Puzzle: The film

“Life is messy. It does not make any goddamn sense. Sorry to break the news to you. Life is just random.”

How would this come down on a woman (Agnes Mata, Kelly Macdonald) who lives each moment by routine? There are days marked for grocery shopping, for church, and for everything else. Life runs by the manual. So deep is the routine that it’s she who wakes the alarm clock.

She plans her own birthday party, cooks, cleans, decorates, bakes, even carries the cake by herself to the table, and asks her husband if he is having fun. She goes after the same chores everyday without fail; it’s like her limbs are programmed to go about the same thing, day after day after day. There are no misses, no surprises, nothing that may remotely upset the plan.

One of her birthday gifts is an iPhone. Her son excitedly wants to set it up for her. “There are apps for everything Mom. You can look up anything, recipes, church stuff, the weather.”

“I have a radio and a window; I would know when it will rain”.

That sums up her world.

There are brewing discontents in the family, but they are not about her, neither caused by her, nor intended for her. She is like one constant, the spirit of care and stability for the entire family that never goes wrong. But then there is nothing the family does specifically for her either. Her son’s essay for college application narrates their confined lives, and mentions with all honesty that his mother “doesn’t think of anything other than serving the men in her life”.

Until another gift, the jigsaw puzzle from an aunt who may have remembered her childhood fancies walks back into her life. This is, that one seemingly innocuous event in her life that will significantly alter its course.

On an impulse, she travels to New York to buy another puzzle for herself. She tells the ticket collector quite factually that there would not be another time when he informs it’s cheaper to buy the ticket at the station before boarding.

That train ride leads her to a professional puzzle solver (Robert, Irrfan Khan) a successful, wealthy man, who is frantically looking for a partner to participate in a jigsaw puzzle competition.

He is brilliant and intimidating, checks her ability, to realise quickly that she is a natural. He is taken aback by her puzzle solving which unlike her rule abiding life, does not follow the professional rubrics of the game.

“You are godsend. It was meant to be.”

Although she may have come to accept that for others, puzzles are childish hobby of bored people, when Robert places puzzle solving in perspective, “it’s a way to control the chaos. You go about the menial task because your mind is moving too fast”, here is finally a person who connects to her, who lends the perfectly matching words to her thoughts, understands precisely the contentment in finishing a puzzle, in getting all the pieces right.

“There is nothing we can do to control anything. But when you complete a puzzle, when you finish it, you know you have made all the right choices. No matter how many wrong pieces you tried to fit into wrong places, but at the end everything makes one perfect picture.

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Their love is instantaneous. Its as if this was that missing piece of her life, a piece that not only does not fit in, but blows apart all the other pieces.

In her life so far, nobody has seen her as funny and beautiful and strange. Her humour is wasted on a community who lead equally mundane, scripted, scriptured, unadventurous lives. “Pack our sins into neat monthly portions” she humours as the church schedules confessions to once a month for lack of people wanting to confess. Does not even get a chuckle from the others.

In her seemingly settled life, her husband Louie, following typical gender roles, values her immensely as she cares for the family, she keeps everything running. Unwittingly he says once “someone always uses you”. Its accepted that a married woman’s life can be as good as this. In the daily rituals and routines, there is care for each other. Everyone is playing an expected role. The father brings the money, the boys, one who got good grades is aspiring for college, and the other one is pushed by the dad to help him in his garage as a mechanic, which the boy totally abhors.

She tells him “am finally doing something on my own. Am not asking you. Am telling you. You can support me or not. I will do it either way.”

As she travels to practice and begins to navigate beyond her immediate surroundings, she also begins to assert, to ask, to express. It rattles the accepted hierarchy in the family. As she recognises her passion for puzzle solving and what it means to be supported, she finds out about culinary schools for their son to back his calling.

The villain is not the husband, nor the family or the society, though they play their prescribed roles when it comes to how they treat women, the villain really is, not going after your dream, losing one’s self completely in caring for others.

Rhetorical, pretentious conversations make her uncomfortable. She asks basic, fundamental questions. It delights the heart to hear her simple, primal, un-skirted questions throughout the film. There is truth in her lies, and there is truth in her truth. When Louie asks her if she is having an affair, she tells him what it feels like to her.

But make no mistake, it’s the Puzzle that drives her. Their relationship tangos beautifully with a common purpose within a defined time. When they reach that point after having won the competition, they aspire for the future differently. For Robert it is going from one level of competitiveness to the next with a partner who fits perfectly. He loves the challenge. But for her, sitting down to solve a jigsaw puzzle is her intimate comfort, in happiness or sorrow. Puzzle is intrinsic to both of them but in different ways. She would not be tied to another’s expectations again.

A specific mention of Irrfan, an actor who personified the non-binary in his roles. He is often the space between love and hate, between courtship and marriage, between friend and lover, between good and evil. Irrfan disregarded the black and white to demystify the grey, sanctifying its existence.  This film is a celebration of the “different and the weird.”

“To getting all the wrong pieces right.”

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Watching movies

One of the very few reasons why I like malls is to be able to watch movies on my own and according to my time. A movie works for me first thing in the morning (10 am show) if I have worked the whole night.  Sometimes in the afternoon. Sometimes with friends.

Not a major movie enthusiast, have never wanted to watch Ra One, or Robot, or the Dhoom or the Sangham kinds.

But I like the switch in the format, even in the mainstream, the movies and the many creative expressions:  Thodasa rumani ho jaye, Welcome to Sajjanpur, more recently, Bombay Talkies, Dedh Ishquiya, Dhobi Ghaat, Queen, Finding fanny, Margarita with a straw, PK, Piku…..quite a few actually, thodasa hatke kinds. I know am not following any order, but these movies in a way signifies changes in the society, changes in subjects chosen, risks taken and a desire to bring different aspects to the surface, albeit small changes, albeit a film, after all, what impact does it have, but a change nonetheless.

Movies I found very difficult to watch

Not because they were boring or gross or violent, they were just very difficult truth to watch.

Before the rains:  Nandita Das, Rahul Bose film, the story bases itself on something as innocuous as building a road.

Yatra: Rekha, Nana Patekar and Deepti Naval, who would want to miss such a cast.

Memories in March: Rituparno Ghosh, Deepti Naval, Raima Sen

Anuranan: Rajat Kapoor, Raima Sen, Rituparna Sengupta, Rahul Bose

There may be a few more, I shall add when I remember. Don’t tell me I did not warn you!

BTW, why did we not get to watch “ Garam Hawa” in Hyderabad?

PS: Just back from watching Dil Dhadakne Do, such a waste of time, except for the dog!

Watching movies: Byomkesh Bakshy and Margarita with a Straw

So what was common between two distinctly different genres of movies I watched this week?  Less than fifty viewers.

Both released this month, one early and the second mid-April. They never are going to touch hundred days mark in box-office. If at all that was an aspiration of the makers.

Most of the time, that is the case about movies I like to watch, very few people. I don’t know how that helps in revenue, and am glad these movies are getting made, and wonder why more people won’t watch them?  I have never tried to sit through a Dhoom or Golmaal, an occasional judgement of error leads me to Ramleela or Gone Girl, and I regret. Nah, I have nothing against houseful, and I wish the crossover/ alternate films would be houseful, someday.

First film, Byomkesh Bakshy. Our own, local eccentric detective. Even though I must have read almost all of Sherlock Holmes, Poirot and Miss Marple, some of Feluda, (but none of Byomkesh, must confess) I often forget the plot. But it’s the detective you never forget. Very nice portrayal of old Calcutta, homes and streets and trams and food, lovely subtle humour, the murders bit too gory though, every bit enjoyable.

Second, Margarita with a Straw (the person at the ticket counter made it a point to say its an adult movie and a small note was stapled to the ticket saying its an adult movie, made me feel very very adult), been waiting for this one for its journey into the many and deep impressions of disability and its challenges. The movie is based on a girl with cerebral palsy and her sexual desires. The family makes many changes, the ramp in the matador, taking her to pursue her love for music, letting her be. Nothing is justified just because one has certain disability. Her right to sexual exploration, privacy, access to public spaces, free and fair competition, to be treated one among the equals. Like when the band wins the first prize but turns out it was sympathy after all. Like when her ever accommodating, understanding mother finds it difficult to accept her sexual orientation.

The movie shows how unprepared our Capital city (and cities in general) is in terms of infrastructures, visible needs, like a ramp, a lift, toilets…and to think of the physical and emotional needs of people with disability, long way to go. As a society, to accept disability and to not to pity or glamourise, is a major challenge. I recall watching Anjali (old Hindi remake, with Revathy) as part of coursework in TISS and a sentence that stayed “every child is first a child and then a special child”.

Having travelled, I have always marvelled about two things in the western countries, their response to people with varied disabilities, basic infrastructure and provision for care. (The second being their emergency response, medical, theft, danger of any kind, getting lost while hiking). A friend of mine who has a son, who is autistic, only has to say “he has special needs” in public places and everyone turns kind. One sees the same in this film when it takes you to NY, public transport, acceptance, provision for care, making it easier…you see more people with disabilities on the roads, they are not cooped up in their houses.

There are many instances when the story plucks at your heartstrings in MWAS and I watched through tears. And many instances when you quietly understand and smile and laugh out loud, in both. Both movies did a great job of attention to details.

Byomkesh Bakshy ends like it will have a sequel. Margarita with a Straw, struggled with an End. It is not always a happy ending on issues like this, but there is hope and possibilities and there is living it as it goes..quoting Kalki from an interview ” when life gives you lemonade, make a margarita!”

One must acknowledge Revathy, and the roles she has taken up, to consciously engage on issues of these kinds, difficult kinds and not only commercial movies.

PS: what are the reasons movies are made tax free? This one does not qualify?

PPS: I toyed with using differently-able, physically challenged as against disability. No terms other than disability communicated the stark reality and every day challenges the movie depicts, without pity or glamour or sympathy, so I stuck with it.

Reading books: “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” (Richard Flanagan, Booker 2014)

A narration from an Australian surgeon while serving in a Japanese POW camp during the construction of the Burma Death Railway.

Two stories run parallel in the book, hunger, disease, filth of the camp of prisoners of the Second World War and a deeply moving sensuous love story. It’s quite a challenge, for the reader, to read the two together, to switch from the description of an emaciated soldier, the smells of death and disease, to the description of the red camellia in her hair.

The story tells that unalterable damage of an overwhelming war, a conflict beyond people and civilisation, beyond the forests, the hills, the songs and the sunset, something that removes compassion away for a lifetime…those horrendous stories of torture….

I had to skip the intricate details of violence, just could not read, without the images forming in my head or right in front of my eyes, on the pages of the book.

Few excerpts, that in a way, sums up the book…and a photograph of the Death Railway from the internet:

…for an instant he thought he grasped the truth of a terrifying world in which one could not escape horror, in which violence was eternal, the great and the only verity, greater than the civilisations it created, greater than any god man worshiped, for it was only true god. It was as if man existed only to transmit violence to ensure its domain is eternal. For the world did not change, this violence had always existed and would never be eradicated, men would die under boots and fists and horror of other men until the end of time, and all human history was a history of violence. 

***

Do you believe in love, Mr. Evans? Because I think you make it. You don’t get it given to you. You make it. 

***

Had he chosen? Had she? Was there ever a choice? Or did life just sweep people up, together and away?

***

…what did was an irrevocable idea of human goodness, as undeniable as it was beautiful….thereafter he took great pleasure in wind, in the sound of rain. He marvelled at the feeling of dawn on a hot day. He exalted in the smiles of strangers. He worked at habits and friendships, seeing in them the only alternative to what he felt the alternative was. He cultivated a flock of vivid green, blue and red rosella parrots that came to his yard for the food and water he laid out for them. Then came the wrens and the bullying honeyeaters, the gossiping firetails and the occasional scarlet robin, the bright blue wrens with their dun-coloured harems, the shimmering cranky fantail, the cuckoo shrikes and silvereyes and chirruping pardalotes. He would sometimes sit on a bench seat on his verandah for hours watching the birds feed, bathe, rest, preen and play. And in the mystery of their flight and beauty, in their inexplicable arrivals and departures, he felt he saw his life.

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