'Goldfish' film review: A wry relationship drama deftly anchored by Kalki Koechlin, Deepti Naval
At the heart of Goldfish lies the key conflict of whether Anamika should leave her ailing mother in an old-age home.
For some, a home is a place where they belong. And for others, it is a place where they cannot escape away from, no matter what. Speaking of which, memories also fit right within the "cannot escape" category, potent in their ability to make us relive moments long after it has elapsed. Smack between the ebb and flow of memory and home (in retrospect and reconciliation; abstraction and actuality), lies Goldfish, Pushan Kripalani's prickly new indie. Now, Goldfishes are apparently known to have a memory lasting mere seconds. But the apocryphal nature of this information also finds reflection in an actual fight between mother-daughter duo Sadhana (Deepti Naval) and Anamika (Kalki Koechlin). The pet goldfish in question, and whether it died or was killed, plays along as a metaphor for the rest of the film's painful, all-too-real themes of trauma and dysfunction.
Anamika, throughout the film, is called Ana, by her neighbors in the small street in England she lives in, and Miku by her mother, which sets the tone for the duality she exists in. There is an Anamika who is Indian and an Anamika who is British. An Anamika who loves her late father dearly, and speaks to him in an epistolary tone while the screen goes pitch dark, and an Anamika, who resents her mother and is on the verge of taking a major decision that can uproot her family. There is an Anamika who has to move to another town for a job and an Anamika who has to reconsider staying home to take care of her mother, who is suffering from dementia. The Miku, though unintentional, reminded me nicely of Piku, another cinema daughter who was also saddled with the responsibility of caring for a difficult parent.
At the heart of Goldfish lies the key conflict of whether Anamika should leave her ailing mother in an old-age home. She is forced to return when her mother sets the house on fire, which makes everyone around Sadhana believe that she cannot live on her own any longer. Now, the idea of leaving one's old, dying parents in a care home is a rather unpopular concept in India, a decision that is met with severe judgment irrespective of the person's background. There is already some of that judgment that Anamika faces when she returns to her hometown, which is highlighted by the presence of a friendly neighbour who does not recognise her. Despite the voices of her neighbours advising her against leaving her mother in a care home, Anamika goes ahead and tries to look for a place. There is some shaky ground this character is always treading on emotionally, and that is reflected in her indecision. Apart from the presence of disapproving neighbours who are privy to so much information about Sadhana and Anamika, there is also a larger question about the money she needs to send her mother away. Soon enough, secrets and complaints come out of the woodwork, adding some simmering if not explosive drama to the film's proceedings at large.
Goldfish is brilliant in depicting the sheer frustration and helplessness of dealing with a parent, and the ambiguity a child has to wade through when the parent is dying, which effectively annul the long list of complaints one may have towards the said parent. I mean, what good is a grudge held against the dying or the dead? The fact that Sadhana, a former classical singer for the BBC, has dementia of all ailments, makes this even worse. It is one thing to remember and not feel remorse but to not even remember the person you were. While films set around dementia patients usually revolve around their heartbroken young ones who have to come to grips with the fact their parents are forgetting the good memories they had, Goldfish flips the concept on its head. From folks getting ghosted after a single date to countries that have seen war and genocide, the act of forgetting is never seen as harmless by people. Quite the contrary, in fact. The film succeeds perfectly in contextualising Anamika's helplessness and hurt within the cruel slippages of memory.
But as much as this film is sympathetic towards Anamika, there is never an attempt to showcase Sadhana as a unidimensional villain here. The writers of Goldfish also manage to display an acute sensitivity to Sadhana's side of the story, be it in her loneliness or the hardships she had to endure in raising Anamika as a single mother. In one of the film's more cruel yet poetic ironies, Sadhana is seen as a warm, loving person to so many other people who are not Anamika. A corner shop owner. A friend of thirty years. A Caucasian student of classical music who drops in from time to time. A character in the film is seen talking about experiencing postpartum depression. Referring to her child, she says, "I did not dislike him, he just took everything out of me. Everything I had." And in that moment, you can also understand why Sadhana felt the way she felt about Anamika and motherhood. The film, despite meandering here and there, maintains its drama at crucial moments, especially in a very beautiful closing scene. The fact that one empathises with both Anamika and Sadhana, who are played with such realness and dignity by both Kalki and Deepti Naval is one of the film's biggest victories. For all the whirlpools of remembering and forgetting this goldfish swirls in, we walk out of this film with the takeaway that the best way to live alongside the ghosts of our past is by not forgetting or holding on, but by forgiving and letting go.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
(The review originally appeared on cinemaexpress.com)