Dangal (2016)

Most Aamir Khan movies have one thing in common; his own character is a somewhat stoic, heroic and most importantly, a benevolent man who more or less does the morally right thing most of the time and this becomes the godliness in his being. This syndrome of certain male actors as being cast the supreme ‘hero’ of the film is not limited to Aamir Khan alone but seeps in in movies by Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, and Akshay Kumar. Movies that come to mind where there are elements of such a phenomenon taking place is Airlift, Taare Zameen Par, Chak De India, 3 idiots, Dabangg, Fan, PK, and Talaash. Dangal was also a movie like that.

dangal_poster

The authenticity of the movie has to be appreciated at the onset itself. The village in Haryana, the language, the life of the Phogats, and the reactions of the villagers when Daya fails to give birth to a son, all set up the film quite well. I especially loved the performance by the two child actors who played Gita and Babita (Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar respectively) which made the movie a very enjoyable experience. The music was easy on the ears, complementing the movie quite well.

After Chak De India, this seemed like the next easily digestible movie about gender (after the failure that had been Mary Kom), and it made me excited to be standing in solidarity with women who make it through the patriarchal world of sports. All through the movie, I was thinking about how much courage, perseverance and hard work would it have taken both Gita and Babita Phogat to make it into wrestling, a sport that has more connotations about gender than most other games. Unlike the movie MS Dhoni, this movie was even about the sport; with many wrestling matches being shown almost in its entirety. The moves, the techniques, and the way to play the sport was explicitly explained, which made a person averse to sports (like me) enjoy it quite a bit.

As a feminist, the first half of the film kept my adrenaline high. It was wonderful to see a woman wrestle her way to the top steadily, and I kept rooting for her during her matches against the men of the dangal. However, the fact was that the main character of the movie was definitely Mahavir Phogat, and not Gita or Babita Phogat. They were important characters, definitely, but they were secondary. We see the world through Mahavir’s eyes; we start with his story, his dreams, his aspirations, and his insistence on having his daughters achieve his dream of getting a medal for the country. When Gita is supposed to enter the dangal as a participant, the confrontation about her gender is performed by Mahavir himself. The most that the women are shown to face in terms of what they are choosing to do, is the rampant bullying at school, which they are not able to overcome anyway. It is Mahavir who takes the charge on defying gender roles; by FORCING his daughters to wrestle when they clearly have no interest in it, and maybe not just because they are women. We feel the sadness in the music and the overall mood of the film when Gita leaves the training of his father, and goes to the NSA. It is not an upbeat, cheery moment; but the withdrawal of a father’s influence from his daughter’s life.  It is Mahavir, a looming patriarch, leading the charge on changing how women are perceived in the society. There is nothing inherently wrong with this either; in a patriarchal society, it is important for the dominant gender to take charge to make life better for the rest of the society, and that is exactly what happens in the film. The bigger dream, however, was to win a gold medal for India, and that sense of nationalism is heavier during the latter part of the film (especially with the National Anthem in the middle of the film).

Although, in a way, the film takes a moral high-ground when Gita’s friend tells her that at least their father was treating them as his children, and not marrying them off as soon as they turned 14. It is not like there are only two options a father has when it comes to daughters; either marry them off at 14, or force them to undergo extremely rigorous training to become national wrestlers.

I would also like to draw attention to the double-standards of society in making fun of boys being beat up. When Gita and Babita beat up the two boys for calling them names, it is a comedic moment. When their mother chides them because they got beat up by two girls, most people in the audience laughed. There are several jokes about men not being ‘manly’ enough, which evoked several cringes from me during the movie. The upliftment of women does not necessarily have to bring insults and accusations of ‘femininity’ towards men; that way, there is no battle being won.

Personally, however, I would have loved to see a more focussed picture of what it was like to be Gita Phogat. What was she feeling when she had to step into a dangal for the first time, wrestle with men, being gawked at by men? Was she as confident as she looked in those scenes? This is a dangal where no woman has ever set foot in before. The first woman at a place like that must have something unique to share, an experience that I would have loved to see on screen. If nothing else, it has evoked in me a sense of curiosity about Phogat herself, and her struggles to become a female wrestler, coming from a small village in Haryana. Phogat herself admitted that 99% of the film is truly inspired from her own life and very accurate. However, glimpses into the minds of the women was more expressively done in Chak De India where you see a player’s tiff with her partner, with her parents, her in-laws and society. Maybe it just wasn’t possible with a film like Dangal, but at the end of the film, I was left asking for more.

The pressure that the girls faced in terms of how forceful their father was in training them was only natural. Any sport would require a lot of practice, even when the player themselves was not prepared for it. That is why sportspersons have coaches, to push them harder and to bring them to their full potential. I suppose that would have been the case regardless of the gender of the children of Mahavir Phogat. He is just as tough with Gita and Babita’s cousin, the narrator of the story, if not less, and in that way, Mahavir truly brings his own daughters at an equal standing.

Overall, Dangal is definitely a film that was worth the wait. It is a heart-warming story of how a man and his daughters, defy all expectations of society and set out to do what no one has hoped for (which the commentator during the matches mentions several times, quite rudely, if you ask me). Is it a better movie than Chak De India, a movie that set the standard quite high for all sports and gender related movies? Definitely not.

Cats and alterations in personality

‘If the mind is a machine, then anything can control it – anything, that is, that understands the code and has access to the machinery’

Let us take for example the orb spider. Typically, the orb spider weaves a web that is no less than an engineering marvel, a mosaic of spiral non-sticky web and a final sticky web line to hold the entire web together. It must be a matter of great pride for the spider to achieve such a feat in a matter of hours. However, these plans can be foiled by the Polysphincta gutfreundi, a small tropical wasp whose entire image is built on what it does to the orb-weaver spider. The female wasp lays an egg in the abdomen on the spider, after which a tiny larvae emerges out of it, deriving nutrition from its host’s body. However, that is not enough for the larva. The larva needs a safe spot to undergo metamorphosis and emerge a wasp, and what better than to use the extraordinary intellect of the spider in building itself a home. The larva imparts certain chemicals in the spider that makes it weave the web just a little differently. This “drugged” spider is under the influence of the larva, weaving to its tunes and constructing a web for the benefit of the larva. These webs are strong and specifically designed to keep the larva’s cocoon suspended and away from the sight of larger predators.

 

spiralorb

If the larva is removed from the spider’s body by human intervention, the spider lives and returns to its normal web-making abilities soon enough.

The rabies virus, too, evokes the feelings of rage in its host so that the host bites another living being, and transmits the virus to more hosts.

Such a parasite exists closer to home, and much more elusive than a rabies virus. Let us talk about the infamous Toxoplasma gondii.

This protozoan has a fairly complicated life cycle which begins inside a very common animal, and only inside this animal.

Cats.

Inside cats, the protozoan spends time reproducing and generally having a gala time, after which zygote-filled cysts are released along with the cat’s poo. From here on, it can go anywhere it wants – water, soil, food, other hosts, and even humans (but we will get to that later). Depending on who ingests this infection that is now free to roam the world, the infection is concentrated in various parts of the body. In pigs (if that is the intermediate host), they are mostly in the muscles, and in the case of rodents, they are mostly in the brain. Inside this intermediate host, the protozoan can’t really reproduce, so it yearns for a way out and into a cat again, where it can continue to reproduce more protozoa. However, this might not always be possible.

In rodents, this protozoan has evolutionarily built a great way of escaping. It has been proven, that rats infected with Toxoplasma doesn’t hate cats quite as much. In fact, the smell of cat’s urine even sexually arouses the rodent towards the source. It also makes the rodents wary of predators around it, and makes for very easy prey for cats. Most of what the rodents do after being infected is a way for the cat to devour the host, and as such makes it the protozoan’s doing. It can happily reproduce again in a cat’s body.

When the passage from the intermediate host to the cat’s body is not really possible, the protozoan just chills in the host’s body for as long as it can, which is generally the lifespan of the animal. Globally, 30-50% of humans are infected with Toxoplasma gondii. And it alters the personalities of humans too.

Other than decreased reaction times, the infected humans showed a lot of changes in terms of their behaviour. The interesting part is that it shows up differently in both men and women. To quote a study,


Compared with uninfected men, males who had the parasite were more introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, and inclined to disregard rules. Infected women, on the other hand, presented in exactly the opposite way: they were more outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected women.

Compared with uninfected people of the same sex, infected men were more likely to wear rumpled old clothes; infected women tended to be more meticulously attired, many showing up for the study in expensive, designer-brand clothing. Infected men tended to have fewer friends, while infected women tended to have more. 


 

The underlying difference that the study found was how differently genders handled anxiety and emotional strain, and that is the kind of alteration that affected people when they were infected with the protozoan. Of course, if a woman is an introvert, Toxo would not turn her into a raving extrovert, just a little less of an introvert. But over a larger sample size, the evidence is shocking.

This brings up the question that if Toxo can affect and alter the personalities of so many without them even realizing it, would it affect the entire human culture as a whole? When 30-50% of the human population is affected by this protozoan, does it seep into the cultural and societal aspects of our lives?

References:

http://insider.si.edu/2010/01/drugged-spiders-web-spinning-may-hold-keys-to-determining-how-animal-behavior-is-controlled/

Flegr, J (Jan 2013). “Influence of latent Toxoplasmainfection on human personality, physiology and morphology: Pros and cons of the Toxoplasma-human model in studying the manipulation hypothesis”. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 216 (Pt 1): 127–33.

Webster JP, Kaushik M, Bristow GC, McConkey GA (Jan 2013). Toxoplasma gondii infection, from predation to schizophrenia: can animal behaviour help us understand human behaviour?”. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 216 (Pt 1): 99–112.

Lafferty, Kevin D. “Can the common brain parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, influence human culture?.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 273.1602 (2006): 2749-2755.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2015/10/29/parasite-human-brain-control/#.WFe4GqJ95MI

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/03/how-your-cat-is-making-you-crazy/308873/

Sylvia Plath, the fig tree, and chick-lit

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is a piece of iconic feminist writing, which is dark, witty and extremely painful, outlining and diving into the experiences of a woman who is mentally disturbed and agitated with antiquated gender roles and stereotypes. There are several wonderful things that the book explains with a perceptive and smart protagonist, someone who is self-aware and yet, a part of a tumultuous society that just will not take her seriously. She is not the heroine of the story; instead she is a brilliant woman who is slowly sliding into the inner depths of her own psyche and losing touch with what matters most to her. Personally, the harrowing experience she narrates about being depressed is all too real, and palpably painful.

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In 2013, Faber & Faber came out with a new edition for the book The Bell Jar. The cover featured a lady powdering her face, making it a standard “chick-lit” novel that would be marketed specifically towards women. It hid the actual idea of the book in the recesses of its redness; one of a vehement fight against gender roles and the short biographic account of a ‘madwoman’, the kind that Plath had herself been. Chick-lit is generally defined as literature with a female protagonist whose womanhood is severely thematized in the storyline, and by this definition alone, The Bell Jar is, in fact, chick-lit. Jodi Picoult, author of My Sister’s Keeper and The Pact, says in an interview with The Telegraph,

“If a woman had written One Day [by David Nicholls], it would have been airport fiction. Look at The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. If I had written that, it would have had a pink, fluffy cover on it. If Jenny Eugenides had written it, it would have had a pink fluffy cover on it. What is it about? It’s about a woman choosing between two men. What is The Corrections about, by Jonathan Franzen? It’s about a family, right? And I’m attacking gun control and teen suicide and end-of-life care and the Holocaust, and I’m writing women’s fiction? I mean, I can’t tell you. When people call The Storyteller chick-lit, I actually break up laughing. Because that is the worst, most depressing chick-lit ever.”

The issue with calling books chick-lit is that it gives the false notion that the value of the books is only so far as the audience reading it is a woman. This idea, one that men’s books can be read by everyone, but women’s books can only be read by women, is toxic and unpleasant. When the story of the modern woman is narrated by a female author, the issues it addresses are considered to be frivolous, which is why reading chick-lit authors is a frivolous reading activity. Which brings us back to the definition of what chick-lit is – the fact that a book having a central theme as women’s issues is quickly shelved into “women’s fiction”; a book intended mostly for women to read. There is no real reason why a man should be interested in women’s issues or a female perspective, considering that most of these issues are swept under the rug with an air of silliness.

Shelving Plath’s The Bell Jar in a similar manner angers me. It can no longer be a classic produced by American literature, a testament to mental illness, gender disparities, and female sexuality; instead, it becomes a book intended for women to just relate to and keep men out of. It is a book that I would highly recommend to everyone, not just women, to understand the nuances of how depression can tear down an entire personality, about seething self-doubt in the mind of a brilliant writer, and the quirky enthusiasm of a person to end her own life.

A beautiful representation of one of the best quotes from The Bell Jar appeared in the Netflix original series Master of None, which is created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. The show is a gentle reminder of Louie, which kept me captivated with its surreal style of story-writing, exaggerated humour, and the dark wit of Louis CK. Master of None captures the essence of a second generation Indian man living in the US quite well, and addresses issues related to race and ethnography in a humourous manner that I already loved Aziz Ansari for. The show is not merely funny though; the characters seem real and well-thought out, and in one of the episodes they made great use of a quote from The Bell Jar. A man quoting Sylvia Plath as a perfect depiction of what he is feeling at the moment felt to me like a step away from thinking of women’s fiction the way that it is at this point in literary circles.

A summary of what he feels his life could be like is perfectly described in the book with these lines, which is one of the best quotes I have ever had the pleasure of reading:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/feb/01/the-bell-jar-new-cover-derided

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/11/opinion/the-snobs-and-me.html?_r=0

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/jodi-picoult-its-really-hard-to-love-America-sometimes/

 

Stories by Rabindranath Tagore (Chokher Bali) (2015)

It is deeply satisfying to see that shows like Stories by Rabindranath Tagore by Anurag Basu are finding their way on television, and are being appropriately judged. This is a show that is now available on Netflix after being telecast on the EPIC Channel in India, and traces a few of the stories written by Rabindranath Tagore into a visual format. Anurag Basu is himself Bengali, and his wife Tani Basu led the team in creatively developing the authenticity of the Bengali atmosphere that has been created in the show. It is set in the early 20th century during pre-partitioned Bengal. Although this particular performance of Chokher Bali (which is shown in the first 3 episodes of this 26-episode long anthology of stories by Tagore) does not dwell too much into the politics of those times, it still manages to convey an idea of Bengal that might have existed back then in terms of the social and cultural commentary.

My perspective on this show is based purely out of watching the show only. Neither have I read the Bengali novel of the same name, nor have I watched the 2003 Bengali film by Rituparno Ghosh. Therefore, there is nothing for me to compare it with. By itself, I found the episodes to be brilliant – in terms of writing, cinematography and acting. The story has been slightly changed as compared to the novel, and that was the only part of the episode that I did not like. While we see Binodini to be a strong, realistically flawed woman with desires like any other person initially, she changes into a woman who sacrifices her desire for the good of who she loves. However, she is my favourite character in this particular story, and for good reason. Her desires take an important role in her life, and she breaks the rules that the society has imposed upon her by the mere virtue of her desire. She feels betrayed by Mahendra because it was him who rejected her hand in marriage because he was not sure, because of which she was destined to a life of widowhood. Her desire to have the life that Ashalata had been served was so strong, especially in the scene where she reads the letter the Mahen has written to Bihari. Binodini is fierce and wants to fulfill her wishes while trying to pursue them in a flawed manner, but you cannot blame her unethical behaviour because you know that her destiny is too bleak for her to accept it without any resistance. The way that Binodini has been shown in the episode is exemplary, especially so because one understands that even though her behaviour is unacceptable in terms of morality, one cannot dislike her for her flaws because they are very real human flaws. While this is the excellence of Tagore’s writing that such a character could be created, it is also important to give the show-makers the credit they deserve, for keeping the soul of the story alive in their episodes.

Radhika Apte is very realistic in her performance as Binodini as usual; she is a seductress who has a deep understanding of the world around her, and knows how to get what she wants, while also being torn when the only man she has shown any real love towards looks at her with disdain. I have always been a fan of Bhanu Uday (from the Aryan Khanna fame of Special Squad) and even though he has been given the role of the pompous Mahendra, he plays the role with great finesse, such that you will dislike the man by the end of it. With Sumeet Vyas playing the role of the good-natured Bihari, I have begun to believe that that actor can play any kind of role with such ease that is only rare in actors. There is some great writing also in the show, with certain scenes staying with you long after the episode is over. The scene with Binodini reading Mahendra’s letter to Bihari is one such scene, and the meeting between Binod and Bihari during the first few minutes of the show is also noteworthy.

The story is beautiful, and one of betrayal, deceit, love and lust. Chokher Bali literally means a mote in the eye, and that is what Binod is in the marital life of Asha and Mahendra, especially so because Binod and Asha describe their valuable friendship with those words. Binod realises the true value of their friendship much later in the film, and it is only Asha who is able to forgive her friend and who is truly good-natured woman in the story.

The music in the movie is sung by great singers like Arijit Singh, Shaan and Shalmali Kholgade, and one such beautiful song from Rabindra Sangeet is Amaro Parano Jaha Chay.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this series as one of wonderment and great film-making. It is definitely true, also, that Tagore’s works break the boundaries of time and are relevant and enjoyable after almost 100 years of its real setting.

My room is disintegrating

My room is disintegrating.

It is melting into a pot

Of empty plastic bags, litter, and dirty footprints. 

There is undone laundry,

A reluctant light bulb.

Tape holding the world (and the window) together. 

At work, 

They pass by and smirk. 

I am on page 52 of the same book

I was reading two weeks ago,

Since I started sinking into the hole.

Pull me out. 

Pull me out from the depth of this bed. 

The color outside changes 

Golden to pink – 

Pink ṭo navy – 

Navy to pearls on the rolling ocean floor –

To the stillness of the entirely hemisphere sleeping.

The darkness of the bed pulls me in. 

My limbs are paralysed. 

My surroundings are disintegrating. 

And I would like nothing more, 

Than to disintegrate with them.

My Favourite Horror Films

Horror is a genre that I think is difficult to be likable. It purposely puts the idea of supernatural occurrences or danger in the viewer’s mind, which can be more uncomfortable than what viewers are used to. However, it is the one of the most adrenaline-filled genre, disclosing the worst of human behaviour and a possibility of something that the human species still cannot understand. It doesn’t matter whether one believes in the supernatural or not, but to fully enjoy a horror film, I think, it needs to be watched with an open mind and a spirit such that one would want to be scared. A horror film cannot be watched with a group of friends where a few are more than eager to prove that nothing scares them; it needs to be watched with as few numbers as possible and with the lights turned off (unless you are alone, in which case, all the rooms of your entire house need to be lit up during or after the movie). My definition of a horror film, in fact, is very loose. I would consider a chilling science fiction movie also a horror film because it evokes emotions in us which we expect a horror movie to evoke. Here is a list of my favourite horror films, not in any particular order.

Pan’s Labyrinth

This movie cannot be directly characterised as horror. It is, instead, a dark fantasy war film which will definitely scare you with its imaginative characters and enthralling storyline. The film is pretty much from the perspective of young Ofelia, who has come to live with her stepfather along with her pregnant and ill mother. Ofelia’s imagination, or the reality she belongs to, is wild and unpredictable, putting her in the path of danger many times. She encounters monstrous creatures in the process of acquiring immortality, which was predicted by a fairy tale.

Pan's Labyrinth

This is one of favourite fantasy films, especially so because it does not pander to a childish audience in terms of horror. Even though the protagonist is a little girl, Guillermo del Toro, the Spanish director and writer, has not stopped from throwing violent and disturbing images her way, or the audience’s way. It isn’t a sweet and coy film because a child is involved, and it captures the sentiment of war (in which it is set) metaphorically, and yet, very naturally. I have only seen one other of his movies, Crimson Peak. While also a good movie with an enticing story, that movie falls flat when it comes to the horror parts, which seem to be too reliant on special effects, making it almost comedic. Guillermo del Toro has also been involved in the making of Mama which shares more of its characteristics with Crimson Peak in which it also relies heavily on special effects, instead of the subtle but horrifying monsters in Pan’s Labyrinth.

The Loved Ones

This film, in particular, relies on gory dread instead of subtle supernatural events. It also doesn’t have an active supernatural element in it. I would not recommend it to someone who is wary of bloodshed in films, because this movie has many moments which will make you more than just cringe and clutch your own body parts in fear. The characters are uncomplicated and includes a dysfunctional family where a spoilt daughter is obsessed with a boy from her school. Her father enables her psychotic behaviour until Brent is on the brink of death. The events occur in a span of a few days, and the story moves forward rapidly, quickly turning into a gorish nightmare that one wouldn’t even dream on their worst enemy. The best kind of horror films are those without a supernatural element; movies which show that humanity is capable of more terror than ghosts are, especially when put under the right circumstances. The film just increasingly becomes cruel and awful, until a major reveal almost at the end of the film.

Coherence

Coherence is a science fiction thriller that released in 2013, which begins with a group of friends having dinner at one of their homes. I am a huge fan of the shaky camera technique in scary movies, as it makes the story of film seem real and absorbing for the viewer. Blair Witch Project was one of the first films I saw which used this technique, and I am a big fan of the movie, considering the fact that similar storylines were adopted by the Paranormal Activity franchise, and ruined the technique and the idea for me. The entire notion of a shaky camera is to ensure that none of the the major supernatural or scary events are captured on it too obviously, keeping the element of surprise and mystery alive, something which Paranormal Activity goes overboard with.

This film, however, doesn’t.

There isn’t much I can write about the story here without giving away the key elements of the story which are best enjoyed as the film progresses, but the movie does not involve a lot of cheap scares that has become a trope in horror films. If a movie has to make sudden movements in order to scare its viewers, in my opinion, the dread of the movie is kept on trembling grounds.

It follows

The concept and the supernatural entity in the film is the best part about it. The entity is out to kill the protagonist Jaime, since she had a sexual encounter with a person she had been on a date with. Only she could see this entity, and it kept following her with the intention to kill her. The entity is kept mysterious and elusive (like Death in the Final Destination franchise, without the overly dramatic descriptions about it), and we know only what the characters know about it, which is that it is like an infection that you cannot get rid of, and need to pass to be able to get away from its view, and even then, it is only a delay. The entity takes on some abhorrent forms which are definitely terrifying and add to the awfulness of the entity.

However, the story does not dwindle into a cheesy explanation about what this entity is. In my opinion, the best horror films are those that leave enough out to make you wonder what it was that haunted the characters so deceptively. This is also the case with Blair Witch Project (which is one of my favourite films also, considering the fact that it was one of the first films to use the shaky camera technique).

The Others

The lesser you know about the film, the more of a surprise it will be. This movie is unlike the others films that Nicole Kidman has starred in, and it was lovely seeing her in the role of an overprotective and paranoid mother, who will go any lengths to protect her children, especially since her husband never came from war. There is a wonderful twist ending to the movie which you might not see coming, which is why I would recommend watching this movie without reading up about it or even checking it out on IMDb.

Session 9

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a great example of what humans are capable of inflicting upon each other when put under pressure. Session 9 explores this concept under the backdrop of a scary shutdown mental hospital where a group of men arrive for a process of asbestos removal. Each of the men have some evils plaguing them – lack of sleep, heartbreak, and even drugs. In an atmosphere that is strangely eerie (not surprisingly), one of them finds tapes that were stored at the mental hospital regarding a girl with dissociative personality disorder. Clearly, that should be enough to catch your attention. The men spiral out of control, getting paranoid about each other quicker than you can say ‘paranoid’, and even without a possible supernatural force, the movie carries the horror very well.


My definition of a good horror film is one without cheap scares, since I think that it is fairly easy to scare someone when someone on screen appears suddenly and without notice. This is the reason why The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 would not make my list of the best horror films I’ve seen. What also bothers me about these films is the heavy reliance on religion to solve the issue at hand. However, the films listed above barely rely on cliches in filmmaking and in story-telling, which is why they are few of the best horror films I have seen.

 

Kajarya (2013)

I first saw the trailer for this movie in a little television between elevators in my apartment building. It was barely playing any sound, but the scenes looked energetic enough for me to be interested. The trailer was dramatic and loud, and a little too preachy for my taste. The subtitle of the movie is “Let the truth prevail”. It was still interesting because it was obvious the theme was relevant to our country, and because of the fact that its cast had Sumeet Vyas (Mikesh from Permanent Roommates). I wanted to see what kind of an actor he was outside of his comedic scenes. The trailer was definitely misleading.

Kajarya

The movie turned out to be quite calm. It is characterised by its documentary-drama like filming technique, which makes it even more powerful because I didn’t know which parts not to believe. The move talks about a sensitive issue, one that our country has struggled with for a long time – female infanticide. Hence, it is a given that the film will be serious and trying very hard to get a point across.

Kajarya was bold with this message, showing the contrast between the journalist Meera and a woman believed to be possessed by Kali, Kajarya. Meera is shown throughout the movie as a multi-dimensional character, with a persistent belief in justice, and yet she reacts with weakness when the justice is questioned. Kajarya, on the other hand, is dealing with harsher chemicals. Her transformation from a person hooked to opium, to someone who is behind bars but drug-free, is intense to notice. Both actresses have done a fine job of portraying their own characters well, but Ridhima Sud as Kajarya herself was extremely convincing. Her story in the film is riveting, and extremely sad.

The story keeps us in the city of Delhi, and also takes us to a remote village in Haryana where the villages participate in a cruel practice with a cosmological belief. The scenes with the villagers, and not the actors, were a few of the best scenes in the film. One that I especially liked was when Meera goes to the women of the village near their water pump, and the women refuse to trust her again. We also see Meera dealing with her life in Delhi – the parties, her boyfriend (played by Sumeet Vyas) and his family, and his job as a junior reporter where she does not believe she is taken seriously enough.

The cruelty associated with female infanticide is generally not a major point of concern for most who hear about it because it has been talked about so often. However, Kajarya does so in an manner that will give you goosebumps. It is difficult to judge which parts of it were accurate and which were not, because some were so shocking, it was difficult to digest. It is still true that 3 millions girls go ‘missing’ in our country. However, some scenes in the film are too dramatic and not vocal enough about the theme for it to have too much lasting impact.

The music of the film has been composed by Richard Horowitz who is an Academy Award nominee. There is a decent cover of “Mohabbat ki jhoothi kahani” in the film which made me hear the song in a very similar light to the original in Mughal-e-Azam. It is suitably placed in the film, and while there is not much else music, this song particular is enough in the narrative as it was being told.

There was some amount of antagonisation of men in the film, and it is difficult for me to tell whether it was an objective narration or a subjective transformation of the truth in order to tell a story. Kajarya’s fate was certain, however, even in that kind of fate, she seems cleaner, purer and dignified in spite of the fact that she did commit the crimes, someone who is too idealistic a character in comparison to a real human being. This is more so done with female characters. While male characters in films are glorified to the point of unrealism, women’s characters are made extremely likable and ideal, as both the genders are perceived as. On the other hand, the men were made to be the villains, even Meera’s boyfriend who is played by Sumeet Vyas. It feels like his character is so antagonised that you are left wondering why he was her boyfriend in the first place; there are no progressions in the movie that seem to denote anything about their relationship other than the fact that he is not a likable character. Meera, on the other hand, is redeemed again and again with some quality that she is not otherwise seen to possess. Whether this is character progress, or a mistake made due to not enough work going into the storyline, is for you to decide.

Certain scenes in the film were too dramatic and sensational, especially some parts that were shot in the village. It becomes difficult to take a documentary-drama seriously when parts of it are weak and unrealistic, especially when it pertains to a serious issue like female infanticide, something that has been discussed in a variety of different ways.

For it’s depiction of a very real issue in our country, Kajarya is a helpful and poignant commentary. However, in terms of filmmaking and in-depth characterisation, it falters slightly, and in spite of this, the movie is definitely worth one watch.