Thursday, April 30, 2020

In Memory

Amid all the tragic news of recent months, Wednesday resulted in two devastating news items: the passing of Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor.

On Wednesday, April 29th, news broke that the remarkable actor Irrfan Khan had passed away. It was a shock to the system. Irrfan was a rare Indian actor whose talents were well known globally and that became evident from the touching tributes that have poured in from all corners of the world, from film fans to critics, movie directors to film festivals. Different people found his work at various times. Global film festival audience first took notice of him in Asif Kapadia’s THE WARRIOR which had a long run on the film festival circuit. The 2001 film actually played at CIFF in 2005. American audience may have first noticed him in Mira Nair’s THE NAMESAKE (2006). If people had still missed seeing any of his films during the 2000s, then surely Ritesh Batra’s lovely THE LUNCHBOX (2013) ensured that they finally caught up with him.

I can’t recall which movie of his first caught my eye but I was impressed by his presence in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s HAASIL (2003). However, Khan’s acting in Vishal Bhardwaj’s MAQBOOL, a brilliant take on Macbeth, truly floored me. It was a rare film that I immediately rewatched, mesmerized by Irrfan and the remaining cast’s breath-taking performance. After that, it didn’t matter which film Irrfan Khan starred in, I watched it. And I was never disappointed. Irrfan’s charm and grace elevated every film he was in and even if his role was just a few minutes, he made those minutes count. That is why many directors wanted to cast him. Wes Anderson wanted to work with him so he specifically wrote a small role for Irrfan Khan in THE DARJEELING LIMITED. Khan also said no to many directors due to filming conflicts in trying to balance both Indian cinema and Hollywood films. As noted by his biographer Aseem Chhabra, Khan said no to Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLER (2014) because he was filming THE LUNCHBOX at the same time. He also had to turn down Ridley Scott’s THE MARTIAN because of his work in the brilliant PIKU.

I hadn’t completely shaken off this tragic news when later on Wednesday, I learnt that Rishi Kapoor had also passed away. Another major blow. Like many in my generation, I grew up watching Rishi Kapoor movies. His father Raj Kapoor’s BOBBY ensured that Rishi Kapoor became an instant household name in Indian cinema. There was an instant likability to Rishi and he brought an amazing sense of comedic timing and wit to his roles. Often, he played a perfect foil to a bigger star and his charming honest performance lingered long in memory. As he aged, somehow Rishi Kapoor found a new gear to his acting and his later roles resulted in some spectacular performances. His performance in Habib Faisal’s DO DOONI CHAAR (2010) is hands down one of the best performances I have seen by an actor in any Indian film.

The cinematic void left by both Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor will not be filled.

Saturday, April 04, 2020


It wasn't long ago that PARASITE made headlines by winning big at the Academy Awards. History books will show that was on Feb 9, 2020. Even though, that feels like decades ago. PARASITE was hailed for its relevant topic about class differences and this divide between rich-poor made it a huge hit across the world. It felt like an appropriate movie for 2019 and one to close off the decade in style. However, PARASITE now feels like a relevant film of 2020 and going forward it may perhaps be remembered not for class differences but instead on a microscopic human level.

This remarkable article by Ai Weiwei in the April 4 Globe and Mail edition points towards a different kind of parasite and its impact on a human.

"What, exactly, is a virus? About one-thousandth the size of a bacterium, a virus cannot survive or reproduce on its own. To live, it must enter, attach to and parasitize a living cell. Viruses have been doing this for tens of thousands of years – entering living bodies and dying when the host body either kills them with its immune system, or when the body dies itself. This happens because the immune system’s battle with viruses also kills normal cells, and if too much of that happens, the host body can perish, taking the virus with it. In this fight to the death, both sides can lose."

A little bit later, the concept of parasite meshing with its host is seen in a different light.

"The actual fate of the world today is a freakish amalgam of different systems. For Western capitalism to continue expanding, it has had no choice but to partner with exploitative, authoritarian states such as China, to profit in ways that the West cannot at home. By doing so, despite the seemingly deep ideological differences, Western capitalism has allowed Chinese communism into its structure, virus-like, and the two now share a fate."

Replace the house in the movie with a human body and the above words take on another meaning.