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

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Synecdoche, New York

No doubt, Charlie Kaufman is a fertile mind, but in films, fertility is not the richness of ideas, but it is the richness of images. It is sad that a film about exploration of a complex artistic mind and his obsession with death and decay, is so devoid of color that the only color I remembered as I came out of theatre was green - the color of poo in one of the scenes. One does not expect death and decay to be vibrant but toning all the colors down so that it all looks like everything happens in a glare of white light is sterile. In films, Kafkaesque does not translate to black and white, nor seeking truth translate to a character shouting "I won't settle for anything less than the brutal truth". Its a classic trap where darkness of an idea translates to aridity of images. Synecdoche, New York is a film where images are sacrificed for ideas.

It might be something personal but I am not very comfortable with films obsessed with self-obsession of an artist, especially when the central character is supposedly director's alter-ego. The only thing that saves such films is not honesty or truthfulness or brutality of self-examination (how bitter can an artist get), but irony and humor. That is why I am not a big fan of 8 1/2, but that film has anecdotes, images and irony, not just a bundle of ideas.

To its credit, Synecdoche, New York has many of Charlie Kaufman's brilliant themes which he explored in his previous screenwriting efforts. There is a very clear idea of the baggage of body that we carry with our mind and soul. But here too, Kaufman missteps because he forgets that he is dealing with film medium where images of faces and body are the index of ideas, if we do not take an easy way out of reading monologues and voice overs. And in the first 30 mins or so, Kaufman uses faces and bodies to show characters inner traumas, like a blister on the skin doubles for anxiety or decay. This ideas of body and mind, of self image and projected image, and their superimposition, become much more interesting later in the film where Kaufman use a cinematic device of using several actors to play a single character thus creating a playful drama, and pumping his big ideas in between.

I think, Synecdoche, New York has an excellent material for a film, but it is not such a good film. There are several moments of brilliance, like the episode where stories of two daughters merge (I do not want to give more details and spoil it) together so that we examine the life of one of the characters again, a character that we have written off long before because we were so into the central story, which in turn tells us the pitfalls of being self-obsessed, and ignoring the complexity of other human lives.

Do not be deterred by what I am saying (it is a very personal opinion), Synecdoche, New York certainly deserves to be seen at least once. I am just wary about the idea of film about ideas where images are considered secondary. Its like when you close your eyes after watching a film, what comes to you - an image or an idea. Even in Bergman's many monologues, the camera shamelessly scrutinizes the images of faces. A slight quiver or grimace on Liv Ullman's expressive face is more telling than the potent voiceover. Needless to say, I am not talking about shocking or pretty poster images, I am talking about the moving close up of Vera Drake sitting with her whole family at dinner table, when she comes to know that she is charged with a crime. I am talking about the end sequence of Suspiria where our heroine enters the mural maze. I am talking about the back view of Maggie Cheung as walks down the stairs in In the Mood for Love. I am talking about all the joys and zest of moving images surpassing words or explanations.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Random Notes and Updates

I am seeing fewer films now. Last film that I saw was WALL-E and there too I missed the beginning and ending so it does not even count. Last week I saw Mithya which I think is very good. I need to see it again to write about it in detail but I am already impressed by its handling of familiar Bollywood themes and narrative devices in a new way, and beyond that managing to be a moving (and sad) love story. Few months back I saw Hitchcock's The Birds and since then I am thinking on and off about it and mostly how Hitchcock manages to have two parallel films in one film - one narrative and one psychological - and what is amazing is that he never sacrifices one for others benefit, that is to say he respects all his audience and thats where I feel some of films lose confidence in cinematic medium by either mellowing it down heavily for audience or making assumptions that audience would never get that so why even try.

It is not the question of finding a middle ground. What Hitchcock shows is that both can be achieved. I understand that it is not applicable to all type of films but at least noirs and thrillers are tried and tested ground. I might not be making much sense, but I am just blown by The Birds, and I also saw Marnie few months before it and it was great too, but I am still not very sure about its end. It was too much explaining which I thought belittled Marnie's emotions and her past, and also the complex sexual relationships that the film builds. It almost came out as a Freudian medical document for a while. But visually it was flawless and then there are those great Hitctcockian scenes like the one where Marnie rides a horse and when it breaks its leg after falling, she shoots it. That is again an excellent example of what I stupidly referred to as 'parallel films'.

I was also reading Andre Bazin's book on Orson Welles with foreword by François Truffaut and an introduction by Jean Cocteau. It is very precise study of Welles' film, philosophy and legacy. I thought Bazin would be very scholarly and dry but he always keeps it interesting. Also, one more thing that I liked a lot is that Bazin never try to be an authority on Welles like these new age film writers who after writing a book on any famous director, and giving few DVD commentaries try to own the director. While explaining Welles cinema he freely quotes from other critics and directors. Along with it, I was reading Godard on Godard. It has collection of articles by Godard from his Cahiers de Cinema critic period and also essay on his films and on film medium in general. A very knowledgeable and critical book, time and time again, even without saying, it emphasizes to know history of cinema to really get it. Its involve pasts - of persons, of nations, or culture and of art itself.

Being one of the youngest art forms it gives us a unique privilege to see cinema grow in front of us and it is indeed a prism through which we can try to understand the growth of any cultural medium and how it encompasses both - the cutting edge crap and the ultimate beauty. I have not completed the book but reading the reviews by Godard excites one about possibilities of cinema and it definitely paints a portrait of a young man in love with cinema. His reviews are enthusiastic, sometimes even using hyperbole, especially when he passionately writes about films of Nicholas Ray (Those famous quotes “And the cinema is Nicholas Ray” and “If the cinema no longer existed, Nicholas ray alone gives the impression of being capable of reinventing it, and what is more, of wanting to”). I, myself, am quite vary of over-enthusiastic reviews – reviews where critical facilities are either blinded by, or defensively used to justify personal liking (beware of the fanboys). Those reviews often seem to be exercises to prove reviewers opinion of the film – as if merely stating the opinion and supporting it logically is not good enough (Read reviews of last year’s No Country for Old Men and this year The Dark Knight might be the film). More often than not, Godard’s enthusiasm is for cinema and so quite healthy.

When we are at that, let me go little overboard and write something about the type of critics and criticism I like. My idea of a critic is foremost a moral being – it is a mandatory requirement – everything else follows next. If he is not moral, he will end up praising a Nazi Propaganda film because it is cinematically spectacular. Related to being a moral being, that person should have a strong and open heart. By strong and open heart I mean, he does not get carried away by emotional trickery but he does not miss the right note, when it strikes – no matter how low it is. It is that proverbial heart that cuts the crap and get the gem out. He should know the medium well – its history, its technique and its power – and to know it, he should be very diligent – read, eat and see films all the time. Also he should be able to foresee a film’s brilliance. It is an outcome if the critic has all the prior qualities and it is also to do with a critic’s ability to be brave and say what he feels like and his refusal to be part of “critical consensus” and admire the film for the right reason. And of course, he should love the medium.

As you must have noticed by now where I am going. In my stupid opinion, a film critic must be all moral, all knowing, all seeing entity, and if I may call him so without scaring folks, a god-like figure. And that’s where I fail, what where I forget that we are in a world which is run by people not gods. And that where I set a high bar and look up someone to give me opinions on how I feel or I should I have. Its little more tricky than this, you may like a bunch of critics or artists, which may collectively become god to you, the one who knows all, the one who sees all, the one who feels all, but it is certain that your god will fail you sooner or later, and it is same for you too. As one sees/reads more and more, he might think he raised his standards artistically, but most of the times we are just intelligent enough to distinguish between cinema verite and candid camera. Because of this itch to "get" the film sooner, most of the times, judging comes first, and feeling next, at least for me. I hope I can reverse it.

Along with it, I am seeing lots of South Park, and I really like it. I did not like the South Park film much which I then thought was quite uninteresting in second half, but few of the episodes are "super awesome", to use Cartman's phrase. I think two of the best episodes are about sports - Stanley's Cup and The Losing Edge - both of which satires the team spirit, sportsmanship and associated public hysteria for sports. My other two favorites are about our obsession with video games and its characters - Good Times with Weapons and Make Love, Not Warcraft.

Coming back to film, few weeks back I saw Jonathan Demme's The Truth About Charlie. May be I saw it wholly in a Hitchcock frame of mind and therefore thought of the whole plot as McGuffin. The director uses the whole plot as an excuse to show Paris and to show his idea of romance and romantic city. A beautiful woman, Regina (played with old Hollywood grace by Thandie Newton) is in Paris and gets involved in the criminal past of her recently deceased husband and the money he left, where she is helped by a mysterious man whom she falls in love without knowing his identity. Again this film falls in 'two parallel films' theory but here one of the film overpowers the other. The suspense and the thrill doesn’t hold up to the romance in the air, or may be its just for me. Looked to me as if Demme’s whole heart is in romance and he was just cheerleading the thrills.

And at last I saw Paul Verhoeven’s cult classic Showgirls and it is indeed an excellent film. I was so impressed that I saw two more of Verhoeven’s films – Starship Troopers and RoboCop – both of them are good, Robocop slightly better than Starship Troopers, but none of them is as good as Showgirls. All of them are parodies not so much of current culture of show business, media hype, nationalism and militarism, but of story ideas bred out of these concepts, so these films can even be considered as parodies of our ideas of narrative, where things fall in places at odd moments to augment our emotional responses and to give us a feel of a story. Like Showgirls is a parody of the story idea “a star is born” or “that sexy go-getter bitch”, RoboCop is of “a hero savior” and Starship Troopers is of “the world is ours” or “shoot that alien”. What Verhoeven does it to add lots of humor into it and its that kind of humor which is considered sick and enjoying it more so. During the audition scene in Showgirls, one of the male manager asks a topless girl “I am erect, why are not you?.” The sex and nudity of Verhoeven’s film is not without purpose, they are obviously for titillation and he does not mask his intentions. I think, he is one of most shameless and fearless directors we have, but if you watch carefully his parodies are not without moral center. Last year I saw some of his more open Dutch films. The Fourth Man is very good and some sort of a homoerotic version of Basic Instinct. Soldier of Orange is quite good too. I also saw first 20 mins of Black Book but I don’t feel too keen to complete it.

Other than that, I saw three short films by Mike Kuchar. Mike Kuchar is considered the master of camp by many and his films are act of Vandalism, a form of good natured sabotage, as he explains his idea of camp in an interview. It will take long to discuss his films and whatever little I saw of his work, he has some resemblance to Guy Maddin's work. It may not be at a thematic level but somewhere they both cross their paths and even walk together for a while. A good write-up on him and his brother George Kushar here. After seeing his films I tried to read Susan Sontag's celebrated Essay on camp, which did not make much sense to me, mainly because my basic idea of camp is a way to fight intellectual dissection of ideas and when Camp as an idea is intellectually dissected, its looks like homage to Bresson by adapting his film for theatre. Also, I recently watched Terry Zwigoff's thought provoking film on R. Crumb. I am now trying to get some Crumb comics in my library (I doubt it though) or internet. More on that later.

Pic: Illustration by R. Crumb. Image source.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Paul Taylor's Eventide

Few weeks back I saw Matthew Diamond's Oscar nominated documentary, Dancemaker, which takes a look at ace choreographer Paul Taylor and his dance company. It has few amazing dances and their behind the scene stories. This one is called Eventide and is my favorite. I also like Paul Taylor's commentory during this dance.

The other favorite from the documentary is here. After seeing this docu, I also felt how criminally underrated Altman's The Company is. In the recent films which I have seen, none captures the pains and the pleasures of a Performance, on and off the stage, as The Company does. Now Dancemaker stands on the same podium. One more film about dance and music which is an absolute favorite is Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Jaur Se Baaz Aaye...

Jaur Se Baaz Aaye, Par Baaz Aayein Kya ?

One of my other favorite here. Lyrics here.

mujhe hum-safar bhi mila koi tu shikasta haal meri tarha
kai manziloo.n ka thaka howa, kahee.n raaste main luta howa

Monday, March 31, 2008

Hiatus... and Films...

Its been over a month that I have blogged and in fact I never even thought of any need or felt any urge to blog. This sufficiently tells us the weak foundations on which this blog rests, or rather sleeps. Last time, when I started to write something to post with urgency but quickly discarded was about a brilliant film that I saw almost by accident. I had seen Who's Camus Anyway? laying in Chicago Library racks for long but never picked it up (now I think of it, I attribute this to its title (which in my opinion is the weakest thing about the film). I thought of it as an intellectual pseudo-serious student film). I am glad that I read Ed Gonzalez's (one of my favorite critics, he is thoughtful, incisive and unafraid to go wrong) praises of this film and I picked it over Makhmalbaf's The Silence (Nice film but little too beautiful, I should not say this I even smelt some bad breath of Theo Angelopoulos in few scenes).

One of the main reasons for not seeing as many films as I see and thus not blogging at all is the turbulence in my professional life. Since things were related to work, it was easy going, but also time consuming and uninspiring. As shameful as it seems, I did not even see 10 films in March, and I was always meek in my choices, trying to see easy going comedies or re-watching things passively. In the course of events, I left Chicago two weeks back and came to a small town in Indiana, thus further reducing my chances to see good films. Chicago, though not New York, was a place for film buffs, where every international film sooner or later hits either Gene Siskel, Music Box or Landmark Century Cinema, and backed with big Harold Washington Library DVD section, one can cover a lot. Gene Siskel was a great place and I saw three great documentaries there last year- Into Great Silence, Lake of Fire and Manufactured Landscapes - I liked them in that order.

Actually I liked them so much that I saw each of them twice. Lake of Fire turns brilliant in its last reels where director raises the film above pro-life/pro-choice voices and shows us how a woman going through abortion given all the support of the father of the child (at least at the time) and the care of the doctor feels. When after undergoing an abortion, she bravely starts weeping in front of the camera, pro-life/pro-choice merge and evaporate into something which is beyond such questions - the human trauma of being a mother in such a situation. Similarly, in Manufactured Landscapes' brilliant opening tracking shot of a Chinese manufacturing unit assembly line brings the main voice of the film - although highly beautiful and tightly composed these landscapes are manufactured and underneath them lies something free and natural. In one of the episodes which shows the construction of the biggest dam project in China and how it displaced thousands of people, the irony comes forth in a matter-of-fact way when people who were evacuated gets job for livelihood to break and clear away their own houses, to create these manufactured landscapes. Also, the pitch perfect photography of the documentary - anything from colorful landscapes of area overexploited for natural resources to the stack of computer waste piled like a modern art piece - makes us wonder what beauty means to us when we see these pictures segregated from their context.

On a visual level, Into Great Silence creates a space of peace and tranquility, and aligns itself to the rhythm of its subject, whether it is the repetitiveness of their day to day activities or their minimal interaction with each other. Into Great Silence, to me, is a possibility of such existence, which is very life affirming. Seeing this film second time (when you are not seeing it for anything but experiencing it on visceral level) was one of the highlights of my 2007 film watching.

Coming back to my favorite film this year (2008) yet, Who's Camus Anyway?, its film about a bunch of students trying to make a film on Camus' The Stranger. This film is as much about Camus' existential themes, as it is about film making, and to complete the arc, as much about the players involved in film making, on and off the sets. As you can see, all this gives the director, Mitsuo Yanagimachi, enough freedom to explore the idea of fiction, reality and their relation to film-making. In Fassbinder's minor effort Beware of the Holy Whore, he was more concerned with the manipulative master-slave relationship between the disinterested cast and sadomasochistic smug director and to some extent about how films are reflection of that but not how films represent reality or even better, how reality and fiction are inseparable when we talk about films. There are several high points in Who's Camus Anyway?, the first is the opening tracking shot which not only reminds us of Altman's The Player but even talks about it, and obviously the climax where film plays an is-it-real-or-not game with the audiences while the most crucial scene of the film is shot. It becomes scary and reliving breath by breath and I started questioning why I even liked the lame and one dimensional provocations of Haneke in Funny Games. The director of Who's Camus Anyway? is not punishing his audience or not even condescending them, but at that same time, with enough cinematic power, showing how the images lie but also how they are the only truth you have when you see a film - a free form experiment of both the powers and limits of cinema.

But my favorite scene from the film comes midway. Here one character playfully starts to read some sort of psychoanalysis report of film's lead character (based on The Stranger’s Meursault) and after few seconds other voice (this time a grim voice of a girl, with little music in the backgroud) starts to read the opening paragraph of The Stranger and slowly, with the dual voices reading symptom and analysis, the camera moves where a bunch of students are playing cello and flute and all these voices converge into a scariest snare, as the camera move towards darkness. For me, this scene works purely on cinematic level, it has no relation to the narrative or the character arc, but I must say this was my cinematic high of the year, yet to be topped.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Best Hindi films of 2007

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more - Food Critic Anton Ego in his final review of Gusteau's in Ratatouille.

Excerpting this does not mean that any serious criticism is done in this space, but to bring the idea of "discovery and defense of the new". Of all the Hindi films I saw this year, the best ones were from the young directors (most of them making their first films). Also one more reason why Anton Ego's review is evoked here is the effect art has on its audience. When Anton Ego tastes Remy's Ratatouille preparation, something unexpected happens, in a very delightful (even Proustian) montage, Ego's simple childhood memories come back. Not only that they bridge the present to a past of smell and taste, but for that moment, a critic becomes an audience, he is not there to detach and judge, but to involve and get the pleasure. This is what happens when you see a good film. Also, Ego's comments on criticism bring about what I do not like in any art (criticism is a form of art) - arrogance. It is not exactly the arrogance of opinions, but it’s the arrogance of an artist that kill the art if it is reflected there.

Also this defense of new is also about new ideas, contents and approach to film medium. Also, as I have understood, it is not necessary for a artist to know and see and get inspired by all of the great cinema of the world, but it is indispensable to know the medium for what it is i.e. an awareness of the film as a medium of communication and what’s its toolbox. Although it can be both, but the film medium should not be confused either as a mass medium for entertainment or social medium for mass propaganda because (let me state the obvious but important thing) it is be first and foremost about images (or to be more correct, images in motion [motion pictures]) - the way they are associated with each other, the way they spark up in combination with other art forms like music, acting, lighting etc - i.e. its a visual medium, like literature is about language and theatre is about performance. Whenever a young director shows this understanding, hope for the medium surges. So here is my pick of five best Hindi films of 2007. I know, its coming a little late but I wanted to see few more films (and few films again) to make the final list.

5. Jhoon Barabar Jhoom (Dir. Shaad Ali)

Half of Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is about the fantasy of its two lead characters, but as they say that you can only imagine what you have seen, it is actually about real persons these characters know which they put in fantastical situation. Since it is a big Bollywood film, and true to its nature, the fantasies are all about love and marriage. Given all this, JBJ brilliantly manages to put everything that Bollywood offers to its benefit, be it song, dance, overblown fantasies of romance. Also, for the audience it is not only a guilty pleasure, but also tests any of those liars who say they like Bollywood song and dance but whine like morons if they are just given that without any excuse of lame narrative thrills. The song and dance of the film is brave enough to test our patience and throw any pseudo-bollywood fan out of the theatre. One of the songs goes "jo baanware se lagte hain, woh log bhale hote hain", it can be said about the film too. More on JBJ in this post.

4. Ek Chalis Ki Last Local ( Dir. Sanjay M. Khanduri)

It is the best Hindi comedy that I saw in 2007. Nilesh (brilliant Abhay Deol) misses 1:40 am local train. Since its the last local and he has almost no money (Rs 70) in his pocket, he has to wait for the next local (4:10 am). In the meantime, he meets a girl Madhu (Neha Dhupia who is coming back from her friend's engagement party?), few groups of gangsters involved in a kidnap, a trio of policemen (the senior most of them, Malvankar, is most brilliant who incorporates Bhagwat Gita into his day to day work, the other one, Naidu, is a Ranjikant fan, he even saves a girl when the other cop tries to rape her, in a true Rajni-style. The third, Tavade, is the loyal type who informs us "Biwi ke alawa sab baat-ta hai sa'ab ke saath"), an excellent Nana Patekar duplicate auto-wala, romance-on-the-run, a beer bar (where a middle aged women does an item number), few murders, a bag full of money and a lot of interesting dialogues (admittedly there are few old jokes here but there is more wit in this film than any of this year's comedies. Look for Abhay Deol talking to the mirror here ["Bhagwan bhi, saara charm ek hi chehre mein daal diya, vaise beer peene ke baad chamak aur badh jaati hai"] compared to Manorama ["har kissi ki jindagi mein ek aisa waqt bhi aata hai jab saale aaine ko such bolne ki bimaari lag jaati hai"]). What makes it so funny is that it is comedy of genres [especially of the gangster-genre] and B grade thrillers (even some of actors make appearance here, and one scene from classic B grade film Gunda is given specific homage [the one where a gangster weeps in compassion when his younger brother dies]). And there is a marvellous scene where Nilesh wonders "sahi kaha hai kissi ne, duniya aurat hi chalati hai... aurat-jaat tujhe salaam" and then the role-reversal where Nilesh learns a lesson or two. A comedy with several twists and turns of events and plots, makes us wonder not only about the flickering life of the people involved but also to think whether it really happened or its just a swirl of imagination while Nilesh took a dizzy nap on a local train.

3. Blue Umbrella (Dir. Vishal Bharadwaj)

The best thing about this film is a perfect childhood mood. The old and the young all are children here. Desire is childlike, the joy and the frustration too. When our heroine gets a big beautiful blue umbrella from Japanese tourist she becomes the princess of her small town, all persons - old and young - seem to be thrilled by this but Pankaj Kapur's Nandkishore is possessed by the wide-eyed desire to own it. But the beauty of his desire is its type. Its both childlike and of some Shakespearean proportion which leads us to the dark shadows of his craving and its outcome. Vishal Bharadwaj uses some great narrative eclipses, like only the negotiation of Blue Umbrella is shown but the actually transaction (or implied exchange of amulet and umbrella) is not shown. What we see is happy Biniya playing with the umbrella. Also, as I was stupidly thinking, it was not implied anywhere that the sadness fell upon our little heroine because she traded off her protective amulet for an alien umbrella. In summary, Blue Umbrella might be a simple morality tale for young minds, but Vishal Bharadwaj does not dumb it down, because of the fact that we feel pity for Nandkishore even when we are aware what he had done. Interesting both as the childhood fable and morality tale, but beyond that Blue Umbrella can very well be about compulsion of childlike desires. More on Blue Umbrella in this post.

2. No Smoking (Dir. Anurag Kashyap)

The flip-flop narrative of No Smoking can be mapped to few interesting themes, the foremost being everyday pressure to conform to accepted standards or rather group morality/mentality versus individual choice, but with adequate and valid stretch, even to question of validity of bourgeois arrogance and the reciprocating vengeance. Also we can interpret the film in the light of any organized sector like religion or govermnent, and even to realms where human rationality seems to fail like fate and death. Also one can take everything as a metaphor (an approach which I hate if done in totality. It’s like explaining a film, its boring) like Baba is a money sucking doctor employed by his wife, and cutting of fingers is cutting of urge to hold a cigarette and likewise. But it is already a good omen when a film is free enough to let us to think through, but while doing all this one must keep in mind the visual aspects of No Smoking and its first rate humor, which lets its themes sail smoothly without taking themselves too seriously. We all know that if concept were to be the only yardstick to determine the worth of a film, how one can even justify the use of film medium. This film does not get blown away by its theme's preoccupation that the fun in images is all gone. Also, after a long time I have seen a Hindi film where sub plots are not just a way to add yet another realization in the life of main character, i.e. to serve and suit the protagonist’s world. Here the sub plot, especially the one involving Ranvir Shorey's Abbas might actually be the life of K after the end credits roll. As good as Shorey in this role, Kashyap understands him as someone who has already lived K's life, he understands who is he - one of us, or one of them or as always the case when the day is done - no one.

One more interesting way (and sometimes to me, it looks like the only way) is to see the film from K's sole perspective, everything is tinted with his view of the world. His is ultra-sleek-masculine image, his wife is good, homely and dignified, his secretary is dumb and respectful of her boss, his friends are falling out, world is conspiring against him, he might lose, he might be part of the same world he loathes, he is different, but no more can he be so, he needs to survive, he will succumb, but he will try against it. When I saw the film for the first time I had some problem with the arrogance of K (may be I read somewhere that there is some Any Rand channeled into it which irritated me), but on a second look, I am sure that there is no arrogance of director in K's screen arrogance. Coming back to its humor part, the two flashback jokes (which can be loosely names as 'Puffs and Fags' and 'Newton smokes a cigar') in No Smoking are near great. Both are done in different styles, and have great visual flair. Even when the film works on a whole there are sequences which are dearer than the others. The Bob Fosse number, the scene where a man strikes a conversation with K and calls him the 'thinking type', the one rupee coin sequence, the New Year midnight freedom, and the same actress playing the secretary and the wife are definitely masterstrokes.

1. Manorama - Six Feet Under (Dir. Navdeep Singh)

Manorama's structural and thematic resemblance to Chinatown does not let it crumble in weight of the later, which can be primarily attributed to the marvelous job that debutant director Navdeep Singh does in building the small town atmosphere such that the plot borrowing is seamlessly assimilated in the coordinates director is working in. Its heartening to see that in the year Hollywood's so-called auteurs were busy giving shape to evil and ambition as Chigurh and Plainview, Manorama hit the nail right - on the rot and the moral decadence under bright clean surface, and the effort albeit hopelessness of one man to deal with it. Our failed-novelist, defeated, married, even corrupted hero's discovery of this malaise provides us with important social, political and even psychological commentary. Abhay Deol gives a marvelous performance as our first noir hero in recent times. The way he was able to convey how this endless investigation has become a passion of his otherwise bored life and how it consumed him affirms yet again how brilliant his is. Coming to important details in film, first of all I must bow to who so ever is the costume designer for the film. In the morning (especially when she comes upstairs to dry clothes), Gul Panag wears gowns that are midway between knee and feet, and the petticoat underneath shows. Abhay Deol wears hand woven sweaters and pants that suit a 30 year old. None of the folk in the background ever look odd one out. The dialect is almost perfect (Although both, Gul Panag and Raima Sen, are quite good, but still they need to work more on their voice. also Raima Sen was not able to bring the mix of brutality and vulnerability in last scenes - she played it straight like a poor man's femme fatale. Probably a slightly older actress would have carried the role better). The two menacing goons that are both funny and also serve as the minor visible tentacles of the huge fungus inside.

The fish motif (Note that Sheetal's fish is bigger and more beautiful that Satyaveer's many fishes), few of the after-murder scenes are mix of something you remember from Manohar Kahaniyaan and still from De Palma films are marvellous. The fate and 'everybody has his god' climax might not please the fans of Chinatown, but it puts the film in the Indian context which connects deed and fate and also Satyaveer's family reunion looked a very honest way of celebrating the life of small town India (things happen, life goes on) in general, and Indian family (Things happen, life goes on) in particular. In the beginning Abhay Deol's Satyaveer says "agar tarakki honi hai to pehle tabahi hogi", on the surface it is direct reference to the canal and the associated false promises, but on a psychological level any progress of mind steps on the ignorance/innocence of the person. Although, we know that Satyaveer is not innocent, (he is also part of the system, he thinks he knows what goes on inside, given all this, its not a story exact about his loss of innocence, but gaining of deeper understanding of degeneration and what goes behind the closed doors. As minister P P Rathore says when reminded of the corrupt system, "aap is system ka hissa tabhi tak rahe jab tak aapko suit kiya", it must be a realization for Satyaveer that his petty bribe too fuels (or rather masks) the bigger rot inside) but the revelations of moral rot he goes through not only makes him more cynical of the people and world he lives in, and also of himself and human nature. Whether it is a compromise, or a comfort, he run back to his family. On that day of return, in true Bollywood tradition, it rains in the desert.

Honorable Mention: Black Friday (Dir. Anurag Kashyap), Johnny Gaddaar (Dir. Sriram Raghavan), Dil Dosti etc (Dir. Manish Tiwary), Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. (Dir. Reema Kagti), Chak De India (Dir. Shimit Amin)

Overrated: Taare Zameen Par (Dir. Aamir Khan) [Read here], Guru (Dir. Mani Ratnam) [Read here]

Worst: Eklavya: The Royal Guard : All along, I was blabbering about obvious things like cinema is images and sound, but films like Eklavya serve only one purpose - to tell us right images with wrong intentions are most dangerous. Eklavya, in a visual level, is much better than an average Hindi film but its silly climax opens up director's pristine intentions, and his medieval plea to return back to slavery and the age of loyalty, and to muster our frail voices and to sing in Shakespearean chorus "Hail the King". Eklavya is one of those clear instances where a filmmaker has lost his soul.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ofra Haza - Im Nin'Alu

I don't understand a word but I like this song a lot, and more so the girl who sings it.

Nick Drake's Day is Done

Probably the saddest song I have ever heard, whenever I hear it it makes me sad (of exactly same flavor). I am trying this for at least six months, it always works.


I am posting it as I learned that Nick Drake was Heath Ledger's favorite musician. He has done a small film on him too. It is shocking that his death made be little sad too (I have not even seen many of his films including Brokeback Mountain), and it is even sadder how some religious groups said "God has his ways". I understand that gay rights etc is a far thing for them, but one should at least respect death.

My other favorite song by Nick Drake is 'Cello Song.


Thursday, January 10, 2008


Accidentally, I saw Juno last weekend, a cautionary note follows.

First on a positive note, the best thing about Juno is this dialogue

Juno: I think I'm, like, in love with you.
Paulie: You mean as friends?
Juno: No, I mean, like, for real. 'Cause you're, like, the coolest person I've ever met, and you don't even have to try, you know...
Paulie: I try really hard, actually.

This dialogue is "insightful" because it tells you all about the movie. Juno tries too hard to be weird, cool, peppy and hip but at the same time tries to hide all the effort using some witty dialogues so that the viewers are bought to an average teenager's level and are comfortably beaten there. Actually Juno reminds me of my pseudo-intellectual into-rock friend, who sounds intelligent only in the first meeting, after that he is an amusement park of shallow but cool cliches. Also, his way of overwhelming (or overpowering or even embarrasing) you is to ask what you like in rock or literature or films, and when you choose the most high-brow of what you know, then he adds up an esoteric fan-only name asking "Have you ever heard of it". His sole aim is gaining tips of nerdy icebergs (to add to his faux-charm, he hates usual cultural capital icebergs). Sooner or later, the titanic sinks.

Juno is exactly the film one should be beware of. Apart from being a hip teenager's self help book (or rather coolness-dictionary), it is moderately charming without being too saccharine. Its not too dishonest, its not too harsh, its not too feministic or anti-feministic, its not too motherly or fatherly, its moderately smart (or eccentric or weird), its a moderate basher of everything, its sufficiently rebellious and adequately tame, it is also little "deep" to complete the checklist, it has all the things which would not let an average movie goer to say that the film is particularly bad and will also give him/her a reason or two to believe in its goodness or worse relate to it. This film almost makes a formula for being everything for all.
As an antidote to Juno's teenage smugness, please rent the DVD of Ghost World.

pic: In order to "prove" that pregnant women eat more, it is not enough in director's world to let Juno eat more, but to "make" the contrast purer and clearer, Juno's friend must be starved just because she aint pregnant, its inhuman.