Every year, I write about some of the memorable moments from the films released in the year that went by. Due to the pandemic, there were not many films released in 2020 except the ones released on the various streaming platforms. Therefore, there were not many to choose from but I still try to remember a few good scenes from the films I was able to watch.
1) Aur Tanha sequence from Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal is one of the most memorable scenes that has stayed with me this year. Ali’s love for the mountains and the music comes out splendidly again in this part. After a bitter breakup with Zoe, Veer moves to the mountains to work on a water-harnessing project. His journey to the mountains is captured with sheer beauty. There is a gorgeous moment where Veer is standing quietly at the plant and the water gushes behind him as if mirroring his inner turmoil. It is a contrast to Veera’s exuberance at the gushing stream on reaching the valley in Kashmir in Highway. KK with his soothing voice brings a feeling of reassurance and calmness. He sings, “Nahin hai toh, nahin hai tu. Ab chhoda hai hai toh sach me chhod de mujhko.” The lover might be separated physically but they are still together. He pleads that if she has left him, she should leave him completely. Because he feels her essence in everything. Her presence even in her absence makes him lonely and he cannot stop crying silently. “Yun tera hona bhi aur tanha karta.” Love Aaj Kal has some sparkling Imtiaz Ali moments; however, I wish it also had better performances.
2) Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo grew slowly on me. It is charming, funny, and profound. The film sets up a world that is rooted and authentic. In one hilarious scene, Baankey asks a neighbor, “Abki bahut dinon baad tapke, Pandey Ji.“”Haan, pakey they toh tapak gaye,” comes the reply depicting the repartee of the Lucknow culture. There is another beautiful scene towards the end when Mirza walks back from Begum’s birthday party with a balloon in his hand. For all the running around he did for the haveli, he is left with nothing except a ball of air. He lost his Fatimas—the Mahal as well as the Begum. One of the songs in the films advises him, “Kya leke aayo jagme, kya leke jaayega. Haan sab yahi chhod jayega.” What use will be of the haveli at this stage of life when he is nearing eighty years of age. He cannot see life is passing by him. It is a fitting message in a year that has made us realize the things that we take for granted.
3) In Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak, Malti and her colleagues are celebrating the judgment where the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was amended and acid attacks got their own section. Amol, being his usual negative self or as a colleague calls him niraashaavaadi, is peeved at the jubilant mood and questions the need for the celebration when acid is still being sold freely. Malti shuts him down by saying that acid has been thrown on her but he behaves as if the acid has been thrown on him. She wants to party and she will. Amol behaves as if the entire world is on his shoulders. Malti does not let anyone guilt her to feel sad. If she is happy, then why does she have to pretend that she is sad. Aur mujhe party karni hai. It is a lovely moment that reminds us to celebrate the small victories, take ourselves less seriously, and never shy away from acknowledging our true feelings.
4) I liked Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad but did not love it. It is relevant but feels too preachy. There are two scenes that I remember from the film. The first one is the morning after the party where Vikram had slapped Amrita. He comes down and goes on and on about the emotional investment he incurred in his company to rise the corporate ladder. He says to Amrita that he plans to quit because “Mujhe vahan rehna hi nahi hai jahan meri koi value nahi hai.” The same thing applies to Amrita as well. She spent years to support Vikram in every way. During this scene, Amrita and the domestic help Sunita are shown side-by-side on the screen. Amrita gazes at Sunita and the film establishes an equivalence between the two. Sunita faced daily domestic violence at the hands of her husband. Amrita is not any different as that her husband slapped her as well. Even if it is one slap, violence is violence—which is also the film’s theme. In another memorable scene in the film, Amrita’s mother Sandhya makes her husband realize that she had to compromise on her desires to take care of her family. She gave up singing which she used to like a lot. Her husband is taken aback because he believed he never stopped her from doing anything. But she tells him that he never encouraged her either. He motivated his daughter but he never did the same to his wife. The scene serves as a reminder to the well-intentioned men that being an ally requires a lot more effort.
5) Talking of allies, Anvita Dutt’s Bulbbul has a striking color palette where even the moon turns pink as if becoming a feminist ally to help Bulbbul in her mission to save the women of the village. There is a lovely scene early in the film where a young Bulbbul is sitting on a branch of a tree with her feet dangling in the air. “Pakad liya,” says her Pishi Maa and catches her by her feet and takes her back to her wedding. Pishi Maa dresses up Bulbbul and puts toe rings on her feet. On being questioned by Bulbbul about their need, she replies that there is a nerve in the feet, which if not pressed, makes the girls fly away. “Chidiya ke jaise,” wonders Bulbbul. “Nahi, vash me karne liye hote hain bichhuen,” replies the hesitant Pishi with her lowered eyes. They are meant to control women. Bulbbul’s feet represent her desires and become the motif in the film. At every stage in her life, she faces violence on her feet depicting the suppression and subjugation of the desires of women.
6) The introduction sequence of Alok Kumar Gupta, also known as Alu, is hilarious in Anurag Basu’s anthology film Ludo. Alu runs a small restaurant and narrates the menu to his customers in an outrageously funny way mimicking Mithun Chakraborty from Disco Dancer. The best part of the menu were the dishes based on Mithun’s films—Jallad ki jalebi, Gunda ka gujiya, and Maa Kasam malpuas. The subtitles make it even more fun. But I also felt some pity for Alu. He gives away everything he owns to his do-chhakka-paanch Pinky, including his own identity, for the sake of love. He becomes a second-hand Mithun Chakraborty. Love does this to some people but I don’t think it should happen. One should not lose in love.
7) Another anthology film Ghost Stories came out on the first day of 2020. I only liked Zoya Akhtar’s short film on abandonment. The film has all the signature elements of Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti’s cinematic universe. In Talaash, Rosie had said, “Ek ladki gaayab ho jaati hai. Aur koi puchne vala bhi nahi hai.” This is the same theme of their short in Ghost Stories. An old mother is left alone to die by her son. An orphaned nurse is left alone by her boyfriend. There is no one to care for them. The writers also add other lovely details. The nurse who left is named ‘Mamta’ meaning motherhood and the son is named ‘Armaan’ meaning desire adding to the film’s theme. The old lady speaks a few lines from William Wordsworth’s poem Ode: Intimations of Immortality where the poet reminisces about the time that is lost, something that fits the story. “The things I have seen I can see no more.” At another stage, the old lady asks Sameera to not wait for anyone and to live for herself. While the film does not have the meditation of Talaash, the pathos in the film is still touching.
8) Hardik Mehta’s Kaamyaab pays a tribute to the character actors in Hindi cinema whom we have seen but not known. In the last and the most wonderful scene of the film, Sudheer is requested to do a filler act as the star chief guest is late. He does a performance where he owns the stage. But soon the star arrives; the curtains fall, and everyone forgets about him—a fitting metaphor for the life of the many Sudheers in the industry. Kamyaab also gave a fitting mantra for the difficult year that was 2020. “Bas enjoying life, aur option kya hai.”
9) The stage provides another remarkable moment in Vikramaditya Motwane’s meta-thriller AK vs AK. Anil Kapoor is searching for his kidnapped daughter Sonam but no one believes him. Wherever he goes, people first ask for a selfie with him. Even the policemen want to share a frame with him. Early in the film, Anurag Kashyap says that an actor’s medium is the stage. They are free to do anything there. Later, we see that Anil is tired, battered, and bloodied, and yet he goes onto the stage and does the signature steps of My Name Is Lakhan from his film Ram Lakhan. In the show business, there is a saying, “The show must go on.” Regardless of what happens, whatever show has been planned still has to be staged. William Shakespeare wrote a similar saying in one of his works: “Play out the play.” AK vs AK demonstrates this again. It makes one think about the private and public persona of a star. Does a star have to perform all the time? In this hyperconnected world, where the distance between the stars has further reduced, is everything a stage? The film does not always work but some of the ideas it depicts make it one of the most interesting films of the year.
I am yet to see Prateek Vats’ Eeb Allay Ooo! and Rohena Gera’s Sir and will try to watch them soon. I really hope that things start to get normal in the coming year and we can get to see more and better films. Till then, wishing everyone reading this a happy new year. We will get through this together.
[Read more of the author’s work on his blog here]