Friday, December 14, 2007

Khoya Khoya Chand

Rarely I find such an interesting plot, rarely so many things which were best left unsaid, rarely a music so befitting, rarely so strongly woman-centric theme in an Indian film. I would say it as the modern Umraao Jaan, the only, and the big, difference being the tone of the film. While Umraao Jaan was steeped in melancholy despair and conveys that a woman's lot is a helpless one, Khoya Khoya Chand takes up the gauntlet, and makes Soha Ali Khan's character a towering one, a character which always knew how to be spotless above the world, though the world may be the melting pot from where she, the muse, has emerged.

One of the better films of Indian cinema, it's surprising and yet anticipated that how much less popular it could be. While you are busy in six-abs and blue thematic films and autistic children, Sudhir Mishra has come quietly, delivered an ace, made a bow, and left the scene (I guess the film would have already exited from many cities). Where does the film score? An art which seldom the filmmakers of India practise - emotions. They are better to be left to the viewer and not be said, then you get some great cinema. While Shiney Ahuja has always fought the devils in his mind, that his mother and he being shortchanged by his father, he has still not fought him enough to not be the same devil - as everyone has done, he also only tries to use Soha, a stepping stone for his success. It's a different matter that he has still devils left to fight, a heart to bleed - he has still not become 'one of the industry'.

Maybe the best film ever on the subject of relationships in film industry - how they operate, what compulsions lead to breaking up and getting lost in places where you yourself are disgusted to find yourself one day, and how money and success can turn the best of men's heads - a film which provokes you to think so much, about so many things. All the characters in the film are played with aplomb. Shiney Ahuja's dialogue delivery is as poor as ever, yet it doesn't disturb you unduly. The screenplay could have been much better; there was no need to bring in the reference to Shiney's past life over and over again. But considering the quality of other Indian films made, I would happily overlook that - when even a Soniya Jehan and a Sushmita Mukherjee can so fit in their roles, then why should I crib?

A brilliant film to watch, if for nothing else than for its riveting story. Go, watch it!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Merci, La Vie

This is a film I would want every film to be, when there is no narrative to tell. I use the word "narrative" here for too often one gets mixed up in story, script, plot, drama, words that have been used substitutingly many times, words that fail to grasp at the power of cinema. All the cinema, people forget, is only narrative - it's the art of telling a story, of absorbing a viewer, or of provoking him in thought, in fantasy (maybe erotic), in anger, in a thread of something worthwhile, something which he just not eschews with the last popcorn he ate, but makes his experience.
Probably because of its religious dimensions, it is not named often – but Ben Hur has been one of the greatest films to come out from the Hollywood, just as The Count of Monte Cristo is not accorded the greatest of places in literature, probably because of a lack of that "psychological" element that people nowadays search in everything and take as a hallmark of something great. Monte Cristo is a novel great on account of its sheer richness – does a story need anything more?

With this opening, I take up the case of Merci, La Vie (in English, Thank You, Life). It's a completely unstructured film, there's no narrative, no continuity. Not only the overlap is temporal, but spatial, even visual, of roles. We have the crew of the film admonishing us directly, we have a girl exhorting her father to have sex with her friend so that she can be born. But we have Anouk Grinberg's charming smile that will at the same time woo us to sit through such logical infallacies and watch the mayhem that the director manages to create.
Or is it mayhem? On the face of it, it’s a story of two girls, Camille (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Joële (played by Grinberg), two girls starved for sex and for more than sex. Joële is the one who seduces every man, who keeps on insulted by men and yet runs after them time and again. Camille, the lonely introverted girl, sees the friend she always looked for in Joële, and in the process becomes more open, more experimental, and understands the world that in spite of the “shit” life is, one learns to love living, and say “Thank you, life.” The film is open to a host of interpretations – each viewer can draw his own inference, own morals, even own story. Joële is shown to have devastated a whole town by gonorrhoea on the instance of a depraved doctor (who gets rich in the process; played by aplomb as usual by Gerard Depardieu) who is the only true love for Joële; the film plays out elaborate farces, even plane bombings, from the Second World War; and the film ends with Joële as a prisoner with Camille’s father, loaded naked with umpteen others on a train, to be shot at randomly by German pointsmen, and Camille hiding in a bombed-out hideout.

Camille and Joële seem to be one – I mean of course not in the film, but it’s the easiest way you imagine the inference. Joële is the alter ego of Camille – a figment of the introverted girl Camille’s imagination, and through her (i.e., in her full-blooded imagination) Camille tries to fill up the loneliness in her life. She makes herself believe that her father had more to give than he could, and hence she again brings Joële as the lover for her father, in the end exhorting her father to not to fear her mother but have Joële, so that she can be born. Interestingly, Camille’s mother seems to be another alter ego of Camille – her another bit of personality, played out in flesh and bones. The mother can’t stand the men, yet she panders to the German officers when they have captured her husband. Is it the personality of Camille which asks her to refrain from the attraction of loose sex, yet which gets attracted to that heated imagination represented by Joële, maybe even destructively in the end? The mother evolves into a bitter, sober, wise old woman – one who has seen it all, gone through it all, and emerged knowing that you’ve got to live through your life somehow, even if you’re a woman. Is that the way Camille herself will emerge after her protracted bout of imagination? Or will she continue to look for Joële? Will she continue to look for being insulted, slapped, raped by men, to be dumped on a highway when they feel convenient and to be used as a prostitute when they have to further their own ends? More importantly, why should a woman herself choose such a life? Why should Camille go for it? Still, looking at the end of the film, I think that Camille might yet opt for this – imagination and living through it are quite different things.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mon Oncle

The most amazing thing about Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle is that it never attempts to make you laugh, and yet it succeeds in doing so. But it is not an uncontrolled burst, a mindless burst, that is induced from you. The whole film is an unvarying social commentary, upon the times we live in, upon the way rich and society-conscious people live, and upon the simple ways that give you pleasure in life and that never change with time. There are so many things that you tend to reflect upon while watching this film; I have probably never seen the camera used so aptfully and so masterfully in any film.
Tati seems to be a master of his craft. The whole film is visualized mid-distance - the viewer is always the third party, the voyeur, another one of those guests who stand at the door and wait for the fish to be turned on. Not even a close-up shot of M. Hulot is spared to us - there is only one proper close-up that I can remember, that of the single neighbour (Dominique Marie), when she tries to ingratiate herself to the boy. What a brilliant visualization by the director! The woman looks as if she is going to gobble up the boy in her jealousy and frustrated single life.
There are many other scenes in the film that save it from a Chaplinesque fate. Not all imminent comic tragedies do happen. When the Arpels are trapped in their new-fangled garage, and the dog never seems to come there, there still is a maid after all who releases them, in spite of all her apprehensions about electricity. When M. Hulot tries to make the automatic gates dysfunctional one night and the gates come in his hands, two heavy gates and he trying to balance them somehow without waking up his sister and brother-in-law, he does succeed somehow - at least with all this build-up, this anticipation of a slapstick scene, there never does appear a slapstick scene. It provides a relief from the umpteen slapsticks made until now - after all the build-up, instead of the slap you just get the feeling of what might have been. In my opinion, it takes the film to a slightly higher sphere of the comedy, saves it from being called a slapstick.
The film is replete with minor details, minor characters, minor idiosyncrasies. There's the girl where Hulot lives, who always looks a bit soft in the head, always showing her new dresses, getting or giving a toffee, and never seems to do anything except play about with a permanent wide grin marked on her face. There are the boys whose company Hulot's nephew prefers, boys who gamble on whether their new trick of making people collide with a pole succeeds or not (this also reminded me of Fanny, where the old men around the bar play a similar game, this time revolving more around a guilty pleasure that people indulge in, so a bit more psychological). There is the woman whose social duty is to laugh (Tati doesn't even succumb to the temptation of showing her big, fat mouth open for once in close-up). And then there are the roaming vendors, the barmen, the haggling customers, the drunkards, who create little spectacles of their own in the main show.
It's a long time that I've seen a real comedy - the last time was Buster Keaton's The Cameraman, many, many years back. I am eager now for more of Jacques Tati.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Mighty Heart

Considering the premises of the film, that is, the inevitable tightrope that a director has to perform when selecting a story with so much of political and racist connotations, the film can be considered to be well-made. For the director does walk the tightrope. But when I further grope in my cinematic sensibilities and find nothing much that excited me, or that thrilled me, or that touched me, or that provoked me, I am condemned to shut up any further.

As I said, it's a film which balances itself well among people of different nationalities and beliefs. But that is all what the film does. Yes, you are delivered the message at the end, as usual, that we will not be terrorized - but then what was the previous 2 hours of film doing if a dialogue was to be inserted just to say that, while the rest of the film looked some kind of a damage-control exercise? A conclave of journalists and editors from all over the world, thrown in with intelligence men like Irrfan Khan or assortments off liasion people, just go on meeting together, tracking leads and keeping tabs of the latest emails and news in papers, drawing a map of involved people on a whiteboard - fine, great, reminded me of Mountbatten's red pins at the time of partition of India - but, that's not the story, the substance, right?

The film's most fundamental failure is the lack of a story. But this is not the only one - a poor direction and a poor understanding of nuances in another one. To talk of smaller but bigger matters first, why is Irrfan Khan made to act as if he is reporting to the whole cavalcade of editors of Western newspapers? At the most, he can be sympathetic and will do his duty - but why will he, a Pakistani national and SSP(CID), continously act in almost a subservient capacity to journalists, who don't even know the terrain, the country? Probably a doomed attempt to show the Westerners as superior against Indians and Pakistanis (for Archie Panjabi has nothing to do except sort the emails and track the leads - for that matter, there isn't anyone in the film who is doing any going anywhere). Angelina Jolie is completely disappointing - she is looking like a journalist to me, that's all - but it's completely beyond my comprehension that someone like her is even deemed to be an 'actress'. When the lead of a film does not hold your sympathy, then that's the first step where a film fails.

Now to talk of bigger things which seem also bigger, nonlinear editing seems to be the in thing nowadays, just as the wording "in thing" is, but it's better to keep it in wraps unless you (1) need it and (2) have the expertise for it. The Constant Gardener is the only truly great film made with a nonlinear editing technique - and there, the whole story is itself edited nonlinearly. Which is again something to be borne in mind - if you are telling a straight sequence of yarn, then 99 out of 100 you are better off if you narrate also straight. Of course, what I call as "nonlinear" in this film is not really so - the story is continuous, I am talking about the strange camera cuts used. It reminded me of the daily-running Hindi soaps - after something impactful (or even without it), the camera shows each one of the persons' reactions standing within the earshot - so a camera, instead of following the action in a straight sequence, becomes the register - that when something and something happened, what was happening to each person. (That's why I call it nonlinear - for the instantaneous reaction of all the people present to an event is simultaneous, and not like person C waits for person B to get amazed, person B for person A to get terrified, etc.) Even more deterioratingly, the film doesn't even have any impacts in between - so you just have a camera which has got a mind of its own, which keeps on swinging from one to another person without rhyme and reason, probably just to leave with the viewer that see, all these persons are involved in this, all these are thinking about Daniel Pearl and where is he, all these are really about their job.

In the final analysis, what the film was missing? Pain. And tension. Karachi. The sea of hate in which a Westerner would be living there - that doesn't come across. The struggle to survive in the fundamentalist heartland - that does not. And Marianne Pearl's pain - that does not.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Mina Tannenbaum

A multilayered story, at first glance it looks quite frivolous, and you tend to frown upon encountering such a film, upon getting conned into an experience which does not seem would be much rewarding. The childhood stories of the two girls on whom the film centers only tend to reinforce the undercurrent that both girls are not the favorites of the social world that includes their parents - so both are very lonely, left to their own thoughts (always a dangerous thing), and destined to meet each other one terrible day. But this does nothing more - the film flows on turgidly for the first half hour.
The little girls grow up into Mina and Ethel, two Jewish irreverent girls played by Romane Bohringer and Elsa Zylberstein. The first one is bespectacled, the other one is gawkingly plumpy. They don't seem to have much confidence of ever attracting boys. And in that adolescent age, they don't have many other ideas about how to live - they just want to be free. How? They don't know.

Interestingly, except for their common inferior complex (let's give it that name for the time being), the two 'friends' have not much in common. Mina is crazy for arts, and has always been very good at imagination and drawing; whereas Ethel is just brash, not much talent in tow, just looking out, peering the world. It's funny that it's Mina who's the self-assured one in her glasses. The art instructor is rude and pricks her to the heart, yet Mina has the courage to answer that to place a nude among clothed does not require courage. Inspite of Mina already disturbed by her first crush.

The teen crushes of Mina and Ethel being got over with, the film then really takes on a headlong dive into layers of wit and irony and revelation of characters and the world in general - it is then that the film takes flight, soars high, and in the end burns itself in its greatness - a beautiful end.
As they grow up, their lives begin to get more entangled, mostly a result of their own thwarted desires and ambitions. Mistrust grows, especially as they are still not much sure about their charms on men. Mina falls for an art dealer, who conceals his dirty mind and dealings behind a brash, businessmanlike behaviour - even more than Ethel's final carving up a life for herself which has no Mina, it was the art dealer's dirtyness, I think, in the final analysis that made a lasting pessimistic impact on Mina, killed her off art, and led to the final end of the film. Of couse, in parallel Ethel became quite street-smart, misused Mina's name to further her own ends, and finally did make a comfortable home for herself, with a good career. The vacuum of Mina was only to be realized if she met you at the street-corner - but it's no vacuum if you forget it so very soon after in the arms of another. Probably, if Mina would have made some right choices or would have had some luck, Mina also would have been the same - but, she remained the forlorn, and hence she had no one now to fall back upon except her oldest friend, her only friend, Ethel.

Many critics have not approved of the tragic end of the film, but to me this was inevitable - Mina was Mina. To show something else would have made her very ordinary in the final say - any other end would have knocked her and the film from the pedestal.

Again, superb acting by Romane Bohringer after L'Accompagnatrice with good performance from all the other actors, especially the art dealer. Unconventional, crisp camera angles, and a good lighting usage make the film something to study.


Usually, French films haunt you by their atmosphere, by their lethargy-inducing pace, by the thick rings of smoke and philosophy that encircle you. But in The Accompanist it is the eyes of the protagonist, Romane Bohringer, which fix you in their grip, which haunt you for long after you're done with the film, which trouble you with questions about a woman's role in the subplots of this world.
The film is a story about an accompanist, Bohringer (playing Sophie Vasseur), to a rich, famous, selfish singer (Yelena Safanova playing Irene Brice). Coming from a poor background, and having an intelligent and quick brain, Sophie soon makes herself indispensable to Irene, utilizing the latter's many love affairs to her advantage. But the resentment of not having had all this never leaves Sophie - she feels herself the better, the more intelligent (and more talented as well?) woman, one who should have had the kind of pampering Irene gets, one who should have got the love of the young revolutionary Jacques Fabert, more of her age than Irene's, one who has to learn bows from Irene though her whole life is nothing but a series of bows. Is it a right that you were given from above? asks Sophie directly to Irene, in one of the best scenes of the movie - a moment, when it did come out of Sophie.

The film's rock pillars are the tour de performance by Romane Bohringer and the tragic beauty of hopeless, unrequited love in two aspects - that of Charles Brice for his wife, Irene, and that of Sophie for the world for which she does not exist, unless she flirts or unless she becomes famous or rich. Brice' love is, simply said, heroic - it reminded me of the love that Gabriel Oak bore to Bathsheba in Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, the book. And in that perspective, the double-cross of Irene and Fabert becomes very despicable. In a curious role reversal to the usual film fare, it's the businessman Brice here who holds the viewer's complete sympathy against the revolutionary. The tragedy of the film was inevitable - Charles Brice had loved more like a woman than a man. He had loved truly - that is only for once. Let the glass be dashed to pieces before drinking from any other.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Vivre sa Vie

I read somewhere an analogy being made with blocks - that one of the techniques to distance the viewer from the film that Godard has used in Vivre sa Vie is 'cutting' up the film in blocks. Yes, of course, I agree - but should this kind of filmmaking exist? Questioning a great master - it might seem heresy, but should not a great master indulge in beautiful sequences rather than presenting us with sharp trills and sharp basses, flats of the prostitution statistics, and crescendos as when Nana (played by Anna Karina, Godard's then wife) picks up a man from the street.

The film is about a girl who starts with an ambition to become a cinema actress, and ends up becoming a prostitute, a drifter. But, the film's too crisp, too sharply pain-giving. It does not allow you to dwell on a frame, even though the pace of the film is so lethargic; an unbounded flood of ideas, a nerve-wracking pace! Some of it is due to the chopped up effect of the film and the chopped up reality of the story. We do not know for ever why is it that Nana leaves her husband and child, even though her husband is evidently in love with her. We do not even get a good look at the husband's face; he doesn't mean anything in the time span shown of Nana's life shown in the film. How is it that she drifts into prostitution? OK, probably she sold herself to the man who professes to send her pictures to agents, in order to be in a film, but why did she continue the downfall? What was that compulsion that prevented her coming to a poorish, good enough family? And finally, why does Raoul suddenly try to sell her off instead of continually milking her, and why is Nana an unwilling yet silent party to all of this, only screaming when her death in all this shady business is imminent? Yes, you grapple with these questions, and at the same time the film is moving.

Now, mind you, most films move, really move; here, sometimes dialogues flow, and sometimes even they don't. When Nana talks to an old philospher about the meaning of silence and words and the artifice needed to erect a communication between your persona and the society, the breakwater that surrounds you, and love, dialogues flow - the old man's words, probably not all comprehended by Nana, and Nana, probably completely not comprehended by the old man. But, most other times in the film, there's not even the relief of dialogues - it's as if you are on a tight strain, a leash; almost all the frames are filled up with Nana's close-ups, and if not hers then of something else. Yet, Nana is there in almost every frame, she pervades all of it. Her face, the study of her face, if you can say that, that's the film. Interleaved is all kinds of talk, including Poe's poem and a lot of statistics about prostitution in Paris, and guidelines, and a moving tragedy occurs before our eyes for which Godard does not even allow us to cry, in fact does not wish us to cry. The film's too sharply painful.

Interestingly, the film, Nana, reminded me somehow of Maugham's Of Human Bondage, a book that was again painful for me till half-way, for I hated that waitress whom Philip had fallen in love with, and yet I could not tear away myself from why was she like herself, from the reality that who is the greater sacrificer, Philip or that waitress, who inspite of feeling no love or attraction for him, plays up to him only for want of money and something better.

It's a great film, but not necessarily a film that can give you pleasure. But, yes, it will give you fodder for thought - too much of it. A brilliant acting performance from Karina, plus a beautiful Paris, crisp monochrome, deftly handled camera, the usual unconventional shots of Godard (so that instead of getting sucked up into the story, you remain at a distance, at a tight distance, and keep on thinking) - all make the film a masterpiece.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jean de Florette

I begin on a more personal note. The film rushed back for me memories ranging from Zola to the rich tapestry of Monte Cristo - there was so much plot, there was so much earth, and there were so many parallel-running strands in the film. As I write this, I have still not attained the climax - the accompanying part, in which the daughter is to take revenge, is still remaining. But already, there is much to chew upon.

Jean de Florette is a wonderfully made film - all the actors play their parts so well, the camera is so much well-balanced, the rural character of France is so vividly brought out, and the music that backs up the film is so beautiful, poignant, and, for once, so unobtrusive in the story. The film's story is about that all-pervasive French theme - land. Desire for land takes the centrestage as brilliant acting performances stringed around it make it a wholesome experience. Yves Montand (playing Le Papet) plays a sucker of an old man, and a man with very deep brains for hatching plots - plots that succeed. This time, it's for land for his nephew (Daniel Auteuil, playing Ugolin), so that the Soubeyrans, of whom he and his nephew are the last, continue their stock and money. And, it's Gérard Depardieu (playing the title character) who becomes the victim of both the plotters.
Spurred on by his sometimes impracticable ambitions, especially when you consider that Jean's background in the film was that of a tax collector, knowledge based on books and 'statistics' (his farming plans and his all money are based on the monthly average rainfall that the books tell him!), a hatred of his being hunchbacked and at the receiving end of people always, and an inordinate capacity to see the bright side of things, make him a very, very lovable character, and one that moves you when you put in shade the schemes that the uncle-nephew duo have put in action to deprive him of water and, consequently, the farm. The film ends in tragedy, with Jean dying in another of his wild schemes. He never realises that the man whom he has put his all trust into, and who his wife and ten-year old daughter do not like, that Ugolin is the man who's ruining him, slowly killing him, and desiring even his daughter.
No, I am not running ahead into the second film. There are several unpicked threads in the film. When Ugolin encounters Manon (Jean's daughter) for the first time, inspite of the latter being a child, he is struck vehemently and stares for half a minute or so at her, forgetting everything else. Of course, the rest of the thread is to be picked in the second film, "Manon des Sources." Why is Ugolin, otherwise a man who is guilty to some degree over his ruining Jean (in contrast to his uncle, who is totally heartless), attracted to her, a child? Is it because Ugolin is uncouth, not educated, and still knows to be amazed at education (as he evinces so many times when confronted with Jean's bookish knowledge; "the othentics"), and in front of him is a charming girl, with firm grounding in education, not bombastic like her father, but cool and, you feel, more pragmatic? But, in order to grow flowers (Ugolin covets the land as his ambition is to grow carnations), he has, unknowingly to himself, already driven out the flower in his life! There's something else in the film which struck me forcibly - why does Jean de Florette hate the city life so much, when to all accounts he had a good salaried life there? Is it because he was born and bred up, as a hunchback, in an urban set-up, and has all the taunts in-drilled in him? Or, even more importantly, he wants to be "self-sufficient" - a rural farmer's life, based in his homestead, where he has minimal contact with fellow men, where he can live the way he wants and raise his family, where his being a hunchbacked does not matter?
The film has been beautifully shot. I could feel the hot perspiration on myself when I saw Jean toiling in the hills for trickles of water - this is always a litmus test for any beautiful film. You know then that the director has caught the moment.

The Blue Umbrella

Much has been, as I've been reading on the Internet, already said about Blue Umbrella, and surprisingly, not very much in favour of, many times. Now, for me, it was not only a refreshing film, but a great film - especially for any intelligent child. Of course, any good book or film meant for children is always par excellence for adults.
The film showcases Himachal Pradesh like I've never seen it before in any film. And, more importantly, the director has never strayed where it would have been so easy - it's basically just the opening and closing shots of the film which really allow you to be in awe of the Himachal. Otherwise, the focus is always on Pankaj Kapur, Biniya, or the umbrella, whether blue or red in between.
Of course, the film's real strength lies in two things - Pankaj Kapur's brilliant acting (and his best, in my opinion, minus Maqbool, which I've not seen) and not much experimentation by Vishal Bharadwaj in any of the things, whether it be camera, music, or editing. It's Pankaj Kapur who provides all the innovativeness. Complete from a different accent to his whispers to himself, especially after his downfall, he has everything to give that an able actor can give. His every intonation, every movement (watch him, his head especially, preparing his tea after Biniya has 'accepted' him and bought biscuits from him), every dialogue renders him personality - and rarely we have such a fully developed character in cinema, and even more rarely through the actor rather than director. I understood everything that was to be heard and understood in the film - of course, for that you have to have be from north India or you must have lived there. Though if you have not, maybe for such a person the film would be even more enjoyable - it's a completely different mindset and culture up there from rest of India.
Interestingly, I was more touched by the concept of real power as presented in this film than through Schindler's List, bemusing though the comparison seem to be. Of course, there's the climax, in which Biniya accepts Pankaj Kapur, the umbrella being the token, and both Pankaj Kapur and Biniya have learnt something new very, very well - that love and forgiveness are the real power, there's nothing beyond that. But, if you watch the song in which Biniya is dancing with her umbrella with a little more care, you will find a very interesting half a minute of frames or lesser - out of the umpteen uses of the umbrella, Biniya also uses it to shade an old woman while grazing the cattle. It really lays the groundwork for the climax of the film to me - the child's character is very much evident there. Most children wouldn't even allow to touch something that they are crazy about (and which, I think, Biniya also would do in most cases), but for a poor, old woman, the heart upwells, and the umbrella is there!
And, for all non-Hindi speakers, the film is anyway subtitled in English, and done well too. So, doesn't leave an excuse not to see the film after this, at least after my review, does it?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

Rarely I have seen such a beautiful film! Alan Arkin lifts the film out of the realm of a genre of films made on disabled/handicapped people, into the realm of romance, beauty, and drama. Beautifully gathered in pace, the film rightfully opens with Arkin's best man, the drunkard, unhinged Stacy Keach. Even as Keach himself is unmindful completely of the world (reminding me famously of Dickens' Harold Skimpole), except as where it serves him, Arkin's love for him (and for the whole world) does not want a return, at least not a substantial one. One touch, one soft smile, one good kiss are enough to repay him - but as a deaf and mute, it is hard for him to find even that. The world's too busy in its own chores - messed-up lives, circumstances, and unsatified desires and ambitions - to notice him. At the most, thank him and forget him - after all, Arkin himself is too engaged in making himself effaced.

Fiery characters cross Arkin's path - each on his or her own path of self-discovery, whether late or early in life. Arkin, in his own way, has invaluable help for each, yet the worth is not recognized until when it's too late. Though Sondra Locke does a wonderful role in her debut and rightly gets an Oscar nomination, it's cruel that Cicely Tyson didn't get even a nomination, when she definitely deserved to win it. One of the best acting performances that I have ever seen in my life, and ironically the only reason I suspect that Tyson didn't get there was because she was black. Ironically, for the film itself is so much against inequality of every sort - woman vs. man, handicapped man (including Locke's father) vs. the world, black vs. white, poor vs. rich (Locke's party theme is a brilliant thread in the film; it is the only one that I thought could have been carried up a little way up or a bit differently - probably not have Locke's rich boyfriend as an honest fellow).

The American South is vividly expressed in the film - I felt all the stories from the South waking up in me as I watched the film. The recurring themes - music and deafness, black and white, helplessness of a man with all his faculties just because he has that feeling of being black in him against the power and resourcefulness of a man who's deaf and mute but who really wants to help and love someone (and wants to find some love for him in return), duty (Locke's mother) versus the 'joy of living' (Locke) - all are so beautifully stringed together, and presented as a whole, that I now want to read the novel as well.

And what saves the film from a Dobbin's fate is its tragic end. In many films, directors opt for a tragic end just to 'elevate' the film, to make it seem arthousy, to distance it a bit from 'the masses'. But here, the tragic end served quite a different purpose - it reinforced the film's title!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Pursuit of Happiness (1971)

It's a tortuous film - in everything: the pace at which impedingly it flows; the confused lives that the protagonists lead; and, perhaps the best of all, the plot, always seeking a direction, a new meaning, a new perspective. It's a film which used to be made in America in those days - the present day fake sentimentality had not come yet, the passing of values and grit from father to son had not yet become the ritual (maybe, not had come only as a 'inspiring story'), and experiments were being made and fresh films were being made - people had tired of vaudevilles and gold digging musicals, of gunslinging inperturbable heroes, of epic films of magnificient budgets, and there was a return, with different editing and cinematographic techniques, to the films of 1940s - the kind of films that you experienced with Kings Row.

It is the hero (Michael Sarrazin) here who really captivates the viewer - so sensously beautiful, yet lives up to his own ideals, and tries to live by them. The cast selected for the film is, I can say, perfect. The hero is captivatingly beautiful, yet looks a greenhorn and at the same time intelligent. He has always some loose ends about him - as if he has misplaced some keys in his child life, and is still searching for them with a lost look, not knowing where they might be, how they look like, not knowing at times what is it he is looking for. And yet, he has a disciple. His girl. She has an exuberant energy and faithfulness - all ready at her beloved's feet; she believes in him implicitly, at all times, as one superior to herself. Rarely do you see good, strong characterizations like that in a film.

Especially, the American films. The feminist tone or lack of it that has to be imparted to each of the characters, most of times deliberately, takes away the charm almost invariably. Too much is measured - very less is natural. Pursuit of Happiness shows what vigour does freshness lend to a film. The film is a very simple story of an intelligent, atheist young man, who leans a little towards communism because of his ready identification with the grief of others, a ready ability to strike a chord in himself for others, and his greenhornness. He hails from a very rich family, but has, in effect, renounced his wealth, and his didactorial grandmother, selfish and narrow aunt, and fond and intelligent father. His world just centers around his dreams and his efforts to 'correct' this world, and his beloved. Until fate strikes! And compels him to face this world as it is, with no place of refuge. The controversial point is that he decides to run away, at the end of it, fed up from the system that civilised societies work on.

Or, can you call it running? I do not. Primarily, only because he spoke to the gay black prisoner, only because 'he was nice' - there was no other motive. Neither the sexual or romantic one - as the prosecution wanted to frame the case; nor any reasoning in the young man that since he believes such and such things, so he must not debar from anyone's company and he would speak to all, and pompously get into everyone's broth. No! His only motives, throughout the film, are impulsive, and all his impulses are driven by a good and free heart - a man who does not fear anybody, any system in this world; he hates more the cycle of lies and poses that he would have to affect, even for a moment, to abide by the civilisation, to abide by what would be worldlywise good for him. But, the tragedy on which the film hinges, is that he refuses to barter his soul, even 'for a week'. This is where the film stands apart. Rest - a good background score, a great song, some very good cinematography angles and the New York locales, side actors who play their parts well, the 1500 that the greenhorn easily gives just so as to be able to run away - fall in their due places.

For a more wholesome treatment, you can go to (rarely do you find such brilliantly written reviews).

Friday, March 09, 2007


Probably, for the first time, an Indian film celebrates lust, though in guarded terms, cautiously trying to carve out a way for itself in the rotten Indian mentality. Sorry for being blunt, but when you hear the people airing their usual pretensions about 'vulgarity', 'morals', and 'love', and even stranger platitudes and defenses, you really get fucked off. To cut the whole thing short, the film is not beautiful because it is a landmark film - landmarks can be a hovel besides my house. The film is beautiful because it is beautiful. And that's it. It is always art for art's sake, "the rest can go to hell", as Amitabh Bachchan says to Jiah.
Amitabh's great; the cinematography and the tea gardens (Munnar?) are great, the shot angles and the panning of the camera, the weight of dialogues, when, where, how much, varying depths of field, the whole screenplay - yes, everything's top class, and Ramu has surpassed his work in Sarkar. But it's Jiah who enthralls you. How many talents will India suddenly unearth? After Kangana, now Jiah? Two talents who remind me of the classic actresses, with poise in their acting - how many actors, especially the girls, have poise, have weight, have patience of absorbing the scene, the camera and the lights, the dialogues remembered by heart, and rendering them perfect? A rare breed. Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, the Spanish heroine of Everytime We Say Goodbye - oh, how many of others?
And, actually, it's the lack of poise, which indicates the poise in this heroine. She has brought her own interpretation to the role of the self-torturing, living-on-her-own-terms Australian girl, the girl with no past, the girl with a destructive future. Watch Jiah in every frame - how she moves, how even while speaking the simplest and the briefest of dialogues (and the film doesn't satisfy the Indians' desire of melodrama by way of heavy dialogues), her every part moves on its own, independent and living a life, a dance of its own. Oh, how could Amitabh, a photographer, be not bewitched? She is so clearly enticing Amitabh, and yet she is so fiercely independent - a marvellous combination, so little celebrated in India.
The other debate about the film is that Ramu toned it down - no explicit scenes, or say, not even a suggestion that there did happen physical contact between the 60-year-old man and the 18-year-old girl. Yes, I agree only to a very pale extent. But, the thing is that the camera shots, usually taken with the legs of Jiah in focus whenever Amitabh is getting aroused, tell the whole story, and very aesthetically. I do not think that there was much point in going further. But yes, the suggestion could have been there that there did happen something between the two - otherwise, Amitabh's suicide wishes seem a little too abstruse to digest. But, personally speaking, if I would have written the same script, I would have included one explicit scene - that between Amitabh's daughter and Jiah. I would have shown them as girlfriends, and this puts then Amitabh's daughter not only in a state of shock when she knows about Amitabh and her friend Jiah, but also jealousy, and rivalry, and a pang of unfaithfulness from her lover, Jiah. The film did her and Jiah bathing together for the briefest of time, and I don't know why did the director not follow it up. I think, that was the hint, but it was not followed then the whole script, for fear of ostracising the already-offended Indian audiences. Would have been a marvellous story of human emotions then, with Revathi continuing to act as the undisturbed, freezed, un-understanding woman of the house.
The background score of the film is magnificient, and not what is 'expected' when films like this are made. The AB-sung "Rozana jiye, rozana marein" song could have been made a part of the end credits - it was a lapse, I think, by the director as well as the editor and post-production crew. There are only two negative feedbacks from me for the film, both minor - one, the usage of sound effects which have become now too common, and were always too vulgar (and Vidhu Vinod Chopra uses them in aboundfuls); the other restricted to only frame - a sudden swooping of the camera on the car, a very, very vigorous dollying, when Jiah is upset and climbs down from the car, having just received the first scolding from Amitabh in her acquaintance with him - totally unneeded, just being camera-happy, and spoiling the mood of the scene - the scene which so much brings out to the fore the childishness of Jiah, and the love with the father figure in Amitabh that she is with in.
The esteem that I put this film in is evident from my placing it in one of my three best Hindi films - the other two being Manisha Koirala's Khamoshi, the Musical and Dharmendra's Ghulami.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


It is only political correctness that is prompting people to not dare to say anything against the current, the current which might pit them with 'fundamentalists' and the 'regressionists' and something which can cause them to be looked as uneducated louts or stone-hearted intelligentsia. But, the point is that art is for art's sake, and not for preaching or propaganda or an advertisement for missing. If you've got to indulge also in any of these pleasures, then package it with an ultrafine veneer, so that not even the keenest of critics cannot see through, and even if they can the film's power and beauty compels them to shut off.

This is where Parzania fails, terribly. Fine efforts by Naseeruddin Shah and Sarika go in vain - since there's nothing else. The love within the family and the easy relations between the different communities living in the same chawl - they are only being tried to be shown. For one thing, when you know that the dialogues would have been in a local language, it's difficult to digest English, especially for things such as sundry and trivial remarks. Otherwise, Americanise the film. It is only the American who is using the f__ word so many times, but do the Indians not speak it? Most of them, especially the Gujaratis, speak it even more (of course, the local language variants) - then why not? You have shown so many different people in the film, of all shades and hues, and yet somehow all are looking so subdued, so dazed and insensible, so much like amateurs in a debutante play.

The gist of the problem? The film does not touch you, anywhere. It still connected with me, somehow, since I have experienced the riots, the volatile situation, that was in Gujarat those days, and always haunts any Gujarat/Maharashtra city or town, village or hamlet. Maybe, why that is the case, more on that sometime later, on my personal blog. The child artistes are terrible - they are neither good actors nor sensitive ones, and nor charming ones. Now, in such a scenario, how does a film, whose sole premise is the tragedy of a lost child, connect? The director has probably even taken the wrong pains - Parzan's sister is shown gaily swinging in each frame of the film, even when she is getting up daily to chalk up the remaining days. Maybe, the director thought that this would bring out the youthfulness of the girl, the innocence of the girl - but believe me, it is looking so much terribly out of place (and besides, no child, except probably a retarded one, would behave so). And when you juxtapose with the later dialogue of Sarika that her daughter is terribly unhappy on the inside and she only does not show it - it really comes to being ridiculous.

It's not only the child artistes. All the characters except Shah and Sarika are totally out of place. Raj Zutshi as a Muslim itself is terrible casting - and that too one with an angst? The Gandhian, the supposed mentor of the American in the film, is looking a total hypocrite and is making look the whole Gandhism a terrible flip-flop. There is no intensity, no key on which the film operates. It's just a mess of saffron flags, the insufferable child artistes (the newspaper boy another one who adds to the agony), the totally out-of-place music by Zakir Hussain, and a beautiful-looking Sarika. In spite of Naseeruddin's acting, it is she who, for me, somehow props the film - but pity that she is given such sketchy and immature bits as delivering a lecture at the end of the film - very melodramatic and very, very film-destructive. The only wonder that how did the film-makers manage to put the name of Pande in? Really courageous - for PC Pande, the then Ahmedabad commissioner of police, was and is the one guilty of so many people's blood - he should be actually hanged, simply.

The real problem is the story of the film itself. The real picture is a very complex one in Gujarat, and to simplify or bias it is not only unfair, but also trying to put a spoke in a smoothly running wheel. The story might have been based on the real-life search for a Parsi boy, but this is a film. Show a Muslim family itself. And I would show the angst, the bias, the aggression that most Muslims in India suffer from - it is true that they celebrate Pakistan's victories, they are always on the lookout to poke fun at Hindu gods and ways of living, and that they do not share any patriotism whatsoever for India. It is true, very true! The problems are different, and mainly two. One, the usual one of generalisation. Just because someone is a Muslim, you do not classify that person as another one of those who try to undermine India. Exceptions are always there anywhere, and they are not rare, but many. Two, even if someone is a biased Muslim, how do you have the right to tell that person to move on to somewhere, or to injure him or his property? That person is a human being first of all, and all other things are created by us. Circumcision is not something based on which you classify humankind - the point is sorely missed by the film. Another thing - the violence in Gujarat was only facilitated, and probably provoked, by the state government. But, the Hindus of Gujarat, usually a very timid and cowardly lot, are very rabid fundamentalists - and the opportunity was perfect to indulge in some foreplay. (I call it foreplay, since Gujarat was and is only the so-called lab for the Sangh Parivar; they still hope to indulge in the bloodshed wherever they can, on a genocidal scale.)

Sunday, January 14, 2007


A brilliantly scripted, politically conscious film. The ardh satya of compromising one's ethics (and, in the process, siding with those very elements that the man had sought to destroy) and being able to do some good is to the fore in a striking, blatant manner - and how often it is that the need to compromise (and the wish) grows as one's power grows, as one's sphere of influence grows, as one becomes increasingly a public figure. The life of mask begins! You exhort fans and innocent supporters to shout "Fist, Fist, Fist," and yet the guilt, the void, the blackness of your best friend dead, to which you remained a mute spectator, is all the time inside you. You always wished the good of workers, and yet you know that if the same people for whom you are here come to know about some of the methods and practices you resorted to for doing their good, would boo you, would disown you, would hurl stones you, and verily you would become an untouchable.

Sylvester Stallone handles the role with aplomb, complete with his immigrant accent, decisive movements of the body, and tough still honest looking face. He amazes you even more with the later part of the film - when he is shown to have grown middle-aged. It is then that the film really acquires a relevance unthought of at first, when the viewer is just getting along with young Stallone's struggle to build up a union. But now, when the union is in good shape, the hunger for more power surfaces in Stallone - and that's when the film really gets interesting. He finally gets the girl whom he always loved, but on the same day his friend leaves him for his uncompromisable ethics - and, probably from that day on, the last really good influence in an active form also went away from Stallone's life. Now, he was an easy prey to his own ambition, greed for power, and tactics of his new-found associates. Ironically, while Stallone always used them as pawns to build his and the union's power, it emerges at the end that it is he actually who always was the pawn - primarily because he cannot ever be like them, try as much he may - he will always have that bit of the young man who never cared for his life fighting for a nonexistent union.

The film is scripted really well, and the screenplay (Stallone again) and direction are at a real good and suitable tempo. The strike scenes in the initial part of the film, the work conditions, the odd-man outism of Stallone everywhere (and yet his mastery in rousing the rabble) - all take the film to a logical whole. Sexual harassment - such a small scene, when the overseer insuinates that Stallone's girlfriend is short of day's requirements; the never-say-die spirit of the real politician - Stallone, even when leaving the courtroom at the climax of the film in a huff and with grief gnawing within him over the news of his only friend and mate's death (and the revelations that his friend had made from his past life to the prosecutor), rousing the rabble with cries of "Fist, Fist, Fist"; the senator - Rod Steiger as the wily, shrewd, masked democrat; the leaden sky color of most part of the film (especially, the initial part). An excellent story and film, and a must for a Sylvester Stallone fan.

Ffolkes / One Two Three - The Taking of Pelham / Juggernaut

You will usually see only the fringe players in such films - character actors, actors who promise to become stars one day and never become, and some who just keep getting in and out of the film world itself. And yet, they somehow grip you. The dialogues are few, the music is impeccably paced, there's always a material image which looms larger than any of the characters (an oil rig, a train, a ship), there are always some, very brief snippets of the inactive characters in the film (I mean the passengers of the ship, of the train, the crew of the rig), and underlying everything is the tension, the all-pervading, sweaty tension. Someone is silently making ransom calls, someone is receiving them frantically, silently the calls are tapped and silently the heat and tension grows. The simplest solution - give the ransom. And yet, there's that thing of giving in to terror - and so, against time, plots are planned with mathematical precision, crazy experts are called for (whom nobody, even those who are seeking their help, likes), and the film is mounted onto a slow boil.
The amazing thing is that there's not any usual suspense in the film. Nobody wants to know who the person demanding ransom is and why is he or she doing it, nobody wants to know who will die and who will not, and yet there's a grip - although we all know that the ship or train with hundreds of people or the oil rig with crores of rupees will be saved at the end and we even know the general outline of the film in advance, somehow we remain in thrall of how exactly does this go now. The crispness and the dry satire of the dialogues in such film helps, and if the location is Britain, then be assured to get some vintage Britishness.
And, such films never do really well at the box office. People like dashers who can jump from speeding yachts and trains with nonchalance and lay stylish women at the same time in bed, and not the actual, efficient, superskilled and genius experts.