Thamizh Talkies: Roma, a beacon of hope
The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment
Roma is the film I’m rooting for at this year’s Academy awards. On one hand, it’s a simple story in its essence. On the other, it’s an artistic masterpiece that writer-director (or should we use the word creator here) Alfonso Curon indulged in, and shot in black and white, to transport us to another time when women were still emerging from the shadows of marriage and men. In many ways, Roma reminded me of a good K Balachander film which had the family as its centre and edgy relationships that either resurrect or break this unit.
To call Roma a mere black and white narrative is wrong. The lack of other colours brings to the forefront one dominant colour which is there as subtext. When black and white mix, the emerging colour is grey, which, to me, is the colour of human relationships. The ‘grey’ gives perspective to the audience and helps them understand why a character behaves in a particular way. Cuaron also excels in showing us the macro context: The film is set at a time when the haves and the have-nots are shown primarily as human beings who are equally capable of making the same mistakes. A man in a rich household behaves exactly as a man living in the dredges when it comes to their treatment of women. In that sense, Roma felt like the sort of film that could have been made by SS Vaasan whose films like Motor Sundaram Pillai rested on a thin one-liner but remain epic classics because of its actors (Sivaji Ganesan in his classiest best) and complex, grey emotions which makes the concept of the Indian family both complicated and simple.
Be it SS Vaasan or K Balachander or Alfonso Cuaron, their films espouse one thing: No matter what happens, life goes on. Cuaron specifically begins his film with shots of a floor being cleared up and ends his film with a shot of the sky to signify hope. The decision to shoot a film sans colour has given it so much depth that I wished we could have that format here too for certain films. A filmmaker like Mani Ratnam could give poignance and poetic sheen to black and white frames, if ever he were to shoot such a film. The filmmaker is a forerunner when it comes to narrating a story through the camera. His films are among the better visual experiences till date. He has worked with top-notch cinematographers in the country, and for a large part of his career (until he showed bits of Istanbul in Guru), a Mani Ratnam film always showed us the beauty and splendour of various locations in India. From Leh, Ladakh (Dil Se), and Sundarapandiapuram, Tirunelveli (Roja), to the streets of Calcutta (Yuva) and the slums of Mumbai (Nayagan), a Mani Ratnam film has always had locations play a major role in the narrative and a larger macro context that acts as a covering layer for the core emotional story. Much like Roma.
Watching Roma on Netflix made me hark back to these three Indian filmmakers and their filmmaking styles which connect so well with Alfonso Cuaron. Most important and laudable in its 10-Oscar nominations is the fact that Roma is not a studio film. Just like how Whiplash pushed its way up the studio lobby to win major awards, Roma is also a triumph of independent filmmaking and individual expression. It is a film that gives independent filmmakers and producers the hope and courage to still be in the film business and stand taller.