A Handful of Stories

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

Books and Arts

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…

Agantuk: What the Bhadralok Dislike for Ray’s Final Work Tells Us

If feel-good storytelling leaves us warm and happy at being alive, what can we call cinema that leaves us uncomfortable? How about be-better cinema? The film Bengali Bhadralok Ray-lovers dislike the most is his last work, Agantuk. I loved it when I saw it first, as an 8-year-old who watched a near-complete Ray retrospective late nights on Doordarshan the year…

Why Do Women Carry the Mantle of Mental Health in Hindi Film?

A number of recent projects, headlined by major Bollywood stars reveal a sensitivity and awareness, likely prompted by the Modi government’s Mental Healthcare Act. But men, whose mental health figures are far more worrying, are shown as mentors and caregivers and support figures In the Hindi film Judgemental Hai Kya (Are you Judgemental), something happened for the first time. The…