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Wonder In The Dark


January 2013
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Wonder In The Dark.

believe it or not. my love for cinema dates back to hindi movies , the only movies i was allowed to watch as a young adolescent especially when i was becoming aware of things i hadn’t before!  it all started when i was a child, when i’d sit in the back of my father’s car or his friend’s car who would take us to the drive-in and i’d cry my heart out. while children ran about and played my eyes kept company with the screen. no french fries – a treat otherwise or popcorn or coke could wrench me away from that huge screen. the lyrics and poetry of those hindi movies were so powerful and poetic that the words always reduced me to tears. besides, it was good the others ran about to play because i didn’t want them to see my face, wet with constant tears.

from tears of sorrow, to tears of anger [when i grew older at the injustices against women], to wanting to change that injustice which the films seemed to poeticize in song and dance. because there is no poetry in injustice against women or anyone.

fast forward to years after, and i remember sitting in a parisian cinema near the sorbonne, seeing my first satyajit ray film, part of the apu triolgy. it was a major tear jerker – more than any hindi or  bollywood film or even worse, as his films are socially realistic. real. the magic of being surrounded by french on french terrain, in that dark cave-like cinema, glued to the smallish but very centralized screen, ignoring the young frenchmen sitting next to me with their eyes not on the screen but me, the low chairs , all of which mingled to create the entire magical  exhilaration of watching a ray movie. i could sit there forever! and i did try to repeat that experience, even alone, mostly alone, even.

now,  i see the beauty of films. all films, having lived in trinidad, paris and the USA. it wasnt a huge surprise that i later decided to study french literature which came from my first love of words. words which move me from the many Mahabharata comic books i pored over while my peers were reading mills & boon, from stories contained in the panchatantra, from folklore in trinidad, where there were  frightful stories and figures like ladiablesse, soucouyant, papa bois, lagahoo dragging chains at night or the douens roaming the day to take children deep in the forest, never to find them again! …these words from stories teeming and overflowing with color. from naipaulian humor, french poetry and prose, krishnamurthi’s words in french (in a book i picked up for a few centimes in paris), osho’s eternal words, Aesop’s’ fables, la rochefoucauld’s, la fontaine’s, pascal’s convincing bet on the christian faith though it was not my faith. or proust’s page-like sentences. but all words so very full of imagery…exerting such force. . . and these words which later became images; giving voice to images. becoming images in cinema, but especially in hindi, francophone and iranian cinema, which have a way of moving me to great heights.

these days, i am content to be moved by women’s cinema -and good men’s cinema.  i recently saw kairo 678 [egypt , mohamed diab] which moved me to tears and joy. i wanted to shout, but couldn’t in a room of respectable folks at the moma. the images and words in kairo 678  had the same effect as those hindi movies i used to see way back when i was only a little girl, unable to sift through all the ideologies that cinema was subtly planting in my impressionable child’s mind. i imagine that if i’d shouted during kairo 678, i would’ve been asked me to leave and i would have missed out on the power of diab’s words and images, and so unable to bear that thought, i squelched my zeal.

like kairo 678, women’s films don’t get audiences as male films do, because the mainstream world at large has not been sensitized to that female sensitivity, usually typical of cinema created by women. perhaps that bores people to see much screen space given entirely to women. or perhaps their screen needs to be filled with noise, images or sex, constantly assuaging them a la transformers or avengers or avatar or slumdog millionaire or banlieue treize.

i will opt for a cinema that embraces the beauty of words, images, sensitivity, silence, a philosophy of images that i now find in some women’s films.

so while my love of hindi movies is what drove me to do write on film and especially women’s films, i think that without those hindi movies of my childhood past, i may have also been part of that male appreciating audience, too, and would’ve thought that the satyajit ray movie i saw in paris was just another indian movie, with nothing more to it than tears, as i have heard been said. and i would have missed out on the entire philosophy behind that kind of cinema.

and what darkness would my world have been!


  1. Surekha says:

    Cairo 678 is an inspiring movie about the harsh emotional and physical effects of sexual harassment, and the courageous battles of three women to fight against it . I wish everyone could see it. One aspect that was particularly interesting was the display of conflict between the religious woman who expressed that it was the independent, modern woman that was responsible for the harassment that all women faced, and how she came to realize that was not the case.
    As for the brilliant satayjit ray, I remember first seeing the trilogy in 1980. Seeing Apu grow into adulthood, and the effect this had on his mother was emotionally wrenching. As I watch the transformation in my own sons now, thirty years later , and the impact on me I feel those emotions again. As they become more successful and independent, and as much as I want that for them, I want to keep my sons my babies ,close to me forever.

    • I hear what you feel and feel what it could feel like when a child goes. And i wonder if my mother felt that when I left to come to the US, though I doubt. She had 7 of us and 2 grand children on whom she so doted. The kind of cinema that ray or diab or Mehta or mehrjui or a makhmalbaf creates has the capacity of touching places in the recesses of the soul that most cinemas don’t ever dream of breaking in.

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