See, I had not envisaged having to be in my thirties, and be stuck in a world where the president of USA thought people could be injected with disinfectant and live, people of my country would be drinking cow urine out of choice, JK Rowling would be so enamoured by the womb that it’d seem that if she could rewrite Harry Potter she’d probably replace Harry with a bespectacled uterus.
So, to make sure if we did regress in time that rapidly, and had to deal with real dinosaurs in this lifetime — as opposed to the human shaped ones — a little research wouldn’t be that bad an idea. So, I started rewatching Jurassic Park.
Okay, that’s a lie. The only ‘American’ thing I loved more than Lays Sour Cream and Onion was the T-Rex.
Once the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic hit home and it increasingly started feeling like living in an apocalypse film minus Tom Cruise, the thing that comforts me the most — food that has cemented my deep, unflinching relationship with Digene — also disappeared from my life. During the first month of the lockdown — when my mental health had kind of not unravelled like the final season of Game of Thrones — I woke up at odd hours of the night hoping a wafer thin crust pizza sagging from the weight of pepperoni would replace the pillow I hugged to sleep. Then I found a nearly perfect replacement for my comfort food — comfort movies. Well Jurassic Park is more a part of my soul and often manifests itself on dating apps, but you get the drift right?
So here’s a list of movies I watched, and sometimes re-watched because they were fun in parts, they fed my deep need for tear-spilling, ‘haiiiiii’-eliciting drama, made me ‘think’ as the cliche goes and sometimes were just comforting, and fulfilling like a plate of mach-bhaath (fish and rice).
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SHOLAY (HINDI, RAMESH SIPPY, 1975)
Sholay is plastered in the happy memories part of my brain, since like, forever. My brother and I spent endless summer vacation afternoons coiled around a music cassette player, where we played the audio version of Ramesh Sippy’s movie, shouting ‘hum angrezon ke zamane ke jailor hain’, trying to get the breathless, short, forceful ‘hain’ right along with Asrani.
Sholay, for those who haven’t watched the film, is about Jai and Veeru, two small-time thieves, of course with a heart of gold and Dharmendra’s smile of gold. They are enlisted by ex-cop Thakur (played by Sanjeev Kumar) to catch Gabbar, a dacoit who wiped out nearly his entire family.
Our favourite bit was mimicking Soorma Bhopali’s, ‘Koshish? Aisi jaisi koshis? Jan tod koshish! Par main bhagne doon tab na?” Jagdeep, who passed away this week, had a perfectly brilliant cameo as a small-time trader claiming he had caught the infamous robbers, to a group of gullible men. Shouting “Jaate kidharwa” like Jagdeep became my thing when I used to catch my brother sneaking out on hot summer afternoons to have ‘hojmi goli’ he was strictly forbidden from eating.
The best thing about Sholay after this many years, is the absolutely perfect comic timing actors portrayed in the film, including Amitabh Bachchan who wasn’t entirely a natural comic. From Dharmendra, to Asrani, Jagdeep, Hema Malini, Leela Mishra and Viju Khote, Sholay’s comedy often lights up glum evenings. And then there’s the music, perhaps not RD Burman’s best, but still so perfect. Sholay’s music, among those of many other films of time, is why I am always happy to ignore science and logic of a whole damn invisible orchestra playing on highways and fields and trains and mountains and deserts in Hindi films.
(Sholay is available on YouTube)
GOOPY GYNE BAGHA BYNE (BENGALI, SATYAJIT RAY, 1969)
Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne was the first film I ever watched. My grandmother, many years later, joked the Satyajit Ray movie was a ’cinemaprashan’ for Bengali kids, the film counterpart of annaprashan, the first rice eating ceremony for a baby born in a Bengali home. It’s understandable why. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne grows with you, it’s politics manifesting to you slowly as you grow up and basically life happens to you. And then when you are absolutely, horribly frustrated by the fascist politics of even the bubble of privilege you inhabit, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne feels like someone reading your thoughts, and translating it with the most stunning satire, and the warmest humour.
And still, the political satire, retains a sense of feel-good that I have never, never tired of. A huge amount of credit for that goes to the absolutely unaffected acting of Robi Ghosh (who played Bagha) and Tapen Chatterjee (who played Goopy).
Goopy and Bagha are two men driven away from their respective villages for doing something that isn’t considered a crime to anyone with conscience — Goopy sings, and Bagha plays the dhol. To the villagers, they come across as out of tune, raucous and therefore a burden for the majority. So they are humiliated and driven away to the jungle. (Now replace Goopy and Bagha with students protesting CAA and the village with this country — sounds familiar?) While they are in the jungle, they meet Bhooter Raja (the kind of ghosts), who gives them three wishes ― they can travel wherever they want to with a pair of magic slippers, eat whatever they want and when they sing and play their music together people are hypnotised, unable to move or react.
While these days, my favourite pastime is relishing the subtexts and dig similarities between a film made in 1969 and the world I inhabit, but even if you didn’t do that, the film is like a warm, underdog comes out on the top story. And the scene where sweets rain from the sky… I need a roshogolla right now!
(Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne is on YouTube)
PREMAM (MALAYALAM, ALPHONSO PUTHAREN, 2015)
My colleague suggested I watch Premam when I demanded to watch a new happy-sad-but mostly happy movie because I had exhausted my reservoir for that category of films in every language I could follow.
My first reaction after watching Premam was to reassess my life choices considering I had denied myself the fortune of watching Sai Pallavi on screen in a movie for this long. My second response was to save ‘Rockaankuthu’ on my playlist for when I am heading to work and need to wake up. That song is the replacement for coffee in my life since the last year or so. Also, I saved ‘Malare’ (insert long sigh in appreciation of just how beautiful it is) for whenever I need a pick-me-up, or to make sure Tinder has not drained me off the last remaining drop of romance from my bones.
Nivin Pauly and Sai Pallavi in the film is the romance detox you need if you watch Bollywood movies as doggedly as I do. One scene that’s almost easy to miss is example of just how real beautiful and vulnerable George and Malar’s relationship is when the latter is showing the former and his friends a choreography they could dance to at a college fest. George is transfixed, but gobsmacked — eyes wide, mouth open. And then he says alarmed that they can’t do that dance, so Malar needs to show them something easy. If you asked me to define cute, I’d show you that scene.
Premam has its problems. A major part of the film revolves around George, a college student and Malar, his teacher in college. In some scenes, George shadowing Malar before they get into a relationship felt a little creepy. But Malar is not forced, or threatened and you don’t feel afraid for her.
(Premam is available on HotStar Premium)
O KADHAL KANMANI (TAMIL, MANI RATNAM, 2015)
If you have gotten bored and irritated by Aditya Kapoor and Shraddha Kapur’s OK Jaanu, you really need to rinse your soul with OK Kanmani. No I don’t belong to a secret cult which wants to avenge Humma Humma’s murder one day, but OK Jaanu, took the soul of OK Kanmani out and replaced it with some influencer-type wardrobe.
As a great patron of south Delhi masterji’s Sabyasachi rip-offs, I love those clothes, but somehow the laborious prettiness of the film is jarring when you remember the ease of the original. Nithya Menen’s Tara — hair tied in a messy ponytail, or left open and windswept and tangled, her wardrobes mostly kurtas and dresses that we wear to work — and her general non-starriness is the warm soup version of a movie character. Menen and Dulquer Salman’s (who plays Aditya) chemistry is the kind of mush you can fall behind.
If you must ride along Marine Drive, let the wind be in your messy hair, may your make you have no make that will melt in the Mumbai humidity, and may you not have a care, other than of course, hugging the cute boy in front. Yup, AR Rahman Mental Manadhil is also those feels.
My old bones rarely agree with young romance of ajkaal ke Instagram ke bachche , but the spontaneity of Tara and Aditya’s love, the way they dive into it giggling, unsure, anxious and excited is achingly sweet. In a parallel track, the relationship between Ganapathy (played by Prakash Raj) and Bhavani (played by a brilliant Leela Samson) — into whose house Tara and Aditya move in — is tender, touching and powerful. Bhavani suffers from Alzheimers’ and through the unwavering love between Ganapathy and Bhavani, the younger couple reassess and relearns ideas of love, commitment and just being there when the other person needs you.
(OK Kanmani can be streamed on Prime Video)
SAMAPTI (BENGALI, SATYAJIT RAY, 1961)
I watched Samapti, part of Satyajit Ray’s ‘Teen Kanya’ troika of films one summer holiday on Doordarshan Bangla, where we waited with bated breath every day for a show called ‘Chhuti Chhuti’. It would have films, cartoons, music and general awesomeness for kids when the adults were too busy with housework, and the black-and-white TV was all ours.
I didn’t get any of the subtexts then but a scene sprung out to me from the film. A coiffed, carefully dressed, slightly stuck-up Amal (played by Soumitra Chatterjee) has gone to meet a girl’s family to seek her hand in marriage. He is unsmiling, nervous but has a certain air of self-importance around him. Amal has just tucked in a sweet, when a squirrel sprints in, followers by its human — a livewire Mrinmoyee (played by a brilliant, young Aparna Sen).
Mrinmoyee doesn’t care about the stuffy rituals of social hierarchy unfurling inside the room or is overwhelmed by the expensively dressed man presiding over it. She runs amok, as does the squirrel, till a horrified Amal almost chokes up the sweet he was chewing. Even as a small girl with little understanding of oppressive gender hierarchies, Amal’s discomfort and Mrinmoyee’s sass made me infinitely happy. It’s a scene I would wait for every time the film played on TV and then roll on the ground laughing, till an elder around me would indulgently chide me that they weren’t surprised I liked the ‘bandor meye’ (monkey-ing girl).
Later, after Mrinmoyee is married off to Amal she resists the institution and its sanctions with everything in her. On the first night after her wedding, as Amal dozes off in a chair, Mrinmoyee — decked in a heavy Benarasi saree and chunky jewellery — unclips a heavy anklet weighing her down. She then smirks and chucks the anklet down the cavity of Amal’s gramophone, almost a rebellion against Amal’s gentrification thrust on her free- spirited ness. Then she climbs down a tree and runs.
Samapti, again, has grown with me. From a film that amused me to a film that spoke to me.
(Samapti is available on YouTube but the subtitles are gibberish)