Pure gold, this one

Pure gold, this one

Goldfish is a sensitive movie, marked by brilliant performances!

Director: Pushan Kripalani
Cast: Deepti Naval, Kalki Koechlin, Rajit Kapur
Cinematography: Pushan Kripalani
Duration: 105 minutes
IANS rating: 3 and a half stars

Arnab Banerjee

A beautifully written scene in which a daughter who is preparing her mother to go to a home care, drapes a saree around her mother’s waist as the daughter tries hard to come to terms with the situation. The umbilical cord that joins the two is just about to get snapped. All for the betterment of all those involved.
Most films with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease as their subjects reinforce stereotypes, and that may be one of the reasons why we are unable to    accurately reflect the number of Indians with a memory disorder. After all, many people in India can evoke multiple emotions, and thus, find films as a source of authentic information on a variety of issues. Many of them also   seek support and search for shared experiences through them. 

In the Hindi/English film Goldfish released earlier last month writer-director cameraman Pushan Kripalani, along with co-writer Arghya Lahiri, explores the debilitating challenges of memory loss and its poignant effects on relationships.

The film is set in America where Anamika (Kalki Koechlin) returns home from England to deal with her mother Sadhana Tripathy’s (Deepti Naval) dementia. Anamika also has to deal with many scars that were inflicted on her in her childhood.

The two haven’t met for a few years, and though the chasm created between them is huge, it all seems narrowed down to petty bickering moments just the way any mother-daughter duo’s relationship does. On her part, Anamika must negotiate the past she has shunned for so long.  She has great support from some of her mother’s neighbours who have always been more than willing to help. Her brusque behaviour may look startlingly rude, but in her heart of hearts, she does have a loving caring side that often gets displayed when she finds Sadhana repeating an exercise. Or walking out of the house barefoot saying that she has a song recording at the BBC studios. 

Sadhana, we get to know, is a well-known classical singer who has preserved several of her recordings she keeps going back to. As Anamika tries to deal with Sadhana’s day to day problems, some of which also arise out of Sadhana’s memory lapses as also her getting back to her present-day life with normalcy, their relationship is fraught with tension-filled atmosphere in the small house they occupy. 

Anamika also gets to know a lot about her mother’s misdoings from their neighbour Laxmi Natrajan (Bharti Patel) about how Sadhana while frying pakodas (fries) caused her kitchen to catch fire. That incident alarmed the need of assessment by the local social services authorities who would have to take Sadhana away for social security and evaluate by the local council, which Sadhana would never allow whenever she weighs her situation and gets her memory back. She would never see herself being taken to a care home. 

Meanwhile, Anamika who has applied for a job in Switzerland, is in a hurry to settle things so that she is able to set things right and move on with her own life. She must make her choices about her mother, and considers other options, one of which she recalls is having a caregiver paid to stay with Sadhana, just the way it happens in India. 

The emotional turmoil that Anamika undergoes fluctuates every now and then even as she keeps going back to a number of issues the two had fought and argued about way back when the two were young. That underlines Sadhana’s illness as an old one that Anamika has suffered for many years. For Anamika, her daily interaction with her mother leads to opening of many wounds that remain unhealed, and many questions that are unresolved. 

One moment, while one part of hers is all out to serve her mother’s interest with all the good intentions, the very next instant she recollects an incident that she endured as a child. “You killed the goldfish?”she enquires to which she gets either a denial as an answer, or a vague explanation. Despite her best efforts, their exchanges tend to intensify and turn into disputes.

It isn’t that Sadhana is unaware of her suffering from dementia. In her moments of logical coherence when she can address all concerns rationally, her coping mechanisms make her reasonings for living alone sound more convincing. “I am fine, and can look after myself,” she claims. As a capable adult she would not want to give up her autonomy, and risk having to leave her home. For Anamika, the stage is beyond those early signs and can no longer be left unattended. It seems overwhelming for her to understand and cope with decisions that need to be made quickly, as she also has the guilt and shock of finally putting a closure to a long-standing inner conflict that has shaken her from time to time. 

Kripalani’s film focusses on both Sadhana’s helplessness and Anamika’s predicament. And thus, it is as much the daughter’s story as much as it is the mother’s distress.  But deep down, the film has a critical illness at its core and gives viewers a window to observe and scrutinise the affliction.

The film’s backdrop and its running time of 105 minutes is also a grim reminder of the pandemic that the world witnessed a few years ago. As the neighbours are learning to deal with wearing masks and keeping to themselves, we also get to see that slight hesitation in some to come forward and help, though they all are very concerned and more than willing to help. The issue of social realism crops up as rapport between best of friends and neighbours turn sour for the fear of close proximity and contagious virus affecting them. 

The film’s tender moments are agonisingly heart-rending as characters rush through myriad emotions of sympathy, love, concern amid all the lasting strength that every family has recourse to: love and deep understanding. It also lets viewers get a peek into not just the mentally ill person’s aggrieved state, but also gives us the strain of all those who have to learn to deal with their loved one’s infirmity even as the caregivers lives intertwine with their regular quotidian lives. 

But the film would not have been so powerful had it not been for the two principal actors: Deepti Naval ad Kalki Koechlin. Veteran Naval adds multiple layers to her role as the mother enduring a disease that to the onlookers seems nothing untreatable as physically she looks hale and hearty. Grappling with many odd situations, Naval brings in her years of experience as a seasoned actor and delves deeply into her role making us believe what Sadhana is undergoing while also allowing us to look within her anguish of not sharing what she doesn’t want to.

Kalki too navigates her sensitive role with equal finesse and deep-rooted understanding as she explores the subtleties of a complex mind of a young girl trapped between her life and aspirations as also her mother’s. They both add depth to well-written roles with their experience and thoughtful empathetic insight.

As per recent studies, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s has grown, and so has its impact on younger people. And since raising awareness has proven difficult, many films have taken a step in showcasing the intricacies, and terrifying faults, of life with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Considering all of the above challenges, Goldfish becomes a difficult watch. But then, if you’re caring for someone who’s living with a form of dementia, there are several great films that explore such subjects with grace, dignity, and realism. Kudos to both Kripalani and Lahiri for perceptively writing a delicate subject that is bound to touch many movie watchers far and wide.

The film has a few songs by Madhubanti Bagchi and Pratibha Singh Baghel, both established singers in their field of light classical music trying to find a foothold in film singing. Their voices are perfectly used by composer Tapas Relia in evoking the vulnerability of the characters and yet their dependence   on each other for support.  

Multifaceted Kripalani helms the camera with precision as being also the writer and producer he knows where to focus, and till what length of time. There are no scenes overdone or given undue preferences for long. Just when the film gets a tad too emotional, it’s the editor’s axe that cuts through the unwanted touching scene that could easily have become over-the-top and overemotional. A must-watch!