A Handful of Stories

Reportage on health, science and politics. And some meditations on film

Author Archive for sohinichattopadhyay

Kharij: The Killing of a ‘Servant Boy’

Mrinal Sen’s clear-eyed unpeeling of the cruelty of the great Indian middle class A young, upper-middle class family, Anjan and Mamata Sen, hire a boy ‘servant’ not much older than their own son in 1990s Calcutta, administered by a Communist government, in the film Kharij. The ‘servant’ boy dies one night, possibly due to a gas leak in the kitchen,…

The ‘Maid’ Who Lies and Loses Her Temper

Ilo Ilo offers what Roma does not–a loving ‘domestic help’ who sometimes gives it back The difference between the Mexican-American film Roma and the Singaporean film Ilo Ilo is that the “maid” Teresa speaks here. She has a point of view, unlike in Roma where we see Cleo mostly as the recipient of conversations, barely a participant even in her…

Asukh: A Father-Daughter Chamber Drama with Bowel Movement Talk at Dinner

A decade and a half before the Hindi film Piku, this Bengali feature offered the gender opposite of the mother-daughter drama, the Autumn Sonata, Unishe April, Tehzeeb genre As much as I love Piku, there is a father-daughter film with similar strains but darker in its comic and emotional notes that arrived a decade and a half before it. Asukh…

Why are “servants” in Hindi film so heroic?

Gully Boy and Parasite have the same front-seat-back seat dynamic of “servants and masters”. So does Joker. But Gully Boy locates its problems in the abusive, alcoholic fathers of Dharavi. Why is Hindi film so shy about class conflict? Around the mid-point of the Oscar-winning Parasite, right before it pivots to another gear, is a conversation that sums up the…

Virus: A Superb Ode to Shailaja ‘Teacher’, and Public Health and India’s Federalism

This film on the real-life Nipah outbreak in Kerala in 2018 is the opposite of a didactic film like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. It’s moving, humane and intelligent The thing that I loved most about the Malayalam film Virus is the haughty “Delhi team” that arrives to take stock of the Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala in 2018 and peremptorily…

The Clouds of Sils Maria: Therapy with Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart

In a sense, this is a deluxe lockdown film. An iconic actress Maria Enders, played by real-life French superstar Juliette Binoche, heads to the exquisite, unspoilt village of Sils Maria in the Swiss Alps to hole up in a cabin to prepare for a landmark project. With her is her young assistant Valentine, played by Kristen Stewart, who serves as…

The Silence of the Archives: Why the Grave Diggers of the Bubonic Plague are Unremembered


The Mahars of Bombay Presidency, who buried the human and animal dead, were essential to the colonial state as frontline health workers. They worked in filthy burial grounds where jackals often dug up the dead
A guest post from Sohini Chattopadhyay, PhD candidate, History Department, Columbia University

The Cakemaker: Kneading Grief, Love and Politics

The Israeli-German film touches on the politics of food, kosher rules specifically. It’s also a meditation on love and its losses I don’t enjoy movies where men make beautiful food,  and the Israeli-German production The Cakemaker drew me in especially because its protagonist Thomas is most often rolling a shapeless lump of dough. The glistening cinematic confectionery of the Germanic world…

Do Mortuary Workers Come Last in the Covid19 fight?

The invisible indispensable cadre of workers who handle the dead in government hospitals received PPE kits only in the sixth week of the Covid19 lockdown in Bengal. This is probably the case in other cities. The viral videos of dead bodies in hospital wards may point to this At the largest government hospital in Kolkata, mortuary assistants started being given…