Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Kurai Kurai - Verhalen met de Wind

Kurai, Kurai: Tales on the Wind is a beautiful, poetically told tale, suffused with soft sunlight and recurring metaphors of wandering and vagabondage: not as much directionless as the tumbleweed (the kurai) it is following, but still anchored to many people, many erring ways and many questions wrought internally, with fear, confusion and pain. The film is a search for meaning, for identity, for acceptance: by many people, all circumscribed by the endless desert, the never-ending chasm between human desire to be loved and human action to undo it all. As a song from Chanakya (ep. 45) says, "Desires rise like a volcano, reaching for the skies; the one who aims at them is him/herself sucked beneath more and more." Often sucked into incomprehension, sadness, an inability of joy and creation. And this is what the film reveals: wandering like the kurai is the solution, the only way out for many of us. Irrigating our heart with the patience required to listen to the tales of the eternally wandering kurai is what will give us the wisdom to bear with equanimity this world's turns and reverses for the good, for the bad.

Beautifully shot, with some lovely, dry humour thrown in, the film is a delight for the eyes as much as the mind: the few characters met in the film are some humans, some tumbleweed, some trains and some wild camels, all borne on the wind, detached from roots, trying to find new roots. All carrying new tales, new seeds as they float along.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Voyage en Chine

The film lives up to its name - Voyage en Chine ("Travel in China") - but unfortunately fails to go beyond: without nuances, the film seems an advertisement of the Orient. For someone who has not been to China and is curious about places of China away from the big metropolises like Shanghai, the film does hold quite a lot: however, the film is also full of exaggerations, like the woman jumping onto Liliane's nose. It is also strangely wrapped in joylessness, not helped by Moreau's lack of facial expressions and quite a cold, typically French character: the film follows a predictable storyline, told in countless Hollywood films, all using the same trick of putting some old unexplained bits of past life to pepper the ongoing self-discovery and/or self-healing process in a new place. The East is exoticized, the white person is the privileged guest, and finally, touched by this rebirth in the East, the white person decides to stay back: for how long such films will continue? The biggest weak point of the film is the complete lack of balance of how China is treated: any possible irritants are glossed over, are not shown or are explained away with language differences, and Moreau's journey is smooth, with a bit of wait here and there. The one good snide is that at the French bureaucracy: worse than even the Chinese, though of course the latter is oiled by bribes and knowing the right people. The actors in the film don't catch hold of you at all: most of them seem bored!

Bwaya

The film seeps with water, fear and the feeling of nothing to do, a stopped world: that is what makes Bwaya (English title: Crocodile) difficult to watch and a great film in equal measures. It is fuller of water than Piravi: the latter had water dripping, soft water, which does not bring fear but life; here, the water is all pervasive, a world in itself, a world more of death than life, a world where monsters lurk. Here, water blocks access to opportunities outside: and makes life not fluid, but trapped.

Not many crocodiles are actually seen in the film: not many attacks do happen. But the director is masterful: we do not know when the next one will happen. But the film is not a slasher; it is not some Hollywood monster fare. It is the painting of trapped lives, of people living in a far removed world, of grief and coming to terms with it, and of the lessons of life: that everyone can be a mother, including the monster. And the beautiful interweaving of myths of the land with the story of the film lead us to ask: who is the monster? who has encroached whose territory? human or crocodile?

The film has able performances: nothing extraordinary, but that was not needed as well. Rowena is played well by Jolina Salvado, which was a performance crucial to the film. With a world of water everywhere, the main performer had to be of course the cinematographer: and it's been an excellent work in that domain. Based on a true story, the film leads you to unexplored worlds undreamt of.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Risttuules

Risttuules (English title: In the Crosswind) is one of those few films that cry out to be shown to every human being: especially when they are young, when their minds are more sensitive, receptive and ready to puzzle over meanings and lack of meaning of things, of life. The film is a poetically made, very emotional story of a woman and her family: the story of politics destroying the hearth of a home, laying barren many lives, irrigated by only tears and dreams of apple trees. For many of those who think politics is something far removed from their personal lives, the film can be a beautiful lesson: and the film can serve as a prescient warning for all those who are swayed by leaders who can use hate politics to serve their tools, from the electorates of France to those of India. And yet, all that the film does is to show the story of a family, a true story of not just one family but thousands.

The film's true power lies in its poetry: almost all of the film is simply still images, explored through a moving camera. Nothing else is moving, except a river's water or a woman's eyelids: silences and beautiful narration mark the film's cadence, as the viewer is swept into haunting stills, which do not need any contextualizing: which mark the battle of hope and misery in every human soul, at its peak in those times when men like Stalin make life as the battle for hope. For it is difficult to sustain any hope, when men are faced with other men in the form of monsters. Everything else, man can bear, and conquer.

The film's story, its shocking course of events, unfolds itself gradually, without taking itself as anything shocking: the most shocking things occur as if it is a matter of fact. Like peeling off layers of paint from a once sturdy wall, revealing a damp, mouldy wall beneath, or like the discovery of caves sans issue in the beautiful ice palace, the brighter exteriors of hope and resolve are peeled off to reveal a life of waste and starvation, of regret and guilt, of servility and humiliation, of loss and void. But yet, the wall stands: even when everything has collapsed around it. The ice palace remains: even when spring has announced itself. Some day, the wall will also collapse: some day, the ice palace will dissolve and waters will flood all memories, all past and all dreams, but till the day spring becomes stronger, the ice palace will stand. A marker of the tortures of winter, a perverted symbol of man's ability to seek pleasures from others' misery: till passed-on memories will come to us, like river to sea, in letters and books and films.

A note to those who lack patience: the film might be a difficult lesson if you are seeking to learn patience. This is a poem: not a Nancy Drew novel.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Diario de Bucaramanga

The film Diario de Bucaramanga ("The Bucaramanga Diary") remains faithful to its title: it shows the days before the convention of Ocaña, when Bolívar's vision of a grand unity across Colombia, Peru and Venezuela - indeed across the Americas - collided with the federalist ideas of Santander. This collision gave rise to a rich tale of intrigue and plot and fertile ground for those who shift camps, but it also prompted some to prove their steadfast loyalties, whether newly found or handed over from generations. And it is this political content of the film that provides an absorbing watch: ably supported by excellent performances all round, especially the main character of Bolívar, the lushly made film is a great introduction to a major chapter of American history. The performances are energetic, bringing vibrantly the soul of Latin America in the film: and one or two false notes of the film are soon forgotten.

A good film to watch, it will take some time for those unfamiliar with the Gran Colombia history to understand the intrigue of the film: reading a brief overview of what happened before watching the film for the first time may help the less adventurous.

Court (2014)

The beauty of a film like Court is that it hardly takes sides: or that it takes the side of observing, not interpreting, except the position that justice is sleeping in India. And if you wake justice up, it will slap you hard in your face and continue sleeping. The film is about many different dharmas: each being is doing their own, and it is difficult to tell who is tarred and who is not by the taint of good and bad. Or maybe, such a thing as good and bad does not exist: each life follows its own course, dictated by choices, circumstances and laws.

Heroism is absent in the film: and yet many people are doing things that can be termed as heroic. Vora, the defence lawyer, is fighting cases for people who don't have money to pay him and he is even giving loans for their bail amounts: but he is also a privileged member, having access to panels that bring him publicity and supermarkets. Yet, are these incompatible? The public prosecutor has the usual middle-class life and might seem virtuous for that reason to many: yet, her dharma is to fight a case regardless of whether a person is guilty or not of something, and her leisure is to enjoy some anti-immigrant bashing. Vora cannot even speak Marathi well, the local lingo: how she must squirm fighting a case with him as the tireless opponent is left to the imagination of the viewer. Narayan Kamble himself, the man on whom an unjust case has been foisted, does not rouse any sympathy in the viewer's mind: he too is simply following his duty as he thinks it fit, to rouse trouble. That does not translate into his actions when he teaches some school kids, for example: he is content to follow the rote learning system of India. And the judge is very zealous of his obligations: to keep out women dressed not enough for him, for which he has eyes, but to turn a blind eye to the merits of a case, for which no amount of procedure will be enough except years of counsel or resignation. Meanwhile, the widow has moved on: life's daily deals are more than a handful, and she knows the worth of her own life or that of her deceased husband - nothing. While the two lawyers further their interests, and a worthless worker in the gutters becomes a pawn, she remains detached and practical: it is living, surviving itself that presents itself to her as her dharma.

A brilliant film in its restraint, very remarkable in a bitter commentary on Indian justice, Court has the ability to make a statement that may be heard - if not now, then later. Director Tamhane is doing his dharma - he may lose this round, but maybe not a next one, just like what Atticus did. For dharma is not business. Or it it is, it is a long-term investment.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Lucia (2013)

From the projectionists' booths have come films packaged with everything that the medium has brought: all the desires, all the dreams. From the Italian great Nuovo Cinema Paradiso to the ambitious Kannada Lucia, the crumbling theaters are only held together by love, an innocent assistant (Salvatore or Toto, Nikhil or Nikki), and a wise master loyal to his craft (Alfredo, Shankaranna): and these theaters will become the scenes from where the young men will launch onto the seas of life, equipped with everything they have learnt, spending hours changing reels or showing torchlight in the 'talkies'. But while most of such films focus on life's journey and romance, Lucia takes a step up: it delves into psychology and science fiction, and even metaphysics. The unforgettable film does it all packaged tightly in the typical Indian masala: a pejorative term for many in the West who are unable to see spices lacing up good cuisine, and yet a beloved ingredient for any real food lover outside of those milieux where a film is cut and dried into genres.

Set to pulsating music and bright humour, the film brims with energy through its constant alternation between two worlds (or one?): the real and the dream. The switching starts to happen so constantly, that soon both worlds meld easily into one story in the spectator's mind, unable to take in such fast pace of dual lives: until the amazing end of the film, when the viewer is forced to cleave the two. Or, unable to, is left with stranded questions. I wonder what would have been the result if Pawan Kumar, the director of Lucia, had met Kieslowski, the director of Rouge. The film world could never have been the same. Kumar does well also to rope in two relatively unknown actors for the two major roles of Nikhil and Shwetha: in particular, Sathish Neenasam as Nikhil is the person who makes the film really work. He slips easily into both his characters, and while an endearing smile plays on his face as the torch shiner, a tiredness of life hovers around his mouth as the famous celebrity.

The film leaves you with the question: "Is the dream within you? Or are you within the dream? Or are both of you just in the Omniscient eye?" And it shall haunt you forever.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

La ragazza con la valigia

Valerio Zurlini's film La ragazza con la valigia (English title: Girl with a Suitcase) is one of those black & white masterpieces that seem to have faded with time: not because color has appeared, but because there is not enough time to savour each emotion, each wave of the sea. The beautiful film, in spite of its sentimentality, often a vice in films, doesn't give in to melodrama: rather, playing on ambiguity throughout, the film manages to seek the meaning of liberty through characters who seem on first glance to be trapped in their lives.

The world of Lorenzo, sincerely played by Jacques Perrin, is in straight colours: he adores his older brother, he will adore and love Aida, he adores the occasion of helping someone. A rich boy with a heart not so decadent as the society around him, he has however taken the higher pedestal, unwittingly: and he will continue to try to 'help' Aida up to him, rather than step down for once. He plays Florent of Anouilh's brilliant play La Sauvage, and so are there many Lorenzos and Florents in real life: meaning well, but unable to be adventurous, not willing to shake off their fetters and take a deep plunge, to die.

The world of Aida, played by Claudia Cardinale, is wrapped in shadows pierced by shafts of sunlight: she probably sleeps around or at least incites men, she is not ashamed to seek monetary donations from anyone, even if that means milking Lorenzo, and she is not someone whom you would bet your life on - maybe. A poor girl with a heart noble enough to let the boy Lorenzo adore the ground she walks on but not lead him on, she plays Thérèse in the play, and there are not that many Thérèses in this world, or if there are, then just like this Aida, they are misunderstood, mistaken, 'misknown': willing to barter everything, including her body, but not her soul, her freedom, she can step on and step off the pedestal, with no qualms of innocence and etiquette bothering her.

Well acted overall, the film's ending 15 minutes are indeed one of the best excerpts from cinema. Claudia Cardinale is considered to be sexy by some, so maybe she fits, though in my opinion someone else, more voluptuous and as much expressive, could have been better: however, the story of this cat-and-mouse game remains intriguing, and Perrin manages to fill the voids left by Cardinale. To top it, the cinematography and the beautiful musical score give an unexpected sublimeness to the film.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Chanakya (TV) (1991-1992)

One of the most powerfully told TV series ever made in the history of television across world, Chanakya is a wonderful account of political intrigue: rich in political science, the series brims with the original Machiavelli, Vishnugupta Chanakya "Kautilya", a man who was not just one of the shrewdest political pundits of all times but also a man who was as true and as untouched by the dirtiness of politics as Gandhi himself. Set in the bedrock of Indian philosophy, all of which is as valid today as it was 350 years before Christ, the series provides insights into the intricate interlinking of philosophy, politics and ethics. A must watch for any student of politics, the series' power is such that it can even illuminate the art and the need of politics for those who remain indifferent to it, thinking that they or their lives are not affected by politics. With astonishing acting performances by most important actors, most notably for the roles of the young and adult Chanakya, King Dhananda, Shaktar, and Ambhi, a fine group of supporting performances, and a wonderful set of Sanskrit verses to finish each episode, and interspersed with brilliant discussions on the meaning of freedom, democracy, duties and nation, the slightly dated look that the series has is soon forgotten in the face of such splendid and well-performed content.

For Indophiles as well, the series is a greatly made detail of Indian history: and the teachings circumscribed are as valid and relevant today for any part of the world, especially for India, as then. The world may have come from arrows to missile heads: but politics remains the same, as do man's tact and strategy, as do man's greed and lust, and as do man's mental strength or the lack of it. The series does have its faults, some of them born out of obligations to an audience which was unused to television when it was first made and shown on TV and some from a limited budget: for example, except for certain scenes in one episode, where Greek is spoken, all other scenes with Macedonians are in English or Hindi; war scenes are shot on a very poor scale and with clumsiness; also, the cries of "har har Mahadev!" ("Glory to Shiva!") seem to be much more contemporary, and unnecessarily bring a religious overtone to a political and philosophical saga. "Maa Bharati" (Mother India) is also a concept that I doubt was valid in those times: while Chanakya's idea of a united land may very much be a fact, that he would say "Rise, Mother India" is much doubtful for me. However, these little details do not manage to tarnish much an honestly and skillfully made programme. While Chandragupta as the second most important character might lack some acting skill, it is not much felt because of a superior acting ability of Chandragupta's associates: in particular roles of Akshay and Sharangrav. It is no wonder that many of the actors who were at the beginning of their careers with Chanakya will later on become prominent actors in films and TV series of India. And for those who understand Hindi, the high-register language of Chanakya will be a delight to hear.

To understand India, and its repeated successes of uniting the land under one culture, Chanakya is a landmark series. While King Bharata might be part history, part mythology, the story of Chanakya and Chandragupta is fact, even if the details might vary from version to version: the current TV series is based on the ancient play Mudrarakshasa. The story of a man resolving to unite India under the aegis of one culture through politics will repeat itself many times in the course of history: one more Chandragupta will find the Gupta empire; then Harshvardhana will again unify the land bound by the Deccan while the Chalukyas and the Cholas will do the same south of it, and the Mughals under Akbar in particular will again come to perform that role: until British control will give the shape of a nation to India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. However, while these stories are prompted by selfish desires of power, Chanakya's story, the story of the founding of Maurya Empire, is a different story: that of a teacher par excellence, a political scientist who could act what he preached, who had to unify the country to save its ethics, its values, its culture, without a selfish motive, without any desire for power or riches: the story of Chanakya, a man who could be ruthless in his methods, but tender to an orphaned family's cries; a man who could live on begging for food, and yet could change the most powerful rulers of the world. It is the story of the Indian tradition: philosophers living what they preach, and not philosophizing for the sake of philosophizing, in stark contrast to the history of philosophy in the West.

The complete series, subtitled in English, is available on YouTube (as of the time of writing, there are a couple of episodes for which subtitles are missing). For those who did not know anything about Chanakya the man or Chanakya the TV series of the 1990s (first shown on Doordarshan, and later shown again on BBC), Episode 8 will give them a good foretaste of things to expect. For those who have trust in my words, Episode 1 is here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Ugly (2013)

Anurag Kashyap's Ugly is actually an ugly film in itself: sordid life of big, chaotic Indian city, none of the characters that invite even remotely any sympathy, a plot with several loose ends and a very predictable end. The latter two aspects especially hamper a film that claims to be a thriller. However, even more than that, it is the inability of the viewer to connect with any character at all that makes the film an unbearable watch. Films have been always made that have had nothing but characters of dark shades: yet when a character is built well, the audience can relate to it, for in many of us also lie darknesses. However, Ugly does not go into any understanding of its characters: it goes more for style over substance, for the manifestations of sick minds rather than clues to their depravities. A poor storyline and poor editing do not help matters.

Ronit Roy has become the standard abusive figure in Hindi films these days: I thought those days of Hindi cinema were over when you had to watch Aruna Irani or Tun Tun playing the same role over and over again in different films. How can a director take an audience for a ride like this? And, as in 2 States, do not expect much of explanation for Roy's fury: it's just that the character is in vogue and pretends to give the film a psychological depth when in fact the film lacks any substance whatsoever. The plot has huge holes, all left unexplained: why would the police drop shadowing the toy seller woman completely even if Roy was busy with his personal enmity, and more importantly how come they just converge suddenly upon the toy seller woman when the film demands it? Why would Roy not implant a tracking device onto Rahul (and on his body) just silently: why let him know? The police commissioner (Roy) seems to have become one just because he can beat the pulp out of people when the whim takes him: he does not seem to have any smart style of working. And what are appendages like the female assistant to Roy: is she a technical expert working with the police department or a woman constable or a Karamchand Kitty?

The film revels in sickness, just as Kashyap's Gulaal did: it is as if that in the garb of realism you are showing endless stretches of people vomiting and nothing else. Ugly is a film for those who like sick films (plenty of the variety will be found in Hollywood and Spanish cinem) or for those who like to watch squalid Indian cities on big screen and take pleasure in it: but even for these two generalised categories, the gaping plot holes might be too much to handle.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ekspeditionen til verdens ende

It is seldom that films made on a grand scale have such a human touch, such beautiful sense of humour, such core of humility: as the Danish film Ekspeditionen til verdens ende (English title: The Expedition to the End of the World) has. A film in equal measures of science, philosophy and adventure, the film makes do without the common devices of many of National Geographic and Discovery style: no maps and routes litter the video, and wild nature is not the focus. The focus is humanity, its searching questions, its methods of investigation, its pressing concerns, and its ability to take in everything with equanimity.

The scientists, the explorers, the artists: all aboard a ship to an unexplored area, a journey made possible by melting glaciers. The funding foundation does not expect them to document, to produce, to achieve: and here is where the remarkable spirit of the film comes from. Rugged landscapes of desolateness, as if it is the end of the world and it is forbidden to carry on, greet man: and yet, there are possible signs of an earlier man, the Stone Age man, who once abided here, called it home, bred children, and mysteriously left. Life even in this desert is everywhere: and life in its pristine forms, life that holds clues about the nature of life itself. Where did life itself come from, if it did? And how robust is it? The tens of thousands of years man has been living: how long a future is feasible? Can man last long as, say, dinosaurs did? And what will be that man? Which civilisation, how recognizable? Or will they be picking our fossils?

The Expedition to the End of the World is a film that sets you liberated: and that gives a shining meaning of science, often lost in, ironically, the world of modern science.Like religions, like art, science is a beautiful way to inquire, to understand, to know the truth: equations and chants are not much different from each other.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Derakht-e Golabi

It is seldom that we see poetry distilled in biographies: even though aren't memories the best example of poetry? Derakht-e Golabi (English title: The Pear Tree) deals with memories. It also deals with why Boo Radley did not choose to come out; why the young man waits for 99 nights outside the princess' window but not the promised, 100th night; why love for grand ideals can make you feel tired. The film strongly reminded me of the book To Kill a Mockingbird and the films Nuovo Cinema Paradiso and La guerre est finie. Like Diego, Mahmoud is tired: but here we also see that self of Diego before the tiredness came. How often a love for justice is born of love for beauty and a strong commitment to be faithful. Mahmoud loved M, in the form of my eternal love even more than M the person Mimcheh. His love for Mimcheh is slavish; he thinks he is not her equal; he loves to please her, he adores her, and he can die for her. He can always brood over her, and yet be far from her. For his love of his love for Mimcheh is strong: he cannot bear the thought of it dying, it quenched, it spurned, it cold-shouldered. Absence from Mimcheh only makes her more beautiful; absence from her only makes of him the culprit, never her. Now she can be perfect, and he can give all his love to fight for grand ideals of equality for all. And now he realises their futility: now he realises everything worth having in his life is his love for Mimcheh, the time he spent with her, the moments that can never be shared. The most beautiful novel he has written is unwritten: it sleeps, reposes inside him, and gives him the pear tree's peaceful shade. Neither to justify his ways, his ideas, his thoughts, nor to declare unto the world that "yes, I also loved": nothing will make him draw forth now from this seclusion, which is at once his paradise and his teacher. Now, the middle-aged Mahmoud becomes a child again: now he learns again, and now he learns to appreciate Mimcheh. Maybe more than M, my own eternal love. Now Mahmoud learns to love Mimcheh.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Plemya

It is said that Eugène Ionesco felt himself lifted off the ground one fine summer day as a child: when he came back from that ethereal feeling, he realized the depravity of the world around him. This is what the extraordinary commentary on the human condition Plemya (also called as The Tribe) is all about: a sharp look at human bestiality. The film is about the absence of Hope: and of what it makes men of. When Hope is limited to pillage calls as for scavengers; when Hope can find for itself no expression but having a good fuck with one particular girl; and when that minuscule expression is also crushed, the new horizon opens black like a day, yawning like the cruelties now living in your soul, unforgiving like the gods you reject.

This new horizon is the camera. Not of the biologist who is examining human species under the microsope. Not of the film director who is interested in aesthetics. Not of the storyteller who wants to say, "And then, one fine day ...". For there is no fine day in this tale of the eternally dumb: the modern humans. The camera is of the atman: untouched directly by good and bad alike, not even defining what is good and bad, not laughing with the comic and not tearing up with the tragic. It is the gaze which we lose, which we are not one with, which is neither interested nor uninterested. It is the vision that gazes, not observes; that sees, not looks. It tells stories of mirages, just like Ionesco did in The Killer: mirages that are universal, the maya, that can come in the shape of a pimp knocking at your truck door, or a wad of cash in a railway coupé, or a cheap T-shirt mentioning L'Italia. But this camera is not far away, as in Lean's Lawrence of Arabia: no, there is no near, no far here. This camera is mid-distance: it is just playing. There is no judgement of the near, and no contempt of the far; there is no shock of the near, and no intellectualization of the far; there is no sympathy of the near, and no charity of the far; there is no spoken word of the near, and no silence of the far. But with this beautiful camera to which a feature-length film plays out like a documentary without ever being one, accompanied by not a single dialogue or commentary or caption, the film invites you into the heart of human darkness, especially as common in the West and fast-modernizing parts of the East. The film is a story of civilisation: of grand projects like European Union and complicated manmade systems in place (whether they be schools or they be codes of bullying), but wherein man finds the ennui to return to his primitive state: the beast.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Keshtzar haye sepid

The film's secrets, its tears, the sadness of today and the laughter of tomorrow, the pastures of yesterday and the land where there is no salty sea of tomorrow: they will all vanish, evaporate, be no more, like a swan that will fly away. What will remain is the essence, not in a form of theory, not in a spark of recognition, not in a feeling of achievement: it will remain in the form of perpetual mourning, perpetual search, perpetual voyage; and in the form of stunning visuals of Rasoulof's masterpiece that is Keshtzar haye sepid (known under various names internationally, such as White or The Secret Tears or The White Meadows). The pearl that the tears will accrete into is the heart of the tears collector, Rahmat. Hard, having no clemency unlike his name: or maybe playing the god, not playing the role of the good man, the bad man. He will meet the father, but will not tell the son is here; he will meet the sea's wife again, but will not tell of that one who was stoned to death for her; he will know to preserve each secret deep inside, weaving a pearl, holy in this ablution, not choosing to decide for himself when revelation is good and when not. He himself has become the salt: indispensable, like the famed lowest-caste untouchable pyre-burner of Indic lands; but carrying a grave responsibility, carrying the need to not laugh and yet keep his sanity when lamentations, sins and rituals are repeated in every man, every island, every people, every age, every gender. He has become the salt that preserves death and burns life, but that attacks wounds and seasons meat. The dead shall arise again, the blind shall see again and Iran will come out of a constant vigil at the dying man's bedside.

The dying man is Iran, since centuries: not for a disease, but for a lack of youth. I remember when I was staying in the home of an Iranian family, the man asked me if I had noticed how people in Iran are always sad. Even if they laugh, they are sad. Even if they joke, they are thinking of death. They are afraid of it, but cannot rush to party to banish that fear, as the West does, and nor can overcome that fear, as India long ago learnt to. There is a vulture in the air; there is the smell of salt everywhere. Bright, burning salt. Lands that keep stretching and seas that never end: they are so banal, so nothing. That nothing itself becomes the most beautiful landscape. Iran relived in me when I watched this film, but so did also the amazing power of man, of his stories, of his camera, of his penchant for telling tales. There can be few films that are so beautiful to watch and that can say so much with so few words used.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost

Qissa (meaning "anecdote, tale") is a tale of frontiers: between nations, between customs, between mentalities, between genders, between life and death. It is also a tale of dissolution, of breakdown, of merging: those of frontiers. Whether they collapse or whether new ones are created, they often bring tragedy in their wake. Crossing borders can be significant, impossible, even leading to confusion, leading one to always live in liminal states. Crossing boundaries, whether voluntary or not, whether conscious or not, is an act that can change destinies for ever. As the director Anup Singh says, Punjab is where all converge: the Mongols, the Persians, the Arabs, the Indians, the others; and in the process are created boundaries, fluid but rigid, flexible but relentless, rivers that divide lovers to two opposite, never-meeting shores. And this is the tale of Qissa, only one among the many qissas, like the qissa that animates Mani Kaul's Duvidha but in a grander dimension: of history and geography, of reverberating ages and clashing gender roles.

There are several faults to the film: an unnecessay, revelatory appendage to the title; poor art direction, meaning too "clean" sets/locales; limited ability of major actors. However, it is the story and its multiple, unending implications that reign supreme here: and the rest is forgiven. The latter half of the film is particularly excellent, and music supports the film throughout. The ambiguous ending is what is best about the film: is it the child-begetting spirit of Umber, or is it the unfulfilled lust of Kanwar the girl, which wants to bed Neeli? And to protect herself from which one does Neeli take the final step? Has Kanwar finally succeeded in crossing the border, but Neeli, the wiser one so far, unable to? Or has Kanwar failed, and Umber's will proved stronger than Kanwar's love?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Szyfry

Where does reality find itself? Of what is it made? Is it definable? Which war is greater: the soldier's on the battlefront, or the one at home when everything is caught in a web of intrigue, when human affections also become arms to be used, scorned or discarded? Man will seek his legacy in his Son. The Son will seek a hero in his father, the Man. When the Man shall be absent, the Son will elevate whatever clay idols are within reach to the pedestal of God. The absent will be commemorated in forgetfulness: till one day the absent and present meet. Through dreams and memories and letters. The winter of human solitude reaches everywhere, covers everything and everyone. Wars will finish, but remains will still be lost, dispersed in thickets and trenches, scattered in faces unrecognisable and masks unrecognised. We will keep digging our own graves; in the name of progress, we will keep sinking to madness of reason. As we sink, we are never able to get out, never recover what was once there. We believed it was all ours, but nothing remains. We will regret, thinking that something and someone is ours; as we regret, the pit becomes deeper, narrower, just so as to fit us nicely. There is no space left, no manoeuvre left. Even prayer has gone, for when we regretted, faith left us. The last white bird flew away, leaving nothing but crows: eager for clutching at our wretched consciences, those sickly pieces of meat.

And from those disfigured interior beings will arise memories of different shades: memories that will give meaning to our unbearable lies. We will construct new pasts, and then new futures based on these evergreen pasts. The pasts shall conflict, shall clash among themselves; the present will have many explanations, each one real, but maybe none true. No one knows, so there is no definition of true. But there is one of real. Every reality will ask you to keep faith: that which you lost when you regretted. Now, it will be difficult, for you may never recover what was once there. And the consuming madness of trying to believe in manifold realities will consume you: till the war front looks like some comedy put up for an emperor in a bloody arena. Till someone can give you some tangible proof of something: a dead body or a living child.

But there is none. There is nothing but absolute darkness and supreme snow. You will grope, and you will grope, and you will grope: for proofs. You do not, cannot believe in light, not any longer, so even when it will come, you will turn and keep groping. There is no summer: the child shall keep searching for the hero in an icy land. The Son for the Man. The absent never return; or if they do, it is not them.

Szyfry (known often as The Codes in English) is a remarkably beautiful film that is a privilege to watch.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

La cara oculta

La cara oculta (English title: The Hidden Face) is a film that has more potential than was realised by the director: the basic plot is superb. However, the director goes for the usual hair-raising stuff of crashing thunder, strange events happening that only one person seems to perceive, and something happening when in bath: there is also the more banal stuff of stuffing your film with hot-looking ladies, their nude figures, and an expressionless, debonair man. In a film that could have been a lot more about the psychology of captivity, of horror and of jealousy, the focus is not even on mystery - for whoever has watched the trailer knows what's happening even before the midpoint of the film - but on the resolution of a seemingly hopeless situation. This is where the film falters: it is an almost unbelievable story but told in the most ordinary cinematic language.

Yes, there is a lot of focus in the first half on mirrors: but even that dissolves when the mystery is revealed. A mirror troubles human conscience, for you see yourself: you do not know why, you do not know what the mirror is going to present to you, and you do not know if there is someone or something on the other side, and if yes, then who or what. A mirror redirects our gaze to ourself, but more to what we project: we may have believed something else, and now we perceive ourselves, yet not as we know ourselves to be, but as we see with our own faculties. We create an idea of ourselves as we seem to others; and there we rest. For we cannot dive into the mirror like we can in a pool of water; we cannot break through its disturbing stillness. Baiz, the director, unfortunately shows us both sides of the mirror: and that too with a lot of melodrama, which at times appears childish. Even the spell of lights going out and events happening in bathrooms is broken: a film that could have been a supreme inquiry into man's deepest fears, perceptions and beliefs is reduced to a thriller with some skin play, some romance, some poorly drawn out characters. It is a film designed to satisfy audiences with popcorn on a Sunday afternoon, seeking to spend a couple of hours of their life distracted.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Haider

While Haider is not equal to Gulzar's Maachis, the comparison inevitably springing to mind even though the latter's focus was militancy, which is only the backdrop to the former's storyline, it is, apart from Blue Umbrella, probably Bhardwaj's best, and certainly a better work than Shakespeare's Hamlet itself. Set in a raw Kashmir, with the film relentless in its dark thrust and building up of tension (in spite of knowing the broad contours of the story), the film scores with its nuanced understanding of Kashmiris' fight and their concerns: it does not take sides except that of humanity, just like Haider's father does not; and it does not flinch from showing Indian army's cruelty and what it leads to. Where the film fails is its too many songs, pointless (and unsuccessful attempts of) comedy (Maine Pyar Kiya odes seem to have become quite popular in films these days, from Filmistan to here), and an important supporting cast who fail to act: that is, Shraddha Kapoor and Irrfan Khan. In a film whose nucleus is its characters, it is important to have the people playing them right: thankfully, Tabu has played a stellar role (another similarity with Maachis), and Shahid Kapoor has also done a good job. Yet, without especially Shraddha's role being played to the standard the story wanted, one cannot have the film needed. In addition, the film would have gained by showing a spirit as spirit, rather than an escaped prisoner. Right now, in fact, the film tries both: and loses by it. The original play's beauty is that nothing is certain; the film does start out on those lines, but gradually tries to educate the viewer, to lessen the uncertainty.

Otherwise, the cinematography is beautiful, and the background score is gripping and suitable; and what is the best is Bhardwaj with his over-the-top wackily dark humor. The gravediggers in their graves, the bald look of Shahid, and dialogues playing with 'to be or not to be' in various guises: all fit the mood. If only the director could have shaved off half an hour of it, it could yet have been a great film even with the other flaws intact.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dekalog, piec (TV)

The beauty of Kieślowski's films is that they are not humanist: they are human. The Dekalog series travels wide and far in its range of characters and lives, in its stories, so much that it is difficult to believe that one man can produce so much work of the highest quality, with the same themes echoing through such diverse multitude of humanity. This short film of less than one hour, the fifth part of the series, is at par with Victor Hugo's works in their human understanding and with Dostoyevsky's works in their plumbing to depths unexplored before. Can there be a higher praise for any creation than being said to carry both Hugo and Dostoyevsky in its womb?

This almost twenty-five-year-old film carries particular significance in today's society, where people often demand death penalty for those who commit rape or other crimes condemned by the system, or where there are those who are simply intellectually opposed to capital punishment, and yet have never bothered to think themselves as responsible when a crime has happened. And yet, isn't it they who are responsible? And yet, they have the temerity to judge, condemn and murder? The lawyer feels guilty because he was in the cafeteria when the condemned was toying with the rope, tortured by guilt, hate and the need of being loved and accepted.

We seek acceptance through conforming or rebellion, through declaring love or declaring hate, through creating or destroying. All expression, all communication is nothing but an attempt to seek acceptance, to seek respect, to seek a place. We seek it in people's hearts, in their memories, in their words, in their deeds. Sometimes, when we are too tired of seeking it there, we seek it even in a system. And when the system fails us, we hate not only the system but all those who comprise it. A film that raises questions about the moral tenets that society holds and keeps howling about, and raises doubts among each one of us about our duties, what we are doing, and if it is enough: it is not just life but it is the human spirit first of all that "Thou Shalt Not Kill."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dekalog, jeden (TV)

In the whole Dekalog series, and most impressively in its very first episode, Kieślowski again tackles the spiritual quest of mankind without invoking the necessity of religions, or even that of gods. The quest that is the result of human curiosity: that seeks to define and predict, that seeks to know instead of not know, and yet that finally knows more in knowing that not everything is to be, or can be, known. Lit up by a wonderful relationship between the precocious father-son duo of Pawel and Krzysztof, seldom seen in most cultures' films, the film finds easily a way into your heart and lodges there for ever. Maybe, that's a fault to contend with: in a film which conveys a deeply philosophical message, there is more sentimentality than many would usually like. But a sentimentality of the warm kind, of the intelligent kind: as if the bonding, both of love and of intelligence, between Pawel and Krzysztof is like the soft feathery flocons of snow that dreamily fall, defying meteorologists and the most accurate machines.

Systematically, as he would do in all his films, Kieślowski will be obsessed with the point of the view of the absent, of that that would have happened (had ...), of the irrealisable. Little shots throughout the Dekalog series, and throughout the master's oeuvre, will time and again remind the viewer: that the perception of the same event, the same circumstance can be different from the other side of the window, from outside, from another's eyes, from another world. And what if the circumstances had changed? Charts of destiny are again the drifting flocons of snow: and nothing can be predicted, nothing can be established as one definitive truth or good, and no theory or science or religion can be cherished as God save the actual love for and by Pawel. It is Love that says "I am Lord thy God, and thou shalt not have no other gods but Me." Only, it doesn't say (so, or anything): it is silent and pervasive.