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13 Reasons Why (not)…

I fell in love with season 1 of 13 Reasons Why. My tryst with binge-watching started out with this series and in spite of not having read the novel on which the show is based, I could relate to all the characters, having had a turbulent high school experience myself. I admired how the show, although mired in moral ambiguity, showed multiple sides of a single story, which was the fallout of the suicide of a Liberty High student – Hannah Baker. The show explores different themes which have been brushed under the carpet, especially in India. Sexual assault, drug abuse, depression – all had been dealt with grace, without patronising any character. It had a lot of grey areas fit into one screen.

Season 2 does just the opposite.

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Credits: Netflix

The show picks up 5 months after Hannah’s death, and this time, the episodes start with voiceovers of characters who are testifying in a civil suit filed by her parents against the school. Liberty High is the same bleak place that it was in the first season; however, the events are more sinister and show a deeper problem than we’d ever expect. Slowly and steadily, all characters are stripped off their secrets and the pace of the show trots towards an end that is as ghastly, and prone to criticism, as the final episode of the first season.

Hannah’s batchmates, parents, counselor and an old classmate, everyone takes the stand in this 13 episode marathon. Their narration is like a personal address to the audience. It is probably the most gripping part of the series. Their side of the story may leave a lot of strings untied instead of helping you make sense of why Hannah did what she did. The storyline is so starkly different from that depicted in season 1, that it does not bear an iota of conviction. It does more to pour old wine into a new bottle. The show is all drama and little sense; we are introduced to more bullying, victim intimidation, drug abuse and assault which borders on forced storytelling. No amount of screen relief is a relief.

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Credits: Netflix

However, it’s Tyler’s tragedy that is the most jarring and troubling aspect of the show. While most of the season was spent dredging up the past, Tyler’s struggle with social identification, peer pressure and his slow descent into a violent streak shows a problematic depiction on the producers’ part. It is sad that the premiere of the show coincided with an actual shooting in a Texas school that left 10 dead, underlining how the debate around gun-violence needs to be deal with care. However in the show, Tyler’s growing obsession with guns is a precursor to the finale episode. His abuse at the hands of Monty and his minions is one of the most horrible scenes I’ve witnessed in my life – the graphic depiction felt unnecessary. His abuse seems to justify his decision to almost massacre an entire school. Also, it appears to be a last minute deed to balance the scale of gender by discussing sexual abuse that happens with men, albeit in a hurried manner. Also letting Clay deal with Tyler in order to break his trance is tipping the iceberg in a dangerous direction, one which could’ve gone the other direction with a lot less ease. It is important to discuss the repercussions of senseless bravery.

The mysterious polaroids is a plot device that is put in to take the narrative of the season forward, implying how Bryce’s corrupt character is far more sinister that shown in the first season, how the culture of Liberty High does nothing to prevent sexual assault and mental trauma. In his conversation with his mother, we finally see how cruel and depraved Bryce is. It is only his character on which the story takes a rigid stand. But post that, the polaroids are an unnecessary, complicated addition, sending the characters on a blind goose chase, which is evidently felt as the end draws nearer.

Every other character oscillates between the black and the white when their story is narrated, so much so that the show ends up condoning the actions of the students. Alex, who shot himself in the first season, has survived the ordeal but is left with physical and mental scars. Justin, who took to the streets, is found by Clay who tries to wean him off his heroin addiction. Jessica is dealing with the scarring reality of attending high school with her rapist. Tony finds love, but he too has to face his demons this season. The show tries to humanise the trials and tribulations of the young protagonists to an extent that they portray all the actions as having emerged from a harsh reality and an unfair system but not as a product of their own choice. But there always is a choice.

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Credits: Netflix

The one thing that 13 Reasons Why season 2 gets right is the absolute shock that awaits the parents of various protagonists. From Hannah’s mother’s struggle to maintain sanity in her world that is falling apart at the seams, to Clay’s mother trying to hold on to whatever remains of her son after he has lost his love, their struggle is a reminder of how important it is to involve parents in a constructive dialogue with their kids. Parents know of our struggles and vices, like Bryce’s mother did, but it is the egotism of a parent, that Bryce’s father epitomizes, which convinces them that for whatever reason, their child is different from the crowd. Clay, in a very telling scene, says to his father ‘…maybe we are trying to protect you’. It is this chasm, between reality and a perceived reality of the parents, that needs to be bridged through communication.

Season 1 called on our empathy, the exact emotion that was denied to Hannah. We went on to give it to all characters regardless. The show became a collective call to all people, institutions who continue to pass the buck, to parents who themselves are victims of this system. But in season 2, the entire base on which our sympathy was triggered for the characters is turned into a fallacy. Hannah is stripped of all honesty, her constant ghostly presence is dredged to a point you hope she disappears from the screen. By trying to uncover a new mystery about Hannah’s death in a facile manner, 13 reasons why gives us enough reasons to give it a miss.

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art, life, movie review, psychology, REALISM

Liar’s Dice: Stellar performances and the ugly face of Migration

If you have lived anywhere in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and even Delhi, chances are someone has thrown the word migration around, often as the root cause of an array of issues, be it rising violence, loss of culture, ruin of space and now even stampedes. Thousands of nameless individuals cross state borders around the world in search of food and shelter, often woven in the ambit of an occupation. Migration is a hot cake in today’s political discourse with a volley of nationalistic ambitions that threaten to close borders to nationals of other countries. But immigration and migration are not the center of my tirade. It is a gem of a movie called Liar’s dice.

You might not have heard of it- such gems are often lost in the dirt and squalor of the backyard of Indian cinema because it gets no endorsement or appraisal from celebrities. Surprisingly, this movie, written and directed by Geetu Mohandas received national awards but did not see the light of the day through a theatrical release. I wouldn’t want to spoil the movie for you, which is a journey of a woman who sets out against all odds, with her daughter (and her goat), to look for her husband, who left to work at a construction site. Starring Geetanjali Thapa and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the cinematography blew me away. From the picturesque Shimla hills to the narrow stifling lanes of Delhi, the thematic essence is maintained throughout. The protagonist’s inner turmoil is palpable onscreen as slivers of emotions rupture your metropolis bubble of safety and bring to you the ugly face of oblivion.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui has time and again established himself as an actor beyond the narrow confines of mainstream cinema and that is his strength. The scheming crowd entertainer Nawaz is a shifty character and the movie derives its title from the game he plays to fleece the crowd. The title would obviously have several connotations – from helping Kamala (Thapa) out while lying to her, to Kamala risking everything on fate when she decides to travel with Nawaz, Liar’s Dice symbolizes a gamble for the forlorn woman. From a scheming vagabond to a considerate companion, Nawaz’s performance is a perfect complement to Thapa’s anguish and fear. Her construction worker husband’s name is a symbol – a unit which represents the mass of faceless nameless individuals who feature as mere statistics in the scheme of things.

While it is hard to portray the ugly truth behind the construction industry’s migration business wherein thousands of workers are brought in from far-flung areas and made to work in dangerous conditions, the director and the cinematographer Rajeev Ravi have managed to give us a glimpse into the characters’ lives and through them, the mystic gaping hole of namelessness, and to that end, of the importance of any one individual in this urban squalor.

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Christopher Nolan outdid himself with Dunkirk

The movie is practically immune to spoilers so you may read this without fear

Nolan’s movies have an uncanny tentacular grip in my head and I often go back to them when time permits. I never expected any less from the man who gave us the Batman Trilogy and Inception. The mastermind Anglo-American director has never believed in a linear plot as his movies transverse several timelines. He does the same with Dunkirk, where he basically throws his audience in the deep end of the pool – an intense evacuation. I was at the edge of my seat throughout the film. Hans Zimmer’s music perfectly complements the cinematography. Travelling through land sky and sea, with the divisions never too clear, Dunkirk is one of the finest films I have ever seen. Like the sea which is a constant presence in the movie, dawning both death and life, the movie bobs and weaves for 2 hours, managing to keep you on your toes.

Centred around the historical rescue of stranded British and French soldiers at Dunkirk during the second world war as they are incessantly pounded by the Nazi forces, you may realise that you know the story before its even begun. But you don’t. The characters, adrift in time and experience are what make this story multi-dimensional – the soldiers barely surviving on the beach at Dunkirk, grasping their helmets and lives; the brave requisitioned civilian rescue boats that fight their way through treacherous seas and the pilots who circle the skies, taking down enemies.  Nolan pursues larger questions about life, time, memory and identity, deliberately stripping off all specifics of all character, their beginnings and ends like loose strings that can be tied at will. The experience is ethereal – the lost soldiers, dealing with personal identity amid a crisis that is manifested both internally and externally. These experiences on screen – Nolan-esque in portrayal – are metaphors of our daily life experiences anchored in great screenplay and outstanding cinematography. The different storylines run parallel yet overlap and it is heartening to see all of them come together in the end after a diligent struggle in space and time.

Unlike war genre movies that I have seen so far, Dunkirk doesn’t shove over-sentimentality down your throat nor does it rove on about struggle and some moral enigma. This film is less about war and more about survival – it brought to my mind GB Shaw’s ‘Arms and the Man’ which deviated from the norm of showing buck swaggering valiant soldiers to show the grim reality, the fear of death even in the bravest of men. Dunkirk is nothing but cinematic perfection and is yet another feather in the Nolan’s cap.

 

Picture: YouTube/Warner Bros