The Hills We Climb
By Vivek Menezes
In its 1992 obituary for Satyajit Ray, the New York Times called the great Indian director “a cinematic poet.” It recalled an earlier review by its acclaimed critic Vincent Canby, who noted, “no matter what the particular story, no matter what the social-political circumstances of the characters,” his cinema “is so exquisitely realized that an entire world is evoked from comparatively limited details.”
That “austere delicacy” is in fact the stuff of poetry, which deftly underlines the ongoing, profound and continuously powerful connection between cinema and verse. Both pare down the subject matter and tend to rely on bursts of visuals: rhythm is all-important, and there is plenty of room for both abstraction and metaphor. Just a few lines ignite the imagination.
Some years ago, the poet Sridala Swami wrote, “If cinema, like poetry, is understood intuitively, poetry – like cinema – is kinetic. By this I mean that poetry, by its linguistic short-circuitry, can move in the way cinema does. It can change location, perspective, time and voice. It can be what Coleridge called “plastic and vast”.
Swami recalled, “Perhaps cinema’s century has changed the way people write – not just poetry, but anything at all. At the Goa Arts + Literature Festival last December, an author read out a passage in which he imagined Sachin Tendulkar walking back to the pavilion for the last time. He described the walk, the distant roar of people cheering; and listening to it, I was sure the writer imagined the moment in slow motion, with the cheers muted, only the footsteps loud. To me, the moment was imagined and written cinematically.”
But this relationship actually flows both ways simultaneously, as we see in our brilliant 26-year-old colleague Suyash Kamat’s Writing in The Corners, which is already his second film featured at the International Film Festival of India. In theme and approach, and its innovative juxtapositions of different time frames, he has delivered poetic realism in the direct footsteps of Marcel Carné and Jean Renoir.
Kamat’s movie – which makes excellent use of Frederick Noronha’s hand-held documentary archive – is about the Panjim landmark, Café Prakash: once hotbed of journalists-on-break and “the unofficial press club of Goa”, but latterly deserted, which suffered a partial collapse during last year’s monsoon. It’s the portrait of a city nook, but also of hope, and the comity that comes from open-minded co-existence.
Which brings us the greatest cinematic moment of this year-in-the-making, which did not happen on any of the big screens at the International Film Festival of India, but played out instead at the inaugural ceremony of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Resplendent as the sun in her brilliant yellow coat, the bright young poet Amanda Gorman seized the day, and the global imagination, with her stirring delivery of words to live by:
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.