{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Friday, April 28, 2006


Bala is a child of about 7-8 years, he is not privileged and he needs help. Nobody knows about his parents and people like to call him orphan. In some cases, they think that he is suffering from some incurable disease, in other cases, he shows a great desire to be educated and want to be helped, in yet other cases, he is survivor of some tsunami or a remote earthquake or a refugee from Bangladesh or Sri lanka - some needy alien. Bala needs helps in all the cases and we can give him that ray of hope, we can reach out and hold his hands, take a walk.

Come December, the brightest and the sharpest of minds draw the portrait of a young child as a destitute and Bala is born yet again on paper in 300 words essays, where vivid human stories are sketched. Bala becomes the face of poor and the author - the savior of the human face. Bala becomes the first effort to bring a big difference in society by the author, his first successful campaign, we are afraid others are not far away. Usually these essays, the eloquent treatise on humanity and love which they are, closes with a lovely quotation or a heart rending line which outlines the pleasure in the eyes of Bala when the author last spoke to him. Bala smiles his pain away.

It has been long argued that Bala is the most successful fictional character with moving power of metamorphosis to any concept of plight and misfortune, bringing great fortune for the author. No application gets a closure with Bala and his friends frolicking with hope and love. In return Bala gets ample help but like any regular poor soul everything remains on paper with envelopes closed.

With all the support, Bala remains poor and needy, has stopped growing, and is always thinking of howling and beating his tin drum. He even wishes to die before he is helped to death. He is always worried about the unforeseen plights he will be put in next, how many times they will kill his parents or make him consume gift wrapped despair. Next December, his parents may be killed by the maoists or submerge in Narmada basin or he may even loose a leg in a fire accident - creativity has no bars, when driven by desire to win.

He has given up hope that he can ever be both happy and useful. He sometimes grows happy that someone real can take his place but the next moment learns about the impossibility of such hope, the mortality of any such soul vis-a-vis the durability of his virtual plight. Bala exists, december to december, in perfect poverty, with desperately indigent eyes. He is always made to play his next part with required melancholy. As an art, chronicles of Bala are evolving. This time he was not allowed to weep because its too melodramatic, he was made to simmer and simmer. He already feels an expert of emotional prostitution.

Last time when Bala got some chocolates and a pack of crayons from an aspiring professional, he is filled with an irresistible desire to go back to his mother's womb or somewhere faraway from help and hope . Not that he despises hope or fear losing it, nor little sweets irritates him, its the look of smugness on the face of the donor that kills him, the satisfaction of doing his bit, the sex drive of an impotent, the divine smile of screwing a little soul, muffled for eternity.

A normal day with bright sunshine, the playful movements of young limbs, a mango eating orgy - these are some of the episodes which Bala will never experience in his life of eternal childhood. He is too good to be of any fun value, this child laborer is into some serious business catering to big bosses. But as they say, for all practical purposes, you must picture Bala smiling with warmth, and waving for help.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Demons of Dams

The amount of agitating force is equal to the weight of people displaced - Archimedes revisited

Mr. Modi replied each and every question on the name of some five crore people of Gujrat and in the name of development (using pompous phrases like Rastriya Nirman, Rastriya Pragati and Rastriya Asmita ) and sentiments attached to them. He also linked the people against the dam as against the people of Gujrat (reminiscent of Bush's rhetoric, "with us or against us"). He issued naked threats to those who are against him and he said that he will win because god and 5 crore thirsty Gujaratis are with him. Just to clarify, I don't have any hard feeling or personal grudge against the people of Gujrat and I strongly hope they should never reach the stupidity levels of the people of other states but Mr. Modi is pushing them too hard to cross that legal stupidity limit and with power and god backing him, as he claims, no one can stop his asinine blabbering.

Yesterday, after the SC verdict on the Sardar Sarovar Project came, Mr. Modi didn't loose a minute to sip the juice of victory and to give a full throated speech that seriously put in doubt the sincerity of his 51 hr fast. All news channels went crazy to toggle between reports from Gujarat where Mr. Modi was going to end his fast and Jantar Mantar where Medha Patkar was about to call off her 20 days hunger strike, till they split the screen to show the enemies side by side, the pompous big saffron colored stage of Modi and the clapping and singing clan at Jantar Mantar.

On more interesting thing going on TV are the debates on the celebrity associations on such high-octane socio-political issues. The biggest name, being Aamir Khan, who has earlier came with his Rang de Basanti crew to hear the grievances of the effected and promptly held a press conference to tell the world about it. Yesterday and the day before, news channels were airing Aamir's appeal to the RDB-infected youth of India like Coca cola commercials. In one such debate, Nalini Singh (from the good ol' doordarshan days) questioned the credibility of a celebrity, who endorses package tours, Swiss watches and credit cards on one day and switches to issues like low water table or global warming the other day, without required knowledge and hence a commitment to those issues on the part of the celebrity, her argument infuriated Mr. Rahul Bose, also on the panel of discussion, who claimed that he can answer the questionnaire from NBA at any moment and pass the test with distinction. Later I found out the real reason for his sweet anger, the watch brand he recently endorsed.

Anyway, the point was whether these celebrities bring such issues to notice - may be yes - but what good it does to the movement. Irrespective of my low respect for Mr. Khan and his troupe, his knowledge on the issue seemed very shallow (as a matter of fact, Mr. Bose was very well informed on the issue and had a better stand than Mr. Khan, may be because he has lesser scripts to read and lesser public to please). And Dare-I-say that Mr Khan seemed a counterpart of Modi, speaking to stir the emotions with his appeal to youth (why he only appealed the youth might be addressed in a separate post). The day before yesterday, he was seen on TV saying that the displaced should be compensated and the height of the dam should not be increased and now he seems quite happy and all with the SC verdict (may be his lawyer has given him some dose from the chapter called 'Contempt of Court'), which he called victory of humanity and thinks the rehab can be done in next three months (as a comic book hero, he even assured the masses that he will be back after 3 months and will see that progress has been made or not, or otherwise he will again appeal to the youth), such optimism is kiddish, given that fact that nothing is done in last 20 years.

When I was watching all this, my heart sank with a thought that it might strike to Aamir's creative mind to make a film on the plight of the displaced, which will eventually emotionalize, regionalize and trivialize the issue and given his commitment to the commercial well-being of the film, its happy ending - the victory of the poor souls - might paint a picture that the poor have, in reality, won the battle and all those fans who are thinking about the issue (in purely emotional terms) because the smart and the successful Aamir is listening to the poorest of the people with a serious face, will close the book with a satisfactory smile that the justice is done. It should not be story like this - he came, he hijacked, all died in peace.

Mr. Modi , again shamelessly, came out against Aamir Khan saying that where was he when Kashmiri Pundits were displaced (seems that Mr. Modi is the happiest of the lot that Kashmiri pundits were displaced, otherwise where else he can get other such common reason to sweep every other issue) and advised him to stick to his song and dance routine, and also issued threats to him in public (his party workers took the hint and did what they are best at). Mr. Modi had also said that the voice of the common man who is getting benefited from the project is shadowed by the English speaking celebrities. He must remember himself giving speeches in lyrical English to woo the Gujrati NRI community and the multinational in his Vibrant Gujrat campaign. His loathe for English and his desperate effort to strike an emotional balance between the crowd pulling swadeshi-rant and multinational wet dreams, looks partially like a kiddo who has not read his test book on American policies and politics, rebuking the protest against Bush's visit to India, and suggesting this and partially as a house wife who can not look as beautiful as a popular actress despite her several effots, ends up calling her a whore.

The only voice among all the chaos, which has its logic intact, the consistency and the preciseness that addresses the issue with sincerity and urgency is that of Arundhati Roy. Listening to the SC verdict, she said she is not feeling victorious, she said she is rather feeling vindicated that what has been said by NBA for years is put on papers by the SC, she told that she is not optimistic of the judgment because it seems just another way to delay the real judgment, she said the 5 crore people of Gujrat that Mr. Modi talk about with great emotions will not get much out of the project because only 9-10% water is given to Kutch and Saurashtra, and that too will go to big players, she said the celebrities are welcome like any other common man to join the movement but they need to gain knowledge and thus commitment to the cause with time (Mr. Khan should take it as an advice and start his homework), she told to look at the other face of development, she ridiculed Mr. Modi in most beautifully appropriate words and called his hunger strike a 'Crash diet'.

This doesn't merely seem to be a tale of fasts and false propagandas, this shows how emotional and regional sentiments and prejudices rule over anything else, this shows how it is bad to be against government and the powerful especially when you are poor, this explains how one can be termed anti development activist if he speaks for those displaced by a huge developmental scheme, this shows that even 20 years is an inadequate time to bring something committed on papers to ground, this might explain who are maoists and where they come from, from where they are displaced and where they will go now.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Happy Souls

As long as we cruised safe, with our sails waving
As long as we roamed fine, with our friends raving

We don't care, we haven't done anything, we are sure
We don't care, we are happy and we are pure

We never go to muddy places, we just turn on our ACs
Do we look the running types, however we have tied our laces

Please don't see us, with such horror, such disdain
This may shock us, alarm us, may even give us pain

Come to our complete comfort, here is a simple solution
Lets save our soul, lets live, lets take a little resolution

Hey dear, in shabby shoes, you question against sweet life
Love it, live it, don't treat it like your own wife

For those who find sourness in this blissful nectar
For those who search shadows under the projector

For those who show care for those who don't care
For those who can't even wear a happiness layer

Those are the people whom we should definitely aim
Catch hold of them gently, love them and tame

The dearest love may be used to the best of uses
Is human, should love, there are no excuses

We can picture you happy, why can't you
We can give you best of cud that you can ever chew

The valiant doors of heaven, will fell ashamed
When they look to the glory of the days, we framed

A mind can't fathom, what a heart may feel in a beat
Listen to it, my dear, it can never cheat

Take a leap into eternity, bring your families along
Wake up, stand and go, where you happy souls belong

Lo dear, our future is looking exceedingly bright
With gods and govts on our side, who dare can fight

So, come to us, why think, become one
So, come to us, there is no dearer fun

I bet, you will also say such sweet poems to one and all
You will sing them in tune, if you find anyone standing tall

Such is the bliss of this ordinary life
With happiness galore and pleasure rife

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Almodóvar's Volver

The poster of latest Almodóvar movie, Volver, looks really cool. Check out more on the film's page and it seems that the film is based on what Almodóvar calls 'culture of death' !

This article from guardian briefly talks about the other contenders at Cannes, along with Volver.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Son

There are some questions we should ask ourselves before proceeding. How much can we strip down a film to make it look real, very common given it doesn't become life less. And do we really need some sort of ending for a movie or it can end with some hints, may be suggesting that there are no easy answers or raising more questions or suggesting that the cycle goes on and on. This weekend I saw a movie called The Son, by the Dardenne Brothers and I was forced to ask myself some of these questions. Usually I give any film a gestation period of about 20-25 mins and then I start to show the signs of losing my patience, but this movie did not have any action (physical or mental or metaphysical) till 35-40 mins of the film has passed given its 100 min of running length, and it ends rather unexpectedly, it looked like an abrupt cut even though the camera was rolling and actors were still acting their parts and all this happen in the simplest of the settings, but nothing here is simple and probably therefore this film has some unique brilliance of a suspense hidden in heads of common characters and a very human plot of crime, revelation and redemption (may be).

The Son is a story about a guy, Olivier, who teaches carpentry in a workshop, and one day a young boy, Francis, comes to enroll in his class whom he recognizes as his son's killer, but accepts him in his class. They come closer and Francis, who has undergone a prison sentence for five years and is unknown of the real identity of Olivier, asks him to be his guardian. Will Olivier accept his proposal, Will Francis come to know about Olivier, Will Olivier take a revenge or pardon him, etc. etc. Given these question hovering over our minds and hearts, the last part of the movie manages to have a high tension with a sort of suspense and mystery. But we are not aided by any acting tricks or background sound effect, or the use of other sounds originating from the film itself to some special use ( I actually thought that in a normal film they will use all the carpentry set to make strange sounds to heighten the emotions, like an unrelenting hammering when the father will encounter his son's killer, but fortunately nothing like that happens, there are hammering sounds but they are used for drawing nails into planks). The directors have shown a no-frills-attached use of camera, which actually follows the characters, almost literally and that's why we usually see them from their backs. In the end, the movie becomes a sort of a road movie, owing to the paths of discovery and revelations these characters are going through, and at this time this movie hooks you, partly because of the excellent acting by Olivier Gourmet, with most common looks and mannerisms, who takes the role of a teacher, a father, a guardian simultaneously, left alone to consider his past and deal with the present and partly because of the moral dilemma that we are forced to face. The film is loaded with Christian notion of forgiveness as this review points out but whatever may be, this film puts other films based on similar notions to severe shame, owing to its total refusal to gratify its audience and its undeniable power of devastation.

I think the phases like 'Bressonian Grace', 'Miraculous perspicuity', 'Interlaced simplicity' and 'Extreme understatement' are invented for such types of films, and all this pompous inscrutable jargon, if used with sincerity, suggest a bow to the images that viewer has seen which he is unable to articulate fully. To put it more clearly, the inability to translate simple images into simple sentences, without going on to a philosophical mode. A reviewer can talk about the motifs behind the images, or a subjective stand on one of the dimensions of the film or one of the specific sequence but such images are practically untranslatable in totality. And all this looks like a miracle, because these images are really simple. Even Bergman at a certain point lamented that cinema is an art second to literature, such films, whether good or bad, brings images to the fore front -- a gaze into the driveway, a flick of an eyeball, a drop of perspiration on forehead, a tilt of the nape, the wide spectrum of split second emotions on the canvass of face, the normal street with a thousand chores going on, a classroom with various degrees of inattentiveness, the colors of the sky, a child stepping from one stone to other, all are images with innumerous meanings and manifestations that a viewer has independence to interpret depending upon the degrees of freedom that a director grants him.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Fellini Fellini !!

I saw Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits this weekend. This movie restored my faith in him and also made me think of some of the post 8 1/2 movies (Amarcord and Satyricon) by Fellini that I have seen and had a hard time digesting, especially Satyricon. Amarcord was fine but I thought it was not up to the reputation and expectation that I associate with Fellini after watching his earlier masterpieces like Nights of Cabiria and La Strada. In Juliet of the Spirits, Fellini seemed to be in full form and fuller control of his unique Felliniesque ability and above all, this film is bigger than the sum of its parts, where you get a satiating after-taste when the end credits roll out.

In Satyricon, the biggest trouble I encountered is to weave together all the disjoint set pieces which in themselves have meaning and some depth too but for the whole movie they seemed just another soulless and empty episode only, and as I have begin to believe from films like Nights of Cabiria and La Dolce Vita, all the earlier episodes and journeys under taken by the main protagonist should lead to a sort of discovery by the character and by the viewer, but that "baring out" doesn't happen in Satyricon and it does happen to a small extent in Amarcord.

By the way the endings of both the movies are marvelous. In Satyricon, the movie ends with its main characters engraved in a wall painting (fresco) like the epics in the book pages, that was satisfying in a way that it made those characters as model of that decadent era. In Amarcord (which is the funniest film by Fellini, I ever saw) the film ends with a usual Fellini piece where in the backdrop of a boisterous marriage party, our teenage hero, who has lost his mother, gazes the sea and the sky, a silent leap from teenage to adulthood takes place while the magnificent Nino Rota music plays on, and as the best of Fellini's endings it manages to be heart-breaking and life affirming as the same time. I must say I have still to see a bad ending by Fellini, he manages grace in his canvasses with free flowing life music.

But Satyricon, with those elegant set pieces, huge number of strange characters, disjoint episodes, self indulgent fantasies, Greek metaphors, the films gets lost, probably to the same degree as the decadent society it portrays. All the felliniesque carnage of beauty and ugliness juxtaposed together, captures the film, instead of liberating it. As a viewer, I have dirty habit of asking why this scene is there and is it required, and I lose interest in watching just the adventures of the main characters. The films like Satyricon spends too much time in those adventures. The adventure part of Amarcord is better played and the freedom of such adventure is counter balanced by the tension of growing fascism in a small town of Italy.

After watching Juliet of the Spirits, I was trying to re-think about about those two films. The first thing that comes to my mind is use of color and screen by Fellini. Its like a painter using his canvass and brush dipped in a iridescent palette. Every screen capture from his colored films can be a painting in itself whether it is the welcome scene of fascists in Amarcord by the local voluptuous beauty and school children or the wedding at sea or labyrinth scene in Satyricon. Sometimes such episodes are put out of nowhere, but nonetheless magnificent depicted. In Satyricon there are several such unrelated montages. Such set pieces are obviously larger than life and at times grotesque, like the party scene in Satyricon where the phony art lovers engages themselves in a big feast with exotic food and erotic dancers and every one with such costumes that are as grandiose as the masterly lighted and inventive set pieces. The result is quiet weird which can be delightful for some and may be even disgusting for the others but whole film emerges as a big bawdy whorehouse without any inhibition, but all of colorful imagination.

Amarcord plays on a much safer area where Fellini ventures into his nostalgic account of his hometown Rimini, his alter-ego, our young protagonist grows up in the onset of fascism but in the hands of Fellini, the growing up along side with Fascism become a journey and an experience rather than a history lesson. In one of the finest and most emotional scene of the film, the visit by father and son to the hospital where the ailing mother (sure about her condition) talks with her son for the last time, Fellini manages a blissful sadness, the first ever experienced by our young hero and his discovery that as the life goes by there are many more twilights to come. Fellini is the master of imagery, I remember this scene from Amarcord. A peacock roaming and dancing in the snow, the puffs of snow falling, the view of the sea, sea liner and a vast sky, and a blind man crying out " What's it like, what's it like ?". Marvelous! When I saw the movie for the first time, I missed some of its finer points, Amarcord is like life, frank (may be too frank at times), perplexing, funny, at times enigmatic, at times frightening and all the time going on, like life.