[The powerful finale from Greed, my favorite film]

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Separation

The latest masterpiece from Iran, Asghar Farhadi's A Separation shows how terribly complex the Iranian society is. In that, it is honest and true. Not every one would be interested in what happens in Iran though. What makes this film great is that it could have been a story about Kashmir or Afghanistan or even late 18th century France before the French Revolution.

Usually, a situation of crisis is shown with crafty story telling techniques. If you want to show how the British were terrible when they ruled India (as many films pertaining to the freedom struggle tend to show), you show some of them beating feeble Indians or some one sporting a nasty look like Captain Andrew Russell in (the wonderful) Lagaan. It pushes forward the story but is often manipulative, or the easier route.

Focusing on just a family or a small number of people is also nothing new. From art house films to hollywood blockbusters like The Titanic, all have done it. However, it is usually done with some strong back ground scores or losing objectivity some where down the middle. Again, to forward the story, easier ways are adopted.

There is little dramatic affect in this film. The first scene establishes the two want to separate because of not any domestic hostility or because of each other but they do want to separate because Iran is not viable any more for the mother to bring up her child and the father cannot leave his own ailing father. It is daily, real and yet not overtly dramatic situations like these which are highlighted. Financial and social constraints means a wife lies to her husband for not any devilish intent but because she wants to earn money.

The second, more poorer family shown has the man very agitated a lot of times. The scary part is the male protagonist in the film, Peyman Moaadi playing Naader, could become like this other family in 5-7 years time emotionally and financially as laws prevailing are redundant enough to enforce fines or be behind bars as it does on Naader despite no real faults of his.

Where the people's freedom is curtailed by imposition of too many religious, social and every other rules, their life keeps deteriorating if they decide to live on in that place. Some, like Naader can't leave though.

The separation of a family for no real fault of theirs leaves an impact. How many such families have been separated? How many more people have go to hell daily as they try to lead normal lives? It is a point well established through the film.

A Separation is Iran's Nomination for the Foreign language category for the Academy Awards. With Iranian directors Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof jailed in recent times, this film gains special significance and I wouldn't be surprised if it wins the Award itself. It could easily win on merit itself though given it is far better than some of the previous oddball selections the Academy tends to pop up in this category.

Monday, December 5, 2011

When Style Was Celebrated

Dev Anand is gone. So is Shammi. There is another, silent death though, which has occurred slowly but surely. As Indian cinema, certainly bollywood, aspires for more realism, the style icons of today's generation are  scoffed at by the classes.

When and why did this happen? If we look to the 70s, some one like Shashi Kapoor was appreciated. Amitabh Bachchan is often criticized by the film people of his generation for not doing more classy films. Note for instance this video of Naseeruddin Shah where he observes Bachchan made no great film, for what's it worth. While this can be argued and debated upon, what cannot be argued is that Bachchan was real in his acting. You could feel his pain in Kabhie Kabhie, his anger in Zanjeer and his honesty towards his craft in his comic capers for instance.

Was it Bachchan then from where the shift occurred in appreciating style like we used to? If Govinda and Salman Khan were from another era, would they, along with selling tickets, be given more love and not scoffed at for their mannerisms? I wonder.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Lack of Standards on Indian Television

Sex sells. So I am not surprised the promotional of The Dirty Picture, biopic of Southern star Silk Smitha is suggestive. I am fine with that in fact. My qualm is with the standard of Indian television not being regulated enough. I am not sure there is any standard to be honest. As far as India is concerned, the only taboo is nudity on television and film.

Every thing else is fine. Whether it is models and actresses dancing like bar girls would dance in a night bar in Mumbai or violence or cheap jokes in the name of comedy in 'laughter shows', which never tend to bring laughter. If any voice is raised, like the censor board tried to stand up and remove the word 'saali' from the movie title Yeh Saali Zindagi, a ruckus is created about freedom being curtailed.

18, even 15 year olds are fine to decide but children below 10/12 years are impressionable. There has to be acceptable standards and clearly demarcated rules beyond nudity. We live in the internet age but the internet is for the parents to regulate.

What one hears on the radio or sees on the tv cannot always be regulated by parents though. Aamir Khan has to be appreciated here. He made a film on toilet humor with a lot of slang words in Delhi Belly. However, in the promotionals for his film, he made people aware of what it was and did not use even one abusive word without the beeps. It served the dual purpose of promoting the film and letting sanity prevail.

Live bathing, Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao
It is left to producers and distributors of the films and shows regarding how the show the content on television. We need an overhaul and stronger regulations though as television reaches far more people than a movie does. People go to a movie theater once in a while but most families watch the television on a daily basis.

The scenario is unlikely to change without some powerful people from the business itself  understanding the importance and taking firm action as an industry as a whole.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Iti Mrinalini and the Uncertainties of Life

Iti Mrinalini gives us an insight into the life of an aging actress and into the world of bengali cinema just like Sunset Boulevard did in an era past. The aging actress is no longer wanted and after a life which has had so many shadows, you do not see any light at the end of the tunnel, even though you want to.

As the film encapsulates an actresses life, you get a feel of a bygone era of Kolkata where troublesome elements are shot to be shut off by the authorities. You have many performances worth cherishing like by Aparna Sen (who also directs the film), Konkona Sen, Rajat Kapoor, Priyanshu Chatterjee and Koushik Sen.
The film is more about the concept Aparna Sen tries to bring forth though than the any thing else. Life is uncertain and one should accept that. It is a simple theory at heard which we all know. However, in our mind, we some how make safety nets. One should realize that no matter how strong the safety net, it can all fall apart and we can do nothing really to prevent things beyond our control to occur.

This is not to say we should not try to do what we can to enrich our lives. However, believing it will ensure every thing will be great, or even to expect every thing to be great always is a major folly at the core which will lead to nothing except depression and anxiety.

The film is very sad but it is so to put across a point and it is important to realize this. This is a great film and I recommend you watch it.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Dhobi Ghat - Themes

The divide

From Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Awaara to Aamir Khan and Karishma Kapoor in Raja Hindustani, love between a rich girl and a poor guy is a recurring motif in hindi cinema. Dreams, magic, any thing can happen on celluloid. Love knows no boundaries. So they say.

Life is not like that though. There is a divide which is evident from the different utensils the maid gives Munna and Shai when serving them tea to the way the friends of Shai joke about her hanging out with him. Munna standing on the road while Shai leaves in her car is a recurring event in the film. Even when Munna joins Shai in the car, the divides are evident. Shai wants to take Munna's porfolio shots (as he wants to become an actor) out in the open but Munna wants them in the studio.


Shai shoots Arun while Arun is looking at Yasmin's videos. Love, Sex and Dhoka explored this theme in much more detail. The voyeuristic nature of our society is quite sad. As soon as you are interested in some one, you check out more info via google, facebook.When you encounter the person in real life though, like Shai sees Arun on the road, they try to hide away. 

Unrequited love - A constant and most obvious theme in the film. I am always glad on the rare occasions when some one shows it on celluloid like in Kabhie Haan Kabhie Na, Darr, Saawariya and of course Devdas. There is a deep grief about unrequited love which is probably why it makes for great cinema.

The breaking of families

Aamir is disconnected with the real world all the time. However, when he hears the possibility of going to Sydney, he becomes alert. He probably longs to see his son all the time. The old woman is some one whose children have left her on her own in all probability. I see a lot of older people being abandoned. I used to visit an old home till a few years back and it is heart breaking when you talk to some of these people.

The Daily Grind

The day job of Munna is not enough. He has to kill rats at night to make ends meet. Munna idolizes the leading man Salman Khan. He has dreams but as responsibilities crush him, all he can think about is how to earn money. Any small role to make ends meet will do for him.

A lot of people haven't liked this film which is okay as it isn't a movie for every one. However, when you talk with people who have indeed liked the film, a lot of people say it is beautiful. When you look at the photographs of the people, it is indeed quite beautiful to look at. However, their life is a mess. Like Munna, they are trying to make ends meet, or are emotionally scarred like Arun, or even have had their lives destroyed like Yasmin. Munna asks Shai why she is shooting the common place Mumbai streets. "Why are you doing this?", he asks? "All is dirty here." For Shai, it is all very lovely from the outside. There is nothing beautiful about the stark, harsh realities of life though. 10/10.

PS - On Kriti Malhotra's performance- She was the soul of the film. Delectable in her potrayal of the innocent and full of love Yasmin Noor.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Guru Dutt's Directorial Debut - Baazi

Guru Dutt's directorial debut venture, Baazi, flatters, shows a lot of promise but deceives in the end. The film starts with Guru Dutt shown sitting on the porch and looking like a man who has failed in life. He is probably the man who has lost out in the world of gambling after going to the dark side. A forewarning, a sign of things to come perhaps.

There are lot of things which are magical about the film. The young girl kissing Dev Anand's hands before he rolls the dice for luck, the elements of noir (there is actually a shot of a lamp post which thrilled me no end). By the time the Tadbeer Se Bigadi Huyee Taqdeer song plays, you are gushing and have smiles all over. That is the high point of the film, however.

The plot becomes pretty hotch-potched after that. There are a fair few songs which keep popping up as well which not only disturb the narrative, they aren't that great mostly either (a huge disappointment for a S.D.Burman fan like me). I really loved the choreography of the song where women dance with umbrellas and rain coats though. That was some thing new.

The direction is excellent though. Guru Dutt shows he knows his craft. There is a song where Dev Anand has to come home after the heroine's father has thrown him out of the car. There are shots of common folk shown and they are going about their daily work.

The acting through out is excellent. Dev Anand is neat and plays the leading man with panache. He underplays quite a bit. Kalpna Kartik, who went on to marry Dev Anand in real life didn't have a very successful career as an actress. I loved her in this film though. She has a deep, husky voice and adds a lot of sensitivity to the morally upright character. People talk about Dharmendra's iconic scene in which he went shirtless. It is supposed to be the first instance of a bollywood star going shirtless. Not true. Dev Anand is shirtless in the film and the scene is far more sensuous than the Dharmendra scene according to me. That scene has an element of raw sexuality. This is far more subtle and all the more sexier for it. Dev Anand is in a situation where he is without a shirt outside his house. He tries to poke his elder sister to give him one without Kalpna Kartik seeing him. Kalpna Kartik notices him, takes the shirt and goes out of the house to give it to Dev Anand. Ahead of it's time much?

Geeta Bali is the star of the film though. She has a small role but shines bright. Even the smaller roles, the father of Kalpna Kartik, the actor who plays Pedro and others, some of whom are there in only a couple of shots seems interesting. There is a cameo played by Johnny Walker for instance and I laughed out loud with the first sentence he uttered. That's why Johnny Walker was so special I guess.

The murder scene was very well shot. All through the film, there are people smoking, smoke flying across the screen as a result of it which sets the mood. There is even a scene where Dev Anand puffs right into the face of Kalpna Kartik.

The film could have been far better if edited well but it doesn't fail to give us a peak into the fountain of talent which is Guru Dutt.