Xmas is a time for jollification and opening gifts under the Tannenbaum, but this year it was tinged by sorrow and deaths. Queen Elizabeth had once described the year 1992 as annus horribilis. 2016 may have just taken that honour away from 1992. On a global level, it has been a horrific year in many ways. The shock of Brexit and the slap in the face of a Trump victory notwithstanding, there were escalated terror attacks on innocent civilians with bombs and marauding trucks as well as other political upsets.
As someone born in the sixties, this year took away many of the stars who had defined my adolescence and youth; Prince, Bowie, George Michael as well as beloved actresses like Florence Henderson of ‘The Brady Bunch’, the iconic Princess Leia of Star Wars and Liesl von Trapp of ‘The Sound of Music’. Among other celebrities who passed away this year were Zsa Zsa Gabor, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, even Carrie Fisher’s mum, Debbie Reynolds and Harper Lee, author of the classic, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Then there was Ali, the boxer famous for floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. The death of Anthony Scalia has left the Democrats shattered and then there are politicians like Fidel Castro and Shimon Peres whose politics belong to a different world.
And while the end of 2016 finds a beloved First Lady vacating The White House, another beloved and highly respected First Lady, Nancy Reagan, quietly exited the world.
Michelle Obama and Nancy Reagan are true examples of women who were strong supporters of their husbands while ensuring they never let go of their own identity. In fact, strong women dominated many of the movies I saw recently. I enjoy going to the cinema not just for the visual appeal and the depth of the stories they tell, but also as an escape from an increasingly bewildering world.
From La La Land to Lion, Fences to Manchester by the Sea and finally Dangal, each of the movies transported me into another world; a world of struggle and turmoil but also a world of hope and promise. La La Land is like a Bollywood movie with all the singing and dancing on cars, glamorous costumes, bright colours and romancing. But the bittersweet ending is not your typical Bollywood type of movie. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are eye candy and play the roles of lovers and people struggling to follow their career path. Regardless of the outcome, it is a feel good movie and I came out with a smile on my lips and a lift to my step. Lion has an Indian touch to it because it tells the story of a little boy separated from his family and eventually transported thousands of miles away to live as the adopted son of an Australian family. The child grows into a fine young man but despite his privileged upbringing, he tortures himself because he felt he did not make a constructive effort to find his labourer mum and beloved older brother. He eventually tracks his birth family after twenty-five years. The movie pulled at my emotions because it is a true story with such a positive outcome. Nicole Kidman as the Ozzie mum and Dev Patel as the lost son played the roles very well. The movie gave me hope but also distressed me because this is one child whose search was fruitful but there must be so many such stories. And this child was lucky to get such a supportive family. If Lion is about a child who was trying to find his family, Fences is about a family being torn apart.
Directed by Denzel Washington, a poignant scene is one where the protagonist is told, “Some people build fences to keep people out but others build fences to keep people in.’ The mother in this movie reminds me of so many Indian women in bad marriages. They suffer injustice but still justify it. The mother was betrayed by her husband but she stays with him and even defends his actions to their son. She understood what made the man and how he tried in his own way. It is a movie entrenched in the father’s struggle with black rights and his belief of being sidelined. This struggle is what torments him and causes him to push his sons away from their preferred careers. His wife struggled to keep the family together despite the father. While Denzel Washington as Troy and Viola Davis as his wife Rose were brilliant, one of the best performances was by Mykelti Williamson as Troy’s mentally disabled war veteran brother, Gabe. A moving scene at the end where Gabe plays his trumpet and the clouds part is the image of the movie that remained with me long after I left the theatre. It was about miracles, believing and hope.
On the other hand, Manchester by the Sea is a bleak take on life and Casey Affleck’s portrayal of a conflicted man is intense and depressing. He plays a man who has learnt to become emotionless and is awkward in his interactions with people. His internal conflict is painful to observe especially when the reason for his pain is finally revealed. The movie is sad, slow and full of unspoken and hurting love, if that is even possible. It is a movie of blame, dreams going awry, illness and death. It is a movie about the difficulties of coming to terms and filtering out hope. It is about making compromises and about the love of family. It is a movie that confronts reality and does not intend to wave a magic wand to make everything alright. But still hope lurks beneath the surface.
And talking about hope and family brings me to the last movie in the list of movies I saw last week, Dangal. Aamir Khan is a sockeroo in the movie. he is fastidious and gets under the skin of his character. One expects nothing less from Aamir
From putting on bulk in his role as a wrestler to putting on flab in his role as the aging old man, he is fastidious and gets under the skin of his character, and the movie once again proves he is a master actor and movie maker. Here again is a true story adapted with some cinematic licence but it tells the tale of ambitions, dreaming big, working hard and reaping success. Aamir is brilliantly supported by the rest of the cast especially the girls who play his young daughters. The movie is a salute to the strength of women. The mother who supported her husband’s madness, the girls who believed in their father and helped realize his dreams and ofcourse the father who wanted to make his daughters not just gold medal winners, but role models for girls to emulate. Cinematically too, the movie has been brilliantly conceptualized and shot. Parts of the story that are unexplained, eventually come together beautifully. Like when Aamir asks his daughters to jump into the river and we only realize what it was about at the end of the movie as well as the reason for telling his girls the points associated with certain boxing moves. The clever way Mahavir Singh Phogat overcame bureaucracy and trained his girls is a testament to one man’s stubbornness and the belief of his daughters.Dangal is a not to be missed movie.
And as 2016 comes to a shuddering end, it is time to raise a wassail to 2017 with the fervent wish this year is not an annus horribilis.