A Handful of Stories

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

Books and Arts

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…

Neel Akasher Neechey: When it was possible to make a hit film about the friendship between a Chinese vendor and a Bengali activist

This Mrinal Sen work became the first film to be banned in independent India in 1962 The Bengali film Neel Akasher Neeche, the second film directed by Mrinal Sen, is a marker of a time when it was considered unproblematic to cast a Bengali as a Chinese man and use make-up to pull his eyes into slits. But it is…

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 1980s 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…