Super Deluxe (Tamil): Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Super Deluxe is a film that speaks about a lot of things. The director gets the canvas to philosophize on relationships shared between mothers and sons, husbands and wives, and their interactions with the world outside their homes. When a little boy’s (Ashwanth Ashokkumar as Raasukutty) father returns as a woman (Vijay Sethupathi as a trans woman, named Shilpa) after several years, everybody is shocked beyond belief. But the boy is unaffected by his biological father’s appearance as he’s not yet exposed to the rays of discrimination. He thinks his dad looks cool in women’s wear, and takes Shilpa to introduce her to his school friends.
Naalu Pennungal (Malayalam): Naalu Pennungal is an omnibus of short films that are based on the stories written by Jnanpith awardee Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai. Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s film sets its gaze upon women who’re rewarded with the short end of the stick in marital relationships. The stories are titled as, The Prostitute, The Virgin, The Housewife, and The Spinster. Even though, the tales unfold in the middle years of the twentieth century, they don’t lose their relevance in the age of smart phones and smart watches since women still face more or less the same problems. Here’s a sample: In The Prostitute, a woman is punished by the court of law as the men (advocates and the judge) around her argue that she’s not legally married to the person with whom she spends her nights.
Samskara (Kannada): Samskara, directed by Pattabhirama Reddy, is a stinging portrayal of all the things that are wrong and silly with the caste-system. The film opens with the death of a brahmin who, when alive, ate meat, drank liquor, and enjoyed the company of a sex worker. He wasn’t liked by anybody in his neighborhood, so none of them go forward to bury him. At the same time, the brahmins fear that having a meal while there’s a dead body rotting in their midst is against their culture. As Praneshacharya (Girish Karnad), the self-appointed guru, fails to find a solution to this situation, the villagers run helter-skelter, and, in due course, reveal their flaws and their tendency to be greedy, as well.
Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish (Bengali): Rituparno Ghosh, one of the prominent voices to emerge from the LGBTQIA+ community, has roped in several A-list stars for his films, and, yet, Chitrangada, where he plays Rudra, a choreographer, remains one of the most nuanced works in the category of gender politics in Indian cinema. Rudra, in order to adopt a child with his male partner, Partho (Jisshu Sengupta), tries to become a woman and meets with triumph and disaster. Heartbreaks are a common feature in romantic and platonic relationships all over the world, but when the person at the receiving end of tragedy belongs to a sexual minority, there’s more stigma attached to it. Ghosh’s work behind the camera, as a director, is just as neat, as it is in the front, as an actor.
Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (English): Meenakshi Iyer (Konkona Sen Sharma) and Raja (Rahul Bose) befriend each other during the riots and tensions caused by the never-ceasing frictions between the Hindus and Muslims, in Aparna Sen’s Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. While Iyer is a Brahmin, who, upon realizing her travel-companion’s religious identity, sends a silent prayer to god for drinking water from his bottle, the latter is a Muslim who doesn’t see the lines of religious separation. He tries to help her all the time despite her air of haughtiness. Sen mixes chilling scenes of violence and apathy along with dollops of chivalry and lessons on inclusivity in this moving picture.
Sairat (Marathi): Young lovers look at the sky and call out to the passing clouds. Their eyes are full of hope and their hearts are full of poems. They’re naïve and often untouched by social evils. In Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat, Archi (Rinku Rajguru) and Parshya (Akash Thosar) elope since the former belongs to an influential upper-caste family while the latter lives in a house that looks like it might fall if the earth under it sneezes. Archi comes to terms with her new reality, and, Parshya, on the other hand, realizes that running around in farmlands in the name of love and living under the same roof while earning low wages aren’t one and the same.
Kaala (Tamil): Pa Ranjith’s films usually raise their voice against the callousness towards which dalits are treated by people belonging to the upper-castes, as they’re mostly the decision-makers in the public and private sectors. In Kaala, where Rajinikanth plays the eponymous lead, the hero calls for a wide-spread protest against the schemes imposed by government since they involve displacing the residents of Dharavi, Mumbai. The antagonist is so vile and insensitive that he doesn’t even take a sip of water offered to him by Kaala’s wife. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise in a country where there are still real-life politicians who eat and drink at road-side food stalls for photo-ops.
Ottamuri Velicham (Malayalam): In many parts of the world, women are still bought and sold (as slaves). Their bodies aren’t theirs to own, for men rule over them. In Rahul Riji Nair’s Ottamuri Velicham, women aren’t bought in practical terms of the word, but they might as well be since the newly married woman, Sudha (Vinitha Koshy), suffers under the hands of her husband, Chandran (Deepak Parambol). He beats her regularly and doesn’t hesitate to rape her at the drop of a hat. On top of this, they live in a house that doesn’t have a bedroom-door. He thinks he’s giving her a better life, and, though, his patriarchal views aren’t supported by his friends and family, they do not stop him from attacking his wife.Rudraveena (Telugu): Rudraveena, directed by K Balachander, mainly focuses on the ills of drinking liquor. But it simultaneously tries to question the orthodox views of the society. While Ganapathi Sastry (Gemini Ganesan) lives a life with the blinders on, his son, Suryam (Chiranjeevi), doesn’t want to be like him. Suryam falls in love with a dancer, who’s not allowed to perform inside the chambers of the temple as she’s from a lower-caste, and this irks the father, for he feels that brahmins are morally superior. Unlike Kaala and Sairat, however, the film touches upon the caste-based politics with a soft wand. It doesn’t go the full distance in addressing the issues faced by the people who don’t wear the sacred thread.
Court (Marathi, English, Hindi, and Gujarati): Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar) has to keep making the rounds of police stations and courts as cases are filed against him for the songs he writes and sings at various places. Kamble is a protest singer and he feels it’s his job to educate the poor about the social prisons they’re kept in. When a manhole worker dies in Mumbai, Kamble is thought to have encouraged the worker to kill himself. And, in another bizarre incident, the judge refuses to hear a woman’s case; he tells her that she’s dressed inappropriately (she’s seen wearing a sleeveless top). Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court alternates between being serious and being weird as it frequently pauses to examine the loopholes in the judiciary system.
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