Monday, October 20, 2014

Keshtzar haye sepid

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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost

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

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

Friday, October 10, 2014


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

La cara oculta

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

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

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


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

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