Lessons in Forgetting

wogma rating: Add to 'must watch' list (?) - But do watch the film ‘legally’

quick review:

A film that talks about some of the most important gender issues plaguing India today, albeit one that is set in an interesting narrative, Lessons in Forgetting engrosses you because of what it is about as well as some of the performances. A film I’d recommend you watch, even if it makes you a tad uncomfortable while doing so.

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Director: Unni Vijayan
Running time: 96 minutes
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Based on a novel by the same name by Anita Nair, Lessons in Forgetting, directed by Unni Vijayan, speaks about so many issues, big and small, but all pertinent and relevant, that it at once becomes an important film that must be watched, as well as a film that doesn’t make for an easy watch at all. The film gnaws away at what we know and think we know about relationships, people and society, through the journey that the characters in the film undertake, as they deal with loss.

Set primarily in Bangalore and in a tiny coastal town in Tamil Nadu, the film also has a perceptible flavour of the setting, which makes it seem far more ‘real’ than most films we’ve seen lately. J. A. Krishnamurthy is an NRI who is back in India, because his daughter Smriti has suffered a severe, near-fatal accident. As he digs into the cause behind the accident, trying to get to the root of it, he also discovers that he knew his daughter far lesser than he’d ever imagined. Meanwhile, Meera is a middle-aged mother of two whose husband walks out on her without the slightest of warnings. As she deals with this, Meera and Krishnamurthy’s paths cross.

Fashioned as a mystery that is in reality a human drama, a commentary on relationships and societal stereotypes, the film is rendered most relevant by the fact that it takes a long, hard look at the manner in which Indian women are seen in society today, and about another, far more gruesome and worrying truth of gender politics in India – the fact that to this very day in the 21st century, the interiors of India are still opposed to the birth of a girl child.

But that is in rural India; we all know about that don’t we? All of us engage in social media outrage against the lack of education amongst the ‘other’ India about gender equality. How about in urban India, then? A man walks out on a marriage, but even the teenaged daughter holds the mother responsible for it, without a second’s thought. An outspoken, friendly, educated girl wants to wear a tank top because it is hot, and by nature she’s friendly with every guy she meets, but that automatically makes her an object that the men want to ‘own’. “She’s my girl,” exclaims one of her over-enthusiastic male friends, without ever bothering to find out if she feels the same way.

The film offers no solutions; but then why should it? I’ve gone hoarse saying that cinema mirrors society, not the other way round, no matter how much people blame the portrayal of women on screen to be the reason behind men objectifying women in real life. The malaise is deep-rooted in our society, right from the time the girl is born. Before we begin eradicating the problem, we must recognize it. That, precisely, is what the film offers us; it holds up a mirror and reminds us that we need to change from within. In fact, there are portions in the film that will make your blood boil, as we see the just how spineless yet savage Indian men can be, when it comes to how they treat woman.

The film also has an interesting narrative technique, albeit one that can sometimes work against it. It is non-linear, not just in space and time as it cuts between the present day and place where Krishnamurthy is and the lead up to what happens to Smriti, but it also has continuously shifting points of view – the past is carried forward bit by bit through the people who Smriti encounters along the way.

However, this constant back-and-forth may tend to make you restless; the present day portions often seem like speed-breakers in the narrative. In fact, for a film that is only 96 minutes long, it actually seems far longer than that. The pace of the narrative sags often, with the screenplay meandering in the present day portions. Still, because of the nervous anticipation that looms large throughout and the performance of the lead cast, it still doesn’t bore you.

Adil Hussain, who plays Krishnamurthy, is excellent. The desperation of a father, yet the sense of calm that he exudes even in tough situations, (contributed to, perhaps, by the fact that Krishnamurthy spent so many years in the US), those tears that he fights so hard to keep within, everything about his performance is almost perfect. I found his English dialogue delivery tinged with an ever so slight accent, but it is still heartening to see that an Indian film that is heavy in English largely stay away from terrible accents.

It was also good to see Roshni Achreja after so long, and she was extremely natural as Meera. Some of the supporting cast did seem to struggle, especially the younger ones. Raaghav Chanana, last seen in that disaster Rangrezz as Jackky’s friend, has a good presence, though I couldn’t help wonder if that baritone was indeed his.

Maya Tideman, who plays the pivotal role of Smriti, is a bit of a mixed bag. While the manner in which she emotes and delivers dialogue is often a little raw, she has a presence that seems to strangely do justice to the complex character that she plays. Your heart reaches out to her character not only because of the gruesome things that happen to her, but also she makes a connect with the sense of idealism and purity she radiates. And when I say purity, it isn't some misplaced sense of 'feminine purity', but just that of being a good human being.

Despite some of the issues in pacing and the questions that you ask of the screenplay, Lessons in Forgetting is an important film because of how brave the film is in terms of subject and narrative. The only way our cinema is going to get better is if we whole-heartedly support films like this. So whether you choose to watch it in the theatre or whether you wait for the DVD to be released, I just hope that you pay to watch the film; Lessons in Forgetting deserves it.

This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.

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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: Some sexual violence, also some blood
  • Language: Expletives used but blanked out.
  • Nudity & Sexual content: Very brief portions showing some intimacy
  • Concept: A father is trying to find out the truth behind his daughter’s accident
  • General Look and Feel: Stunning visuals

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

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Lessons in Forgetting - Cast, crew, links

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Running time:
96 minutes

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