This week, I am happily bingeing on 2018’s Academy Award-nominated films which are being showcased in suburban theatres as a run-up to the grand Oscar ceremony on February 24. I was keen to see The Wife because I am told it’s almost a given that 71-year-old Glenn Close will bag the Best Actress award this time.
Well, I quite liked the film and I particularly loved Glenn Close’s finely calibrated performance. She plays the self-effacing, nurturing Joan, wife of a flamboyant, self-absorbed author, Joseph Castleman, who has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Joseph flies to Stockholm (distressingly little of which is showcased in the film) to bask in the glory and receive the prize, and Joan accompanies him as his Plus One. Joseph corners all the limelight at the pre-award parties and rehearsals while Joan stays stoically in the shadows, fending off the organisers’ patronising suggestions for shopping expeditions.
A flurry of flashbacks reveal that Joan was a talented writer in college, and has secretly contributed much to Joseph’s success. As the film progresses, Joan’s mild manner comes undone, degree by minutely nuanced degree — when Joseph proclaims, “Fortunately my wife is not a writer”; when he flirts with a young lady photographer; when he is tight-lipped in his compliments to their son, a budding writer.
A prying journalist (Christian Slater) guesses the couple’s creative secret; Joan snubs him with her caustic sense of humour but it fuels the fires raging below her calm surface. When the volcano finally erupts, Joan is hell bent on finding herself…even if she has to lose her husband in the bargain.
While I wasn’t entirely convinced by Joan’s dilemma (it must have been difficult for a woman writer to make a name in the mid-20th century but then we have also had so many wonderful best-selling women novelists), I was captivated by Glenn Close’s performance. She brilliantly captures the intersection of long-time love and nurturing with resentment at the unfairness of having to subsume her identity.
An intriguing half smile, a slight shift of tone, a barb delivered with a poker face — Close uses every bit of her acting arsenal without a ‘Look Ma, no hands’ bravado. Aside: I find the acting gears not quite so invisible in Meryl Streep’s performances though she is a perennial favourite. What is significant, however, is that Streep at 69 is still a major Hollywood star! She regularly gets terrific roles as do other sixty-somethings like Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Glenn Close and Jessica Lange.
The Hindi film industry, of course, is a diametrically different story. Glenn Close’s shorn look, almost boyish hairstyle and her incandescent eyes in The Wife instantly reminded me of our talented veteran actress, Raakhee. I pondered on the manner in which Raakhee (who is born in 1947, the same year as Glenn Close) would have tackled a role like The Wife. I also felt that like Close, Rekha looks lit from within; and at 64, she has the control over her craft to attempt this role if she has the right director to harness her talent.
Why are two such fine Hindi film actresses, Raakhee and Rekha, relegated to the shadows? In today’s Hindi film world, 45 is the new 30; and Aishwarya, Rani, Tabu and Kajol regularly land pivotal roles in major films. But the preceding generation of actresses are still out in the cold.
It has been five years since we last saw Rekha on the big screen (Super Nani in 2014). In the last decade Rekha has had a career that doesn’t befit her talent — she was seen in only one other full-fledged role (Sadiyaan, 2010). In 2016, she threw away a meaty role in Fitoor but the film failed to live up to expectations and she had a narrow escape. Hopefully, things will turn out better for her in Ashutosh Gowarikar’s forthcoming film, Panipat.
I would love to see Rekha act more often — she has honed her talent over the years and is a fine actress (Do Anjaane, Khubsoorat, Umrao Jaan, Kalyug, Utsav). She is a head turner; at every award night she unfailingly turns up in her patent look — resplendent kanjeevaram saris and fresh gajras. Now, if they gave her a good role, she would be on the dais to receive awards and not just present them to talents; some of them arguably less talented that her.
Raakhee not only had a long innings as a leading lady (Sharmilee, Tapasya, Kabhi Kabhie), but also got meaty files as a character artiste (Ram Lakhan, Karan Arjun). In 2003, the diminutive dynamo made three films — Talaash: The Hunt Begins, Dil Ka Rishta and Shubho Mahurat.
But, something snapped and for the past 16 years Raakhee has gone into self-imposed exile. I met her last over Sindhi curry a decade and a half ago at her Bandra residence and she told me she was content being with herself at home. She shared that she pored over the newspapers every morning and also enjoyed going to her farm. I urge filmmakers to create substantial roles for Raakhee and Rekha. Or adapt The Wife. Amitabh or Naseer could play the husband and we will have a film that will provoke dialogue, and hopefully excite the box-office too.