A Flood of Thoughts on ‘After Life’

After Life 2 is the pillow you can cuddle on to while feeling blue, and this might very well be the perfect time to do so.

In the second season of After Life, nothing has changed. Tony, still mourning the death of his wife, Lisa, finds it arduous to get his life further. A grief-stricken Tony admits that all the best bits of his life died along with Lisa, and he is left with his somber self and a boon companion, Brandy, a German Shepherd.

The title, After Life, is one centriole, among the plethora of friendly wrangles between Tony and his co-worker, Kath. Tony’s atheism steers him to completely ignore the concept of life after death, whereas Kath disapproves of his skepticism. Like the title intends to, the concept of ‘afterlife’ is not fundamentally confined to what lies beyond death. It is about what exists ahead after a radical change in life. Death, probably, is the harshest change one can be imposed with, like in Tony’s case. Although he is alive, his past with Lisa’s companionship surpassingly contrasts with his present. 

Tony & Brandy

How the concept of ‘After Life’ applies to us, and Me.

There’s no suspicion that death convulses and inflicts agony in people, thereby leading to an afterlife of the dead, and those connected with. On the other hand, on a mildly strident scale of impact, an estranged relationship, a place with emotional attachment, or a horrendous work-life one leaves behind, pave way for the afterlife. Picture that two people have been in a relationship for a couple of years, through the peaks and valleys, when the juncture to part ways arrives, every single day post that point is the ‘afterlife’. Undoubtedly, when the perpetuity of the relationship hits the stalemate, what follows would not remain invariable for either of the people in the relationship.

Likewise, leaving a job, which absorbs the majority of our lives, is capable enough to turn lives upside down. It did for me, on a good note, because my life had already been down, and quitting job set the level right. There we go, moving on from a job that has left an execrable taste in life, could also be one’s afterlife. The concept of the afterlife resonates with all of us, some are conscious, others are not. For some, it’s just life. I, though, have seen multiple ‘afterlives’ for that matter. Over the years, I’ve quit multiple jobs, moved places, and have stifled relationships. Being emotionally feeble, circumstances affected me more than they should. On that front, emerging out of such situations time and over again, opened door(s) to my afterlife. 

It’s funny that all of us, some dealing with harder lives than others, have experienced this and most of us have ignored it for something substantial, because emotions don’t count as materialistic stuff. Right? 

After Life, the series I mean now, is all about acknowledging the elements that suffuse our ephemeral lives: Love, Memories, and the byproduct of these two facets, Happiness.

The World

The presence of the series is a sheer joy in a world (and especially from the part of it I hail from) that seldom disregards the emotional lows. The world Ricky Gervais creates in After Life doesn’t appear realistic to me, locked down in Western India. My world significantly differs from Tony’s, both from the outwards and inwards. The color Gervais paints on this world could be the faultless version of it. There’s still death, the mourning will follow, but people in this fictional world will value these, unlike the real one. 

Perhaps, there is a section of one such world, and the show only represents that. Perhaps, I’ve overlooked people in grief all my life. Perhaps, people wage wars with their emotions in their heads.

The fact that the story is set in Tambury, a fictional town, could back the point that the real world doesn’t value mental trauma. Tambury, warm in both color pallet and nature, coupled with the laid-back and nonchalant energy that wafts through the atmosphere, could be Gervais’ way of telling, “Stop being arseholes running pointlessly, and live.”

The desolate streets in Tony’s neighborhood stand for the bleak emptiness in him. Only the people passing through his mental proximity appear on the screen, and apparently, most of them end up becoming fleshy characters. Postman Pat, for instance, is one person who comes into his vicinity, and the character gradually develops an arc of its own. Slowly, the second season tells us that although Tony remains the center of the show’s universe, it is about about the world. What is the world, for that matter? The tiny organisms that evade it, humans. The flowering relationship of the homeless Pat and Roxy, a sex-worker, shapes into a lovely thread. Matt and Lenny, Tony’s brther-in-law and co-woker/friend get arcs pertaining to personal relationships and issues.

Pat & Roxy

The Office

It was only a matter of time for the creator of The Office to set up an equally awkward workplace. The funniest of the scenes in both the seasons of After Life leverage the fiddly nature of The Tambury Gazette’s employees. The working atmosphere of the local newspaper that Tony works for, is anything but exhausting. What creates the base for the completely unrealistic depiction of a workplace is the people’s ability to understand a co-worker’s mental affliction. How unrealistic? The office and its people, two factors that the show primarily sources its humor from, also attribute to some of the most heart-warming moments of the show. Everyone extending a helping hand to Tony, is a true joy to witness. The conversation between Tony and Kath in a coffee shop, which is the first instance Tony breaks down explicitly, is one of the half a dozen instances I cried. Tony’s emotional catharsis in front of a co-worker, and the warmth Kath reciprocates, is sure to instigate the thought of the absence of such people around us. Moreover, the bond between Tony and Sandy reflects the former’s fatherly nature, with clear mutual support. Tony is dealing with a mental crisis, while Sandy fights real-world problems to keep her family running. Both of them make up for a duo that’s dealing with an existential crisis, one directly and the other indirectly.

Need for Love

Yet another facet that invigorates the show is how much it emphasizes the need for love. Lives of Tony’s father and Anne, a widow whom Tony befriends at the graveyard, are testimonials of perennial love. For all one knows, the tragedy is inevitable for one person in the relationship. Melancholic, it is. Everyone needs Anne in their lives, empathetic and benevolent. Her support remains one factor in keeping Tony away from killing himself, and all she does is talk kindly. Anne, in a sense, is his actual therapist. Unlike Tony’s conventional therapist, who verbally tells him to stop feeling said, Anne comforts him when he is sad. The therapy sessions and the social incorrectness these conversations are infused with, are pure comic gold and an exaggerated satire on psychiatrists. As someone who attended psychiatric sessions, I discern the non-existent empathy that prevails through them. On the other hand, Anne’s mere presence is consoling.

Converging back to where I started, After Life is a pillow for loners to cuddle on to, and laugh and cry along. Regardless of where you hail from, your age, sex, and other materialistic factors, watching Tony is sure to make you happy and sad, because we know it’s life, and we would be in his shoes, sooner or later.

After Life is streaming on Netflix.

Interview: Achal Mishra, Filmmaker – Gamak Ghar

Achal Mishra’s Gamak Ghar premiered at 21st Mumbai International Film Festival and won the Manish Acharya Award for New Voices in Indian Cinema. The Maithili film, is a deeply personal work that tells the story of a family and the changing times through the ancestral home’s perspective. Originating from Achal’s own experiences, it is a very mature and artistic film. And Achal is only 23! So, to understand more about his craft, I connected with him and he was gracious enough to give this interview.

Was the use of different aspect ratios predefined during the scripting process, or is it something that developed over the making? And what exactly was your idea behind it?

Yes, it was already decided before we started shooting. Firstly, we wanted the three parts to feel very different from each other. The whole film is set in just one house, so apart from change in seasons and colours, we thought it’d be interesting to try different aspect ratios. As the shooting progressed, we realised it just fit perfectly. We wanted the first part to feel like a memory — like old photographs, and shooting in 4:3 helped us achieve that. The frames are almost always filled to the edge with people, and it reflects the lively state of the house. As we change to 16:9, there’s more negative space, and finally in the last part, with 2.39:1, you see the full breadth of the house, and the emptiness becomes more evident. 

What triggered you to tell the story from the home’s perspective? I’m aware it came from personal experiences, but why not from the people’s perspective?

I think it was very instinctive. It happened before I had started writing the script, when my co-writer Anubhav and I were bouncing off ideas. We were talking about different perspectives we could go with — a child’s, or multiple narratives, or maybe the house? And I think we stuck with the house, because I knew I wanted to make a film about a space across different points in time, and going with the house’s perspective felt both interesting and challenging. I remember the first thing I wrote in my diary that day: “House is the protagonist.” But then again, I think as a filmmaker, my perspective is definitely part of it too. It’s very subjective. Say my cousin were making the same film, with the same idea of telling it from the home’s perspective, his film would still be different from mine, because our memories and association with the house are different. 

The house

How did the process of making this film changed you, as a person and as a filmmaker? In short, what were your learnings?

As a person, I think the process has brought me closer to my culture, to which I always felt like an outsider. Through the process of researching, writing and then shooting, I got to learn a lot many things. Even my Maithili improved, I’d say. As a filmmaker, Gamak Ghar was my film school. I was working with a proper crew (however small it was) and proper equipments for lighting and sound for the first time. Most of the crew were from film schools, so I tried to be as organised as they were. Other than that, I think I realised how one shouldn’t always commit to the screenplay strictly, but use it as a foundation to build on during the shooting.

Any film or filmmaker whose work tremendously influenced you to make ‘Gamak Ghar’? The shot of a train from the maize fields as the 2010 segment begins, looked like a tribute to Satyajit Ray’s work.

For Gamak Ghar in particular, and in general too, I’ve been hugely influenced by the films of Yasujiro Ozu, Hirokazu Kore-eda, and Hou Hsiao-hsien. Satyajit Ray has been an influence from very early on, his films turned me towards a different kind of cinema. In a way, what De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves did for Ray, Pather Panchali did for me. So it was only apt that I give him a tribute. 

As a filmmaker, you succeeded in making an extremely personal film and great piece of art. But don’t you have the urge for your film to be seen on the big screen by as many people as possible? And when you make a film in Maithili, to keep it close to life and authentic, aren’t you moving away from that?

That’s definitely a challenge. And mostly because the prevalent system is such. Maithili is an almost obscure language to so many people, even in India, but I wanted to stay true to the film I was making, and I couldn’t have done it any other way. And who doesn’t want to see their films play on the big screen? But at the same time, I also feel that a film’s reach shouldn’t be judged by it’s theatrical release. It is like books, you don’t expect everyone to read a book in the same week it is launched. Maybe someone who isn’t even born today, might watch Gamak Ghar twenty-thirty years later. Films, like books, don’t have an expiry date.  

With this, we come to the end of the interview. Click to listen to my thoughts on this beautiful film.

Achal, all the best for the film and all your future endeavours. Looking forward for many stories from you.

Gamak Ghar is going to be screened on 27th of November in Mumbai as a part of MAMI year round program. Watch the trailer of the film here:

Thoughts on Jallikattu – What distinguishes the hunter & the hunted?

Midway in Jallikattu, when a buffalo that escaped the slaughterhouse falls into a deep pit amidst a dense forest, Antony, takes credit for it and claims he has trapped the animal. It is apparent that he is not the one who did it, yet, he tries to take credit for that. Why, though? The answer is obvious – he is human. And, Lilo Jose Pellisary exhibits, if not study, more such traits and the chaotic human nature.

The film begins with the people, whom we’ll be witnessing in the narrative, waking up and opening their eyes. This is followed by a stretch with the hills and a day at the butcher’s shop. Editing is a craft that I’ve always found hard to talk about or even praise. One just cannot call editing of a film ‘good’. Because it is an unseen craft, unlike cinematography or music. 

Tip: If you ever read a review that says ‘Editing is good’ or in most cases – ‘Editing is crisp’; that ain’t an actual critic you are reading. Because editing cannot be simply called ‘good’ or ‘crisp’, it is a way too complicated craft to be described in one word.

The editing of this sequence, in particular, is very much in sync with the film that it looks like a great and peculiar fusion of an artist and music composer coming together to make a music video. With the sound design and editing going hand in hand, the opening sequence of Jallikattu is a reminder of the magic of this Audio-visual art form. And the credit goes to the editing.

Jallikattu, in my own terms, is an incident-based drama. Meaning, the whole film takes place around an event or incident. The incident sets the conflict, brings in the characters and drives the narrative to its endpoint or goal. In this case, as told, the buffalo running away from the slaughterhouse is the incident, and chasing down that buffalo and killing it is the goal. This simple plot adds in layers of subtext that talk about human nature.

Throughout the film, people roam around in hoards; the animal is all by itself. They are aggressive and hot-blooded to kill the animal. But every time they face the animal, the fear it strikes and their eventual failure to tame it is clearly visible. It is the human’s nature to brag about handling an eventuality that they come across and miserably failing to take control of the situation when actually facing it. We all have been there, haven’t we? Civilization is what distinguishes humans and animals, the hunters and the hunted, I believe. But the line that separates the animal and the humans slowly disappears as the narrative moves forward. A character even calls humans- two-legged beasts. This one line sums up the whole film. This even backed up with a physical altercation between two people, which essentially looks like two wild animals fighting. And this altercation happens in a forest, too.

In Jallikattu, the characters do not matter. They are just people, and there are hoards of them. If I had to define the characters, there is an animal, which is the protagonist and the human race, which is, you know what. Because all the humans in the film share the same characteristics, they are identifiable with each other more as a species than on an individual level. From the film’s perspective, they matter only as a species, as individuals, they don’t. The cinematography supports this aspect. There are very pointing the individuals. Very few. I can count the number of closeups I can recall, only two. Most of the shots are wide with dozens and dozens of people.

Jallikattu will make you think how barbaric humans can be, and the music reflects this aspect. When I saw ‘Acapella’ during the opening credits, I was curious. With the film exploring human behaviour, it took me a while to understand the significance of employing this particular style. And it is a very interesting choice. Perhaps, it is the first time I’m seeing in which the music, apart from underlining and elevating the emotion, reflects the themes of the film and talks about what the filmmaker is trying to convey. Brilliant choice.

There is a particular thing I wish they hadn’t done. While the film is something to be experienced and interpreted by the viewers, there is a scene where the ultimate motive of the film is visually conveyed in the very last scene. The film has done a terrific job in doing what it had to. Apart from engaging in the hunt for more than 96 minutes, it spoke a lot. I just wish they had not underlined it and said what they desired to achieve with the narrative. The message is clearly conveyed even with that underline’s exclusion. But if underlining adds value, I don’t mind it. I’m already more than satisfied.

Jallikattu is more than what appears to be. It demands a watch.

Jallikattu is a Malayalam language film by Lilo Jose Pellissery, and is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Watch the trailer of the film right here:

OSCARS 2020: Empathizing with ‘I Lost My Body’

There are films which entertain for the while being. And there are the other kinds of films which adhere in your mind long after you’ve finished watching them, maybe forever. I lost my body belongs to the latter type.

It is the one that affected me the most, among the films I saw at MAMI.

This ain’t a review — just a post where I confess my love for this film which is beyond beautiful. You can call it a love letter.

There were multiple instances I tried to control tears just so I could avoid the embarrassment of crying in a full auditorium. Am I exaggerating? Well, I haven’t started to talk about the film yet.

Before I tell you why I cherished this exquisite piece of art, let me tell you what it is about. On the paper, it’s about a severed hand that comes to life and takes off on a journey to find it’s owner, whose arm is the hand’s home. In the process, we get to know the owner, Naoufel, a young man living a tasteless life working as a Pizza delivery boy in Paris. One rainy night, after a delivery goes wrong, it turns out to be the best thing that could have happened to him. And it gives a breath of fresh air in his mundane life. Leaving it right there. 

Watching I lost my body gave me experience similar to a hand piercing through my chest only to hold my beating heart in its grip before plucking it out in a choke. Now, does it sound overblown? Maybe, but that is how I felt while watching it, leave the physical pain aside; it’s a reality check for me. Of how beautiful little things can be, in life. When I saw the young Naoufel trying to hold the sand in a beach, or when he encloses the sun in his vision through his hand, it gave me a jolt because I have a hand and I’m even clueless of its existence(I’m looking at my hands as I type this line). After a point when we know, Noufel has lost people dear to him, and now he has to face the world all by himself, just the thought of Noufel being happy with his dear ones made me more than sad.

It feels like my hands are going to question me, “Will you ever acknowledge our existence?” 

Sadly, I wouldn’t have. Had I not seen this film.

I have never seen a film told from the perspective of a hand. Did you?

Naoufel, again.

Deriving a word from the title, the film is about loss, and how we as humans deal with it. Grieving comes along, but do we accept it? Do we remain the same person after losing something? The world says, “life is all about moving on”, but will the world ruminate the same when it loses something? The answers are unclear. And I don’t even mind searching for them.

Naoufel has been consistently losing something through out his life, this alone broker my heart, 20 minutes into the film. And right when he seems to have found something he has been searching for his life, and life, being a bitch shows its back. Now, this smashed my plucked heart on to the ground and crushed it. Because, I’ve seen Naoufel going through a lot, all this poor guy wanted was a happy life. I was afraid he’ll never get it. But, does happiness come from substance? Can a person be happy, even when the world is against him or her? Does the famous proverb, ‘Happiness comes from within’, stand firm today?

The answers or interpretations to these questions emanate from your own life experiences and perspicacity. I discern that films are an art form, the most enticing of all, and art is subjective. But is it, though? This very aspect, made I Lost My Body diverge and stand apart from everything else I’ve ever seen.

Art portends something and each one’s interpretation of it differs. So, what did I interpret from the film? The film is a portrait of life. Life is arduous and is glutted with hurdles. But it is also about those little joys which show up betwixt marathons of sorrow and sadness.

As the hand skirmishes to find its way back to its owner, a whole life passes by in front of our eyes. Coming out of a refrigerator, experiencing the first sunset, escaping being run over by a train, fighting with rats, the struggle, and whatnot. It’s almost like every struggle or even lesser than what Naoufel faced all alone in the world. Because, its a part of him all alone in the world by itself, just like him.

What haunts me about the film is its music by Dan Levy. I’m confounded to chose a word which fittingly construes my feelings for the music. In short, I don’t know the words to describe what I feel when I hear the soundtrack. It’s not a piece of happy music. It is neither melodramatic nor sad. It reverbs hope and light. But also apprises the darkness. It is deep. But it makes me float on the ocean of thoughts. It is heartbreaking. But it also warms the same heart. It is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. 

Listen to a piece from soundtrack.

10 minutes into the film, all I wanted to see was the hand. Both severed and attached. It was a painting coming to life on a giant screen and taking me on a ride of a lifetime for 81 minutes, and all I had to do was just sit there without blinking. Now that is the magic of a well-made movie. Thank you, Jérémy Clapin and Guillaume Laurant, for bringing this epic onto the big screen, which I was privileged to watch on.

I Lost My Body(J’ai perdu mon corps) releases on Netflix on November 6th. Do yourself a favour and kindly watch it. You have never seen anything like this, ever.

Watch the trailer of the film:

To build your curiosity, watch a highly intriguing clip from the film: