Bollywood Baatein: Odes to solitude

Sadly, our films have forgotten how to make us sad

A still from 'Nowhere Special'
A still from 'Nowhere Special'
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Subhash K Jha

Cinema about bereavement and solitude is always a cathartic experience, especially when done with a tinge of self-revelation. If a director has gone through some of the emotions of desolation himself (or herself) he/she is better qualified more equipped to externalize the grief on screen.

Two films I watched recently-- one Marathi and one British-- on loss and acceptance had me crying out loud.

There is this film called Nowhere Special, which is truly special. Not since….well, since never. I can’t remember when I’ve wept so much while watching a film. Certainly, no Indian film in recent memory. Funny how our films have forgotten how to make us sad.

Set in quaint Northern Island, Nowhere Special is actually located in the human heart. It’s easy to say this is a film about learning to cope with tragedy. But how do you teach a four-year-old child to do that? How do you explain to him that his father is going to die? And who explains it to him when there’s just the two of them?

Uberto Pasoloni’s beautiful little film is a set-up for a tearful mawkish grief-stricken manipulative film. Uberto Pasolini’s heart-breaking film is anything but manipulative or mawkish. It is gentle kind subtle and beautiful. It will break your heart into pieces, and then mend it again when finally it tells us that sometimes in life, there are no explanations for cruelty. Deal with it.

John tries. He is a 35-year-old father, a window cleaner by profession, played with such a rich ruminative subtlety by James Norton, that we forget he is not the boy’s real father. And the four-year-old boy Daniel Lamont as Michael trying to figure out why his dad is so desperate to find another home for his beloved son, is a little treasure. Solemn and receptive. His on-screen chemistry with his screen-dad James Norton rings a hundred percent true. Every look of mutual understanding that the two “boys” exchange will break your heart.

There is a sequence where John dozes off on the sofa; the four-year-old Michael brings a blanket and struggles to cover his precious daddy…

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Finding the Marathi film Kaasav is like finding a small treasure that needs preservation. In fact, protecting the endangered is an ongoing theme is Kaasav. On the one hand it addresses the issue of turtles being allowed to nest in peace on the beach before plodding back into the water. On the other hand, it also tries to tell us how important it is for us as a society to buffer and protect the mentally distressed.

A still from 'Kaasav'
A still from 'Kaasav'

Co-directors Sumitra Bhave-Sunil Sukthankar brusque attempt at bringing the two themes of eco-preservation together gives the film a distinctly docu-feel. Though the end-product is none the poorer for it. The bare stripped-down minimalist narration focuses largely on the indescribably tender relationship that grows between a compassionate divorcee Janaki (Iravati Harshe) and a suicidal depressive young man whom she finds on the street and provides a home.

“Why do I need to live? What is the purpose?” Maanav asks Janaki who has no answers to provide. She is struggling with her own inner turmoil trying to come to terms with her intermittent panic attacks.

The jumpy ending with Janaki suddenly taking off for the US seems a bit of a cop-out, though one that causes no visible damage to the fragile, tranquil beautiful film. Kaasav is shot with fetching austerity and a emphatic intensity on a beach resort where turtles move as stealthily as the beating of the human heart. Everyone needs healing: the characters in Kasaav as much as those fanning fuelling and funding the film about healing and nurturing, with a stand-out by Alok Rajwade.

While watching these films I was repeatedly reminded of Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane and Mrinal Sen’s Khandhar. Not since these two classics of our times have I seen anything in Hindi even close to portraying the numbing solitude of the bereaved individual the way Kaasav and Nowhere Special do.

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