Film & TV Critic & Broadcaster
|Portrait of a Lady on Fire
|Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back
|Do the Right Thing
Loosely based on the life of the Bombay (Mumbai) underworld don Varadarajan Mudaliar, this film has shades of Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather. Kamal Haasan essays this role of Velu to perfection, and I cry every time I see it. I've been watching it since I was a child, and it gets me every time. Ilaiyaraaja – one of my all-time favourite composers, who has over 1000 sound tracks under his belt, with each sporting around 5 songs plus the background music – gives this film deep emotion, and P.C. Sreeram's frames and lighting are perfection. In recent years, I've gotten to know the writer and director Mani Ratnam in real life, and I've understood further his sensitivity towards real human themes of emotion and carnage. This has solidified why this is my number one film of all time. The way he treats the main female protagonist Neela (a student forced into prostitution, whom Velu marries and has kids with), though it's a very masculine film otherwise, is the mark of a truly great visionary.
Growing up in Nigeria, West Africa, with parents hailing from a land divided by British rule – Sri Lanka – I could not imagine either land never being colonised. Creating a resplendent world with attention to detail like the rich costumes, jewellery and hair of Africa was a staggering and fruitful effort. This film is for the culture, for the tri-national roots I've imbibed, settling in England aged 12. I shook when Killmonger uttered these words: "Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage," as I was so aware of the slave trade growing up. It was not taught in my East London school, so seeing it discussed in popular culture, and reminding vast swathes of people about colonialism via the medium of cinema, meant everything to me. My sheer respect for Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa also gives this a place so high up in my list. The women warriors, the Dora Milaje, show us the sheer strength of a woman who is coloured and empowered. It is still a beautiful and rare thing to see in cinema.
Apart from the array of awards this won, this film weaves a brilliant and intricate screenplay. One that traverses the class divide like few other films have done. The fact that a film with an all-Korean cast and crew made such a global impact is exactly in line with my big battle for representation matters. This film epitomises why authentic stories coming from different parts of the world are more and more important in this digital age. Bong Joon Ho saying, "Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films" at the Oscars is absolutely essential to the progression of society.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
An essential LGBTQIA+ film which shows clearly that love is love. So sweet and poignant, so beautiful and delicate, Céline Sciamma's lived experience shines through in the narrative. The use of a woman cinematographer, Claire Mathon, has only added to the gorgeous female gaze we see. Page 28 will forever be etched in my memory. A triumph of filmmaking, indubitably.
Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back
The arduous work of ILM in the 70s led to this sci-fi masterpiece, one of the first of its kind that I saw, as a girl child who was bedazzled by technology. This space opera filled with curious creatures, robots and lightsabers, was exactly up my street then, as many of its newer iterations are to me now. Raised in the patriarchy, seeing the Rebel Alliance led by Princess Leia was astonishing and empowering. While I didn't understand the political aspects as a child, I marvelled at the way the story of good versus evil was told. I was enamoured then by the conviction of the cast, and especially Yoda, and terrified by Sith Lord Darth Vader. The score by John Williams wove such a strong motif, which I hum to this day. As a Hindu, I also read a lot about space travel, and wars involving supernatural beings with supernatural weapons and flying vimanas – the chariots of the gods, which were literally depicted as flying around in space. We even had some Indian films using primitive technology to bring these stories to life. But Hollywood nailed it!
Having studied matrices in maths to university level, and a lot of computer science, the announcement of The Matrix and the very first trailer made me jump with joy. The Wachowskis, with Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss and Gloria Foster in particular, took me and my imagination into a world I was stunned by. The stunning production design and the pace of the storyline, plus the addition of pure sci-di with the cyberpunk idea of oppressive society, totally blew my mind. After seeing this, I was never the same again – especially as a Hindu, this idea that we are never fully awake in this existence, and that we are but little pieces in God's consciousness. After all, I grew up hearing a lot about the world being an illusion and that God alone is real.
This masterpiece by Pixar is not just vibrant and beautifully crafted from the animation perspective, but the story it tells is such a vital reminder to humanity. Life is short – do what you wish to do while you're alive, with the person you wish to do it with, while they are alive. I believe this film singlehandedly changed the perspective of many who saw it, into living their lives to the fullest. I'd often wanted to live to the max, and carpe diem was the motto I was striving for, after leaving a dark life and coming into the light, and this film affirmed that I had taken the correct path. Five years before this film, I sold my house, downsized and went travelling and moved into what I do now, but wondered if it was the right path. This film came out in 2009, and reminded me that it indeed was.
Michael Bond's Paddington Bear stories were those of my childhood. The cute bear adopted from Peru, taken in by with a London family, is a story I can relate to, and one that gives me all the “hygge” cosy feels. I too have been displaced from my parents' country of birth with no way of going back for a long time due to the civil war, and found myself settling in London aged 12. This bear lives his life with kindness, and creates joy and love wherever he goes, as he sees the best in humanity. He brings a “pinch of chaos”, which is what life's all about. With this sequel, the pastel-coloured prison, the “chocolate roulade”, and the comfort in baking with Paddington, plus the bittersweet comfort that a marmalade sandwich gives. It’s pure therapy in 1 hour and 44 minutes.
Having grown up on a diet of Amar Chitra Katha comics – graphic novels based on Indian myths and ancient stories – and with a profound love for Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree series, I never got to see these visualised. Studio Ghibli was the answer, as they told stories from ancient Asian folklore and myth, and brought them to life by animating them. This extraordinary tale of a 10-year- old girl resonated with me, as I'd moved around a lot as a child, from Sri Lanka to Denmark to Nigeria to London. Her extraordinary journey in the film reminded me of when I misplaced my parents as a wandering and energetic child, and then losing touch with them for many years as an adult due to various circumstances, and then finding them again and both sides making it up to each other. The idea of multiple worlds and universes was also fascinating for me, especially as my religion, Hinduism, supports these ideas in a big way.
Do the Right Thing
Having never set foot in the USA till my early 20s, I had little idea about racial tensions there till I saw this film. Having lived in Nigeria, where racism towards Black people was not evident, I was shocked when we came to London and saw Black people demonised – they still are, from many communities. Films like this serve a purpose, to enlighten people and open their minds. "Fight the Power" caught my ears, and I delved deeper into a Black culture that I felt rooted to, due to Nigeria being as much a part of my roots and formative years as England was. As an adult I visited NYC and Brooklyn, and resonated with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, as they were fighting for a cause similar to those my people, the Tamils, fought for in the north of Sri Lanka, with such brutality, against genocide. This film opened my eyes to it all, on a very deep level. As we were affected by it in the 1983 riots in Colombo, with our family home burnt to a crisp. Films like this, that show a mirror to real violence in race-induced wars, touch my heartstrings.
I've thoroughly enjoyed this little "exam", as I have such a vast array of global cinema that has coloured my life. Whittling it down to 10 was tough, but satisfying. It allowed me to delve deep into my roots, and what has impacted me over time, culturally and emotionally.