Here are five films that made me fall in love with films.
In my head, Inception has become synonymous with the word 'ambition'. It took me multiple viewings and sleepless nights to fully comprehend and appreciate what Christopher Nolan had achieved with this contemporary classic. Inception made me fall in love with films because not only did it challenge me at a conceptual level, but also expanded my understanding of cinema as an audio-visual medium of storytelling. In the process of taking us into the surreal world of dreams within dreams, reality within dreams and dreams within reality, the film questions our idea of what is real. The human story of Cobb's love and loss is what gives this stylised heist-science fiction film the required emotional depth. At the end of the film when Cobb's totem keeps spinning and the screen cuts to black, we are left with more questions and no answers. Perhaps, Nolan intended to give us none because there aren't any. He wanted us to participate and find out for ourselves what we consider a dream or reality and whether the two are interchangeable. As much as Nolan wanted to create this surreal cinematic world of dreams, he also wanted to prove that the audience is intelligent enough to understand it.
Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox deals with the different shades of loneliness we experience at different stages in our life. Saajan's old-age loneliness after the death of his wife, Ila's crumbling married life and Shaikh's need for elderly support speak to our need for love and companionship. The scenes where Saajan stands alone on his balcony and looks at a family having dinner together or where Shaikh hesitantly asks Saajan to become his guardian at his wedding are symbolic of that. Their quiet struggle with loneliness feels rooted and closer to reality, thereby making us feel represented and understood through them. When Shaikh tells Saajan what his mother used to tell him – 'kabhi kabhi galat train bhi sahi jagah phaucha deti hai' (sometimes the wrong train can take you to the right station) or when Saajan writes to Ila 'things are never as bad as they seem', it feels hopeful and comforting without being escapist. Every time I watch The Lunchbox, I find pieces of myself in Saajan, Ila and Shaikh. It reminds me of the reason I fell in love with films – they make me feel human.
O Kadhal Kanmani was my introduction to Mani Ratnam's cinema. Since I went into the film being unaware of the classic Mani Ratnam tropes – mirrors, trains, rains, weddings and happy endings, I was fascinated and swooned in every scene. Romantic comedies are generally lightweight at a narrative level, which is why it is very important for the lead characters to not just have emotional depth but also to channel a certain effortlessness in striking a chord with the audience. O Kadhal Kanmani manages to do this well. In one scene, as Tara is taking a video of a monument, Adi appears in her frame and she smiles. That hesitant smile is a mixture of her need to love and be loved, irrespective of what she thinks she wants. In another scene, when a friend asks Adi if he would really shift to the United States and whether Tara was fine with it, his eyes find Tara and he simply holds her gaze. That long look is enough to show that he has fallen madly in love with her. Throughout the film, Tara and Adi never really talk about falling in love with each other. Rather it is visually established through these quiet moments. O Kadhal Kanmani is a simple feel-good film but it is never simplistic. The film explores modern-day love and relationships, is a must-watch romantic drama and acts as the perfect introduction to Mani Ratnam's cinema for Gen-Z.
Nagraj Manjule's Sairat begins as a swooning romantic drama only to end in tragedy. The first half of the film feels poetic as Manjule introduces us to Parshya, a young boy madly in love with an upper-caste girl, Archie. While he is shy and timid, she is spirited and bold. As the film progresses, Parshya's one-sided love for Archie turns into a full-blown romance between the two. The sweeping wide shots of the sky, the river, the farms, the flying birds and the rain make it seem as though the universe conspired it to happen. The second half of the film crushes everything the first half establishes as Manjule reminds us of the reality of the caste system: its brutal discrimination and violence. When Archie and Parshya are confronted with this reality, their sweet, innocent relationship begins to sour. Even as Archie and Parshya settle their differences, making us feel that a lot has changed, the picture remains bleak outside of their relationship, with their families back home. The film not only subverts gender roles but also subverts the narrative of a romantic drama. Sairat is a reminder that while cinema can comfort us, it must also disturb us.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Gangubai Kathiawadi was the first film I watched in the theatres after the pandemic. I had become so used to watching understated dramas and thrillers during the pandemic that I had completely forgotten the romance of the over-the-top cinema our country is known for. This cinematic experience wouldn't have worked if Gangu's character did not have the emotional depth that it did. We see Gangu's swagger when she talks about herself in the third person and her childlike innocence on her first date. We see her devotion towards Karim Lala as she touches his feet in respect and her anger when Razia's supporters humiliate her. Her confidence while she gives a speech at Azad Maidan and her loneliness as she gets her lover married. Her hopelessness as she tells the Prime Minister that no one can understand what they go through including God and her determination when she encourages her fellow sex workers to work hard, demand what they deserve and not fear anyone. We see Gangu's fun side when she is with her friends at the brothel and we also see Gangu's poetic side when she says 'bachpan wala aangan choota, takdeer ne kuch aisa loota' and 'inko sirf hamari dukan me aitraaz kyu, sirf hamara hi dhandha beizzat kyu' nonchalantly in the middle of her speeches. Gangubai Kathiawadi will have a special place in my heart because it rekindled my love for old school masala films.