(L to R ) Philippe Claudel, Wamiqa Gabbi and Darshan Kumaar
Some people are good with words, some with images. There are few people who are good with both. Philippe Claudel, whose I’ve Loved You So Long won him a BAFTA for “Best Film not in the English Language” category in 2008, is one of those few. In India recently as a guest of the Embassy of France, Claudel talked of love, art, politics and the idea of words. Of how in I’ve Loved You So Long, the younger sister cannot bring herself to say the word prison where her older sister was imprisoned for 15 years, and says “inside” instead. Russians don’t speak of the war in Ukraine as an act of aggression but as an event, and how they refer to Ukrainians as Nazis. Turkey has long resisted calls to describe the mass killings of Armenians of 1915 as a genocide. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. We’ve seen this conflict in India. Should what happened with Sikhs in 1984 be called anti-Sikh riots or a pogrom? Should what happened in Gujarat in 2002 be called a riot or a pogrom? Why has the effort to declare the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley a genocide created so much discomfort? Words have meaning, they create histories and memories. Which is why he believes it is the responsibility of all artists to use the right words to reflect reality and fight the idea of alternative truth. He is also a great believer in love. At 60, he has spent 12 years teaching in a prison at Nancy in France, where he still lives, writing books and directing movies which deal with the idea of love—too much of it, too little of it, and often, none at all. His trilogy of novels, Grey Souls (2003), Monsieur Linh and His Child (2005) and Brodeck’s Report (2007), talk about things he has seen and heard around him.
Crossing the Rubicon
Darshan Kumaar was often told by producers that they would be happy to cast him if only he could show box-office numbers. Never mind that his debut film as a male lead, Mary Kom (2014), with Priyanka Chopra, made over `100 crore at the global box office. Never mind that he was an integral part of The Family Man (2019), a streaming success on Amazon Prime Video. Never mind that he played the antagonist in a series of movies with efficiency, such as NH10 (2015) or Toofaan (2021). Now that his film, The Kashmir Files, has entered the `300-crore club (and counting), the world is viewing him differently. Producers are sending him scripts to read and asking him to choose at least one. Members of the audience are hugging him, touching his feet, and clasping him to their chests for channelling their suffering. For Kumaar, 35, who belongs to Delhi and went to Mumbai as a 24-year-old to pursue acting, it’s been a long and arduous journey. I remember meeting him a few years ago at Delhi’s India International Centre with everyone wondering who he was. It was almost the same set of people who were embracing him after the Delhi premiere of The Kashmir Files. Success can be a head-turning process, but Kumaar has been working on his craft since he played the proverbial “friend” in Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai in 2001 (Tusshar Kapoor’s acting debut). Preparing for the role of Krishna Pandit in The Kashmir Files was a life-changing event for Kumaar who started muttering to himself and having nightmares after he watched videos and movies relating to the Kashmiri Pandits’ ethnic cleansing. “It required mental, physical and emotional strength. I had to live all the incidents which took place with Krishna Pandit. I watched all the videos in the public domain because I had to play a confused young man. I had to research both sides of the suffering. I don’t remember sleeping peacefully any night,” says Kumaar who has played everything from a Pakistani ISI agent in The Family Man to an Indian Army officer in Avrodh: The Siege Within (2020). He had to take a break for two weeks, meditating and watching good content, just to recover from the trauma of being Krishna Pandit. It appears to have been worth it.
Scene and Heard
If you love CODA (2021), watch out for Wamiqa Gabbi’s performance as a hearing-impaired young woman in Netflix’s chillingly effective thriller Mai: A Mother’s Rage, where Sakshi Tanwar plays the angry middle-aged woman with rare poise. Another fortysomething actress the world needs to see more of.