Archive for November 3, 2015

We have been tracking Abhay Kumar’s films for quite some time now. We had written about his short on the blog, and in earlier edition of MFF, when his another short was in Dimensions section, we had predicted his win too. Interestingly, this year he is back with a feature-lengh documentary, Placebo. And what a joy it is see a filmmaker making an impressive debut as he graduates from shorts to feature. One can easily spot some of the similar patterns in all his shorts and documentary.

And here’s Achyuth Sankar‘s review post on the film. This is his first post here.


We’ve all thought about the question, “What are the few things you absolutely cannot live without?”. For me, and all of them in equal importance (I’m not going to write the obvious things like food, water, air, etc), they are cinema, and a few really wonderful and beautiful people, some friends, some family. Cinema figures that high in my list, as it does in the lives of more than a few people I know.

At 6:30pm today, in a house full screening at MAMI, I gave 90 minutes of my life to that cherished thing which I can’t live without, cinema. It was a documentary called Placebo. It’s about the one of the most prestigious colleges in India (not any IIT, I’d rather not get into any more specifics), where the filmmaker’s brother is studying. The brother gets into a serious accident, and during his recovery, the filmmaker decides to stay in his brother’s hostel and document the lives being led there, in an attempt to understand what led to that accident (I won’t be referring to it as an accident any more, it was a self inflicted hurt, severe hurt). He follows the lives of four people in the said hostel, seemingly without any greater aim. Sometimes, a story chooses its storyteller, especially when it’s a story that needs to be told, and that is what happens to the documentarian here. The lives he begins to document shape up to be a small, but essential picture about the lives of students who have chosen the path of the elite by joining there. People are pressurized, or they’re not. Sometimes, they stumble into the doorstep of a revered institution with lofty dreams, but to many of them, simply making it there summarizes their dream. What does one do after that? What does one do when they have no idea where to go? What guidance does one get?

I was contemplating, while driving back home, why do most of the absolute greats of cinema talk about serious things like depression, disconnect, alienation, fear. Why not happiness? The question has come up many times before, but no answer till today. It is because.. when things are good, when we are happy, we are already ready to share. But when things are going down the shit hole, not even a handful of us can talk about it and admit “Hey, I’m fucked up and I need help”. That’s why it is so much more potent, when a film talks about things that nobody likes to, wants to or knows how to talk about. Suddenly, we feel a resonance within that isolated corner of our mind.

That’s what Placebo is.

That slight resonance, which reminds us of the importance of our own feelings. But more than that, it talks about something a lot more. It’s a documentary, with the filmmaker going to a college to understand why his brother hurt himself as badly. But a story that needs to be told chooses its own storyteller, and this college, and the stories of all the students who’ve lived there, chose this filmmaker. One shocking suicide after another, and it’s no longer just about a personal exploration, it’s about all of us. All of us who’ve studied, who’ve felt pressurized. All of us who, I dare say, can’t even begin to imagine the true extent of desperation, where the phrase “give up” doesn’t mean settle for lower grades or go to a less reputed institute. All of us who have been lost, at one point or the other, looking at the sea of people around us filled with genius, as we catch ourselves wondering “How the fuck am I going to make a mark in all of this?”.

There is one particular part in the film, where a character says something along the lines of “We are all isolated. You’re here talking to me, but I’m isolated inside and you’re isolated inside. My words aren’t my exact thoughts. But only I understand my isolation. You know the fucked up part? You think you understand, but you don’t.”

Placebo is truly a story that begs to be told. You can see it evolve in itself. The original intent of the filmmaker wasn’t to talk about student suicides or the casual indifference of college management or depression. It was merely an investigation, a very personal one at that. But as the story begins to tell itself through the storyteller, you won’t care about the change of course. Because the story needs to be told, and we all need to let it.

Romanticism aside, it took (in the filmmaker’s own words) a 1000 hours of handycam footage and constant questioning of intent to bring out this 90 minute long story. 1000 hours, vs 90 minutes. To look for that story which has revealed itself to you, and to do it justice, that’s no easy task. Because it’s not something you’ve concocted in your head, it’s all there. It’s all already there. The loss of aim, loss of hope and dreams, the crisis of faith and loss of ideals, the pressure, loneliness and depression that we students face. It’s all there. We don’t know how to talk about it. This film just showed us how to.

There was approximately a 3 minute standing ovation at the end of the film, followed by a Q&A session. In it, someone asked the filmmaker about how personal the subject was, and how he could keep filming while everything was so close, especially since his own brother was severely hurt. The filmmaker said that whether we like it or not, when we hold a camera, it will create a barrier. That’s the price one has to pay for the story. You’re in it, you’re affected by it, but you’re still separated by that invisible inch.

Abhay Kumar is that filmmaker, and he stayed in the hostel of that college for two whole years, filming as much as he could. He and his partner in crime (his own words, not mine), Archana Phadke then spent another year finding the needle in the haystack, and all the other needles too, in order to tell this hard hitting story. If there is one thing, and absolutely one thing I can learn from this, it’s “Get a camera and go make a fucking movie. It takes a lot of effort, but what’s stopping you?”

Abhay, you’re honestly one of the best filmmakers out there at the moment. I haven’t made a single piece of cinema, I don’t know how it’s done, I’m no authority. But films mean a lot to me, you’ve just made it mean more.

Thank you so much.

Achyuth Sankar

(PS – You can watch Abhay’s shorts here (Just That Sort Of A Day) and here (Life Is A Beach)

(Born in Trivandrum and having spent his last 8 years in Bombay, Achyuth discovered his love for cinema here, thanks to affordable unlimited internet plans. His pass times are blowing up all his savings on purchasing Blu Rays, going for a morning show at some PVR, or eating good food and having a cold Bud. He moonlights (or rather, daylights) as a final year Engineering student, with a severe love for Harley Davidson motorcycles. He fell in love with movies after watching Good Will Hunting. The only thing he loves as much as cinema is his Labrador, Cindy)

Continuing with our series on daily reccos and reviews of the films at Mumbai Film Festival, here’s the post on Day 4.

Our Day 1 Wrap is here, Day 2 is here and Day 3 is here.


Hong Kong Trilogy by Christopher Doyle

“Fuck the studios.”

Christopher Doyle’s latest documentary ‘Hong Kong Trilogy’ (Preschooled, Preoccupied, Preposterous) brought him to MAMI and what a joy it was for those 40-odd people who showed up to hear him talk pre and post the screening. Wish MAMI had advertised the fact more that he’ll be at the screening ‘cos each word of his Howard Beale-sque monologue about the studio system was a sword through makhmal. The highly experimental documentary, more like a poetry (running in voice-over) being interpreted in visuals is a collaboration between Doyle and Producer Jenny Suen and is bizarre and heartwarming in equal measures. BUT, the real fun was listening to Doyle saab – who has spent some time in Hazaribagh as a kid and thanked India for introducing him to a complex society that ultimately pushed him towards exploring arts.

He walked into the screening carrying a cricket bat (no idea how he got one!) and in the middle of replying to a query, he’d stop and play a shot or talk about fielding positions. That Aussie spirit is still kicking there inside him somewhere probably.

Some /highlights from his monologue (quoting from memory).

“Our tragedy is that we are stuck between a youtube on one side and a Harry Potter No. 75 on the other.”

“If you don’t make the film you want to make, Harvey Weinstein will enter your home and fuck your sister.”

“Fuck the studios.”

“Martin Scorsese stole our film and never even credited us.” (He was talking about Infernal Affairs.)

“Studios just want to make Fast and fucking Furious Number 68 and they don’t care about what you think.”

“How is your sex-life?” (On being asked how much Wong Kar Wai has influenced your style and vice versa.)

For more of these, try attending his Masterclass on 3th November, 4 pm. By hook or by crook.

KRISHA by Trey Edwards Shults

Winner of Grand Jury as well as the Audience Prize at SXSW, KRISHA is a fiercely indie family drama that starts as a comedy and quickly spirals into a grand collision of past secrets and tragedies. The highlights here are a super-experimental cinematography, background score, constant play with aspect ratios, and a breakneck edit in certain set-pieces. Though there is no connection whatsoever in terms of theme, this reminded me strongly of WHIPLASH. Brilliant.

Varun Grover

The Endless River by Oliver Hermanus

What happens when unexpected crime complicates life? Estev and Tiny suddenly find themselves in no man’s land when crude murder rocks their lives out of shape. Unconnected yet connected they try to assimilate it all, sometimes together, sometimes alone. There are million emotional strands to explore in this story and its characters but the film chooses to stay with the tried and tested one, making it a predictable journey both for the dramatic graph within the scene and overall. But one thing stayed with me, its music.

Hongkong Trilogy by Christopher Doyle

Maverick master DOP Doyle’s ‘HongKong Trilogy’ turned out to be as trippy as him. The film glimpses into the lives of regular Hongkong citizens, their stories told by them, in their own voices and through their individual stories painting a picture of contemporary Hongkong and its socio-political reality. The docu-fiction form and a heart bleeding for a certain ‘return to innocence’, gives the film a subdued charm. Also, the irregularity of the regular people highlighted through an intuitive selection of real-life stories casts a humane thread into the mix. Watching him speak with his theatrics galore was far more charming though 🙂

Francofonia by  Alexander Sokurov

Documentary on Louvre? Jump, click, book. I wish it was as grand as I had imagined it to be but it was far more than that. The documentary explores the creation, maintenance and importance of Louvre, France’s beloved symbol of heritage, arts, nationality, history and much more in light of the Nazi invasion of WW II. It is a lovingly told documentary that is as whimsical as it is sentimental while being equally committed to historical facts and present political scenario. And it was this particular whimsy, imagination meeting history approach plus the tender meditativeness that gives this one its colour.

Kaul – A calling  by  Aadish Keluskar

I wanted to know if it would hold the second time round, it did. Severe projection issues at PVR Juhu notwithstanding, the narrative had me hooked despite the second viewing. It is a difficult film to watch and the projection issues just made matters worse. But I took back what I came to know, whether it works second time round or not, for me, it did.

Fatema Kagalwala

Day 4 at MAMI was as surreal as the other three, and continues to be a culture shock for me.  I didn’t see any of the films that I booked, randomly walked into three of them (with some pointers from Varun Grover) and it turned out to be a hell of a day.

MISSING PEOPLE by David Shapiro

Director David Shapiro’s documentary is one of the best films I saw at the fest.  I wouldn’t want to reveal anything about what it is any more than you would already know. I found the Q & A with David Shapiro, that followed the film, an extension of the film. I understood it better, could relate to it better. It forms an unlikely trilogy with Searching for Sugarman and Finding Vivian Maier, similar human stories that chillingly give you an insight into something more than you were prepared for. There’s a screening on 3rd with Q&A, do not miss!

HONGKONG TRILOGY by Christopher Doyle

A docu fiction film that captures the lives and stories of people in Hong Kong, while being visually evocative (because Chris Doyle).  It is the same space as Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, and there is a lot of empathy that the makers feel for the characters in the film and the happenings in Hong Kong. Christopher Doyle (who takes a Mise-en-scène and cinematography credit). The Q&A that followed with Doyle saab is now L-E-G-E-N-D-A-R-Y .

KRISHA by Trey Edward Shults

The last film that I saw was  an American indie Krisha, which continued the parampara of  the other two films I watched at night on Day 1 and 2. The parampara of being incendiary, shocking, brilliant and captivating.  Trey Edwards Shults’ portrait of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown (or already having one) and her grappling with mental disorders (like obsessive compulsion) is hypnotic, funny and disarming  to say the least. Pardon my adjectives (and these incessant brackets, I am not a big fan either) but please go watch this film, if there’s a screening left. If you guys were in awe of the music and the camerawork and the editing of Birdman, this would give you orgasm. It won the top awards at South by Southwest film fest, which is a very reliable benchmark.

Trivia: The guy started his career with Terrance Malick’s Voyage of Time and Tree of life, is an actor in the film (spot him!), and has used largely his family as the actors in the film.

Bhaskar Tripathi

Forbidden Room by Guy Maddin &  Evan Johnson

The easiest way to define Guy Maddin’s latest film is ‘कथा सरित् सागर’ on acid. On the surface, the film is about 4 seamen stuck in a submarine which cannot rise to the surface as the bomb inside it will blow up, and they are left with only limited oxygen to survive. Enter a lumberjack. When asked where he came from, the lumberjack starts his story which has multiple stories nested within it, and each story is more bizarre than the other. There is a story of a man who lives in an apartment which is inside a elevator, a woman kidnapped by a bunch of wolf-brotherhood-cave men, a man whose dying gift to his son is his mustache, and (especially) another man who breaks the 4th wall, and teaches bathing etiquette to the audience. In a conversation scene, where as one person talks normally, the other person’s dialogues are written on the screen, like in the silent era, or in the more recent ‘The Artist’. The film has some of the most maxed out trippy visual effects, with images from various stories juxtaposing. Every time a new character is introduced, the actor’s name (it also stars Mathieu Amalric and Charlotte Rampling) appears as they do in a credit roll. This film is not for someone looking for semblance of a plot , which is why people started walking out within 15 minutes, and by half an hour mark the theatre was more than half empty. The few who stayed back pretty much felt like Alice going down the rabbit hole.

Aditya Mattoo

(Pic by Varun grover)