Author: Omar Ahmed

NIRMALAYAM / THE OFFERING (1973, India) Directed by M.T. Vasudevan Nair [Malayalam]

Born in Kerala in 1933, M.T. Vasudevan Nair is one of India’s most prolific literary voices. Nair is also seen as a key figure in the development of Malayalam art cinema, having written over fifty screenplays and directed a number of influential films. Nirmalayam (The Offering), Nair’s directorial debut, was made at a time when the Parallel Cinema movement was entering the final years of the creative first phase (68 – 75). The story explores the anxieties of a village oracle, a man of faded glories and religious servitude who fails to recognise and accept to what extent his family cope with an abject poverty that he cultivates. Parallel Cinema was often characterised by the ideological capacity to directly critique and deconstruct orthodoxy and which appeared in many guises. In this case, it is religious orthodoxy. Since very few people in the village go to the temple anymore to give offerings, the oracle is forced to beg for food. In one sequence, the oracle, exploiting his status as a religious figure that everyone respects, visits …

SIR (Dir. Rohena Gera, 2018, India-France)

Set in contemporary Mumbai Sir is a sharply crafted romantic melodrama, full of warmth, about a benign architect, Ashwin (Vivek Gomber) and a migrant servant, Ratna (Tillotama Shome). The script is sharply written and brings to life the complexities of Ratna and Ashwin who are are bound by class and caste. Although they are two people from opposite ends of the social spectrum, the emotional connection that is forged becomes a tentative bond and gradually emerges as a painful longing that reaches a memorable conclusion. The narrative unfolds from the perspective of Ratna and for much of the film remains with her character, which is significant because a romantic melodrama of this type could easily have capitulated to a male point of view. The script is wonderfully underplayed and Tillotama Shome in superb form brings to life the nuances of Ratna, a widow who works in the city to support her family back home and has aspirations of becoming a tailor. Writer and director Rohena Gera treats Sir as an urban fairytale and thankfully channels …

TUMBBAD (Dir. Rahi Anil Barve, Adesh Prasad, India/Sweden, 2018)

A bewitching and meaty horror with an elemental sensibility, Tumbbad uses the archetypal Indian trope of the Mother Goddess to give us a perennial treatise on greed. Tumbbad’s tactile and sensory approach recalls atmospheric films like The Keep (1983) and Sorcerer (1977), combining the supernatural, mythology and history into something deeply atavistic. The expressionistic use of ancient landscapes juxtaposed to the tumultuous weather (it rains a lot!), particularly in the opening section, gives the film an unsettling Herzogian timbre. The narrative unfolds over a number of decades and is segmented into chapters, beginning in 1918 (?), imbuing the film with a historical arc that augments the ambitious scale of the production. Tumbbad reunites the talents of Soham Shah and Anand Gandhi who both collaborated on the seminal Hindie film Ship of Theseus in 2012. Recently screened at the Venice Film Festival, the film’s arrival coincides with a growing interest in the horror genre in Indian independent cinema that bodes well for what should be an international release.

LIVE FROM DHAKA (Dir. Abdul Mohammad Saad, 2016, Bangladesh)

Director Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s glum and intensely claustrophobic urban story could essentially work as a science fiction piece. The suffering, maladroit Sazzad (Tanvir Ahmed) floats through the glistening and ruinous monochrome cityscapes of Dhaka trying vapidly to make sense of his alien surroundings. Inexorably Sazzad wants to escape the convulsing grip of an overpopulated, frenzied city but it seems a bodily decomposition and sickness has set in, symbolically manifested as a disability. Bursting with psychosomatic angsts, Sazzad is also feral, suspicious of his girlfriend and apathetic towards his drug-addicted brother. What impresses about this debut feature is the amplification of Dhaka as an excoriating tinderbox of protests and disaffection that gradually swallows up Sazzad until he bursts. The gestalt to this work smacks of something genuinely bravura from Bangladeshi cinema, a Promethean voice that is not singular but points to an exciting, emergent new wave of films and filmmakers.