2017 will be remembered as the year of inspirational dramas in Hollywood.
By accident or by design, I saw three masterpieces of varying degrees from the West that left me enthralled in different ways — Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder, Andy Serkis’ “Breathe” and Luca Guadgnino’s Call Me By Your Name.
The last one, especially, is a sumptuous, gorgeously-layered luminous look at love from the other side. All three have have one thing in common, besides their shared excellence. They are all about trying to overcome human frailties.
In Wonder, a prodigious little boy (Jacob Tremblay) grapples with a disfigured face and community prejudices to emerge a hero of our times. Breathe is the inspirational story of Robin Cavendish, who at the age of 28, was afflicted with life-ending polio. The film shows Cavendish, given a few months to live, waltzing on his designer-wheelchair through many years of life with his devoted wife and son.
Call Me… is the trickiest of the trio. The disability here — homosexuality — is turned into a glorious celebration of love with some of the most enchanting visuals of romance and longing seen in cinema.
I remember the great Gulzar sahib once telling me: “Lovemaking on screen should be such that the two protagonists as well as the audience forget the physical presence and are transported into the subliminal.”
That’s what I felt when I saw Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet (both pipped for Oscar nominations) making love for the camera. I forgot the gender of the actors. I forgot they wore no clothes. I even forgot that this film about same-sex love may never release in our country.
All I saw was the gloriousness and gorgeousness of guilt and desire sublimated into a celebration of life and its not-so-simple pleasures.
The three films, specially Guadgnino’s enthralling ode to desire, had one more thing in common. They all showed a supportive family and friends to be an essential prerequisite to achieve clarity and cogency in life. In fact, the ending of “Breathe”, where death is celebrated as a release from pain, joyously echoed Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Guzaarish”.
How many Bollywood films in 2017 served up any of life’s luminous lessons with any measure of conviction? Forget credibility, there was hardly a film that even attempted a motivational twist in the tyrannical task of seducing the box office. What was the takeaway from the biggest hits of the year, namely Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, Golmaal Returns, Judwaa 2, Tiger Zinda Hai and Fukrey Returns?
I bet you’ve already forgotten what these films tried to say. The only mainstream motivational films of 2017 were Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and new director Advait Chandan’s Secret Superstar — the former a woman’s fight for dignity and the latter a young Muslim girl’s battle against gender prejudice and patriarchal despotism to realise her dreams.
In Secret Superstar, the treatment of yearning and fruition were so sloppy and the girl’s journey portrayed in such broad strokes of gender bias — the girl’s father was a brute worthy of crucifixion — that at the end of it one wonders what the fuss was all about.
What happened to all those life-changing films like V. Shantaram’s Do Aankhen Barah Haat (about prison reform), Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (about matriarchal pride and dignity), Bimal Roy’s Sujata (about eradicating the caste system), Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth (about a wife’s search for a dignified life) and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti (about political reform)?
Why have we stopped making inspirational movies? Have we passed on the responsibility to cinema abroad while we just use the rare and precious screen space to create disembodied images of hedonistic chaos? A sobering thought, indeed.