Saturday, October 21, 2017

Big Little Lies

Much bigger than the lies which we tell are the lies which we live. 

Big Little Lies is a stunner. It tears into - and through - gorgeous facades, perfect husbands, beautiful children, ideal housewives and an idyllic little town, to reveal what is virtually a secret-riddled sordid collection of mortals. Oh, ordinary lives, you know. 

Reese Witherspoon is Madeline, for whom everyone's business is her business, whose passion to do the right thing is only matched with her utter helplessness as to what to do with her rebellious cynical teenager daughter. Nicole Kidman is Celeste,  an ex-lawyer, with a beauty which could crack mirrors, and a young husband good enough to eat, struggling with her feelings to get back to work, but mangled up in the dark deep secret of her family life. And then, there is Shailene Woodley as Jane, the single mother who has drifted into town, whose past has a haunting  pain and whose six-year old son, in no time,  is accused of being a bully. 

And into this volatile mix are an ex-husband, a  gay cafe owner, a gorgeously talented new-age wife, a mother of a bullied little girl and a successful business owner who is the cynosure of a myriad jealous eyes, a theatre director whose puppet show has puppets making love, and a school teacher who is struggling to do the right thing with children who want to do what they want. 

The trouble with perfection in life is that life itself is a messy bitch. When everything is going right, you have a fight with a spouse and meet a soulmate, when your career is soaring you have a child who thinks virginity is a commodity, when you have a husband who is the finest dad you can think of to your children he turns out to be a clinging jealous monster.

The very word perfection is a facade. And it's desire or very existence is antithesis to the nature of relationships. 

The intricate geometry of ties and circumstances in Big Little Lies is laid on the spine of a murder - who's or why is revealed only in the end. But the menace in the ordinary, the growing politics in school happenstance, the chasms between the closest, as incident upon incident piles on, always predicates something which can't end well. And it doesn't. 

Reese Witherspoon is at the heart of the film. Shailene provides its strange mystery. But it is Nicole Kidman, with her cool allure and her slow decomposition and breakdown who cuts the soul apart. Her sessions with the therapist, with or without her husband, are an insidious and incredible testament to our self-denials, our refusal to let ourselves reconcile with the muck inside our lives, in spite of the fact that it might be destroying us. 

Beneath all the drama of a story which Big Little Lies brings, are the startling and undeniable truths of married - and so-called ordinary - lives. We present our ideal sides but inside we foster ugly truths, until we ourselves forget where our reality ends and fiction starts. It is in the nature of our being - and the half-lives we live.

The bliss of a complete life can only happen in half-measures in the form of a life well lived, through acceptances, giving (& getting) spaces and proactive action. Life always comes around and catches us with our pants down when we least expect it. We have to face our truths at some point or the other, however much we may run away from them. Karma finds its balance by confronting us, or confronting all that we hold dear, with our misdeeds and alienations. There is no right way for life or living. But the search for truths about ourselves might be a good place to start. Alas, that is never a given. 


Rake is outrageous. Cleaver Greene, it's protagonist, has, in a moment of rare perspicacity, called himself a 'fucking fuckwit', which is as close as one can get to what the serial is all about. And we can only find joy in that. Because Cleaver is a clever lawyer, and is shameless, inventive, and the rallying point for all lost causes and souls. 

So, his CV includes successful defence of, to name a few, a cannibal, a 'dog-loving' couple (oh I wish I could tell what that means!), a polygamist, a masturbating paparazzi,  a criminal with 750 charges of rape, murder, extortion et al, and so on and so forth. And he does his thing with a rare pizzazz and a scruple-less effortlessness. 

As a character, Cleaver is a miracle. He's obnoxious, but completely lovable. He is uncontrollable with his basic instincts, is highly successful in pushing away everyone he loves, but is the one everyone in trouble turns to. He is deep trouble himself, but is the beacon for everyone desperately looking for an outre solution.

Needless to say, his personal life is a gargantuan mess. He goes from one affair to another, leaving only anger and despair in his wake. His iffy commitment levels are forever impinging on his work, and his profane-littered litanies in court and off it are a legend of cringe-worthiness.

And to top it all, these are his nearest and dearest - his ex-wife is an ex-but-reconsidering lesbo, he is in love with a prostitute, his son can only fall in love with women much older to him, his secretary is marrying a guy who refuses to have sex with her till they get married, so she has an affair with a colleague who's wife has just had an affair with Cleaver. And this is just for starts!! 

After establishing Cleaver and his family and his closest mates and colleagues, the four-seasons masterpiece engages us in his legal battles, his outre and unhinged connivances, and slowly sucks us into his personal life and his struggles with straightforward engagements.

Nothing is simple in Cleaver's books. And what gives the series depth is its clever and continuous commentary on the inequities and contradictions of the legal and political firmament. 

It's pretty well established that this serial is a watermark in Australian television. And we can't reiterate enough the blessings of Netflix. The access to unreachable, often unknown, quality serials and documentaries, is a boon like no other!  

Catch this boon!! 

The Fall - light in the shadow of depravity

(Please do not read this meditation on a Netflix TV crime pshychodrama - if you dont like things rambling. The write is long and unstructured and written for myself and has spoilers. It's here so it doesn't get lost! Just know - if you can, don't miss this incredible drama.) 

It's startling how dangerous stillness can be. And when there is much of it, how violent it can get. Facades convey nothing of the turmoil churning inside. There is a thin line which separates the ones who then let the violence spill out of themselves. 

That's the line which separates Stella, an investigating officer, from Paul, a serial killer. And The Fall examines their lives in parallel, and how they converge metaphysically first, much before they do physically. And how each person handles the black holes inside themselves.  Paul lost his mother and exploded. Stella lost her father and imploded. And beneath their immaculate masks they both lived lives of seeming normalcy. 

The difference between their trajectories was the touch in their lives of fortune or depravity. But both used people for their ends, and brought doom and destruction. But whilst the essential goodness brought redemption in one's circle, there was only death in the other.  

We all have circles of influence. We don't even know where it extends to, whom it seeps into. But we are all agents of change.  We are all capable of influence. We are all connected. So what we do with this power often defines our place in the world, and the world's place inside us. 

Stella goes to talk to Katie, a 16 year old who is in love with Paul, and is ready to produce false alibi to save him. In correctional detention, she self-harms herself. And has this conversation with Stella.

Katie Benedetto: My father killed himself. 
DSI Gibson: I thought it was an accident. 
Katie Benedetto: He chose to ride a motorbike. Even though I worried about him every time he went out every night he was late home. He loved the bike more than he loved me. Loved the thrill of speed more than he loved his only daughter. I don't call that an accident. 
DSI Gibson: Is that why you're throwing your life away? You know you can't get him back. No matter how hard you try. 

We all have those voices in our heads, that tell us we're a disappointment, that tell us our work is insignificant. That it's not good enough, it takes too long, it's too hard. But when times are tough, we need tough dreams. But real dreams, not lies. Not an unreality like Paul. You need to fight for yourself, Katie, because right now you're in danger. 

We all need love and we all need nurture. There's too much death and destruction. But friends who love you should warm you like the sun. Make you feel good about yourself. Not freeze you in their contempt and in their hate. Anger corrodes our belief that anything good can happen to us. Paul's been destroyed by his anger, his rage. And you, you hurt a friend, to impress him. But he doesn't care. He doesn't even know you exist. 

It's almost as if Stella was speaking to herself.  

In the final interrogation scene, Paul speaks of alienation and loneliness and the wretchedness of his childhood. And then he says- 

We're all wearing masks to some extent. You certainly are. There are memories, thoughts that feel like memories that are starting to come back to me. 

There's a voice. There's a voice saying, "We're losing him, we're losing him."So, there must have been at least one person who cared whether I lived or died. 

DSI Gibson: That was me. That was my voice. And I *did* care. I thought death would be too easy for you, too easy an escape. And I didn't want you to cheat the system. And I still don't. I want you to be punished for the crimes that you've committed. Rose Stagg was so right about you. She saw right through you, your infantile desire to have a captive and captivated audience. You just want to be noticed, you want to be the center of attention, to have special treatment, to make your mark. But it's all just a performance. All of it. You perform for me, for your solicitor, your doctors, your nurse, your psychiatrist, even your family. It's all just one big performance as protection against the dreaded black hole of your heart. Well, guess what, Paul, it's time to grow up. It's time to take responsibility for what you've done. Let's stop this pathetic charade. 

The only sliver of hope he had, suddenly collapses. And sets the tone for the calamitous denouement.  

In a small heartbreaking scene Paul's daughter opens her arms  and embraces Stella, after she gets to know the truth about her father.  The youngest and the most influenced rejects the dark side and moves towards light. 

The story lingers with every character, and their arcs and their relevance and their lives spanning out because of the effect Stella or/and Paul have on them. The dead, the living, the barely-living, the survived. 

Each of the three seasons, which can be seen all at once on Netflix (such blessings are due to them!), addresses different aspects of the relationship - first, the crimes, then the chase and then the conjoinment.

In a world where fulfilment is a pursuit beset with moral landmines, and happiness is often at the altar of innocence, there is still space for goodness. Even in the heart of pure evil lies the echo of something quintessentially pure. Nothing can ever take away the essential loneliness of life, but we can leave signs of our mistakes for people to pick up. We all have cemeteries ready for us at the end.  Can we make those into signposts? 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

La La Land

This is definitely going to be an all time favorite film.

I'm so jealous of youth.  And starry-eyes.  And the slow flush of fresh love. And the beauteous search for meaning. And how love often means nursing your lover's dream, even as life chips away at it.

But here's the what-if twist - whither ambition when love is at your heart-step?

La La Land is lyrical, sumptuously accessible, filled with the cynicism and jazz-filled dream of Ryan Gosling, the liquid soul-mirrored eyes of Emma Stone. Emma embodies everybody's confusion, ambition, power and weakness. Both of them love each other so dearly that they desperately want the other to achieve. But what fuels incipient dreams also powers them to places they never thought they would reach. But then, isn't that the very purpose of life?

When both of them stop to catch their breath, to settle down to a simple meal, to figure out what their prodding the other led the other to, truths tumble out. Alas, as is the human norm, the only truth he sees in her mirror are the stories he's told himself.

Such is the persuasion and charm of this fabulous film, that in our involvement with the characters, we absorb the sublimal sub-text by almost missing it - longing for love or life can often take us to different places - both good, both compromised, both tragic, both qualifying as success. In the end, preciousness is what we have, and learn to treasure. However big the regret.

This is pure cinema, in its ambition to help us soar beyond our ordinary lives - without forgetting that the miniscule inside our hearts is an empire for each one of us.

This a movie to learn and love. One for the ages.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


To me, this is a film about choices and communication. Communication - it's lack, it's contradictions, it's compulsions, it's limitations - and what it does to us.  Subtly, slowly, the film pulls us into its myriad ironies and it's questions.  And choices - the ones we make in spite of knowing everything - because life is lived in the pleasures of the moments and not its tragedies.

The communication channels are opened with aliens, and the attempt is to garner from them their intention of coming onto the earth. And the irony is that the communication expert called in is single - and haunted by personal loss - fatal vis-a-vis her child, and vacant vis-a-vis her partner.

And as she and her physicist companion slowly unravel meanings, all around people are misinterpreting meanings. Perceptions, fear, tension - all internalise interpretations which were never there. It's the way we jump to conclusions, day in day out. Cooperation and more communication is called for - and is not forthcoming.

And as my friend Avi, explained - it is reality in its own way - it's my reality, yes, but it is also a part of the larger canvas  - the world exists because we perceive it, even though it is only as we see it.

And it's our failure to understand that these differences are all part of the same tapestry, is what causes grief.

More intense is the dilemma of choices. What if you knew the future and it's grievances - would you still live the road to surefire tragedy?

And since this is sci-fi, there are twists. And one which is sumptuous.  The emotional tug of the mother and daughter interaction, which also gives the perspective to so many of the film's philosophical underpinnings, is the way to life's many solutions.

And seeing into the future is a film plot, but pursuing your heart is life's.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Kapoor & sons - victims and survivors ~

In the universe of pain, we hurt family the most. Our privilege of having seen their souls makes it easy for us to tear into them, ruthlessly, often without remorse. We seek solace in our family, know it be our sanctuary, but have no compunction in taking it for granted: we do not think twice before burning our homes down. 

We become sensitive to every inflection of voice, every turn of phrase - and then sit back and wonder why would we be so continuously hyper about them who have no reason to hurt us?

And there lies the irony of family ties: "we will take you for granted but not have you treat me the same way."

Who amongst us is not haunted by the questions of who is mother's favorite, of why the phone call first went to younger  brother, of why he gets away for all his crimes. In the familial manure, grow our first intimations of jealousy,  privilege, discrimination, hurt. And the shadows stay inside. And lengthen outside us in those inflection points when we lose our heads and our worlds seem to be collapsing around us.

But in between are the good times. When you can be yourself.  And be given space for being yourself.  To learn to be touchy -feel with your mum, to understand the quiddities of your dad, and to discover - often with shocking results - that they are also human, and it's not strengths but frailties which make the man.

Far, far away from home, you miss your mother's admonishments, close to her you hear only the stentorian tone. You grow,  look back and realize that love for siblings can never be equal: it's not a mother taking sides, but one human being being more comfortable with another - and struggling with the choice.

Our capacity to give pain is only matched with our ability to carry it. But when there is a cloudburst, dams burst and there is a deluge. There is a purge, there is remission, there is contrition, there is realization.  There are also hurts.

And the facade of a 'happy family' melts away and the hypocrisies are there for all to see. And for people who would have sworn that they would have died for each other, the stark reality stands in front of them - they could very well have killed each other. 

Love only has victims. Family only has survivors. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Inside Out

Joy finally gets to know something which we all know - Sadness could also bring people together.

Time and again I've written about pain and darkness. And have been asked what lies inside? Maybe at the core I'm a sad. But it doesn't mean I'm a sad person. I remember what one interviewer said of Woody Allen - "I don’t even think Woody does comedy. I think he does dramas with jokes. They’re all sad at their core." (Chris Rock in a interview.) Happiness has its use.  But so does grief. And they describe a person - not necessarily define her.

The complexities of our emotions is often a choice - but more often than not are they mere chemical reactions? Don't we have control over ourselves?  Of course we do. Often.  But - often not. And the battles inside us rage without us always knowing about them.

And Riley's mind is one such battlefield - as she is born,  grows, glows - and faces change. She is all of twelve years old when her parents change town - and her little being faces the catastrophes which even big beings can often not handle wirh equanimity. And inside her head Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear battle it out. Continuously.  And the five of them battle it out to gain precedence and pursue their own natures even as they seek to protect the little girl they love and have a sense of duty towards, in ways their nature knows best.

Calamity strikes when Sadness strikes,  and she and Joy lose their way in the mind's labyrinth. And we discover the way our inner world works. The factory of dreams, the imaginative friends we conjure in our inner lives, what inhabitates the deepest recesses of our fears, what happens to our memories when we dont dust them into remembrance enough, how our core memories - things which our hearts know are significant - make up the core of our beings, and how our consciousness is a moving train which often, oh so often, gets derailed.

This is a triumph of a film. It delights in its inventiveness, and finds humour in its darkest moments. It conjures the synapses and the interconnectedness of our emotions - how we swing from one end of the emotional spectrum  to another,  how we struggle to feel something and end up feeling something else, how our inner philosophies seem like cubist art (oh yes!) and how our inner lives determine our outer ones. 

And amidst it's adventure,  camaraderie,  road journey,  lost highways, dream factories, crashing trains and crushing losses, the movie gives its heart to heartbreak and generously allows Sadness to find its mojo, in a way in which only a Joy could do.