So it’s the Malayalam Jalikkattu for the Oscars this year. Many feel it’s not the correct film to represent us on the international arena. Watching a bull being chased by bullish villagers for 90 minutes may not be the Western audiences’ idea of kindered cinema. Here are the 3 films from the last one year that I thought held a global sway.
1. Moothon(Malayalam): In her sophomore film the Malayalam masterpiece Moothon which should be on everyone’s must-see list of films, director Geetu Mohandas(whose debut film Liars Dice is an undiscovered gem) has actually yoked two films together into a work of stunning impact.On the surface Moothon is a travel tale of a 15-year child’s search for his missing elder brother . Nivin Pauly is a revelation. With this one performance—actually it’s two performances so seamlessly fused together that they become completely unified—Pauly joins the elitist circle of the most accomplished actors of our country. His Akbar is force of Nature. Thundering against the humanity that he has buried under the rubble of roughness, his performance epitomizes that musk of machismo that men are supposed to flaunt to be considered “man enough”.Miraculously, and with a fascinating fluency, Geetu Mohandas flips the coin,and takes us into a ravishing romance captured by the splashing seawaves of Laskshadweep in a flashback between Akbar and his mute soul-mate Amir(Roshan Matthew).This is a love story so freed of gender restrictions that I wanted to stand up and applaud not just the supreme sensitivity of the director but also the indomitable bravery of the two actors.In scenes that are reminiscent of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, the two actors portray love with spellbinding immersive intensity. When Nivin Paul and Roshan Matthew look at each other they see neither man nor woman.They see only love. We copy that.
2. Sonechiriya(Hindi): The film that Sushant Singh Rajput will be remembered by. Sonechiriya is the most anguished plea against injustice and oppression since Bimal Roy’s Sujata. The deep silences in Abhishek Chaubey’s clenched narrative reminded me of Roy’s film about a Harijan girl(Nutan) looking for an identity. We don’t have Harijans anymore as targets of exploitation. We have Dalits, and gosh, so many variations of oppressed communities in this film, I began to wonder if there is any section of the society that is not traumatized and brutalized! Director Abhishek Chaubey uses eerie silences in the stunning Chambal landscape to punctuate a sense of excruciating oppression. Besides Sushant and Ranvir Shorey I came away with two heroes in Sonechiriya. The little brutalized girl from whom the film gets its title, whose devastated eyes still secrete a smile after all she has gone through.Some hope!And cinematographer Anuj Rakesh Dhawan whose lenses render bleakness into myriad shades of life lived on the edge.Raw gritty and compelling ,Sonechiriya conveys a clandestine narrative style that never impinges on the violent disarray of the characters’ brutal unpredictable lives.It is as Indian in spirit as cinema can get, and yet as international a films on oppression as Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansman.
3. Kaithi (Tamil) is as original a yarn as it can get . The challenge here is not to keep the proceedings original but to maintain a breakneck momentum as the plot and its frantic characters hurl towards a nemesis that is at once pre-decided and yet unpredictable.The film is written as a tribute to all the celebrated cops-and-criminals actioners you can think of.And yet it is like none you’ve ever seen. It embraces the tropes of an action film and at the same eschews them. There are no songs , not even a couple tucked away in the background.And there is no leading lady for Karthi to romance and sing songs with.But we do get one of the best car-chase sequences in recent times.And more importantly, we get a plot about a police-station under siege and a prisoner who turns into a saviour .Scarcely do we get a chance to wonder where all this chaos is leading to.The narrative doesn’t allow space for questions.The stakes are high . The director, only one film old, takes us on a journey into night out in city that never sleeps, and the momentum and morale never slip. You don’t have to be a Karthi fan to get immediately and irreversibly immersed in the goings-on. Because the person you see on screen has no resemblance to the actor you know. This is something else.