There are now enough movies about dementia to constitute a sub-genre of their own. As Pushan Kripalani’s Goldfish movingly demonstrates, there can never be enough of these films.
Goldfish was premiered at the Busan International Film Festival earlier this year and has been selected for the International Film Festival of India in Goa. Set in London in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the mostly English-language film is a beautifully performed two-hander between Kalki Koechlin and Deepti Naval with memorable cameos by British and Indian actors.
Sadhana (Naval) has one foot in the door that opens out to the hellish realm of memory loss and speech disruption. Summoned by Sadhana’s neighbour after a domestic mishap, Anamika (Koechlin) returns to a mother whom she resents for reasons both trivial and significant.
The screenplay, by Pushan Kripalani and Arghya Lahiri, is finely attuned to the symptoms of atrophy, both in Sadhana’s mind and the mother-daughter relationship. If the mother wants to remember, the daughter wishes to forget. The bickering between Sadhana and Anamika is peculiar to their past as well as familiar to anyone approaching that vulnerable point where parents begin to resemble children and children must double up as parents.
Should Sadhana be sent to a care home? This heart-wrenching choice, the source of drama in films like Away From Her, Still Alice and The Father, is complicated by a secret harboured by Sadhana and Anamika’s unstable personal life. Goldfish delivers some hard truths about a situation that is debilitating for the afflicted as well as their carers (your mother will take you down with you, Anamika’s boyfriend tells her).
Set mostly indoors in Sadhana’s London home, the screenplay works well as a play too. The makers do find ways to make Anamika move around. Anamika’s escape valves include her neighbours, a delightful bunch that includes the nurse Laxmi (Bharti Patel) and the grocery store owner Ashwin (Rajit Kapur). Bharti Patel, in particular, is a standout.
The film is dominated by Kalki Koechlin’s blistering performance, which she deftly dials down in the quieter scenes. While sharp words are exchanged between mother and daughter, one of the most touching moments is bereft of dialogue – Anamika helping Sadhana wear a sari.