A Handful of Stories

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

Books and Arts

The Courtesan, the Sportsperson and the Desires of the Nation

The courtesan, a long-time fascination of Hindi cinema, is being replaced by the sportsperson. Corporeal labour and the art of sports is the kind of performance that the politics of post-2000 India celebrates. The courtesan represents women in pre-modern India, the sportsperson represents the ideal citizen of contemporary India. In particular, the sportswoman In the book Dancing with the Nation,…

Why Does the Muslim Woman Need Saving in Hindi Film?

The Muslim man has been recast as a beast in mainstream blockbusters. But the Muslim woman we see in projects like Special Ops, War or Bajrangi Bhaijaan is either infantilised or simply erased In Special Ops, the web series by Bollywood director-producer Neeraj Pandey, there are two Muslim women characters with speaking roles among a dashboard of bloodthirsty Muslim men…

Hindi Film’s Crush on the Intelligence Services

Over the past decade and a half, the Neeraj Pandey brand of thriller has given to Bollywood what Hollywood has done for the CIA: romanticising the Intelligence Bureau. Later films like War have sexed up this formula Fifty days after the Pulwama terrorist attack, acknowledged as an intelligence failure even by the BJP-appointed governor of Jammu and Kashmir, the Hindi…

Nine Rays of Incandescence

Nine moments from Ray’s cinema that I return to again and again 1. When Arati’s (Madhabi Mukherjee’s) colleague Edith (Vicky Redmond ) teaches her to apply lipstick in the office bathroom in Mahanagar. The mirror catches the unexpected friendship between a Bhadralok school master’s daughter-in-law on her first job and the ‘smart’Anglo-Indian ‘office girl’ 2. When Shamalendu (Barun Chanda) offers…

Indian cinema legend Soumitra Chatterjee’s death spotlights end of art film era

Chatterjee worked closely with late Oscar-winning director Satyajit Ray, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Worked his entire life in the Bengali film industry, eschewing the more lucrative Bollywood Noted Hollywood director Martin Scorsese once said the four most influential auteurs of the 20th century were India’s Satyajit Ray, Japan’s Akira Kurosawa, Italy’s Frederico Fellini and…

The Rehabilitation Scheme for Colonial Statues

How India Quietly Removed the British Colonists from Their Pedestals On the river banks in Barrackpore, a sweltering town some 30km from Kolkata, the statues of 13 dead British men stand high above the ground on brick-red plinths. One is made of marble and 12 are made of metal, but they all have the identical distant gaze – instantly recognisable…

The Unpaid Labour of Housewives

The Bengali films Tasher Ghawr and The Lovely Mrs Mukherjee show the domestic servitude written into subcontinental marriages  Some days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi locked us down on 25 March with the battle analogy of the 18-day Kurukshetra war, the celebrity housework videos began. Then, the men who did not have cameras installed for easy recording provided dishwashing updates, and…

Why A Woman Who Reads is Still Unusual in Hindi Film

The gift of an Amrita Pritam book in Soni feels like a little revolution. So does the library scene in Manikarnika There is a moment in Manikarnika that nothing had prepared me for. The film is a biopic on the well-known historical figure Rani Laxmibai, a heroine of our high-school history. The trailer underlined the notes of this familiar story, of an…

Nagarkirtan: Unusual Loves and Marginal, Gig Economy Lives

This love story is also a portrait of the urban precariat–the life of a food delivery worker who earns on commission is not so different from the life of a ‘hijra’ who earns for each ‘performance’ I came to Nagarkirtan several months after my homo-unaware parents exhorted me to watch this “adbhut chamatkar” (strange marvellous) film. I call them homo-unaware…

How to Tell a Story of Beauty and Sexual Abuse

Gitanjali Kolanad’s novel Girl Made of Gold tells the story of Devadasis without shying away from the paedophilia and abuse that lie at the heart of a stunning art form I came to Girl Made of Gold after three months immersed in Ashapurna Debi’s magnum opus Pratham Protisruti set in late 19th century Bengal. I thought that no English-language book…