Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mr. and Mrs. Iyer

Aparna Sen, 2002, India (9.6*)
(mostly in English with some subtitles)
This small film is one of the most inspiring and heartwarming you can see, so this makes the perfect holiday movie. Directed and co-written by former actress Aparna Sen, who has crafted an understated story about travelers on a bus, from a multitude of backgrounds, and who are able to forget their political, religious, and cultural differences in a time of need and simply become humane people befriending and helping strangers whenever possible.

The story concerns a young married Tamil Hindu mother, Meenakshi Iyer played by Konkona Sensharma, traveling alone with her infant son, Shandaman, beginning a bus trip by saying goodbye to her father. He meets a male photographer, Raja (in a brilliant and subtle performance by Rahul Bose), also traveling alone, so the concerned dad enlists Raja's chivalry in ensuring that his daughter and grandson arrive safely at their train to Calcutta to reunite with her husband. What follows is an often pleasant journey that eventually literally hits a roadblock and traffic jam at a river crossing with much confusion as to the cause.

There are many small stories here (with perfect casting, esp. the baby "Santa", as Raja calls him), interwoven into one tapestry of human kindness and caring in spite of unrest and turmoil in society, as this takes place in a world of warplanes, terrorism, and even community riots, which are sadly commonplace in parts of Asia. India alone has 17 official languages, so most people learn and communicate in English, as in this film. I don't want to give away too much here, as there are several plot surprises that propel and intensify the story and make it engrossing as well as inspiring.

This film won 9 of the 10 award nominations it received internationally, most were best film or screenplay at smaller festivals [Awards page at IMDB]. For me, this is one of the best Indian films I've seen, there are no Bollywood songs, just a couple of poems set to music as part of the terrific film score - even the music itself is inspiring, especially one song that is a 10th century poem from an Indian poet-saint, which also begins the film:

For what shall I wield a dagger, O Lord
What can I pluck it out of, or plunge it into
When You are all the World?
- Devara Dasimayya, 10th century

This film and its story are just as eloquent as this poetry, as director Sen has successfully risen above religion to create the most perfectly spiritual story imaginable about the selfless love arising from friendship.

[Note: for those not familier with Indian regional cultures, this will be a fine introduction into all the different people there, and the still too prevalent idea of the caste system, as you hear bigoted comments like "you don't know what kind of person cooked the food" - while I'm thinking: just be glad you have food at all!]


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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