Thursday, 9 February 2017

Oscars 2017

Timing is key. It dictates whether your film ends up on the year-end best film list, discarded as a monthly infatuation or placed in a purgatory from which it can emerge again as a cult favourite. We now associate Citizen Kane as the cliched answer to the 'Best Film' question but when it released in 1941, the film took home only the Best Screenplay award. Shawshank Redemption, the critical and popular darling of the past 20 years took home no Oscar and neither did Mullholand Drive, the latest answer to the 'Best Film Ever' debate. This year could prove to be no different.

Swiss Army Man, an absurd comedy with a soulful soundtrack, got no mention or love at the Oscars this year, perhaps due to its early release in 2016. The Birth Of A Nation, the Sundance hit which was being pegged as the frontrunner for 2017 in the aftermath of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, has all but faded from memory. Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals. a stylish noir drama, was surprisingly shut out save for a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Michael Shannon. But the peculiar nature of the Academy Awards lies in their inexplicable recognition of work. Arrival received eight nominations including best film and director but Amy Adams, who drives the film, didn't receive a nod. Pablo Larrain, the director of two acclaimed films- Jackie and Neruda, has not got any recognition for either and both films have been ignored in the list. Best Film category was expanded to include 10 nominees since 2010 and yet, the Academy chose to recognise only nine this year, not for a lack of candidates.

Publicity decisions, Oscar campaigns, lobbying, and controversies can all be cited as the reasons for these aberrations and eliminations. Yes, the Oscars are not without their problems and shortcomings. But they are still the best places to see what cinematic art 2016 offered.

If you are yet to see any and don't have the time or opportunity to catch all, here are my top recommendations.

Unmissable Films Among The Nominees

1) La La Land
2) Manchester By The Sea
3) Moonlight
4) Arrival
5) Fences
6) Hacksaw Ridge/ Hell Or High Water

Click Here For Full List Of Nominees

Best Film

1) La La Land:
An original musical based in Los Angeles, Damien Chazelle's film will be placed by historians as an escapist answer to humanity's terrible reality in 2016. A dark horse which suddenly became the mainstream favourite, La La Land offers a holistic endeavour in cinema which tugs at the heart of the impulsive and emotional. It's Bollywood with restraint and narrative (what Bollywood was supposed to be in fact. Sigh.), impossible to not root for.

2) Moonlight: The indie favourite of the year, Moonlight has been exquisitely shot with a surprisingly capable cast. The hype which surrounded the film made me apprehensive if it was living upto it but as the final act was being unfolded, I found myself nervously anticipating the lead character's choice, a sign of an engagingly good film.

3) Manchester By The Sea: Kenneth Lonergan's study of family and pain was the only film which made me cry at the Mumbai Film Festival. A delicately balanced mix of humour and sadness with a powerful turn by Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges, the film makes one question human frailty in face of unavoidable fate.

4) Fences: An adaptation of August Wilson's play, Fences will divide people who don't like to watch theatrical adaptations. I have personally found them moving and engaging from Doubt to August Osage County. The traditional approach used in the film makes it radical in today's age where such approaches are resisted and avoided at every turn. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington represent the two best reasons to watch this film and to ask yourself the question- Do you know a Troy Maxson?

5) Arrival: The most exciting science fiction film in years, Arrival was what Interstellar should have aimed to be. Denis Villeneuve, who is my current favourite director, takes on a tale of aliens after the intense drug drama Sicario. But this synopsis hardly captures the peculiar way in which a wholly original science fiction drama through the lenses of a terrific Amy Adams. If you do come out impressed with Arrival, it's hard not to give a major portion of the credit to Adams who guides you through it. Maybe the Academy didn't get that memo.

6) Hidden Figures: Biopic of three gifted women who worked on the NASA Space Program in the 60s, Hidden figures is easily the funniest awards season true story this year. The three terrific leads are supported by a solid cast of Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, and Kirsten Dunst in this highly enjoyable and commercial film.

7) Hacksaw Ridge: The inspiring story of an American soldier who refused to bear a gun or take a human life in World War 2 is bought to life by Mel Gibson in this action packed drama. The most commercially friendly film on this list, it's anchored by a good Andrew Garfield performance who re-establishes himself as a serious actor after the Spiderman debacle.

8) Hell Or High Water: Tony Sheridan's bank heist drama has some of the quickest repartees in film between Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham's Texas Rangers and that is what elevates this from a by the numbers crime drama. Ben Foster is at his magnetic best in a film which best explains 2016 in a rural America being crippled by debt and desperation.

9) Lion: A true story of Saroo Brierley's journey from being lost in India, becoming a foster kid in Tasmania, and finding his mother in India is made into a slow paced drama. I must confess being somewhat biased against the acclaim for the movie which seemed to be an extension of the Indophilia which had once again become fashionable after Slumdog Millionaire. The 16 year old me liked Slumdog Millionaire, more for the fact that people who look like me got to sit next to Hollywood royalty at the Oscars. Lion isn't a badly made film but it demands a lot of patience which is paid off emotionally by the time the final scenes roll. Dev Patel easily gives the best performance of his career while Rooney Mara, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Tannishtha Chatterjee feel wasted in their respective roles.

Potential 10th film Nominees: Nocturnal Animals, Sing Street, Elle, Swiss Army Man, Sully
Who Should Win: Not an easy call. 1) Manchester By The Sea
                                                            2) La La Land
                                                            3) Moonlight
Who Will Win: La La Land Or Moonlight

Best Actor
It's hard to find any fault with the Best Actor list this year but I would have liked Joel Edgerton recognised for Loving. The trophy will undoubtedly belong to Casey Affleck for his immersive work in Manchester. It's also fair to talk about the controversy surrounding him, which I do here.

Who Should Win: Casey Affleck
Who Will Win: Casey Affleck

Best Actress
The most difficult category this year, the task of picking between three of the nominees is one I don't envy at all. Isabelle Huppert in Elle, a movie which left me unsettled and questioning my beliefs, is sensational as a character I have never seen on film. The emboldened and unapologetic woman she plays evokes sympathy and disgust within a matter of minutes, and a general confusion. I will certainly be studying that film for years to come. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman inhabits Jackie Kennedy to an eerie degree. The film might prove exasperating at times as it serves merely as an acting showcase for Portman and that could be the dent for her chances. La La Land never explicitly states it, but the subject of the film is Emma Stone. The moment of clarity arrives when the 'Audition' song comes in the film and Stone delivers what is expected of her. She goes in as the people's favourite to win. Amy Adams for Arrival and Hailee Steinfeld for Edge Of Seventeen are on my wishlist of nominees for this category.

Who Should Win: Too close to call. But perhaps the revulsion, admiration and ultimately, love which is evoked for her character in me, I would have to say Isabelle Huppert narrowly edges out Natalie Portman.
Who Will Win: Emma Stone and Huppert are narrowly competing in terms of award wins but Natalie Portman could surprise them both. Only night of 26th will tell.

Best Supporting Actor
The elevation bought about by Jeff Bridges and Lucas Hedges in their respective films is remarkable. Mahershala Ali is touted to be the overwhelming favourite in this category, despite surprises at a few award functions, for his portrayal of Juan in Moonlight.

Who Should Win: 1) Jeff Bridges
                                2) Lucas Hedges
Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis is a best actress contender, not a supporting actress. Fences relies on her overwhelmingly. This has been observed and noted by a few and yet, one can't complain if she does achieve any recognition of any kind for the film. Naomie Harris's haunting portrayal in Moonlight comes a close second for me, followed by Michelle Williams.

Who Should Win: 1) Viola Davis
                                2) Naomie Harris
                                3) Michelle Williams
Who Will Win: Viola Davis

Best Director
Damien Chazelle should win the Oscar for Best Director. The idea of creating an original musical in 2016 which is a homage to cinema, dreamers and lovers is an insane one. But to follow through on it in such a spectacular fashion as he has deserves this recognition. Kenneth Lonergan would be my second favourite to win this for the balance of grief and humor in Manchester By The Sea while Denis might be a close third for the well-crafted Arrival. (Sorry Barry!)

Who Should Win: 1) Damien Chazelle
                                2) Kenneth Lonergan
                                3) Denis Villenevue
Who Will Win: Damien Chazelle/ Barry Jenkins

Best Original Screenplay 
Kenneth Lonergan should win the Best Screenplay award. Grief is not an easy subject and to be handled with such sensitivity and rawness is even tougher.

Best Adapted Screenplay
1) Moonlight
2) Fences

Foreign Language Film
I have only been able to watch The Salesman and Toni Erdmann in this category. The absence of Elle even in this category is surprising. Toni Erdmann is one of the most absurd films I have ever seen, which naturally has now prompted Hollywood to remake it with Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. The Salesman is an intense thriller based around the Iranian adaptation of Arthur Miller's The Death Of A Salesman. I have not read the play but it proved to be little hindrance in moving me. Farhadi is the master of human restraint in film. He uses Iranian culture of repression and civility in unleashing potent human reactions to extraordinary events, which other filmmakers from a different country would have used to show violence and unhinged passion. The unbecoming of the main character in the film and its effect on those around him leaves you shaken.

Who Should Win: The Salesman
Who Will Win: Toni Erdmann (Slight chance for The Salesman to upset)

The Potentials And The Pointless Buzz

Silence: Martin Scorsese's passion project of 28 years left me yearning for satisfaction despite some stirring performances. A drama around 17th Century Jesuit Priests in Christianity-banned Japan is used to stir powerful questions on faith and God, but will rarely touch anyone who isn't a Christian. I was more fascinated by the historical conflict and events but Scorsese devotes more energy and focus on the endurance of faith which proves exasperating for any non-Christian. Like Japan, India has had conversions and proselytising of locals by Christian Missionaries and priests not without controversy. While denouncing the gruesome violence and torture, one can't help but draw understanding for the Japanese backlash to Christianity's spread. Powerful performances anchor this film but one can't help doubt the realism at times. I believe that Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver are essaying American or English roles until the names of their characters, Rodrigues and Garupe, are repeated and I remind myself that both priests are Portugese. One could speculate that with the presence of Japanese dialogues in the film, perhaps Scorsese didn't want to confuse viewers with a third language or chose not to add any Portugese embellishments to the accents, but the broken realism is hard to miss. Special mention for Issey Ogata as the devilishly magnetic Inoue Masahige.

The Birth Of A Nation: The 'Sundance hit' which quickly evaporated into obscurity due to a public debate on arts and the crimes of those behind them left me spellbound in the nastiness of hype. The film serves as a well-intentioned and partly well-made film which doesn't translate into an Awards season contender. The treatment of Nat Turner as a promised Messiah with half-baked surrealism for what is ultimately a failed coup makes it into a forgettable effort. What infuriates you more is to see how the hype industry at one Film Festival spawned a conversation around a mediocre film for months. The issues raised by Nate Parker's disturbing allegations need to be had. But incomplete visions don't need to be praised in the bargain for raising awareness on important subjects.

Nocturnal Animals: Tom Ford's stylish noir thriller is potently engaging lead by a terrific cast of under-rated performers. Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Amy Adams have a terrific body of work between them and they bring this adept craftsmanship into a well-made movie. If this was  a few decades ago, Nocturnal would have snatched nomination in most top categories. The violence perhaps proved to be a bit too much for the Academy this year.

American Honey: Sasha Lane offers a mesmerising performance in a romantic drama which tries to masquerade as a coming of age film. Shia Labeouf offers able support in a film which seemed to take on multiple subjects without accepting that at the root of them all was a simple teenage crush which unravels into chaos.

The Handmaiden: Park Chan-wook's thriller is easily one of the year's best works. The Handmaiden is intricately made and layered with surreal precision. The breathtakingly shot film with a good cast is surprisingly shut out from the Oscars; a loss more for the awards than for the film which will be regarded as a classic in the years to come.

Paterson: A delightfully whimsical film, Paterson at times seemed more escapist than even La La Land. The surrealism arises from the lead character's simplicity and shyness about his passion, something a decade of social media has made me incapable of imagining. Paterson's world full of mundanely extraordinary events finds universal resonance with anyone who has held a burning passion for something in their hearts as a child or adult.

Sing Street: A wonderful soundtrack, a lovely cast, and a conforming story with quiet a few surprises, Sing Street just had the bad luck of meeting a twin in La La Land the same year. The Irish film is a nice throwback to teenage angst under the spell of rock and roll. This should definitely be on your 'Don't miss' list.

Swiss Army Man: A deliriously made film which makes the absurd seem normal, Swiss Army Man left me in laughter and sadness as it ended. An unforgettable soundtrack forms the basis for the most unconventional story of obsessions, survival, and friendship I have ever seen with superb performances from Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe.

20th Century Women: The last film on this list is yet another coming of age story and I believe the best one. An autobiographical account of Mike Mills's relationship with his mother, 20th Century Women offers wisdom and humor of growing up in this slice of life look at a Californian teenager. It made me wish for a similar environment growing up, for better or for worse, as I am sure it would for many. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Kapoor And Sons Is A Fuck All Movie.To Deny It, Is To Be Part Of The Problem

What makes you go to the movies? The answer to that question will determine whether you hate or like what you read next. Every person has different motivations, biases, hypocrisies, and experiences which shape their perception of the moving images in a dark theater. But I can't for the life of me figure out why and how a long cinematic con such as 'Bollywood' can be allowed to function considering everything wrong with it is now public knowledge.

Kapoor And Sons was hardly something I would have ever paid attention to. The trailer looked so Karan Johar that at any moment I was expecting the actors to break fourth wall and confess that they would do anything for that coffee hamper including this movie. "Every family has problems" plot which will end with a mushy happy ending could be seen from a mile away. What I didn't expect was the feedback it got when it released and a spoiler I inadvertently chanced upon.

The generally positive reviews were cemented by the few audience reactions I came across, in particular by my set of friends. Now, I must admit that not one of them said anything about the story- focusing on Fawad Khan, Siddharth Malhotra, and Rishi Kapoor, (the word cute being repeated several times) and playing the song Chul twice. I must also note that stories and writing have rarely figured in the reviews I get from most of my friends. Keep the actors and actresses good looking, add a catchy song, make it funny, and you would have satisfied my friends.

What piqued my interest was chancing on a tweet which revealed something unexpected about Fawad Khan's character, especially in a mainstream Bollywood film- he was gay.

I then found myself sitting in a theater for a Dharma film for the first time in several years and there was no regret in me for atleast an hour. I found myself briskly enjoying the first half, lauding the casual approach to smoking and drinking, peppered with interactions atypical for a Dharma film. The only annoyance was the Chul song which insisted that just because it can get stuck in your head, it's a good song. A stereotypical Bollywood song of today with a perfect chartbuster blend of ludicrous lyrics and good beats , little did I know that the song foreshadowed the trajectory of the movie.

The second half sees the brewing conflict coming to the fore in a superb series of scenes. But at the height of this intensity, when each character in the family bears an ill-will towards the other, the film-makers bizarrely introduce the tried and tested solution to narrative problems- killing off a main character.

I would love to be in the writers room when this suggestion came about- "Arrey ek beta gay hain, toh baap ko toh marna hi padega". The writing clearly gets lazier after Rajat Kapoor's death with no real closure for any of the characters. The "problems to har family main hoti hain" becomes an actual argument by Rishi Kapoor's character which seeks to bury the pressing problems under the rug.

Does the wife just feel pain and sadness on the husband's death? Is there no iota of anger even for his infidelity? How can a son forgive his mother so easily for stealing his idea and giving it to his brother? These are complex emotions which become uni-dimensional in the Bollywood universe where one can't understand that one can love and be hurt/angry/sad/ disillusioned at the same time.

The biggest issue for me hinges on how the supposed ground-breaking introduction of a main gay character fizzes away into homophobia and melodrama. If Kapoor and Sons were to have a sequel, I am pretty sure it would involve Ratna Pathak Shah taking Fawad Khan to Baba Ramdev to 'cure' him. "I am tired of being the perfect son," rues Fawad Khan while confronting his mother about his identity.

But what does perfection or imperfection have to do with being gay? Why was no effort or time invested in humanizing his suffering or an origin story about his life as a gay man? Why does the mother-son arc end with an awkward acceptance?

My frustration besides the stereotypical and homophobic representations in Bollywood lies with the fact that it's always a story of urban elite struggling with their identities. Does homosexuality not exist in the small town and villages? Why can't their stories be told by the mainstream? But then again, I can't expect that from a Karan Johar movie- a statement which makes me part of the problem too.

Doesn't he or anyone at Dharma cringe at the lack of variety in their movies? Isn't he tired of the 'Karan Johar Formula' tag which isn't about his direction. production or technical skill but an over-the top, tried and tired illusion of grandeur? From the homophobia of Dostana, we have now come to awkward acceptance in Kapoor and Sons over eight years. At this rate, gay marriage and union will be introduced as a radical idea in Dharma movies by 2035 I guess.

The problem with even his best movies lies in the fact that once you notice the one big flaw, you can't help notice more. The film keeps reminding us that it's set in Coonoor in Tamil Nadu but not a single reference to the area in terms of Tamil speaking people or region is made. The entire runtime of the movie had me believe that it was set in Shimla or Mussorie due to the sheer dearth of characters or references one might find in the South. A small and insignificant flaw, but one which becomes all the more big once the illusion of realism is taken in the second half.

Kapoor and Sons is a hit and nothing I say will stop it from earning even more, despite the last few scenes which drags on for 10 minutes instead of flashing 'The End'. When the credits do finally start rolling and this super cool 'Con' by Bollywood, with weed smoking grandpas and grandkids, is over, I found myself staring in the abyss going- 'Arrey yaar phir se!' It left me leaving the theater with the same kind of disillusionment that I have with India being called a developing nation and 'nation with potential' for the past decade- the unfulfilled promise lives on. The same is with a good film which squanders away all its strengths.

You may have disagreed with everything I have said. Maybe you love this movie and fluffy mush which Johar and others make. Maybe you don't give a fuck about movies to the extent that they upset you or thrill you. If it's any of the above and I have wasted your time, I apologise.

To the others who may find themselves hard press to deliberate some of my points, I suggest an exercise. The next time you come out of a Bollywood movie, ask yourself- Was it a good movie? or was it good enough for Bollywood? As long as the latter exists as a category, we have a long way to go.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

How 'Court' Won Me Over With Just One Scene

[Spoiler Alert: This post will discuss a few scenes of the movie in vivid detail. The plot and story might not become apparent but in a character driven narrative such as Court, it might give away something unsuspectingly.]

The Indian cinema-goer will rarely see something onscreen that resonates with him. The Hindi entertainment machinery is too busy concocting varied means by which the attention of an audience can be held, without any necessary depth or structure. Broadstrokes of generalisations and borderline racist caricatures will be introduced where the story and characters go "according to the plan" of the archaic decades. And as a Gujarati, there is nothing more exhausting than the constant peddling of mockery in unoriginal ways of "Dandiya", "Thepla, Dhokla" and our language. But where 120-180 minutes of mind numbing mainstream Bollywood failed to amuse me, a 90 minute multi-lingual independent movie has overwhelmed and changed the conversation about said caricatures.

If you have seen Court, you are probably wondering how in a movie with so many haunting messages and portrayals am I fixating on the least important one and you are probably right too. But it's the vastness of ideas which were amalgamated in the short span of time, touching something so personal, that I just couldn't resist writing this post.

On the second day of its release, I am busy watching the movie with the utmost attention akin to that of a schoolboy in the last lecture of the semester when the teacher is giving away the 'question bank'. Vinay Vora, the defense lawyer, played by Vivek Gomber, is shown to be a bachelor of the elite class who takes up pro-bono and human rights cases. The pace of the movie is slow but the subtle messages are amusing enough to hold your attention. There is no uproarious laughter until we reach a point in the movie which not only had me falling off my chair but almost had me stand up and shout at the screen saying " That's my life!"

We are unsuspectingly made aware of the fact that Vora is a Gujarati with a family he doesn't stay with. The scene introduces the father who is busy watching a Gujarati show while his estranged son whom he somewhere begrudges for being so different from the family, signs some papers. The nearly five minute long scenes in impeccable Gujarati show the tension within the family with a father taunting his son for "not valuing anything since he got it all for free" and a mother who laments about her absent son while frequently attempting a ceasefire between the father-son squabble.

It all gets further compounded when Vinay's acquaintance (introduced as his friend by him) sits for lunch with the family. The father asks this Maharashtrian youth where he is from, to feign interest and knowledge, and as soon as he procures the answer, laughs of his ignorance that he doesn't know the place (as idiosyncratically Gujarati as it can get where the Old School will try to unravel the Sherlockesque mystery about a person's caste, religion and region within two minutes of meeting him/her). The scene finally implodes into conclusion when the hospitable mother who is serving the new guest , asks him if her son has a girlfriend since he doesn't tell her anything. Vinay storms off in anger as he confesses that this is an inappropriate thing to ask a person who only knows him since 4 days.

The entire theater is busy erupting in laughter while I am joining this cohort with a sense of astonishment and smile which beams 'Finally someone got an urban Gujarati family experience right!'.

The resonating scenes aside, hundreds of other factors made me love Court, but there is no singular reason which I can tell you to watch Court except that it may resonate with you unlike anything ever put on the Indian screen this yeatr. As a 22 year old practitioner of Gujarati household drama and dysfunctionality, I wouldn't be surprised if a person from Maharashtrian family, the folk singer community, brethren of lawyers etc finds themselves in complete agreement with the portrayals in the movie as well.

Freedom of Speech. Indian Judiciary. Disparity Of Classes. Activism. And the dysfunctional Indian Family System. Each of these ideas deserve a separate movie on their own but somehow Chaitanya Tamhane manages to weave them all together in multiple languages with genuine authenticity and detail.

While I would be tempted to hold my tongue previously, I don't wish to do the same anymore. Find the theater in your city which is playing Court and watch it NOW.

But if you come out of the theater unsatisfied because you didn't understand the movie, then it's your fault. You can try and improve your tastes or go back to the ticket counter and buy tickets to Gabbar Is Back. You can pre-book your tickets to Bombay Velvet and Dil Dhadakne Do - two genuinely exciting efforts which you will watch solely for the stars while ignoring the hundreds of more gifted efforts which were put into both the ventures.

You may also be one of those people for whom the most exciting thing that happened in the past two months was the trailer of ABCD 2. Anybody Can Dance? Probably. But then how many chances will you keep giving mediocrity and repetition till you realise NECA ( Not Everybody Can Act) and more importantly, NECD ( Not Everybody Can Direct) [ Here's frowning at you Prabhudeva] 

Thank You Chaitanya Tamhane and Vivek Gomber for Court and I for one can't wait for your next project.

And thank you for intentionally or unintentionally, not reducing my community and me to a "money-loving, Dhokla Eating" punchline but a side note which genuinely examines of our inadequacies.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Two Documentaries That Will Make You Question Everything You Know About India

This blog post doesn't belong here. This is not about a fictional movie or cinema as an art form. This is about the events which play out in front of your eyes- as seen through a camera.

Absolute truth is difficult to attain and even more difficult to bear. The documentary genre of movies is an attempt to pursue as much real truth as possible. It is more than a simple act of placing a camera to capture reality as it occurs. It involves investigations, revisiting facts and conventions and stringing together coherence in a mess. I can't claim that all documentaries are 100% true but they certainly should be discussed more than fictional movies and their plots. Here are the two Indian documentaries I saw recently and they have changed any conversation I might have about this country.

Ram Ke Naam (1992)
Available On YouTube (75 min Version):

Director: Anand Patwardhan
1992 changed India. The narcissistic me believed for a while that it was because I was born.Thankfully, the self-indulgent enthusiasm has died down.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 redefined the national character and spirit. I was a 6 month old boy in Mumbai,unable to fathom any of the facts. As I grew up, I was told about the riots in Mumbai, the fear which was in the air. Then I read about it in the news, sometimes online or simple hearsay but never in the history books. This is part of the question you will ask yourself after watching Ram Ke Naam- why don't we know more?

Ram Ke Naam is shot in 1991 as it follows L.K.Advani's Rath Yatra around the country to reiterate a demand for a Ram Temple built over Babri Masjid. The documentary explores the speeches given by Advani and several other leaders and volunteers from the Sangh Parivar, the ground situation at Ayodhya and an exploration of the facts of the case.

The people you meet leave you dumbfounded. You meet educated fools and illiterate geniuses and vice versa. You meet Godmen and men with no God. But most of all, you realise why the India you see today exists.

Ram Ke Naam won national and international accolades but any attempts at public screenings have met with protests and disruption. Mr Patwardhan has uploaded the film on YouTube after yet another disruption at a screening of the film at ILS Pune. While many facts may come to light, a conclusion is pretty clear to reach- 2009, the year Mr L.K. Advani was a candidate for the post of India's Prime Minister is one of the lowest moments in the nation's history. Watch to find out why.

Final Solution (2003)
Available on YouTube (149 min version)

Director: Rakesh Sharma
The Final Solution is a disgusting documentary. Don't get me wrong. It is an endearing use of the camera. But the things it will expose you to and the emotions it will arouse are disgusting.

Final Solution as a phrase has been used by the Nazis to refer to the Jewish Extermination initiated by the state. The filmmaker never makes a "direct" co-relation to this concept in the documentary but the phrased question is asked to Hindus and Muslims at several points to help get an answer about a resolution to the communal conflict.

The film opens with the BJP election victory march in Gujarat in December 2002 in the aftermath of the Godhra Riots and train burning which crippled the state in February-March of 2002 . The film conducts several interviews with the victims of the tragedy and the socio-cultural leaders of the VHP-Bajrang Dal, all in the backdrop of election politics.

The film was initially banned by the Censor Board but cleared later after the maker of the movie initiated a pirate and distribute campaign. The film continues to be repressed and ostracized from Indian mainstream despite being screened in festivals and on television in other countries.

Why should you watch this? To hear of the deplorable violence which existed in Gandhi's Gujarat for those few days in 2002. To hear how the idea of India is being changed in unfathomable ways. While you are at it, also take a look at our current Prime Minister in 2002 and marvel at the PR transformation which has taken place in 13 years.

I urge you to watch or download this movie before they are censored or removed from public space yet again. Let the questions and uneasiness in you linger post viewing but do not reach conclusions. Ask your own questions- the purpose of the filmmakers here.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Happy New Year and My Stifled Opinion.

"To Write or Not To Write, That is the question.Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the consequences of mind-numbing movies,Or to rise and thereby end this suffering. To speak against the King and alienate every pretty girl who lusts him and then thus.... die alone."

Me: I used to like him a lot. Then I realised he can't act. The same cliched roles and movies again and again. It was like DDLJ recycled on repeat.
Fangirls: Don't you dare insult him  He is a fantastic actor- have you seen Chak De? Swades? My Name Is Khan? They were so boring for me but all critics praised his acting. He is so witty and intelligent. See his interviews.
Me: Exactly! Why doesn't that intelligence and wit transfer into the content produced or acted in? Why are there no more risks like Swades and Paheli?
Fangirls: Ewwww! SRK wasn't in Paheli! That's a Salman Khan sponsored conspiracy. You just shut it! Happy New Year will earn even more than Dhoom 3.

But is that all that matters?

Market it for houseful....then market it a bit more.

Item songs always offend and amuse me. The pure titillation and misogyny, which assumes that I would pay for the movie because you showed a woman in skimpy clothes dancing to catchy but pathetic music, offends me. The fact that you even need to do this amuses because it is a clear sign that you have no faith in your content- the story, the performances, and the direction. With that regard, SRK was a trendsetter with Dard-E-Disco, Ra-One and Chennai Express- as a marketeer. (Wait, did you think I was going to say acting?) So what do we have for Happy New Year? Claustrophobic Marketing.

Because nothing quite says I am confident about my movie like doing a reality show in it's name.

Remember how we get offended ? The convention is that one's religion, region, caste, and political views should not be addressed. But you know what you can walk over completely? My country.Forgive me ,but  I think there is something sacrilegious about plugging your movie in my national anthem like Rajneeti and Mardaani did. HNY? It created one of the most awkward advertisements where the cast turns towards the screen telling you to stand up for the national anthem because they are " India- Waale". The group of strangers next to me in the theatre summed it up perfectly- "Marketing movie. Too much!"

"India-Waale"? Let me explain to you with the help of the trailer. The trailer begins with glamorous shots of Dubai and a voice over which explains the concept of winner and loser. The words and the central theme of the movie are eerily similar to a Hollywood Crap-fest which came out in 2010 called "Losers"- sexist, racist and almost every kind of 'ist' can be associated to the movie. I hope Happy New Year isn't that. There are character introductions given and the plot comes to surface- They will steal diamonds from a Dance Competition and apparently the team is called -"IndiaWaale". * giving you a second to let that sink in*

Isn't that the Indian Dream? To steal. So yet again, our nationalistic fervor ( rather a poor excuse for it) is being used to sell us something . There were two HNY commercials besides the national anthem plug alongwith the main trailer for the same show! The main feature movie began 20 minutes after the mentioned show time. I would say that is pushing it a bit.

By the time you read this post, the TVF video with SRK would be the trend. It surprised me that TVF agreed to do this. I am a huge fan of their content and the breathe of fresh air they inserted by mocking the mainstream. Does it surprise me SRK did it? Not at all. The guy is king at pandering to varied audiences. He got Yo Yo Honey Singh to make a song for him 10 days before Chennai Express incase the Indian "yuth" which overtly likes partying and latently loves catchy music was not going to come for the movie.

Itna Senti Kyun Ho Raha Hain Be?

At this point you are wondering that I do not have any evidence or clue that the movie itself would be bad. You are right, I don't. I am prejudiced towards it and the genre it is a part of. But what people including my friends, don't seem to understand is that it's involuntary. I cannot put myself though certain content. It is the same reason why I can sit for an hour watching Comedy Nights with Kapil and not laugh even once, but instead keep pointing out- "wow that was sexist/racist". The same has happened with the movies I watch. They nauseate me if they are lazily-done, repugnant knock-offs.

Thankfully,I live in a democratic country where I have freedom of choice. Or do I? The only other Hindi release on 24th October is called "Super Nani" with Rekha- no small feat for the makers of the movie in the era of a single film release for the day and sometimes even month. I had some hope when I heard Gone Girl will release on 23rd October. Then came the obvious news- the censors had made drastic cuts in the movie despite giving it A certification. I hate my movie experience being meddled by people who are not the makers of that vision. Interestingly, the Happy New Year Trailer has an instance where the group shouts "Madar" and Shahrukh says 'Choddna Yaar'. Is that the cinema we deserve? Innuendos for a U-rated movie are given a clean chit but an Adult movie to be shown to mature audiences of over 18, requires censorship. What do I do for my Diwali other than compromise?

Point Kya Hain Be?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved many of SRK's films. The 12 year old me was crazy about Main Hoon Na when it released. I would scream the songs of the movie and copy the dance moves from the promos. Naturally, I liked the movie. If I were to watch it now, I would obviously find flaws in it because I have matured ( slightly) over the decade. And maybe there is some 12 year old somewhere who will love Happy New Year too. But isn't that a reflection on the system we have created where the audience matures and changes but the content remains the same? Isn't there a symbiotic growth which is possible through cinema?  I hope there is a resounding yes available in the near future. Till then I must live on, a Haider to Haider, with my cinematic sanity hanging by a thread.

Enjoy your crores Shahrukh, and enjoy a fresh breathe of career- Farah and Abhishek. To the millions of families who will spend an average of 1,000 to watch this movie on Diwali weekend, I hope you find something which can stay with you for more Diwalis to come and not something which is ephemeral. I would still suggest that you seek connection as a family over “Lets watch any movie even if we deserve better”. Because cinematically, it's a passable Diwali.

To the SRK swooners who are mad at me..

22nd October- PS: I just learnt that no other movie is releasing on 24th October. Freedom Of Choice died further.


Friday, 10 October 2014

Who is it for anyways?

A couple of weeks ago, I witnessed an invigorating interview on Indian Television. This is a rarity nowadays, especially when it is being delivered with candor and that too, by an Indian actor. The age of managers, publicists, and full page supplement interviews never offer honesty and much less the human side of the stories. This is not what happened when Naseeruddin Shah sat down with Barkha Dutt to talk about life and cinema. Many things he said left a humorous impact on me except his rant about commercial cinema and its constant defense- "this is what the audience wants". He ripped Bollywood a new one and I relished it. It is what inspired this post.

Who is it all for? The artist who invests his heart and soul in it or is it for the audience? Can they both ever align? I guess the answer lies in exploring the history of movies themselves.

Before the Silver Screen

Entertainment and the demand for it existed even before the moving images. There would be theatre, vaudeville, sports and a few antiquated activities which we no longer even count as entertainment such as reading. Needless to point out, theater was the king of the group then. The only problem would be the live event experience which could not be deferred for future use. The invention of movies solved the problem and much more.

Firstly, it ensured one way that something could be captured and be available for viewing later. Secondly and more importantly, it could be mass produced to create live experiences. As economies of scale kicked in, it became possible to reduce the prices of tickets and get audiences larger than what any theater or live performance ever had. Thus, it became the most popular form of entertainment combined with the continuous innovation being developed in the field.

It's not personal, it's just Business, Sonny.

When asked about the prevalence of businessmen running Hindi Cinema and the artist being subdued, Shah confessed saying that this would continue but there was a possibility if starting a new kind of cinema, one where the artist takes the central role. He was particularly irked by the notion that an audience is supposed to be fed the same content for 100 years. Who could disagree with this?

The fact is that over the past few years, the recycling in Hindi Cinema has reached lethal levels. This is not just an indigenous problem as even the West indulges in the same practices. What differentiates India is the fact that while the product was unoriginal and uninspiring, the cost of consuming this entertainment increased.

As stated previously, one of the main reasons for cinema to succeed was the ability to pass on the benefit of economies of scale and earn huge revenues through volumes. But the advent of multiplex system has seen the prices being drastically and irrationally increased.

" The rising cost of production and for better payment to the technicians behind the screen." - standard defense.
We certainly do not want to underpay or rob rewards from those who put in their hard work. But is it really going to them? The cost of eatables is as much and sometimes more than the ticket price. With such high margins and rates, you think the audience could be spared from advertising. Alas, even that isn't true. I was at PVR cinemas Juhu last week for a first day show of a movie which was priced at 250 for an 11 am show and subjected to 20 minutes of pre-show claustrophobic advertising as well as a 15- minute interval with the same advertisements.

Every business has the right to increase the pricing on it but in all of them, they are bound by an ethical and logical limit- produce a quality product which justifies the increase or change. Luckily for Bollywood producers and distributors, cinema or entertainment does not need to be justified. We can deliver sub-standard and mediocre content and the audience can do nothing about it because it falls in the intangible. Furthermore disturbing are the negotiations and deals being cracked by the production houses- monopolies that control production, distribution and exhibition and exercise their clout to take out the deserving and small competitors.

The Artist

The artists are not all the same. Some want to be successful commercial film-makers, actors or technicians while others want to retain a sense of independence which is tied to their uncompromising belief in telling stories. Everyone wants their audience to be entertained, intrigued and sometimes overwhelmed. Or do they?

Commercial cinema has been the most talked about and recognizable face of India for decades. We would create moving stories with our own unique style of songs and dances. Then came Sholay, which epitomized the excellence of commercial cinema. Several film makers distilled the original ideas and things which made the movie great and kept reproducing them. Then came the romantic blockbusters like DDLJ which were also imbibed into the recycling factory. Formulas and plot twists took precedence over storytelling.

The independent cinema seemed to provide reprieve at times but with small success. The little breathing space that they do get is often taken by select cinemas who will charge high rates on tickets which act as a barrier to cinema lovers. It is almost a declaration that content which is good and might resonate with all should be kept reserved only for the rich.

Reality Check

There are no split interests. A film maker can double the budget and market his movie in every possible channel but if the product is sub-standard, every audience will eventually abandon such practices. There is no commercial v/s Independent audience argument- the fact is that we are making miserable commercial films too. They are designed to be temporary- from the music to the story; it is all designed to attract audience into the theater and then say-"see this is what the audience wants". 

Every blockbuster film (a title which is given even before the movie releases) in the past few years had to rely on sprawling marketing budgets, item songs, all screens booked, a single release a week, and reality shows- a tacit confession of the lack of confidence the makers had in their content.

Because Movies are Magic ( Except Michael Bay)

But we are all different people with different tastes and opinions. How does one decide a great movie unanimously? The test for it in the 21st Century is simple. When was the last time you came out of the theater and sat around your friends just talking about it? The characters, the dialogues, the unexpected, what the movie missed and what could have been. But that happens about bad movies as well, doesn't it? Ah but a great movie leaves you with a smug and the inability to leave the world you just saw. It holds you and a few days, weeks or months later, it may just pop in your consciousness. And more often than not, great films are the same for all. Now try and remember the last time it happened to you in the past five years? 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Paradise Lost: Noah (2014)

19:37 Posted by Devang , , , , No comments

How we love those big budget Hollywood "masala movies". Either aliens are attacking the Earth and our heroes are trying to save it or there is going to be the normal “End Of The World" powered with mind boggling CGI. Darren Aronofsky's Noah is thankfully a little bit more than that.

For every Non-Christian out there, this movie is not based on logic. It is inspired by the teachings of the Bible which differ vividly from the scientific and historical proof available. There will be things you will not understand and that is by design. The intention is to soak the viewer completely in this tale and make them surrender unto the film’s own logic which is partially achieved.

Noah is Aronofsky's most and perhaps last mass-friendly film. He addresses certain dark and artistic themes but does not explore them to fruition which is expected when one makes a biblical blockbuster Hollywood style. It is one of the best uses of 3-D technology that I have ever seen but a few CGI moments leave more to be desired.

Acting? Should I even go there? Did we care about the actors in "2012" even if one of the leads went on to gain an Oscar nomination 4 years later? The thumb rule would be to ignore them and gasp at the visual wonders offered. But Noah is beautiful because it defies that. The film is held together by the actors with special mention for Russell Crowe.

Ridley Scott's “Gladiator" would have been a very different film without Russell Crowe .Noah reminds us again why. He is able to seep beneath your skin and engross you. He is terrifying and weak, strong and helpless at the same time. You like him, hate him, pity him and rebuke him but by the end, you understand him. The supporting cast of Jennifer Connelly, the great Ray Winstone and the always dependable Anthony Hopkins make a lasting impression too.

Noah is not without its flaws but what makes it so impressive is its scale- both visually and thematically. You cannot make a Bible movie with idealism in the 21st Century and Darren understands that completely. The themes and messages are chosen appropriately to provoke a debate in the mind of every person who sees this film.

As a viewer of popcorn cinema, I was thoroughly satisfied. But as a cinema lover, I sought more truth and honesty. My guess is that the director had to make these sacrifices in the commercial interests of the film to satisfy the "adventure" hormone majority of the movie lovers possess. The perception of it being a commercial and mass friendly film is vital to get a large audience and stimulate their brains with the messages. This conundrum of the film maker is justified and I hope the choice was well worth it.

If I had to pick my favourite Russell Crowe film, it would be hands down- A Beautiful Mind. I liked Gladiator but I never really understood why he won an Oscar for it and not Mind. Could anyone else play John Nash? Maybe. But can anyone else play Maximus Decimus? No. Gladiator was not the usual design for Oscar glory. But it was Crowe who was the heart of the film. The same is true for Noah. It is not the great film you expect, but nevertheless get. I hope to see it remembered 8 months later and lauded again. Go watch it for a stimulating repainting of one of the world's most famous myths. I urge you to try and find a difference between Noah's world and our world presently. Morally and religiously, I draw a blank.