TALKING FILMS

When death overpowers love: The anti-Valentine’s Day movie list

Can love be considered to have triumphed when the lovers die at the end? Eleven films from India and elsewhere attempt to answer the question.

When we think of Valentine’s Day, we often think of romcoms with happy endings. There are the occasional heartbreaks, but the lovers eventually emerge unscathed or move on to greener pastures. Death, then, is an anomaly on February 14, unless we are discussing such classics as Love Story (1970) and Titanic (1999), in which the protagonists survive to carry on the eternal flame of love. Can a romance be considered to have triumphed when the lovers die at the end? We pick 11 films that try to answer this question.

The Ninth Circle (1960)

The Ninth Circle (1960).
The Ninth Circle (1960).

Considered a Croatian classic, France Stiglic’s WWII drama is about Ivo (Boris Dvornik), a Catholic who marries a Jewish woman named Ruth (Dusica Zegarac) to save her from the Nazis. Though Ivo loves Magda (Beba Loncar), he finally falls in love with his new bride. Their joy is short-lived as Ruth is arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

Bamboo Doll of Echizen (1963)

Bamboo Doll of Echizen (1963).
Bamboo Doll of Echizen (1963).

Tsutomu Mizukami’s novel is the basis of Kozaburo Yoshimura’s Japanese movie. Kisuke (Jun-Ichiro Yamashita), a bamboo doll-maker, marries the prostitute Tamae (Ayako Wakao) on a whim and out of pity. Tamae had been his father’s client, and this knowledge fills the relationship between the young couple with tension and uncertainty. Tamae leaves Kisuke and gets pregnant by another man, but desperately seeks to abort the baby. While returning to her husband, she loses the child but dies in the process. Kisuke too dies of heartbreak, thus ending the cycle of suffering.

Manila in the Claws Of Light (1975)

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Manila in the Claws Of Light (1975).

Few directors have filmed the Philippines like the legendary Lino Brocka. Manila in the Claws of Light is perhaps his most scathing attack on Manila’s unforgiving nature. Julio (Bembol Roco) comes to the city in search of his lover Ligaya (Hilda Koronel), who has become a prostitute. Julio does odd jobs to survive, and gets firsthand experience of Manila’s brutality. He does finds Ligaya, but the city finally swallows them up.

Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven (1975)

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Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven (1975).

A volatile tragedy from the former Soviet Union. Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven has been directed by Emil Loteanue, who based the movie on several short stories by Maxim Gorky. Proud horse thief Loiko Grigore Grigoriu) falls in love with free-spirited Rada (Svetlana Toma), but she refuses to be easily tamed. Loiko’s jealousy overpowers his love. One of the biggest hits of the Soviet era, the movie is also known for Eugen Doga’s soundtrack.

My Heart is That Eternal Rose (1989)

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My Heart is That Eternal Rose (1989).

Directed by Hong Kong New Wave sensation Patrick Tam, this tragic love story is about a gangster’s mistress, Lap (Joey Wong), and her ex-lover Ricky Ma (Kenny Bee), who has become an assassin. Fate brings them together again, but it is not meant to be. Tony Leung Chiu-wai (Infernal Affairs, In the Mood for Love) makes his mark as one of the gang members who has a crush on Lap but tries to help her reunite with Rick.

Seoul Rainbow (1989)

This movie was recently uploaded by the Korean Film Archive on its official channel, and it deserves a watch for its expose of the hellish price of fame. Director Kim Ho-sun creates a drama that is straight out of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Yu-ra (Kang Ri-na) wants to become a top model and is ready to do anything to achieve it, even as her photographer boyfriend Jun (Lee Dong-jun) watches on helplessly. As she tries to break out of the image trap, Jun resorts to desperate measures to rescue her.

Guna (1991)

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The song Parthavizhi Paarthapadi from Guna (1991).

A successor of sorts to Moondram Pirai (1982), Santhana Bharathi’s Tamil movie has Kamal Haasan as the mentally unstable Guna, who believes that he will marry an angel on a full-moon day. He kidnaps the unsuspecting Rohini (Roshini). She gradually falls in love with her captor, but this kind of love can lead only to tragedy.

Agir Roman (1997)

Mustafa Altioklar’s Agir Roman takes mild inspiration from Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Midaq Alley (1947) and is based on another novel by Metin Cacan of the same name. This melancholic, yet visceral, movie is about Salih (Okan Bayulgen), a mechanic who stands up to the gangster Reis (Mustafa Ugurlu). Salih becomes a hero of sorts and falls in love with the prostitute Tina (Mujde Ar). She leaves her profession, but tension mount between them because of Salih’s jealousy. The romance reaches its foregone conclusion when Tina gives herself up to the gangster to protect Salih from a murder charge.

The Other (1999)

Celebrated Egyptian director Youssef Chahine made this scathing treatise about his society squeezed between and throttled by capitalism and fundamentalism. Two doomed lovers, Hanan (Hana Tork) and Adam (Hani Salama), get caught in a cross-fire that leads to a tragic conclusion. Noted intellectual Edward Said makes a small but significant appearance in the drama.

Caracas Onto Death (2000)

Young Aixa (Eliana Lopez) is pregnant by of her fugitive boyfriend Ramon (Luke Grande). Aixa’s grandmother tells her to abort her baby, but Ramon has other ideas. Director Gustavo Balza maintains a balance between religion and rationality, but shows that no one wins in the end. Aixa becomes a victim of both forces, with Ramon as collateral.

Monpura (2009)

Monpura (2009).
Monpura (2009).

Giasuddin Selim’s lyrical movie, supported by a folk-induced soundtrack, tells the tragic story of Shonai (Chanchal Choudhury) and Pori (Farhana Mili). Shonai works for a rich landlord. When the landlord’s mentally unstable son commits a murder, Shonai has to take the blame and seek refuge on a remote island. There, he meets Pari, but his past catches up with him. The fairytale ends in a nightmare.

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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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For more information on special offers on flights to London and other destinations in the UK, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.