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Filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava Picks 6 Must Watch Movies

Screenwriter and director Alankrita Shrivastava gives Cosmo a special cinematic tour of the works of art that have not just inspired her as a movie buff, but have also influenced her journey as a filmmaker.
  

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A still from Caramel

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Alankrita Shrivastava 
Director of Made in Heaven and Lipstick Under My Burkha, among others

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"One of the films that really changed my life was Hyderabad Blues by Nagesh Kukunoor. And this was when I hadn’t even watched the film, only read about it. Nagesh’s struggle to make a film about something that resonated with his life inspired me and that’s when I felt, ‘Yes, I can make films too!’. And they can be modern films that represent our lives, and don’t have to be about people singing songs around trees, or about villains or heroes.  
I saw Hyderabad Blues much later and absolutely loved it. So here is a list of a few such films that have stayed with me and inspired me...“

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Monsoon Wedding by Mira Nair
“I think I watched this one in a movie theatre in Delhi, while I was in college. It is one film that I think is pitch perfect! It is universal, yet so local; so quintessentially ‘South Delhi’, yet so quintessentially India... It has the colour, the smell, the jaggedness, the full-bodiedness of India. And yet, it is so international in its appeal. In terms of the cinematic form, I like how it uses the sounds and colours of our country. I love the characters, they’re so rooted. Also, the film does not take a didactic view of love and marriage, but is very clear on its position on child sexual abuse. The track of the maid and the contractor is so endearing. I also love how the movie is shot and the use of music. There is so much joy and so much heartbreak! I’m a total fangirl...when I was younger, I would watch it every time before I went on to shoot anything. It is my masterclass in filmmaking. Mira Nair is a brilliant director, especially the way she captures small nuances that provide a window into the soul of the characters, and at the same time, express some deep truth about life. If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out on something beautiful!”

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In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar-wai
“I can’t really remember when I first watched it. But the two words that come to mind when I think about this film are beauty and sadness. The setting of the streets of Hong Kong, and the intense-yet-tentative stirrings of love, showcased a very Asian aesthetic—one that I absolutely loved! It was so refreshing to see the design of the film, the shot-taking, and the use of light and colour. The visuals feel like they were set to the score and not the other way round...there is such deep synergy between sound and visual, almost like a dance. This is a film that can be watched over and over again, because it is much more than a narrative experience. Every time you watch it, it’s like you feel a different kind of emotion. In that sense, I feel In The Mood For Love is a ‘mood’ film. And it is breathtakingly cinematic, and provides the most sensory experience. You can almost touch the characters, smell their perfume, and taste the food they eat, and really soak in the spaces. In fact, I often use it as a visual reference to discuss the use of colour and patterns, and shooting style. There is a haunting poetry about it, and it feels timeless.” 

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Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi by Sudhir Mishra
“I watched this when it first released in India. I had just started working in Mumbai at the time, as an assistant director. I have seen it multiple times since. What I love about the film is that it is very powerful, and way the personal intersects with the political, thematically. It is a beautiful story revolving around the student politics of the ’70s, and the lives of three students whose idealism takes on different forms by the time they are older. Love, ambition, hope, and betrayal...one can keep taking off the layers, one by one—just when you think the film is about one thing, you discover another. There is so much subtext. It’s a very Indian, coming-of-age film, too, in how it examines what it means to be young in a certain time, in a certain place. There is so much passion in the characters, and then there’s cynicism, too. Also, the recreation of the Delhi of that era is so authentic. And the music has stayed with me forever.” 

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Caramel by Nadine Labaki
“I love this Lebanese film for its portrayal of female characters. It is set in a beauty salon in Beirut. Nadine, the director, also plays the lead. Caramel explores the themes of love, desire, dreams, disappointments, and loneliness. The characters have so much complexity to them, and yet it has such a light touch of hand. There is warmth and humour. It’s a beautiful study of what it means to be a woman, and though it is so specific to Lebanon, it is so universal. You feel for each of the characters like you’re living with them, rather than watching them as outsiders. You pray for them, hope for them, and cry for them. The perspective of the film is very clearly female. I think it is with Caramel that I really began understanding what the female gaze in cinema feels like.”

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Eight and A Half by Frederico Fellini
“I have seen this film repeatedly over the years, and it has had a lasting impact on me. It is about a successful filmmaker who is trying to make his next movie, but doesn’t know what it is going to be about. It’s like a film within a film within a film. Or, like having two mirrors across each other and you see infinite reflections. What is the truth? What is memory? Who are we, really? What drives us? What do we want? The film explores all of these questions. The way it moves from the past to the present, and then into fantasy, is lovely. And eventually, we see the many demons he is battling, and the complications that lie at the heart of this man’s being. This film made me see the innumerable possibilities of cinema, the expanse and magnificence of it, and the ‘personal voice’ in cinema. It is black-and-white but so full of colour... a masterpiece!”


“I think it is with Caramel that I really began understanding what the female gaze in cinema feels like.”

Alankrita’s Photograph: Komal Gandhi