classic film

Five-star cinema: ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ by Andrei Tarkovsky

Innocence is the first casualty of war in the Russian master’s unforgettable debut.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s directorial debut opens with a dream, or is it a nightmare? Twelve-year-old Ivan (Nikolai Burlyayev) is sailing on the top of trees. Below his feet are nature’s bounty and his beloved mother. He snaps out of his vision in a cold and dark room, which reveals how far Ivan has travelled from his immediate past. His family is dead, but Ivan is frighteningly alive. One of the countless casualties of WWII, the precocious but disturbed child has made himself useful to Russian troops fighting the Germans by carrying out reconnaissance missions. A soldier keeps trying to enroll Ivan in a military boarding school, but the boy wants instant revenge against the “Fritzes”, as the Germans are derogatorily called.

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Ivan’s Childhood, based on Vladimir Bogomolov’s novella Ivan, came after other Russian cinematic explorations of the emotional and psychological impact of WWII, notably Ballad of a Soldier (1959). Ivan’s Childhood is an early indication of the poetic humanism and mysticism that would result in such masterpieces as Solaris, Stalker and Mirror. Tarkovsky fills his non-linear narrative with surreal and hallucinatory compositions. Prose meets poetry in the realistic depictions of life in the Army barracks and trenches and the stylised dream logic that governs Ivan’s thoughts. Even an interlude involving a love triangle between soldiers and a nurse in a tree-lined forest becomes an experience of the ordinary.

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The kiss in the woods.

An old man whom Ivan meets while wandering through the ruins of his house prophetically says, “No stove or chimney will ever burn down.” Ivan can never escape the power of his memories, and Tarkovsky’s eye ensures that nobody who has watched Ivan’s Childhood will ever forget the true meaning of war.

Nikolai Burlyayev’s indelible performance captures the confusion, abjectness and tragedy of WWII. The Germans are understandably the villains here, but Tarvoksky’s message is equally aimed at any government, authoritarian or otherwise, that willingly pushes its population into the jaws of death. After the war ends, Russian soldiers wander in shock through a German house of horrors, where prisoners of war and partisans have been hung from the rafters. Here, they find the starkest possible evidence of how they have failed Ivan, the boy who became a man far too soon.

Ivan during the war...
Ivan during the war...
... and by the end of the conflict.
... and by the end of the conflict.

The state-run Mosfilm studio that produced Ivan’s Childhood was flummoxed by the poetic flourishes, Tarkovsky writes in the book of essays Sculpting in Time. With his first feature, Tarkovsky was laying down the foundation for his directorial vision, one that is made up of dreams and visions, fragmented and associative imagery and the disruption of textbook linearity. “Isolated impressions of the day have set off impulses within us, evoked associations; objects and circumstances have stayed in our memory, but with no sharply defined contours, incomplete, apparently fortuitous. Can these impressions of life be conveyed through film? They undoubtedly can; indeed, it is the especial virtue of cinema, as the most realistic of the arts, to be the means of such communication,” Tarkovsky writes.

Mother and son look down a well.
Mother and son look down a well.
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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.