Tribute

Tribute: For Abbas Kiarostami, the truth of lived lives mattered the most in a film

The legendary Iranian director has died at the age of 76 in Paris. He was suffering from gastrointestinal cancer.

Jean- Luc Godard once said, “Cinema starts with DW Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami.” Why did he say that? Perhaps because narrative and spectacle are not enough, and the art of cinema and the resonance of on-screen events often have the capacity to speak much louder. And, possibly even more than this, the truth of lived lives matters most in a film.

Through his trademark ever-unfolding roads and pathways, Abbas Kiarostami’s films have traced the eternal everyman’s journey. Along the way, we realise that not only does one need to negotiate and get past life’s uncertainties, but equally one must earn the gift of an inner awareness as human beings. Thus, his films traversed both the interior and exterior worlds known to us.

In his first major work, Where’s the Friend’s Home? (1987) he had already mapped a balance between the seen and the unseen, the believable and the unbelievable, time and space.

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‘Where’s the Friend’s Home?’

After this film, space began to open to Kiarostami like a magic carpet. Each of his shots was conceived, as it were, in 360 degrees fullness, both in their sound and visual construction. The rich and complex story of an imposter posturing as the filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf in Close Up (1990) confirmed this great discovery. And at the ending of Taste of Cherry (1997) when lightning strikes and the rain falls over Teheran, the image becomes more than a mere pathetic fallacy echoing the inner state of the suicidal hero. This is because all the metaphors employed by Kiarostami amazingly work: nature is man and man is in nature.

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‘Taste of Cherry’.

In the lyrical Through the Olive Trees (1994), an ordinary young man successfully woos a beautiful and reluctant girl, while the fiction/documentary cross-genre film Life, and Nothing More… (1991) reveals that the victims of the devastating earthquake that occurred in the previous year are not entirely defeated. Later, in The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), the absence of a mobile network connection is compensated for the television journalist protagonist by the attention he can give instead to the immanence of the present moment. He witnesses not only the ancient death rituals that he had come to record, but as if in a vision or a dream, the village rivulet carrying the bones of all those who have lived before.

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‘The Wind Will Carry Us’.

And how does one describe Kiarostami’s magnificent feminist 2002 road movie Ten? As a woman drives through the city, her life opens in exactly ten long takes. Simultaneously, we are also shown the present day reality of Iran and the lives that women lead there – and almost everywhere else. Each transition between the shots is signalled by a film leader from a passing movie. But we also uncover much of history and personal anguish during her daylong journey into the night.

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‘Ten’.

In his so-called Japanese film Like Someone in Love (2012), Kiarostami created characters and scenes that ring so true that one is reminded of some of the best Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse films. What an incredible feat of getting beneath the skin of a different culture!

His Certified Copy (2010) left us doubting everything. All except for the realisation that ambiguity matters in life – as if it were a permanent wound in our existence. Five (2003), on the other hand, gives us shots of nature and ordinary life unreeling in only five long takes. Yet we are vouchsafed the experience of the entire world of both Eastern and Western nature poetry.

Shirin (2008) only shows us the faces of an all-female audience in large close-ups as they look at different film versions of the romantic legend of Shirin and Farhad. Has womankind ever been shown more vulnerable and more itself? One more reason the cinema had to exist!

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‘Like Someone in Love’.

To return to Godard’s sweeping claim quoted in the beginning, the cinema does not begin at some point and end with Abbas Kiarostami. This is perhaps because beginnings and endings are just convenient chronological or sequential markers. In spite of them, and other signposts along the road, cinema and the life force it embodies will always go on.

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An interview with Abbas Kiarostami in 2014.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.