V.K. Cherian

Author… critic, filmmaker

Voted for

Afterimage2016Andrzej Wajda
Elippathayam1981Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Charulata1964Satyajit Ray
Amistad1997Steven Spielberg
Wild Strawberries1957Ingmar Bergman
Rashomon1950Akira Kurosawa
NOSTALGHIA1983Andrei Tarkovsky
SUBARNAREKHA1965Ritwik Ghatak
La strada1954Federico Fellini
À bout de souffle1960Jean-Luc Godard




The Polish film Afterimage is a telling document of a period where the system forced people to stop thinking and start obeying the state like slaves. The lead character suffers many humiliating experiences to uphold the spirit of free thinking.

A great effort in showcasing the undying human spirit of freedom of thought and expression and resistance with one's life and work against the all prevailing system.

The way the filmmaker has combined the social, professional and personal to give the viewers the experience of an unending fight to preserve his freedom of thought and creativity makes the film great. And Wajda used the personal, and systemic struggle to give us the feeling of an epic fight for the spirit of freedom.

The film is also a true depiction of a human state, especially of the thinking people after the second world war and during the Cold War. It also gives us an overview why Communism with all its promises of equity of humans ended up failing in its own goals. The film portrays the human tragedy of an era of huge social and technological changes throughout the world. A film etched in time for generations to come.


1981 India

The Indian Malayalam-language Elipathayam (Rat Trap) is a film on people caught in the time wrap in a fast-changing society. The lead character, Unni, refuses to accept the reality of change to find solace in feudal habits in a society undergoing quick changes. But time is a cruel interceptor which does not wait for anyone and Unni is given a shock treatment by the joint family as well as the society around him. Adoor makes a strong statement about post-feudal India with the characters of his film, with unusual insight into the socio-personal situations. Brilliantly structured, the film sculpts 1960s Kerala, his home province. The director does not give a definite solution to the issues he raised, but leaves a big question mark for the audience to soul-search.

Elipathayam is Adoor’s first colour film and his use of colour for each of the characters, the feudal house and its sepia surroundings to buttress the situations in the film will remain a case study for film students across the world, as it is merged together aesthetically to accentuate the central theme. Likewise the haunting theme music of the film.


1964 India

Charulatha showcases the best craftsmanship of Indian cinema's renaissance man, Satyajit Ray. It is a period film, but a human document about loneliness, infatuations, guilt complexes and greed. Unlike his earlier films, Charulatha has a poetic visual quality about it. It has some excellent visualisation of the period and a sweet outer layer of love, poetry and infatuations within a family with a bitter inside, of cheating, guilt complex and artistic rivalry. The film became an iconic love, infatuation film at one level and also a complex one of disappointment at another level. The loneliness and artistry of the lead character, Charu, is ignited by the romantic attitude of her husband's young cousin, giving us some beautiful man-woman scenes from medieval Victorian India. The hard work, commitment and collapse after a cheating by the family member is aggravated by Charu's husband's realisation that indeed his wife was also cheating on him mentally. The sweet outer layer of the film is peeled off to a bitter reality at the end, leading to characters' realisation of the human tragedy involved. Ray the filmmaker shines as a master craftsman with Charulatha.


1997 USA

Amistad is a film about a tectonic shift in human civilisation involving the human slave trade, based on a story of 1839. The filmmaker traces the evolution of the anti-slavery steps of American society and the forces involved. It also gives us touching movements out of the cruelty of the slave trade and how the realisation about its cruelty reaches various levels of society and administration. Above all it gives a lesson in the dignity of humans wherever they are and whatever state they are.

Very few Hollywood films have done the visualisation of slavery and its aftereffects so humanely and intensely. Spielberg achieves the impossible by recreating the dark history of human civilisation and how few enlightened people fought to overcome it. The film is a statement about the segregation of humans on the basis of race and colour. Beautifully visualised with many humane moments, the film touches not just our thoughts but our hearts too. The film helps us discover that humans are one and his/her dignity is paramount in all cultures, races, countries and continents. The end sequence, where a freed slave finds himself resonating in ideation with a former president, is truly elevating.

Wild Strawberries

1957 Sweden

Ingmar Bergman's films are poems or novelettes, especially Wild Strawberries. I saw it in 1977 and experienced it again after 45 years and I can vouch that it stands the test of time as I get the same poetic feeling about the film.

The film's structure, visuals and characters as Bergman puts them are etched in the history of arts and cinema for eternity. It is the old man's memoirs of his life and its issues from childhood to old age, captured with all its human elements aesthetically. Each character stands out individually without any faultiness in their positions and leads us to the celebration of a life lived fully at the end of the film. Just like all sensitive persons, the lead character, a doctor, has his doubts about his life, but he is celebrated by all including his son who doubts him because of their complex family life. Bergman makes us all kneel before our lifetime experiences, urging us to leave our doubts and be true to ourselves, our ordeals. He also urges us to constantly debate with ourselves. A film which gives us deep insights of life.


1950 Japan

Rashomon may be 72 years old, but stands out as a landmark of visual philosophy. The film also contributed to what is called the "Rashomon effect" about arriving at the truth of an event or subject over the years. The film is about individualistic perception of an event and the effort to trace the elements of truth in each of the narratives involved. A simple event of rape and murder by a small-time bandit in medieval Japan is used to decipher how to arrive at the truth of the incident by the players still alive, witnesses and even the spirt of the murdered man, each giving their own, sometimes contradictory version, making the judge's job and viewers' understanding a difficult task. But then that is the reality of life as each person is a world by themselves when it comes to understanding events and issues around them. Rashomon is structured beautifully like an epic and visually takes us to the universal truth about perceptions through the film. Kudos to Akira Kurosawa for his masterly, innovative craftsmanship in making a film about a universal truth, which has stood the test of time.


1983 Italy, USSR

Andrei Tarkovsky is the poet philosopher of cinema with a definite visual vocabulary. His first film outside the then Soviet Union, about a Russian poet in search of a Russian musician who lived in Italy, has all the poetic elements of his film style. The spiritual, the search for truth, religious consciousness, male-female relationships, suffering, physical and spiritual all comes alive in this film. Above all his visual language reminds one of a painting in motion. Long beautiful shots which will linger in angles like never before and slow movements take the viewer to the inner world of Tarkovsky's characters. We forget the storyline and become part of the inner search of the characters with the director. That is the power of Tarkovsky's films. It is not just intellectual pursuits, it is an artist's spiritual pursuit, truly elevating and inspiring. Nostalghia has all the refinements of the Tarkovsky film, which one felt was constrained in its expression in his earlier films made in the erstwhile Soviet Union. A great filmy poetic experience; a truly great film which is sculpted in time for generations from a master filmmaker in a unique visual language.


1965 India

The film about the partition of Eastern India, in 1947 and its continued tragedies of human displacement in the context of a new emerging India is a heart touching one. Ghatak, who is a cult figure among film students, uses many cultural, social and natural props to tell a story full of tragedies, human emotions, struggle, hard painful choices of his characters with a deep humane approach. He himself, a refugee from what is now Bangladesh, intertwines his various life experiences beautifully in this film, with his characters, a brother and sister, keeping afloat themselves in the sea of human tragedies around. They are separated by life and its strange ways, only to be confronted by the harsh struggles of a refugee's life. The shocked brother sees his sister in a brothel, committing suicide in his presence. Beautifully crafted, the film pierces your heart and reaches your head with its social and personal dimensions. The storyline is eventful and emotional, but the filmmakers' masterly approach and its design makes it a world-class film from India. Unlike Satyajit Ray, Ghatak uses local cultural symbols to buttress the situations of his characters, giving the film a distinctive epic identity.

La strada

1954 Italy

A film which touches your heart with its simplicity and characterisation. An angelic-looking girl and a brute man finding themselves on their road trips of life and career. The girl may be literally sold to the man, but, with her cute looks and clean heart, walks into his life, becoming his alter ego – his conscience. The way the lead characters' relationship develops is a classic one, from being a clown to the ultimate soul, with a heart-touching ending of belated realisation. The man's brutality and the girl's innocence are juxtaposed, with her training to become a promoter of a man's street-show jugglery, an onlooker to his escapades, including that in a marriage event, until the killing of the clown who mocks the brute man who falls in love with the girl. With that killing, the girl's discomfort with the man shatters her. But years later when the man hears the tune of her trumpet to find she killed herself in remorse, he too is left with the pain of guilt and belated realisation she indeed was his undiscovered conscience. Beautiful.

À bout de souffle

1960 France

Breathless, Godard's first feature film, is the typical example of telling a very ordinary story through a new approach to and vision of film itself. A usual crime story and love angle was raised to a level of seeing all of it fresh through the eyes of a filmmaker who was out to make history and give the emerging film language a new idiom. The happy-go-lucky attitude of the filmmaker, the documentary style and its fast-moving editing with some brilliant acting gets straight to the viewers as a fresh breeze. The film, one of the milestones of the French new wave, defined a new attitude to filmmaking, clearly different from the Hollywood style and even the linear narrative of the other European filmmakers. The new approach is still being celebrated across the world in languages which Godard would have never imagined. Breathless also stands as a milestone in the emergence of a new visual language in the genre of arthouse film making. A great film which is being celebrated by generations to come, not for its story, but for its visual experience and style of filmmaking.

Further remarks

I would like to put it on record that Sight and Sound gave a criterion/broad guidelines for selection of films. As an institution S&S has been carrying the torch of good and meaningful films globally for decades.

The reason for my choices: technology and access to films have played havoc with aesthetics of people across countries and it is difficult to predict what is good and bad in films, among the cacophony of human understanding, sensitivities, in an increasingly economically driven market and the world.