Sunday Long Reads: Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s filmmaking, the feminism behind Netflix’s Bulbbul, films, nature, and more

New Delhi |

Published: June 28, 2020 1:27:04 pm

Adoor Gopalakrishnan (Illustration: Suvajit Dey)

Conversations with Adoor Gopalakrishnan

That was our fourth consecutive evening together. We were at my cottage, on the second drink. In the last four days, I had driven him around the hills, we had been to a brewery at the Mall and trekked up to Chadwick Falls in the jungle. Realising that the word “sir” now sounds dry and distant, I asked: “What do you call a venerable old man in Malayalam?”


“I mean, what do people call you back home in Kerala?”

“Adoor Saar.”


Anvita Dutt on why Bulbbul is a feminist “fairy tale”

Anvita Dutt, Bulbbul, Anushka Sharma, Paoli Dam, Tripti Dimri, Rahul Bose, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express, indian express news A still from the film (Photo: Netflix India)

Mere pair thode ulte hain (I’ve inverted feet),” says Anvita Dutt, the writer-director of the film Bulbbul, that released on Netflix on June 24. Dutt’s allusion to the popular belief that chudails (witches) can be identified by their inverted feet is an explanation for her compulsive urge to give every story she writes a dark twist. “All the stories that I write, barring the commissioned ones, inadvertently introduce some supernatural or fantasy elements,” says Dutt, whose directorial debut is a dark fable set in 19th-century Bengal.

Bulbbul critiques the horrors of patriarchy that exist beneath a veneer of aristocracy. Bulbbul, a child bride, is married off to an older landlord. When the story takes a 20-year leap to the year 1901, Bulbbul is calling the shots in a gorgeous haveli. Casting a shadow over this charming world is a series of killings attributed to a chudail. Satya Thakur, Bulbbul’s brother-in-law and childhood playmate, doggedly investigates these deaths.


Two Indian films around border make heads turn at Cannes

Dostojee, The Borderlands, Prasun Chatterjee, Samarth Mahajan, Kazwa - A Million Lanterns, The Unreserved, Goes to Cannes, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news A still from the film ‘Dostojee’

The Bengali landscape is resplendent in the trailer of Prasun Chatterjee’s debut feature Dostojee (Two Friends), and its cinematography “sumptuous”, as the American magazine Variety noted. Vast, rainwashed stretches of paddy fields along river Padma and the glint in the eyes of the two young protagonists, reminiscent of another Bengali village boy, Apu, from Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955). First-time cinematographer Tuhin Biswas, a still photographer and primary-school teacher in West Bengal’s Nadia district, was unsure about the video format, until Chatterjee told him, “This is photography too, just think of these as 24 stills per second.”


Never Rarely Sometimes Always shows what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world

Never Rarely Sometimes Always, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news Alone, together. (Still from the film)

Having a problem that you have to deal with all by yourself can be hard. If you have someone with you, it can get better, but it still remains your problem. Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always (on several streaming platforms) uses an unwanted teenage pregnancy to tell a bigger story. Of being female, in a man’s world. Of having to struggle to be heard. You see 17-year-old Autumn hit herself on her belly, repeatedly. Of course, that doesn’t help. What she needs is is an abortion, which she cannot get where she lives, in a small town in Pennsylvania.

Autumn’s journey, on the bus to New York, accompanied by her cousin Skylar, isn’t only about escaping to a place where she can get help. It’s also about escaping from a place where she couldn’t ask for help: clearly, she hasn’t been able to turn to anyone at home, where lives a menacing stepfather. We are never told why, but we do see the depths of her loneliness.


TM Krishna: “Artistes are committing suicide due to a lack of income”

coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, TM Krishna, Carnatic music, NREGA, eye 2020, sundayeye, indianexpress, Without art, society collapses, empathy, even reason, dies, believes TM Krishna. (Express Photo by Jhothy Karat)

The pandemic struck just ahead of the festival season in March. How has this impacted the artiste community?

The image that the word artiste elicits, especially in the minds of the privileged sections of society, is that of individuals from the middle class or the rich. Artistes and artisans from marginalised sections are clubbed together as the ‘poor’ and rarely is respect or dignity given to them. Their workmanship and artistic talents are part of the ‘ethnic’ make of our country and only useful for us to brandish our so-called diversity. This mindset makes us blind to the fact that most art and artistes live on the margins of society. Their economic status is not very different from agriculture labourers or daily-wage earners. It is in this context that we need to understand the present situation. The months of March, April and May, especially in south India, provide most performing artistes the bulk of their earnings for the year. The pandemic and the resultant lockdown wiped this out entirely. While migrant workers were stuck in their place of work, performing artistes were stuck at their homes unable to move from village to village or town to town to perform. Most art is specific to geographies, cultures and is very local in performance. When that is shut, the entire ecosystem collapses. In this world, the physical cannot be replaced by the digital.


Meet Farrukh Jaffer, the 88 year old from Lucknow behind Gulabo Sitabo’s Fatto Bi

Farrukh Jaffer, Gulabo Sitabo, Fatto Bi, Shoojit Sircar, Juhi Chaturvedi, eye2020, Farrukh Jaffer in stills from Gulabo Sitabo

“Aur batao bitiya.” From her daughter’s living room in Lucknow, Farrukh Jaffer begins a Skype conversation with typical Awadhi courtesy. The 88-year-old actor is as spunky as the character she plays in Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo — Fatima Begum, the owner of Fatima Mahal, a crumbling haveli in Lucknow where Sarkar’s film plays out. It was a performance that held its own in a formidable ensemble cast. “I love being in front of the camera. I am glad that people have enjoyed my performance,” says Jaffer.

Despite the appreciation, she has one grouse. She was expecting her co-actor Amitabh Bachchan to be more forthcoming and chatty. “I remember him as the romantic hero from Silsila (1981) and Kabhi Kabhie (1976). I thought, on the sets, we’d talk about our lives, our families. But he’d come, do his scene and go away. There was no conversation. I wish there was,” she says.


Why, after 40 years, I still miss the sea

sea eagle, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news The wind beneath its wings: A white-bellied sea eagle. (Photo: Ranjit Lal)

I’ve lived like a landlocked landlubber in Delhi for over 40 years now – and still, especially at this time of the year — I sorely miss the sea. My childhood and adolescence were spent in coastal metros — Madras and Bombay (as they were then known), where, without even realising it, you kind of imbibed the sea. If your mind got overcrowded or you ever felt claustrophobic, you could always wander down to the beach or the sea’s edge and feel your mind open up as wide as the horizon in front of you. It gave you a sense of freedom that no other landscape could provide — the mountains have you gasping in awe, forests make you tense and twitchy with excitement and arid plains desiccate you. Perhaps, its only true rival would be the vast rolling desert, provided you had enough drinking water and didn’t die of heatstroke.


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