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

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I dreamed a dream - Susan Boyle

Even Reality TV and Talent shows have their moments. Does not she remind you of one of those chirpy women of Terrence Davies' films who sing their life away. Wonderful. Here you go!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Delhi 6

Few things about Delhi 6.

1. If an artist wants - a confident and cocksure artist, the type we all know - he can make a miniature painting with bold strokes and still feel good about it. Similarly, for the directors who cant help but think big, everything becomes mini-India, so we have standard Hindu-Muslim characters, standard dadima, standard sweet-bitter relatives (large hearted ones have big breasts or big smiles), standard kids (two types - with glasses, without glasses) and other associated clichés but remember that the mini-India of our serious and good-hearted directors is not quite complete without the holy grail of goodness and that can only come from an NRI (preferably man, preferred age 25-27, must be good at heart and good looking too - as they go hand in hand - , must be doing quite well in US, preferably a software engineer, scientist or son of an Indian male, who is doing very good in US, preferably a doctor and married, - as they go hand in hand). He comes, he sees and he reforms us. Whether he stays back or carry on his journey is quite immaterial (or rather depends on whether he gets a girl here. The girl should be fair, preferably long hair. She should be of a kind which should make India look cool - now coolness really depends on director's definition of it. There are basically two types of coolness - Traditional coolness and hip-coolness. Typically girl adjusts to whatever NRI wants. The romance between NRI and girl must follow normal Bollywood standards. The first encounter must be little rough (The only tussle they have is whether they should kiss Bollywood style or Hollywood style, here the guy loses usually), rest goes smoothly. I repeat girl should be fair or become so in due course of romance). We all know and understand that an NRI is the closest approximation to a white man you can find in our family, so it is nothing but natural for us and our film makers to be drawn to them. They are as white as we can ever get. "Son of an NRI" is even cleaner than the NRI, in moralistic terms. Technically he never left the country. He is godlike- if I may say so - with no Original sin. He is a kid, he observes with a zeal of a teenager. He is so young, innocent and beautiful that the whole theatre must feel bad if someone slaps him tight. His voice of reason, his ok-ok Hindi (like the dubbed Tamil and Telugu of South Indian heroines exported from Bombay), his untainted ideals and his open-minded feminism (and he will definitely get chance to show it few times in the film), his goggles, cell phone, laptop and a wiser and purer (if not cleaner) brain. No wonder, he becomes friends only with Dadima and kids, he is beyond (or out of) his time, just like god. His inability to express hints to his innocence, his childlike gaze becomes his purity of observation and his smile becomes the mirror of his pure white soul. NRI (or son of an NRI) is at once, pristine and philistine - a godsend for Bollywood.

2. Nothing irritated me more than the use of Ramlila sketches to push the tick-mark narrative points forward. The worst abuse was made of Sabri's story. Its was like watching a low-intellect children story where references to an age old saga are so badly needed to validate the point that it does not fear from trivializing the story itself. The last best use of Ramleela was done in Rajkumar Santoshi's Lajja where drunk Sita (Madhuri Dixit) refuses to go to Agni Pareeksha and argues onstage with both Ram and Lakshman. It was one of the last instances of feminism in commercial Bollywood. It was much better than when ramlila was used to extreme ends to bring director's point across like in Deepa Mehta's Fire. Attempts like Fire or Delhi 6, use the epic for their narrow ends, but efforts like Lajja's ramleela scene flip-flops it to make us think.

3. Surprisingly, I was alright with the Kala-bandar theme. I know its more or less like Panchtantra, that we all have a kala-bandar inside (Banality of evil for kids and toddlers), but it was done with some humor so it works in parts. But I was most embarrassed by Amitabh's role. Do Bachachan's come in a package. ek ke saath ek free. One can not help but think of Abhishek's reply when the director/producer asked him to work in this film, "Papa ke saath", he would have replied. Amitabh and his tribe (who so ever calls him Amitji, Amit Uncle or Papa) are in so many films now-a-days that one can safely say that there is a Kala-bandar inside every film.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Short Notes on 2008 Disappointments and a Recommendation !

Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt). Very honest and one of the most serious films of 2008 but so cold that it could not even justify the use of medium. The stack of stark images does not bundle up into something that seems to strike an emotional chord here or there as if the director is scared of emotions. I am more disappointed here because it is otherwise a glorious attempt in a sober voice.

Milk (Gus Van Sant). In preparation to watch Milk, I saw Rob Epstein's excellent documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk and in the commentary track of the documentary the director says that they consciously did not name it The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, because they wanted to capture the struggle in times of Milk not his life per se. The motion picture Milk tries to capture both and thats where it fumbles because it is not necessary that the personal life of a person be as interesting and important as his political life.

My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin). For me, Guy Maddin's films work when he mixes nostalgia not only with genuine sadness but with irony, surreal humor and perverse fantasies that are uniquely his. My Winnipeg works great in pieces but what spoils the whole experience is Guy Maddin's overemotional voice over, it pampers and plunders the images and their irony. You never know what to believe, Maddin or his images.

Alexandra (Aleksandr Sokurov). I am not too sure about this film but this is definitely Russian version of hate the war but support the troops, which is nothing wrong, but the grandmother character is overly patronizing and when we get the feeling that she is actually supposed to represent both mother Russia and director’s alter ego, the whole exercise, even if heartfelt, looks not only nationalistic but rather simplistic.

Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog). This is one attempt where from the very beginning director promises to explore the other side of the world "differently", there is supposed to be nothing usual here (Herzog himself says that he is not here to film penguins) but even if it is not arrogant its immodest promise and more length of the film is devoted to ridicule others than to show us things with new eyes. It is definitely a minor effort from Herzog. May be thats why it was nominated for Oscars.

Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant). Van Sant use of Christopher Doyle's excellent photography, Nino Rota's music and a cryptic narrative seems to cancel out each other in their stylistic excesses. It is one example where a bunch of good things does not result in anything better.

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan). Self proclaimed harbinger of chaos and menace, the anti-establishment Joker's big-budgeted explosions looks meticulously planned and staged. In a strictly back and white sensibility, Joker's irrational lunatic evil does not go hand in hand with the bigness of his sophisticated misadventures or vice versa. Its just too layered. On the other hand the two face metaphor is overly clean cut, The face, the coin, the film divided in two halfs. And thats the problem with this film. You just can not have it both ways. Also, the cut after Joker's fall was too abrupt.

Dear Zachary (Kurt Kuenne). This is a heartfelt personal documentary but highly manipulative so much that one starts feeling that the director does not trust his audience's emotional responses and so he packs them with enough arsenal to illicit a powerful but expected response.

Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman). What you will think of a person who fantasizes of staging an artsy-fartsy funeral for himself. Thats exactly what I think of this film. Its self-indulgent in a very morbid way. But Samantha Morton's performance is quite good.

Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas). This is essentially the textbook of art house cliches. This film reminded me of Cartman's Christian Rock Album cover where he asks Token to point away from camera because this is how album covers are. Also, the director should go to confession for trying Dreyer so poorly.

Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle). My biggest problem with this film is the end dance sequence. Its so shoddily choreographed, its worse than mediocre - a half-hearted sham, lip service to Bollywood.

Now the recommendation, Abdel Kechiche's The Secret Of The Grain is long and intense family drama that brings different ends of a family together when it engages in opening a couscous restaurant. And look out for marvelous Hafsia Herzi. Ebert compares her to Isaballe Huppert.