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?