that leads to her coming to terms with sociopolitical realities. The first story “A Temporary Matter” ends on an act of cruelty that is a real kick in the gut. Indeed, many of these stories demonstrate the downside of human nature and so the reader shouldn’t read this for a pick-me-up. Yet there is unexpected joy as well as in the last story “The Third and Final Continent” about an Indian immigrant and the elderly woman who rents him a room which has a surprisingly upbeat ending.
Author: Arundhati Roy Title: The God of Small Things Publication Info: Harper Perennial, 1998 ISBN: 0060977493
This challenging novel tells the story of a multi-generational family in southernmost India whose lives are changed in one day by a tragic incident. While the main story is set in 1969, Roy moves back and forth throughout the time focusing mainly on the young twins Estha and Rahel and the adults they become as a result of the novel. Roy touches on post-colonialism, conflicts between Christianity and native beliefs, communism versus the status quo, and the caste system. While the story is heartbreaking and sometimes brutal, Roy has a way with words and composes some very beautiful sentences.