Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year

I call it a toothpaste ad: meant to exude some hazy brightness, where the world of commerce is neatly divided into Robin Hood businessmen and the others, Rocket Singh poses a much more important question: why did the film-maker become a film-maker? To make this?

To take an average middle-class Indian and tell his story is not a sin; neither is to package all the grim pornographic realities of life into a giggle. The former is a necessity; the latter is a style. To tell a non-story is one; to preach is a greater one. The amazing feeling of contrast that one can see this film in with Khosla ka Ghosla is an eye-opener; the latter tells a story with the joy of a story, and doesn't ponder creakily over who's right and who's wrong. It is another matter that Khosla has really the clean men winning and the bad men losing; the win and loss are not fished out from MBA books or heavy history tomes or thou shalt not guides to moral characters, but they are the part and parcel of a life, of a pretence, of a hoodwink. Rocket only manages to pull the usual trick: of preaching; where it fails even worse is that after all the preaching, the preacher himself seems a black sheep!

The start is promising: a Doordarshan-like stillness, seldom seen today, on the different things of daily use in the namesake protagonist's house, with a background score immensely hummable and looking as if it also crept up with the sun in your or mine mind; what strikes you is the clean textures, bright colors. For an opening credits sequence, this only weaves in freshness, and makes you ready for the hours to follow; however, what follows is more horrific set design! The textures continue to be clean, as if every wall in the film was painted yesterday; the clothes continue to be spotless; even the roads seem to me very freshly woken up. It's debatable whether this kind of look was even intended by the director: if intended, he surely would've tried to bring in a decay somewhere? A story purported to be on moral decay of the business world, and glowing in bright, fresh colors: is it to show the optimism that Rocket Singh shares with no one about the world, about people? For that, first of all, it is the sketchily built character of Rocket Singh which would have to be explained, if possible.

Is he an innocent, a fool, a hypocrite, a smart man, or a do-gooder? The problems of the film go beyond the malaise of a stillborn character brought to life. It does not require rocket economics to understand that if a thing costs 20 units and instead of selling it at 25, thus earning something, if you sell it at 21 then the customers are going to come; that's how any small business in this world starts and competes with the larger names. How is that supposed to be virtuous? In fact, forget 21; I might even go for selling it at 19 just to build the business to a certain level. I believe that is the most glaring of sins; when I buy mangoes from the farmer, I buy at a different price than when I buy them from the vendor, and I don't expect the price to be same, nor do I want it.

Why the cloak of virtuousness? Do protagonists have to be? Show the story! Undercutting happens a lot in real life; people even siphon off their company's funds and equipment and tomorrow are business masters, there's nothing to be ashamed of telling a story. A story is what is believable; not a Rocket giving you lectures on honesty. Beyond an excellent understated performance from Ranbir Kapoor, considering that he's considered to be hot and is not much of an actor otherwise, and another one from Naveen Kaushik (as Nitin) till he has a change of heart, the film is only remarkable for the morning mint flavors it comes with; till the intermission, it does still seem like a good jingle, but when the heavy punches of what's right and wrong start landing soon after and a self-help guide of how to run businesses, including even the tea-giving boy having his own lectures to give, the film begins to feel a farce where you are not even able to laugh.

Note: I used "even" for the tea-giving boy. Not in my mind. But the director did use him like the pawn of an "even" and yet smilingly bared his teeth to say that oh oh for him all are "equal", no evens for him. This is where films and books and songs, almost everything in the world begins to go bad; when you think a teamaker a teamaker and you don't think you can say it aloud. Hush, hush, hush! An educated world of educated fairness, hush, hush, hush!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Once Upon a Time in the West

If Sergio Leone hadn't already achieved greatness with the Dollars trilogy, then he does that with the grittiest Western I've ever seen: Once Upon a Time in the West (Italian: C'era una volta il West) . A film that refuses to balance its characters in only the color of blood with no taints no sainthoods, as the Dollars trilogy does, each man and woman is living a pulsing life and struggling in the days of the birth of a great, industrious nation; those days when America was yet discovering its potential, the railroad was slowly bringing civilization to the last fighters against it, and instead of kings and business magnates the world order would soon have the voice for every man. Ennio Morricone once again gives the life its breath: his music defies definition; probably the only thing that can be said it suits the film and its epic story to the hilt, and sweeps up every emotion in human breast in its wake. Constructed from several references to Westerns already made, the film turns out to be a greater whole than the sum of its parts: not least because of a stunning casting coup.

Henry Fonda, who you could never dream of with any kind of negative shade, plays the villain of the film with nothing in the name of a white shade attached to him. He looks ruthless, and not a step ahead of the game. He simply fits the murderer with icy blue eyes, who loves to kill, to maim, to rape, to finish spirits. The nemesis is Charles Bronson, the icy character who refuses to even once take advantage of the woman he protects during the course of his revenge, even if the woman herself so desires. He is also the nemesis of the Man with No Name of the Dollars trilogy, a man who has again no name except that given by the bandit Cheyenne, "Harmonica," but who does not indulge in bloody meaningless duels all over the desert to vanish into dust, but is only after one man, and whatever else it entails. An important difference with Lee Van Cleef's character in For a Few Dollars More is that Bronson, caring only for revenge, remains a good man, helping anyone else he can and remaining grateful to people who help him; while Cleef, again after only revenge, has become ruthless to the whole world after his personal experience. This is the same reason that while For a Few Dollars More relies primarily on the strength of its climax besides the focus on desolate American landscapes, Once Upon a Time in the West achieves greater heights through its redemptive theme, and faith in human goodness. Faith that lasts in spite of a land and times where blood was much more easier to get than water.

A masterpiece from Leone, it was not much surprising that the film was a flop in the United States: it's one long reality, with a music to elevate and almost a documented bit of history to make the things hard to understand for teenyboppers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The music I seek everywhere, find some bad some good some enthralling some uplifting, but music?, the beauty I create around me in which I can live, the beauty which only matters to me is the story of Sokout (int'l title: The Silence), yet another great Iranian film. A Tajik boy, Khorshid, blind, doesn't care for much anything but music; a Tajik girl, Nadereh, not blind, doesn't care for much anything but entering into his world. Around them is the world where music is everywhere, even when the landlord bangs doors to ask for money, and yet a world which does not have anything to give to these two artists except its beauty.

Khorshid often talks of bees, often answers questions about bees; and yet he is only in an instrument maker's shop. The instruments that come out from the shop are so often railed at by people: they only eke out sad cacaphonous poetry. Just as Khorshid is the yet untrained bee seeking nectar, and not yet knowing that the beggar might be a beautiful artist, but is helpless in the face of a world that loves money. Just as he himself might be deemed a defective instrument of mankind whom believers would bewail for. Nadereh takes the piece of mirror that reflects Khorshid; whatever is left is Khorshid's. As he seeks blindly the beauty in his sensations, Nadereh has already possessed him: doing so not by seeking to become the objective beauty whom he will sense, but being one with the beauty itself and thus feeling what is it he senses, becoming the between between sensing and sensed. An extraordinary poetic canvas brought to lyrical life by music and Persian language, the film goes beyond any attempt to define it. Life, poetry, earth.

Monday, September 28, 2009


More important than Why hast thou forsaken me?, why did Jonas brood so much over atom bombs being made by heathens as to commit suicide? Why did he start getting troubled over injustice and by his observations that God is apparently not doing anything in retribution, in recompense? Nattvardsgästerna (international title: Winter Light) is a beautiful film by Ingmar Bergman, most of the film a close-up of human faces and human frailties, and a stunning indictment of a sickening malaise: Christianity. It also asks questions about the existence of God and whether we should be even worried about if God exists or not. Should we not be better human beings instead of shutting ourselves inside dark recesses born out of custom and vocation and ritual and years of beliefs that seemed permanent, that seemed bulwark?

I like the simplicity in which Bergman made the film; except a boy sleeping during sermon and the organ player himself, the whole film is non-judgemental of anything; it just observes, shows, and thus asks the viewer his own questions. Even the questions are the viewer's. There are several provoking situations, dialogues, darknesses: a man kept on performing miracles yet didn't do any to save his life? If only to take the sins, then why the final cry of despair and doubt that oh Lord why hast thou forsaken me? Christ hung on the crucifix: why this emblem? In outward garb just showing the moment when he died for sins committed by man, then why not rather a symbol of an empty cave or the Ascension, a more promising and hopeful symbol? Or is it because it would be easy to make heathens believe in the goodness of a man who could die upon crucifix, forgetting that it was the punishment of the times (choosing to forget). What Godard calls shot and countershot in Notre Musique. Establish the countershot of Jesus hanging on crucifix; the rest becomes a relief, forming the shot.

Bergman also slides in a very interesting thought somewhere inside: love is the undoing of religion. Wouldn't the pastor have returned content with his administered communions to the woman he loved; maybe even if the woman looked at him with a question in his eyes; had not the woman died? That is what probably Märta doesn't do, and the pastor despises her even after using her body to try to wash his sins. Shot in close-ups throughout, the film only deviates in one long sequence into a hazy wide shot: when the pastor is in action, on the spot with Jonas' body, and a little far thus from his otherwise constant internal struggle. Why? Even if I don't find the why, since there could be many and my why might be different from Bergman's, it is beautiful. I find it beautiful. The rawness of the world which is laying and has laid out impressions on man's soul captured not being objective at all; and while man now struggles with his conscience, again eliminating the objective by filling the whole frame this time with the nothingness of a man's face, his impassive face. Or Märta's kind, sad eyes. Or the hate of living in an unbearable world in Jonas' eyes. Or the hate of weariness and the anticipation of more weariness in a world not understood, not wanted to be understood in Jonas' wife's face. Or the light of bitterness and realization in the sexton's face. Or the "ridiculous" image of the dangling Jesus in the pastor's eyes.

What's Your Raashee?

First things first, a remake of the absolutely delightful TV program Mr. Yogi (1989), where the incomparable Mohan Gokhale so beautifully acted out the shy, sensitive, confused young man after whom suddenly everyone wants to run, should never have been attempted; the film is of course obstensibly on the same Gujarati novel by Madhu Rye, but it makes a botched attempt trying to cover all bases of (a) showing "real" India, (b) cheesy comedy, (c) launching for the third time the hero of the film, (d) giving some contrived happy ending. When you do all that you tend to get lost; now to the specifics. And comparisons.

Mohan Gokhale was lovable as the NRI who is desperately seeking for a bride with whom he thinks he can be then faithful and peaceful; Hurman Baweja is not, not just because he can't seem lovable at all, but also because the plot shows him as a man with no sensibilities to whomsoever he marries! To top that, the director tries to depict him a "progressive" young man [yeah, I will have to dole out many double quotes]. Baweja looks a lady-killer alright, but a downright killer too in the bargain; his acting skills make it seem he is himself bored of it all, why is he an actor then? Priyanka, at the time the film was shot his flame, can't keep up the film: just because in spite of the 12 roles she tries to essay, some are written to be the same, some are acted by her as if same.

Ashutosh Gowariker has time and again proved to be unbearable: the only film of his that I have ever been able to watch in full, that too only in spells over months, was Swades. The mistakes he repeats in that film are repeated here again: sugarcoating realities and presenting them as new realities, which makes things worse. A geek is allowed to change the whole system and politics quite easily in Swades, without even getting so much as a death threat; here, the hero gives mouthfuls of preachings to the damsels he rejects, and wow! the lives of heroines change and they are jumping after the hero who came, saw, conquered, and left. What flights of fancy and disgusting implications! [I don't think exclamations also are getting a break!] While watching a Gowariker film (since I've managed to watch spells of other films, but they just look uncompletable), you feel as if he neutered everything good, everything evil, then maybe distilled a drop of what he called "good," and vaccinated everybody with it. The half-confused public falls for it usually, swept up in frenzies of winning awards or national pride or prima donnas moving completely painted in grotesque makeups in grand sets; sets which also look sets. This time I think the public has for the large part rejected it, since men think to see a film anywhere near zodiac as womanly, the women are disappointed to find out that there is no glorification of the zodiac (in fact, in a fuzzy manner, a satire), and the kids of course get disappointed to find no "action" or vulgar jokes which they could recount in school next day. A shame really, to disappoint the viewers in such a manner after so stylishly naming the film, What's Your Raashee?

In spite of the mindless subplots of an other woman and a local mafia don, which were thought to be laughter inducing, what makes the film truly daunting to watch is its length, and the number of songs. I guess the director forgot his job and thought it's meant to showcase Priyanka Chopra, the actress playing all the 12 prospective brides, and not the story. If that is what he had in mind, he could have succeeded had not Chopra not known at all how to play a girl sensitive or shy: all she does is to curtail her lips in a manner suggesting some physical deformity, and speak from only the left side of her mouth! Considering that the 12 were neatly divided into two categories of not submissive and submissive, that's an extraordinary lot of digesting left-side-speakers. The music itself is not bad, but there was simply no need for it. The original novel character had a girlfriend in America too, which makes the real NRIs coming and arranging marriages scenario much more real; why was the hero here painted so much in confusion and so running after every girl, and yet he doesn't have a girlfriend back new home? Could have made the story more real: could have shown the intentions of an NRI to get a docile cow from home. But oh! The intentions were to save his family from a local mafia don! I forget the jumble always.

The only place where the film does score is touch upon, maybe with wrong approach and in wrong measure, some of the lives that women do lead, especially the Indian women living in the closed framework of families still living in the India of colonial and Mughal times, an era of living death for women. If all 12 stories could even have been just this touch without the preaching, it would have been some worthwhile effort. However, even focusing upon women and their lives in today's India seems a bit cliched; I would love a story of men, maybe not in the guise of zodiac, just different men, different circumstances. Calling Dalits as Harijans was in itself Gandhi's insult to them; why a different label? Isolating like some strange species women and microscoping them is as much hateful; the film does a good job of being feminist. When there are people who also keep refining their sentiments about things, I guess this is part of the world I live in.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Ripped off by most Indian critics on the premise that this 2008 film was an unacknowledged direct "copy" of the film/play A Few Good Men, forgetting royalties due could still not be the crime of a work that masterfully weaves the Kashmir situation, albeit taking a very simplistic and ambiguous view, into the fabric of a court-martial drama that finally traces itself back to one top officer's psychology. As regarding the play itself, A Few Good Men was to me itself a pilferage of The Caine Mutiny, of course not a "direct" copy at all. So my conscience was not troubled at all while watching Shaurya.

What is valor? This is the basic disturbing question that the film asks throughout and tries to define through the actions, the mindsets, the words of its different protagonists. In the course of this, it tackles the Indian army's excesses in Kashmir, the resultant communal polarization that it could and does engender, and the nation India itself whose very fabric is its tolerance, not the laïcité of the West, but a true embracing of every viewpoint, every ritual, every word of seeming or actual wisdom that ever dropped in its fold and still does. The film is marred by a needless love story impeding the progress of tension throughout the narration, and yet there remain stunning performances from Deepak Dobriyal as Javed Khan, a man who can be easily framed because of his faith, Kay Kay Menon as Brigadier Rudra Pratap Singh, the man who would take a personal revenge upon a whole community, and once again, though in a very limited role, Seema Biswas, as Javed's mother. Rahul Bose as Javed's defense lawyer, who comes of age this late because of Javed's court-martial trial, and Amrita Rao in a very brief role of the young, beautiful widow who shows them all what the true meaning of valor is, also come up with superb performances; and thus, except for the romantic interest in the film, Minissha Lamba playing a journalist, there is no complaint on that score. The reason though that in spite of such acting skills and a fine climax the film turns out to be mediocre is that the film needlessly meanders till the time that climax occurs: it would have been a really brillliant 1-hour film; yeah, a risk, but what does a film-maker want in the end? A good film or a sufficiently long film?

Monday, August 31, 2009


A film throbbing with Mumbai life, Bombay underbelly, and taking potshots at various social and political stunts that pull wool over people's eyes, Kaminey's biggest strength is its pulsating theme music that rivets the viewer to a weak storyline hovering around two twin brothers getting in and out of each other's shoes, each other's truths. One imagines the world in pristine colors but is too diffident to change it; the other is brash but knows that all in this world are kaminey; nothing rises above money. And yet both win their own battles and bury the ghosts of past, as the numerous fringe characters that dot a metropolis, especially Bombay, are brought to life superbly by a cast brilliantly picked by Vishal Bhardwaj. Not a very experienced cast outside of the lead trio of two Shahid Kapoors (playing Charlie and Guddu, the brothers) and Priyanka Chopra, in what is easily the best performance for me of both of them ever.

I don't think how without the music the film would have fared, since in the end it is just more and more an increasing number of disparate parties behind a cocaine package, interspersed with the sentimental stuff about twin brothers who don't see eye to eye now. What at least the film does is pack a punch, and powerfully enough, at those politicians who play the caste and religion cards, and expose them ruthlessly. It doesn't even spare those so-called nation's consciousness wakers with a penchant for changing city names to anything they think "looks" rustic or not of a British age. It also shows starkly how the world outside of dreamed ideals exists: a world where nothing counts but money, and more money, where the only thing that overrules it in the final loss of the dice is survival. Survival so that you can get one more chance of turning the tables and wresting back the initiative; and play the dangerous game again. Since who's going to win without taking the shortcuts?

The film only hints at the massive diamonds/drugs/arms nexus which funds wars in African countries like Angola and Sierra Leone; and it would have been better if the film had tried to be a complete thriller in itself, focussing on this shady international trade that finances terrorists and guerillas the world over, rather than setting up a story over why and how the two brothers parted ways somewhere in the past. The viewer needs better understanding of what's happening, not something very explicable (two brothers on different ways). The way it tries to compensate is by use of multiple languages: dominantly in Hindi, the film also uses quite a lot of Marathi and Bengali, along with smatters of English and Portuguese, to give it the mosaicy feel it required.

The actors are impressive, the technical aspects are slick, and of course the music, from the ever-present Go Charlie Go theme to the soft title song sung by Vishal himself, is simply great. Composed by Vishal and written by Gulzar, the songs had to be anyway great. But though another feather in his cap, this was not the best effort by Vishal, and even though he has done almost everything right.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Au Coeur du Mensonge

For those used to slick American fare, where the reasons are spicier and the drama is more vivid than life itself, Au Coeur du Mensonge (1999; US title: The Color of Lies) is not the film. The usual French cinema's habit of concentrating solely on human emotions and behavior is taken to the extreme in this touching film, on outside just a thriller mystery, but on inside anything but that, rather the story of deeply intertwined love of a couple for each other, played by Jacques Gamblin and Sandrine Bonnaire.

Bonnaire had earlier impressed me with her suppressed performance in the 1998 Jacques Rivette film Secret Défense; however this time she has little to do except looking the part. It's the lesser known Gamblin however who gives the film all its pain: playing the part of a tormented lover, a fine painter, a man who is intelligent and too sensitive, who knows what he can give to her and yet is acutely conscious of his physical shortcomings. The film is advertised to be dealing with the mystery of a minor's rape and thus a whodunnit; rather it is sharply focused upon the Bonnaire-Gamblin couple and betrayal in relationship. True love can make the other's crime its own, which is what the film so beautifully brings out. And even the guilt.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Au revoir, les enfants

One of the simplest films I've seen on the Holocaust, Louis Malle tackles the issue not on the war front or in a concentration camp, but at the personal level, more specifically the impact that a war and racism could have on children, one day to become adults. Malle brings his own story to the film, as Au revoir, les enfants (Goodbye, Children) so effectively and touchingly, without being dramatically sentimental, shows the children going out into the world, prematurely with dark stories, guilt on their soul, and living with fear; or children simply marching out to concentration camps with proud defiance, with fear of dying any moment.

It's a story of rivalry and friendship between two bright boys, out of the place in the ordinary bullies around. One, Julien Quentin, precocious, highly intelligent, and fiercely individualistic--and faithless though to be confirmed. The other, Jean Bonnet, talented in whatever he takes up, alone, and under a constant fear--and with bold defiant belief in his religion. The two are dreamers, preferring to do their own activities while even in a class, especially Quentin, and cut off from the rest of the students. Though Bonnet is more so because he's a newcomer and seems to lack the ability to mix up fast; Quentin because he is toss-the-hair, he is proud, and he can only really get attracted to talent higher than his or to genius. As he does to Bonnet. What starts out as a rivalry sensed, soon is in the vein of developing into fine friendship, but ends abruptly with the capture of one and the guilt of the other to regret for ever: if he wouldn't have turned, what would have happened?

The film's beauty lies in that it solely concentrates on the boys: the boarding and school run by the monastery. It doesn't give in to any sort of temptation to strike gold elsewhere. The sole 'outside' incident is the Vichy men's attempt to throw out an old Jewish man out of a posh restaurant: but it still serves as part of school life, since Quentin first knows the extent to which a man could be persecuted for religion. Soon, he is to know more, through searing experience that would maim him for life. And make him a better man. The film also brilliantly shows how difficult it is, how unfair it is to place a dreamer in a boarding school, in a hostel: how suffocating it could be for someone whose best company is his dreams and thoughts, and who is forced to live with fellow students of 'inferior grade'. Completely free of any dramatic intentions, the film is a story that occurred, that culminated in times where the Vichy regime itself was collaborating with the Germans, and French had to fight underground even against their own men. Soon Hitler was to fall, and sanity to return for a brief time: it's to the viewers to wonder what lessons they give to children to carry on in life. Bullying as power; squealing as life; and defying as death.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


A little too poker-facedly translated literally as The Lover in its UK release title, L'Amant shows the story of a weary love, transformed from a pick-up scene to something that leaves the lovers restless and in memories for all their lives. It's based on the novel of the same name by Marguerite Duras, and is on her own life story, when she was 15 in the erstwhile Indo-China.

Set in colonial Vietnam, the film stands out for the way Asia is shown, and it's easy to feel Marguerite Duras' love for the region through the camera of Robert Fraisse (he would team up for several films with director Jean-Jacques Annaud, including the highly impressive 2001 film Enemy At The Gates). But apart from shots celebrating the tiredness of both the protagonists, the film meaninglessly meanders along self-pity to self-pity, from the lazy Chinaman Tony Leung Ka Fai to the French girl who loves easy sex, easy money, who hates poverty, Jane March. It would be easy to justify March's character by the destitute poverty in which her family lives as white outcastes amid colored people, for whom they don't feel any human bonds. By the loveless atmosphere of her dsyfunctional family and a stone-hearted mother. By her seeming full of life to burst but with no outlet on whom. It would be more difficult though to know why the director shows the virgin who wants to just flower open so tired, so like experienced and weary. In another way, it's an interesting study too: the descents plumbed in order to gain power, to feel power, especially when one is yet searching for it and does not know where it truly lies. The Chinaman's character doesn't help either: just a weak man who lusts and then being not able to get the object of his lust, self-pities, hardly someone to be able to make a viewer hold out.

The film suffers from underdeveloped characters, thrown in maybe to bewilder the viewer even more: it hardly seems a French film at all, in fact it would be easy to think this as a Merchant Ivory production. The one place where the film pulls of a clever trick is when the film begins: the film shows the girl on the ferry and adeptly, imperceptibly moves to something that happened in the recent time before now, and then moves again to the now, the girl on the ferry. To add to this is that the now itself is in the flashback narrated in the lovely voice of Jeanne Moreau, and it's almost Faulknerian, maybe accidentally by the director since he never repeats this.

I haven't read the novel, but I think the screenplay could've been radically different on the same story: in spite of good cast selection, a beautiful music score, and an Academy Award-nominated cinematography, the film fails since it is unable to stop wallowing in its guilt of overzeal to show sex as 'demi-god' and yet finally ending up showing it as a game where both players always try to lose. There is a large hint of what might be happening and impending; however, there is less of an immediate good plot or reason to make the film itself.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


The man who gave one of the most honest and daring TV series that I've ever seen in my life, Reporter, Vinod Pande, gives a scathing indictment of the Catholic religion and completely rips off the tabernacles, the crosses hanging in ostentation, and the mumbled formulae, features of a religion that induces belief by fear and superstition as much as an affected belief that every man is your brother, or father.

Sins is easily one of the most erotic films I have ever seen across a spectrum of all the world cinema: the sex is not muted but wild, not painted in the rehearsed smooches of a Hollywood film but rather garish in one man's bestiality and one woman's greed, and not apologetic but telling us that it's indeed pleasure. Pleasure, however, for a Catholic priest to that extent that he ends at murder and is unrepentant, as long as he can take vows and kneel before Mother Mary and takes the rosary in his hands. The Catholic Church did everything to prevent its release in India, but failed to do so. It's easy to see why they never wanted it to be seen, though they could've easily ignored it: made in English, how many people were anyway expected to see this film? More than two-thirds would anyway be bench-warmers to gape at the nude scenes: but then doesn't a religion, especially ones which strike terror and lay down rules, run on such people?

Apparently the story of a priest who lusts after a young girl and then does everything to retain her in his power, one could think that the most one could derive is a mud slinging on the priests, not supposed to marry. But the film goes beyond that. After every sin, his salvation lies in confession, attending masses, praying: confess and do the sin. You already lightened the burden, placed it on Jesus through the medium of Church and pitied yourself: now you are free to earn more sins, the Son carried the crucifix for your sins and will do so. Finely woven are motifs where a parishioner explains why isn't she has been attending the church with regularity: fear and upbraiding leading man to the Church and thus supposedly to God. One of the best critiques of an organised institutionalised religion, the film also derives its power through the stunning acting performance of its lead actress Seema Rahmani.

At first feeling pleasure and willingly sharing each wrong of the priest (Shiney Ahuja), she slowly begins to be afraid of him: she has bedded a man who has repressed himself all his life and she is the vent now for his carnal instincts, for in fact everything that wasn't allowed to him while he blessed people with smiles and soft voice on his face, a man who holds power and has eyes and ears everywhere. Now the love metamorphoses into a physically abusive relationship, and from the first she was always a doll in his hands: but she realizes this now. Soon she would find kindness in another man, soon she would beg and hate the same man: and her every expression, even during the sex scenes in the film, lends power to the film. Set in southern Kerala, the green paradise of the world, the film however doesn't at all use any of the backdrops: what it strangely does is to try to mix up some Malayalam accent in the English which was not nice an experiment. Making it in English anyway meant an international audience, and it won't know the different accents within India, so there was no point at all marring the dialogues. Shiney of course, as seen many times, is great with facial expressions but leaves a lot to be desired with his dialogue delivery; what the film does have is a background music score that matches the film beautifully, and takes on the tempo as the sex climaxes, lulls again, picks it up again with another bout.

The film, let me warn you, is sickening! It is brilliant and the story and theme warranted it: and it succeeds. It does not lend a good aftertaste: the gruesome end doesn't help either. Shiney Ahuja's character also is one of the best studies I've seen of a psychotic killer who still believes that he loved her: better than any serial killer movies, Hitchcock movies, or films made upon elaborately pinpointed themes in that kind. It is indeed sad that India doesn't recognise its own good films, but runs behind something that the West praised or they think will praise. Of course one needs to have the sensibilities in the right place!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Musik i mörker

Quite evident as the work of an early Bergman, Musik i mörker (Music in Darkness) is more raw and hitting on some of the themes that Bergman grappled throughout his life, just because the argument's just begun, as opposed to the continuation in his later works. Most early Bergman films had Birger Malmsten as the hero, and he is here again typecast as the overtly sensitive young man plunged into blindness caused due to an accident, not mitigated by the fact that that accident happened due to his love for animals and nature.

While the film overall is touching, the cast disappoints me just a shade. While Malmsten was perfect in Summer Interlude, I still reserve doubts over him in this film in spite of his looking so naturally a sensitive, sacrificing young man: he would have been a better choice in Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monika) as the jilted lover. Malmsten doesn't look a proud accomplished, upper-crust Bengt Vyldeke calling Ingrid (played by Mai Zetterling) a "little wench" and nor later a very decided man. Though this also lends a shade of tragedy to the film which does not end on a too happy note: the lovers have married against society's odds and fighting their insecurities, but the future is still too uncertain and the viewer doesn't know who will break first, or will they last for ever. Zetterling herself in the role of Ingrid is wonderfully assured, and has a face of angels, and is dreamy which is difficult to bring out in a film: yet it is maybe the director who uses her as Hollywood used to use its heroines, just angels to save men or vamps to jilt them, with the god in creation being the hero even in a love story! One of the most Hollywood-esque scenes is when Bengt plays the music upstairs and Ingrid gets thrilled by it, and the camera just focuses on her getting thrilled for quite a long time and quite a strong unneeded light on Ingrid's face.

Another disappointment turns out to be the loose screenplay: the incidents of the hotel where Malmsten worked, the railway station where he almost gets crushed, the thief and subsequent confrontation with the hotel proprietor are all meant to show Malmsten's decline through society as well as in his own character, yet each of them is an end left untied, leaving an imperfectly wrought film. It is as if Bergman is just putting one by one all the arguments in a list that he means to, and not elaborating on them, not even indicating why to have here such an argument. Aunt Beatrice's conversation on suicide is a pertinent example: it has no precedent or follow-up in the film, despite considering the atheist views as well as suicidal tendencies of the hero.

As a story and as a visual, the film works. As much accomplished as Bengt was and is, he still doesn't have the love that Ingrid overflows with, and a faith in humanity and God, and it is almost as Raskolnikov and Sonya that they start now their married life: all might go awry, yes, but a tincture of hope is there that Bengt might finally be able to love people and thus himself. It is only then that he can truly love his most prized possession and treasure: Ingrid.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Tunes of Glory

An interesting study of not only two men on the extremes of temperaments--one a whiskey-drinking, self-pitying, darling of men, chummy, able officer (Sinclair) who leads them through the war in an acting capacity but successfully, the other (Barrow) who was born into the regiment and sees its successful command as the salvation of his life, who tries to make men his own models, a strict disciplinarian, living by the rule-book--but also how a great film is usually made not through directorial tricks, but the best actors you can gather and a good enough screenplay, is Tunes of Glory. Editing unnecessarily and having montages of flows in an obvious aim to obfuscate the viewer and make his spidery brain tick has become the norm of the game today: it's high time we return to a game in which high tricks win the game and not bluffing.

The greatness of Alec Guinness lies in that he was approached for the role of Barrow, since he was most naturally suited to the role through his own persona, plus Barrow was yet another variation on the Col. Nicholson played so adeptly by him in the David Lean masterpiece The Bridge on the River Kwai. Guinness refused it and instead offered for Sinclair: on the simple grounds that he is an actor only if he can step out of his own skin and play someone else, since an actor "pretends." His word, as of any man good in his craft, was enough weight, and thankfully the director Ronald Neame took him on board as Sinclair and then cast John Mills as Barrow, another casting coup of sorts since Mills never used to play an aristocratic crusty gent. As Neame himself said, the beauty of Mills' performance was that if any other actor had played Barrow, it would've been easily overshadowed by Sinclair; but now the film has two counter-magnates, each of whom the viewer sympathises with in turns and still not commit wholeheartedly to either. Guinness of course was simply amazing: to change himself so completely, his whole personality, even how he walked and sat and everything about him, would have been nerve wracking, and it would have been impossible for him to go back to the real Guinness till some time after the film was shot.

The supporting cast is excellent, with Duncan Macrae as the pipe major and Susannah York as Sinclair's pretty daughter Morag especially good in their limited screen times. One of the most interesting things is of course the screenplay in itself; the balance between the two characters is finely etched out, the short effective punches of Mills alternating with the long rants of Guinness and in between the rest of the regiment, like hung on a thread between the two and not knowing what to do. Dennis Price (playing Battalion Executive Officer Charlie Scott) tries to sway the thread and disturbs the equilibrium, hastening the inevitable tragedy at the climax. It is unfortunate indeed that the tunes of glory are so often rung out when the moment is already past: and man only knows to see truly in retrospect.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Berni's Doll

I saw Yann Jouette's short 3-D animation film Berni's Doll months and months back, and it still haunts me: putting aside the amazement that how could one man (i.e., Yann, the maker of that film) could achieve so much almost single-handedly, what even stunned me more was the dark story and how effectively the dark story is translated onto the screen without being pessimistic: it's just highly bitter!

On a cursory look, the film is a highly believable fiction about times to come when humans will also be assemblable, but with a shocking aftertaste of even assemblable humans acquiring a soul and will of their own (which really differentiates Yann's film from those of others strutting out on the same theme); and when I asked Yann about where did he get the whole idea of the film from, he only humbly replied that he got inspired from today's world where people are more and more being used like tools. But this was a typical really humble answer and Idontseewhatsallthisfussabout answer from a typically great artist; the film itself operates on several levels, including several subtexts--all pointing one pointed forefinger to the increasing alienation of humans not only from other humans, but themselves.

On the face of it, the film shows a disillusioned man (Berni) who has no life but work at the assembly line the whole day and come back home and watch TV. And then to construct the woman of his dreams by ordering spare parts. Why he orders unmatching spare parts is another mystery: somewhere a Caucasian, somewhere a Negroid, is this simply the exotic imagination of Berni, or a deliberate intention of Berni to make something which as a whole no one will like and hence who he will be always secure of, or simply a snidish political comment, is difficult to determine: either interpretation (and you don't have to take only one!) it fascinates. And now, after having constructed the whole, he wants to fuck her in peace: but a victim of mechanization elsewhere, could he play with one toy over whom he thought he had power?

The film has won numerous awards, including a special mention at Annecy. Yann did all the visuals: characters, backgrounds, lights, rendering, and composition, besides being the man responsible of course for the story itself and direction; he worked with 2 animators and 2 musicians, and took 21/2 years for making the film. The slick grey textures, the drabbled rainedout set, and that movement of the spare parts woman slowly becoming a real woman--staccato of a decapitated torso and yet the sway of the woman--everything is perfection itself, and it's a pity that in a world dominated by Pixarish movies, animation has lost the plot, especially 3-D that has so, so much potential.

The film website is here:

Friday, April 03, 2009


What Robert Bolt achieves by brilliant dialogues in A Man for All Seasons, Peter Glenville achieves by spinning a tale effortlessly on the screen and yet retaining all the dramatic elements in Becket. The beauty of the film lies in the mastery of dramatics that Glenville has, and to top it all he uses the finest actors he could’ve mustered, both from the British Isles (where else?), Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton. Completely dominated by acting from the two great actors, the film is a beautiful study of contrast across two personalities, two actors, two historical figures: Burton playing Henry II, O’Toole playing Thomas Becket.

The dialogue deliveries in mouths of both the actors who treated language like a goddess, and yet so differently, is a treat to watch and listen: to add are Burton’s habitual reserve and overstated pomp, and O’Toole’s itchiness, sparkling eyes, and a deep knowledge of the sap of life. Not paying too much allegiance to a thousand years old costumes or furniture, the film spares one from the boredness of a period piece, and only brings the contest between two sharp minds for power raw, in modern dialogue. Dialogue is crucial for the working of this film: without being too irreverent, it is yet not at all ancient, and does not even rely on completely rhetoric feats unlike Man for All Seasons; it whips you, swishes through you, and makes you wonder at the play of ego between men who still love each other so much and yet are mortal foes. If for nothing else, Becket should be watched for the performance of O’Toole himself: yet another virtuoso after Lawrence of Arabia! [How many is the man capable of?]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Restul e tăcere

A curious and exhilarating mixture of American epic proportions and sweet candy stuff with European elegance and ability to nitpick on subtle things, Nae Caranfil’s Restul e tăcere (The Rest Is Silence) handles more than one thread with aplomb and an equal amount of zest. Fictionalizing the true story of the making of the 1912 Romanian film The War for Independence, the film sets the tone at the very beginning itself: presenting hardboiled nutty issues surrounded in a soft yolk of humor and irreverence.

Where the film excels is that it does not take any sides, except telling the story. It never suggests that the hero Ursache is really someone who is an artist, and even the story and detailed visualisation of the movie might be all his dead friend’s. But what his friend might never have been able to do, he does successfully: by the sheer dint of his ambition, and lack of scruples when he knows what he wants. And yet a man who keeps the god living in him: while all his co-stars are enjoying prostitutes of Paris, he is busy with the movie rolls gathering, and silently loving the young ambitious village girl who he knows is already on the path of trailing rich men for meaty roles and money. His strong mental-headedness is even more in the focus during the sombre climax of the film: he not only has realized that cinema is here to stay and even if it’s not as great as theatre yet it is the medium which can go to the masses and can help them relax and can bring ideas to them, but also that cinema is a collective effort, and roundly stymies the efforts of his wealthy benefactor and the film producer Negrescu of including him among the defrauders of money. He also finally takes his revenge upon Negrescu: the two coins that God made a beggar to give Negrescu might have been a symbol, but what’s more important is not to pass on rhetorically those two coins but to be the same man who once slept on the roads and not pick your nose on hearing the ticket was only 1 leu.

Ioana Bulca’s appearance strikes a fresh gong: the inevitability of the death of the golden age of theatre. The photographed moving image are only shadows of living fleshes, but the world can remember them, at least get some percentage of what those actors were. Yes, theatre would’ve been a different experience, but cinema would at least enable people to feel the same emotions and vitality, even if in much muted proportions or even distortedly. With the typical European peppy feel, a rich music score, and the biggest ever budget in Romanian film history, the film easily takes you off your feet: the only remaining grouse is that the film could’ve well been edited a half an hour shorter. The performances of Marius Florea Vizante as Ursache and Ovidiu Niculescu as Negrescu completely dominate the film, and the rest of the actors jigsaw perfectly in. A movie only Europe can give!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hiroshima, Mon Amour

When the dust, the ashes slowly settle, hiding beneath years of anger and felt injustice and mourning, then the greatest tragedy is redemption: to have the scorched frozen layer scraped. Alain Resnais reaches heights of his prowess with as difficult a subject as Hiroshima bombings, which he slowly weaves into a yarn of loss, and from thereon the loss of love. How Resnais achieves the miraculous feat of standing the film on its own legs--the only films I have seen without references are those of Resnais--is through his usual tricks of utilizing the stream-of-consciousness technique. Other directors struggle with montages, a simple cut, and their films become a mockery of a sequence of paintings carried forth to burst upon the viewer (none better example than Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain of the complete miscarriage of cinema); Resnais reaches the soul of his characters. Once again, voices play a key character role in the film, this time even more than La Guerre Est Finie. The voice is the unconscious, the seemingly unrelated scenes strung up in a sequence are the past, the unseen or the afraid-of present, the future, the actors and their bodies are puppets dancing to the plot's tune. That’s the whole beauty of Resnais: maybe only Kieślowski comes close to realize it.

The film's central theme is memory. Memory of a loved one. Whom you cannot forget, and who can never be redeemed. You bury him after years of effort, one-night stands, and denials; one day you meet real love, who undoes all that and rips open your heart with the pain you felt. The memory is blurred: there is no distinction between the lover fifteen years ago, and the lover now. Life continues, death continues. The two worlds of the small French town of Nevers on the banks of Loire where to love a German was the most shameful of crimes you could have committed in the 1940s, and the bombed city of Hiroshima whose denizens became not only a symbol of the horrors of war and of the need for peace but also that of liberation for Europe, the end of the War; those two worlds meet. And a love is born which knows at birth itself that it will last for ever, yet that it will never be together; that the one or two days they have are the only ones they will ever see each other. Emmanuelle Riva does an excellent job in her debut performance, but it is the Japanese actor Eiji Okada who impresses the most in this one of the most, most beautiful films I will ever see in my life. In a certain way, the film is an exact antithesis to Bleu, since older memories prevail, but in a much more strange way Hiroshima, Mon Amour teaches you to situate yourself within the grief and internalize it and face the world: as long as a marble can fall with the boys’ sunlight into a cellar, the world is yet open and embracing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nóz w wodzie

Nóz w wodzie (Knife in the Water) disturbed me profoundly: so much that I use the adverb ‘profoundly’, one I hate very much. Besides the actual knife where the boy (Malanowicz) does prove his superiority over the husband Andrzej (Niemczyk), there is also the question of the figurative rapier: in what sense? One that simply shears the water surface, without being able to really cleave a way through, is one obscure, far-fetched meaning. Or it could simply stand for one metallic glint among the many little wavelets glimmering similarly in response to the sun: the hard glint of human greed and wish for power. For it’s the wish for power that dominates the film’s bleak Bergmanian landscape; the wish for power of the wife Krystyna (superbly played by Jolanta Umecka): by cuckolding her husband for the untested virile strength of the young boy, she at once gains mastery over her inner complex, her husband, and all the boys that that young boy represented. Where the film does fail is its atmosphere of drifting ennui, which does not surely bring up the tension to a point as to make the husband feel unwontedly jealous. The character of Andrzej is built very strongly, to show a man witty, strong, practical, of good hands, intelligent to some degree, an able man, yet lacking that free poetic will which would have enabled him to have the love of his wife instead of owning her. I do not think he could have been jealous of a boy whose only claim to a poetic temperament, notwithstanding the rather one-sided flirtations from the wife’s side when around the radio, was a reckless nature: does the filmmaker Polanski confuse recklessness with pure, untouched spirit that soars always high? I think so.

Being this main point unresolved, I often wondered about the purpose of making films like Knife in the Water. When you don’t know yourself what you set out to show, you only show your techniques: nobody wants to narrate a story just because he learnt fifty new words today. Fifty new words arranged neatly by an intelligent man seem beautiful: but what was the substance? The story ostensibly is that of sexual tension between the three: but the screenplay only shows drifters ending up in whatever circumstances are pitching them into, with not much energy or wills or even desires to have any kind of tension between them. One of the major weaknesses apart from the screenplay itself was the actor who plays the young boy: there is cold hardness in his eyes, like that of his knife-blade! It’s the camera which tries to construct the tension: showing Umecka in various degrees of undress to titillate the viewer. The boy hardly seems interested, there is no slow internal boil going over somewhere: what’s the point? To seduce the viewer like a soft-core porn film? I call such cinema, where the director seems just interested in testing his capabilities of filming something rather than narrating something, a ‘masturbation’--not engaging the viewer in sex, a film which just tries to excite the viewer and provoke him, not tugging the viewer’s sympathies for anyone, a cold, dispassionate view of roads and seas stretching far out. What makes the film a real fish in the bowl is the jazz soundtrack accompanying it: it reinforces the feeling I got when I saw the film, that it’s a film which silently tries to destroy everything meaningful and beautiful you see, it tries to convey everything is a game, not an exciting game, but a weary, worn-out game, played now and then, today and tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Entre les murs

As much as I would like to place a film with modern references, with modern slang on top of Blackboard Jungle, I still cannot do so with Entre les Murs (“Within the Walls”, shockingly called The Class for international audiences), just because the film is more a documentary, a calm documentary that does not provoke, does not take sides, does not take any partisan view, and does not provide any insight. It’s a quite successful observation of today’s modern education system and the generations that barely complete their bac; though what the film doesn’t even dare to do is to leave questions, if not answers, with you. And coupled with a surprising student lingo low in sexual innuendoes, the film makes you think: what would have the novel been like without any story, any thought to offer?

Where the film excels is the tight cinematography from unconventional angles, making the camera a direct participant observer of the action, and an ensemble cast, including the novel author himself reprising his role as the school teacher, M. Marin. The indecisive, shaky principal whose primary interest seems to keep the school’s business intact, the many confused identities among students (esp. Khoumba and Souleymane) and the staff themselves, and the school teacher Marin who could never inject humor in his class and who could himself get into arguments with his students time and again: who simply didn’t have the know of what question is right to which person at what time--all make the film a delight to watch. Even if the filmmaker doesn’t want to offer any solution, he does offer the quandary: an underperforming or undisciplined student might sink further if not punished and may lead to similar behavior in others; on the other hand, will punishing him/her help? What would be the impact in his personal life of such a punishment? Punishment--is it a system of correcting someone, or is it just a system of getting hopeless over someone and then isolating him in a bid to keep the society running smoothly and keep the glaring spots out of sight?

What I found to be the issue with the film is that the film failed to explore in depth the ways, the methods on both sides, and when it might be necessary to forego one for the other. M. Marin was hardly an inspiring teacher, so his just being softer doesn’t do much for the students; I personally would have hardly liked such a teacher. He is not firm, not articulate enough, and he does go by the rulebook on strange occasions: on one hand punishments are bad, yet he has to write in the report book of a student who clearly was off color, who clearly was having some personal crisis. Afraid at each step, what can any teacher achieve? Bound within the framework, what can he hope to achieve? Still an excellent film, in that it at least brings to the fore the issues at education in most Western countries; and many of the students would themselves be the audience, not to mention the teachers. What a teacher should always remember is that he’s not a passive actor in a student’s transformation or growth or at any stage: “what can I do more?” is not the question. There has to be always something more.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Beton/Ligne de vie

Beton and Ligne de Vie might be as far as possible in their approach, both technical and narrative, but both strike home the point: the futility of war, the cruel subjugation, which makes soldiers worse than machines–indifferent perpetrators or gluttonous ravishers of violence.

The drill for the soldiers, stationed at the Israel-Palestine border assumedly, could range from playing the same dice games to boiling the same tea at the same afternoon time, to the same parade being called for. What they didn’t bargain for was the appearance of a free spirit: a stark black kite that appears beyond the beton (the concrete wall), and is unfazed by everything that is hurled against it, be it a stone or thunderous cannon shots. Though the short film by Ariel Belinco and Michael Faust is heavy in metaphors, it does not fall in its own trap of political consciousness–the water-colorish images save the viewer from indifference, and he remains awake to the message carried in the film. The kite persists, cannons keep going on, and the soldiers return to their monotony: playing dice games. After all, who cares? One day the kite will fall, the beton might be down for the invader might be on both the sides, and the victor might then fall in the indifference of smug content: but maybe it isn’t that simple, since the kite does not fly of its own accord, there must be someone to fly the kite! Maybe when the kite will fall, another kite would already have come up in the sky, even if the beton is no more.

Ligne de Vie is one of the most striking films on atrocities committed in a POW camp, especially in a concentration camp. It’s a film about who flies the kite: a prisoner who gives voice to other prisoners by drawing their daily life scenes, by drawing impossible dreams, who does not desist when even his hands are cut off. They didn’t even sleep since dreaming was fatal, they competed for fastest wheel-barrowing of stones so that at least they can prove they are alive, but yet they required that spark to keep their souls alive, their indifference to suffering away: and the man who was engraving the ligne de vie(lifeline) brought that. A striking film by Serge Avedikian in pencil strokes, the film won the Best Animation and Experimental Film award at the Yerevan International Film Festival in 2004.