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Trumbo And The Art Of War

Trumbo achieves what few others have, to fight with the purity of a radical and yet win with the cunning of a rich man. His words not mine. What I find fascinating is the use of irony, in its potent weaponised form.

Let me begin with a bit of context, while movies remain a source of entertainment, for most of us, I find them to be a remarkably accurate mirror of the human condition. So let’s take a long, good look at ourselves. This is the third piece in the What the movies taught me series. You can read the first part here, and second one is here.

I’ll wait for a moment while that cast list hits you. Deep breaths.

Trumbo is a autobiographical based on the life of Dalton Trumbo, a Hollywood screenwriter who is also an active member of the communist party of USA. Trumbo is one of the ten writers who is later subpoenaed under the allegations of furthering communist propaganda through his writings. He is later imprisoned for contempt of Congress and serves eleven months in a Federal Correctional Institution.

But even after his release the Hollywood Blacklist prevents him and several other communists and communist sympathisers from working in the industry. They’re disavowed by the studios and friends alike in the interests of protecting their own careers. Under struggling financial and familial circumstances, a freshly released from prison, publicly avoided Trumbo plots his revenge and the overthrow of the Hollywood Blacklist.

A Great Debate

At the heart of any good movie, I’d like to believe is a great debate. Whether that is internalised within a character or is played out between two or more. So it is too with Trumbo at its core lies a great debate between the idealist Arlen Hird and the rather pragmatic Trumbo. A debate that I find comes as close as possible within my rather limited knowledge of cinematic history, to the nature of victory and the means employed to fight within a democratic system.

There is a scene in the beginning of the movie that sets up the debate for what is to follow.
Hird: “… you know what it is, I don’t trust you … look I know what I am, I want this whole country to be different, top to bottom. If I get what I want, nobody gets their own lake.
Trumbo: “Well that would be a very dull life.”
Hird: “Yeah, for you not for the guys who built this. If I’m wrong, tell me, but ever since I’ve known you. You talk like a radical but you live like a rich guy.”
Trumbo: “That is true.”
Hird: “Well, I don’t know if you’re willing to lose all of this just to do the right thing.”
Trumbo: “Well, I despise martyrdom and I won’t fight for a lost cause. So you’re right I am not willing to lose it all. (points to family) Certainly not them. But I am willing to risk it all. That’s where the radical and the rich guy make a perfect combination. You see the radical, they fight with the purity of Jesus but the rich guy wins with the cunning of Satan.”
Hird: “Oh please, please just shut up…”

A man fighting only for his principles, for his staunch belief in doing the right thing, is willing to risk it all, his finances, his privileged position in society, his career and his family, but what he’s not prepared to do is lose it all. Employing whatever means it takes to keep them. I found this particular scene to be a great character reveal in all its complex layering. It also seems to be a particular form of irony that a man fighting on principle is willing to use the cunning of Satan to simply win. Irony has a major role to play in the movie as we shall further discover.

Trumbo is the thing grey line between characters and heroes written previously, while most are bound, straightjacketed within their archetypes to the point of boredom through countless repetitions. I talk of the Batman archetype, fights evil but won’t cross a line. Characters who will do what it takes to achieve their selfish goals.

Unprincipled ends call for unprincipled means.
Principled ends always call for principled means.

Else the disparity between the means and ends lead to a loss of viewer empathy for the hero’s struggle or an abandoning of belief in his cause. The unprincipled means are always introduced at a point of departure within the character arc. Suddenly the guy you’ve been rooting for, this good guy turns evil forced by circumstance he abandons the very reasons for which he is fighting and we will pity and the hero falls in our graces. Trumbo will have none of that, with his usual pragmatism and verbosity he remains true a businessman fighting for the good.

Result Vs. Ideology

It is a very fine distinction but one I believe merits drawing your attention to. In almost all fights and wars based merely on principle and ideology we have always witnessed the subordination of the result of the war to the dominant ideology that is the cause of it, in terms of a character’s priority.

Fighting the good fight has always been more important than winning the good fight. Tireless martyrs have sacrificed themselves on the altar of righteousness simply because of their stubborn refusal to do what it takes to win, they’d rather do what it takes to be right.
But herein lies the genius of Trumbo while he is a man fighting for principles he’ll be damned if he’ll allows them to interfere with his victory. Sample this scene from the movie:

Arlen: “…Studios, we should sue them…”
Trumbo: “Yes brilliant! Keep losing. Give all your money away to lawyers.”
Arlen: “I’d rather lose for the right reasons.”
Trumbo: “Why! It’s still losing, you lose, I lose, we all lose! Don’t you see that. And the whole goddamn country stays scared and dead…Arlen we can do this, we can beat them, we can win.”
Arlen: “I don’t care if I win.”
Trumbo: “Bullshit, everybody wants to win.”
Arlen: “No you want to win, I want to change things.”
Trumbo: “I want to win so that I can change things.”

I often think that while in these larger than life rebellions against the system, we might see a lot more victories on the side of the good if every man fighting the good fight wasn’t so damn hung up on fighting it the right way.

The answer to that of course isn’t violence but a more insidious way of collapsing the system but showing the hypocrisy or two-facedness of it. Something that I learnt from Trumbo.

The Nature Of Loss
There is no war without loss and every fight has its repercussions, it changes the people who go through it. Also tragedy in some form or another is required for a good plot anyways. Aristotle argued that tragedy cleansed the heart through pity and terror, purging us of our petty concerns and worries by making us aware that there can be nobility in suffering. He called this experience ‘catharsis’.

What is fascinating me for in Trumbo is the nature of the loss he undergoes. Since this is a true story it is stranger and certainly more enchanting than most fiction. While the most cliched way of dealing with tragedy in conflict is to show how the protagonist becomes in one way or another the very thing he is trying to destroy. A cop who becomes corrupt to see justice done, a doctor who falls sick to the very virus he is trying to eradicate, etc. But Trumbo is special the nature of his loss is the dulling of the very faculties that he depends upon for his livelihood, it is a betrayal of his passion for what he loves to do, write. In the context of his life story after being driven away from the big studios, Trumbo finds employment writing the low budget, low brow Kings Brothers. At the same time he has to write under pseudonyms, being unable to collect two Oscars for his ghost written scripts. In the midst of this there is this beautiful scene where Arlen becomes in many ways the voice of his own passion for writing calling for fealty towards it. After Arlen botches a script about an alien bonking a farm girl by filling it with political references, this is the scene as it happens:

Trumbo: “…What the hell were you thinking?”
Arlen: “I was thinking, it’s why I am a writer. To say things that matter. Remember that, I was a reporter. I was nominated for a Pulitzer. I fought in Spain and I know Ernest Hemingway. I actually know him and he knows me. If I walk into a bar in Paris, maybe not my name but I’ll get a wave.
And you, you won the national fucking book award. I mean what are we doing?”

“I mean do you, do you ever miss writing something, forget great just good. I mean you must have ideas still, right?”

Imagine being a portrait painter in Florence, one of the finest, one with the most generous patrons and then to be reduced to a position where you have to paint road signs, the guy who paints those square lines on roads to demarcate lanes, to make a living and even those are being criticised for not being straight enough. The dulling of the senses is a particularly painful experience.

To reduce the very thing that makes one unique, the very thing that is the foundation of one’s self esteem and standing in society to purposefully take a blunt file and file away at it, to reduce it to rather pathetic ordinary standards would require an extraordinary amount of strength.

And yet Trumbo soldiers on, because to him this temporary period of producing garbage is a path to victory.

Irony As A Weapon

Perhaps the most difficult thing in the movie that Trumbo has to encounter is to keep quelling the insistent voice of Arlen which also mirrors to a very large extent some of his own voices that the audience would expect his character to possess. Especially when they decide to write a script for Buddy Ross a producer who has given testimony against them in closed court.

Trumbo: “This is going to be a very big movie and if Buddy gets a good script.”
Arlen: “Which you’re going to give him.”
Trumbo: “No, which I am going to sell him.”
Arlen: “For money, ‘cos that’s why we did all of this, right, it was for the money.

Trumbo: “Why can’t you not see this, if we get one big movie, we can get all the big movies. And this whole rotten thing could collapse on the sheer irony that every unemployable writer is employed.”

What I find brilliant in the scene is the use of Irony as a weapon, perhaps the greatest weapon there is to destroy a system from within. There is no defence it allows for, in its expose of the hypocrisy of injustice in this case.

Since the movie I’ve been thinking of employing irony as a weapon. Using actions that bring about a deliberate, pervasive sentiment of irony so strong that it wins the fight in your favour. That is precisely what Trumbo teaches us.

We’ve heard of “become the change you want to see in the world”. But what Trumbo shows us is becoming, manifesting an irony, changes the world itself.

– Percy Bharucha

(The author has been previously published in eFiction and eFiction India, Eastlit, Reading Hour, Gratis, The Madras Mag, The Ascent, The Creative Cafe, Invisible Illness, The Writing Cooperative, Bigger Picture, Hundred Naked Words, Be Yourself, Fit Yourself Club, Hopes and Dreams for the Future, Written Tales, Poets Unlimited and The Haven. He writes regularly on Medium and runs a bi-weekly comic strip called The Adult Manual. He also tweets infrequently at  @Sab_Bakwaas_Hai)

India Film Project and FilterCopy has launched a new Web Writers’ Lab. The lab has been designed to take the selected participants and the scripts (for a web sketch) through a formal process of screenwriting, making it adaptive to viewers, and giving an opportunity to learn the skills which are essential to screenwriting for web. And finally, the web sketch will be produced by them.

In short, Join + Write + Learn + Give to web = Web Writers’ lab

– Once you submit your scripts, the team will curate and shortlist the 20 scripts who get a chance to attend a one-day workshop with writers of FilterCopy at their HQ, Mumbai.

– At the end of it, 5 scripts will be shortlisted for a five day scriptwriting lab at Mumbai (Travel+stay will be taken care of). The emphasis will be on fine-tuning the scripts so that they can be produced into individual sketches by FilterCopy.

– The writer whose script will be selected to be made into a video will receive a standard fee for their script

– It’s open only for comedy sketches

– Last day of submission – 31st December, 2017

-Registration fee for the lab is Rs 1,000.

– For more details, do click here.

 

You want to be a screenwriter, but you don’t know where to start.

Bombay is expensive. Is it worth going?

And on top of that, you don’t even know anyone. Even if you are in bombay, you don’t know whom to call for writing work.

These are just some of the basic questions that we all have grappled with at some point or other. There are no straight answers. Everyone finds a way.

But one thing is for sure now – it was never this easy if you have heard about AIB’s First Draft Programme. I wish there was something like this when we were starting out. It looked too good to be true – there is no fee, they take care of all the tuition expenses, and they even take care of your stay in Bombay. I have always felt that Bombay kids have an advantage. Not for anything else, but just for the rent. It’s fucking expensive! Whatever you earn, it goes in rent.

So when they started last year, it made me quite curious. Let’s see how it pans out. Been part of few script labs, i have experienced that nobody gets you till the last mile. Writing, feedback, learning, polishing – all that is good. BUT ARE YOU GETTING HIRED FOR WRITING?

Last i checked, out of the 10 writers that AIB selected, 7 of them are already writing commissioned work (film/web) for AIB which is in various stages of production. This is great. This is what all writers want.

So this year, we got one of the selected participant, Pulkit Arora to write about the whole experience.

Read. And Apply. Or Apply first, then come back and read. Last date for registration is Dec 5th, 2017. Click here for more details.

Falling In Love With Cinema / How I Learnt To Stop Worrying And Love The Screen

Last month, I went to my first film festival. As I swiftly discovered, festivals are exercises in cinema gluttony, with people catching as many as five films a day and ruing the absence of a sixth. But I felt oddly at home in queue for my next course.

18 months ago, this wasn’t the case. I’d maybe watch a film if the ticket price was less than Rs 2o0 and the run-time was under 100 minutes – that’d be about a film a month.

Most people around me at the festival had fallen in love with the movies when they were children. Stories told to you on a 50-ft screen as you chewed popcorn and slurped coke – what’s not to like? The leap from loving cinema to making cinema is substantial, but natural.

But as a vocal detractor of sitting still for more than 4 minutes, I had missed that honeymoon. I don’t think I even made it to the altar.

No one in my family had worked in art since a distant alcoholic uncle in the 80s ran production on a film with Asrani in the romantic lead. The casting choice was only slightly worse than the film itself; to this day at the dinner table, the conclusion is folks in arts are lazy drunks who didn’t score well in Science section.

On pure whim on an especially boring weekend, I stumbled onto a course called AIB First Draft, with no information on what writing for films entails. A whole Saturday off, and only a few tasks in the application – why not?

That application was a revelation. Playing around with characters can be pure fun, as if someone had given you a playground with a sandbox as big as human experience itself. The tasks took a lot longer than just that Saturday, but I did not resent it for a moment.

Upon what I continue to maintain was a miraculous selection, I sort of packed my bags and showed up expecting decent shelter and knowledge. I was fortunate to receive both.

While the course focused on writing stories for film, it throws you into a whirlwind romance with the medium of film itself.

Every day of every week was spent reading screenplays, watching cinema & writing. A lot of writing. I used my imagination more in six months than I had in every semester in college combined, especially with nine other people to imagine with.

But the biggest value of the First Draft framework was the predictability it brings – by Monday, we’d know the scheduled writing/reading/watching ratios of each day until Friday. Freed from the usual constraints of rent payments and deadlines, the only task was to learn.

But once the course spat me out of its comforts and straight into writing a high-stakes project, I found myself dwelling more and more in this sudden appreciation for an art form. I used to be a utility-and-function guy who scoffed at anyone “not contributing to making our world better” in the ways that I defined it; now I spent my days figuring out conflicts and emotional graphs for imaginary people. I was on my own little second act, figuring out how to reconcile this new job with my values.

But now that there was infatuation, I sailed into indulgence, consuming a film a day and a screenplay every week. Every film pored over, every screenplay marked with notes. All the “do what you love” posts that I cringed at all these years ended up coming true.

Somewhere in this process, I found something that I had lacked my entire life – an understanding of the value of creating cinema, and creating art itself. We throng to theaters to feel something our lives do not provide us, and that catharsis is more important than any of our institutions teach it to be. “Story is equipment for living” is how Kenneth Burke put it, and I have stumbled upon the honor to manufacture equipment. (That analogy has worked spectacularly with the family.)

A year in, cinema and I are doing quite well together. I think about it in the day and spend time with it in my evenings. I think in frames and scenes, I see people as characters. I have a feeling this may be more than just a fling.

Pulkit Arora

(Pulkit used to run a non-profit in Delhi before First Draft. He had no experience in fiction writing before he applied for the course. He is currently writing a feature film for AIB with a course-mate from the programme)

We also asked Pulkit to give us details about stay/course/schedule. More here –

– Our accommodation was spread over three houses in Versova. One of those houses was the venue for all the lectures and screenings. We would converge there for all the group work and then split up into our own houses for writing individually.

– The curriculum was a mish-mash of several screenwriting books, guest lectures as well as Satyanshu’s personal lessons. Everything was up for discussion – we would discuss exceptions as much as the rules.

– Every Monday, we would get a schedule that lays out the week for us. It would include watching films, plays and music, reading screenplays and writing our own draft. It made life super simple, because I now knew what I’m doing five days in advance.

– As for food, AIB paid for a cook that would make three meals for all of us. We would pay for the ingredients, but that was about it)

What The Movies Taught Me – Part II

Posted: October 30, 2017 by moifightclub in cinema
Tags: ,
The lure of a simpler narrative

Why we’re all hoping, we’ll wake up one day in a better story
What the movies taught me – II


Let me begin with a bit of context, while movies remain a source of entertainment, for most of us, I find them to be a remarkably accurate mirror of the human condition. So let’s take a long, good look at ourselves. This is the second piece in the What the movies taught me series. You can read the first post here.


The Dark Tower Copyright MRC, Columbia Pictures

I recently watched The Dark Tower, a science fiction film based on Stephen King’s novel series. While the movie seemed a not-too-out-of-the-ordinary usual action fare, what surprised me was the familiar twinge of jealousy and regret at not being the protagonist. Hoping one day I too would be called forth to a greater quest of world-saving proportions. A feeling that’s pretty commonplace when you walk out of hero-quest movies as I like to call them. An ordinary, everyday human is displaced from his ordinary life and is told he has a higher order purpose, that he and he alone is uniquely gifted to fulfil. And in the balance of which hangs the fate of the entire world/worlds/universes we know of. Which got me thinking that apart from the lure of being a hero why exactly is it that movies of a similar trope have such universal appeal.


THE  LURE  OF  A  SIMPLER  NARRATIVE

I think a lot of what the movie represents is the lure of a simpler narrative. There is something primitively alluring about being a simple kid with a simple, singular objective of destroying an evil sorcerer who has unlimited powers, while your only ally being a grumpy cowboy who’s been poisoned by an alien-monster-scorpion hybrid is rapidly deteriorating while having an endearing addiction to getting high on sugar drinks. Sounds simple enough.

You Can Do It GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

Compared to figuring your life out, making rent, working insane hours and the weekends, coming to terms with the fact that there is going to be nothing new or amazing about what you do, dealing with a quarter life crisis, while undergoing therapy for existential problems/impostor syndrome, coming to terms with never being able to find true love- considering giving in to your parents and signing up for that matrimonial site, realising adopting a pet was biting off way more than you could chew, missing staying at home but having your pride, the exhausting act of maintaining a facade of absolute carefreeness and YOLO-ness while silently undergoing bouts of FOMO- being secretly jealous of most of your friends successes and binging on online content every spare moment of the day ‘cos escape. Yeah I’ll take defeating sorcerers any time of the day.


There is an innate amount of freedom in not carrying the weight of determining your own narrative.

Like in the movie Jake Chambers is called to fulfil his destiny. The path is laid out in front of him like a three course dinner. Small monster appetisers in an abandoned amusement park, main course consisting of poached Padick (the Man in Black) and for desert the joy of leaving his old life behind to perform the most important task in the world, protecting the tower. I mean what more could you possibly give an eleven year old apart from a trustworthy mentor, purpose and extraordinary shine. While the rest of us eleven year olds were choosing whether we liked doing math or art, scarcely aware of the long term career ramifications of our choices. I’d give up anything to have a path laid out for me to walk on. It’s hard to question your life or your career choices when your job is literally holding the universe together, keeping it protected from the darkness that surrounds it. The joy of such a singular objective appeals to some part of our reptilian brain that doesn’t revels in the joy of not having to process any complexity for a change. The lens of decision making is devoid of its usual navigation amongst the shady lanes of grey that ordinary adult life requires. Imagine Jake as an adult, all he has to account for is will this attack the tower> kill it, will this protect the tower>protect it as opposed to Jake the adult human going, what could I post on Facebook today to get maximum likes?


THE  APPEAL  OF  THE  SUDDEN  AWAKENING

There is an act of vindicated joy that we all empathise with, when Jake is shown his world is the dream and the mid-world he enters through the portal is his reality. There is that little bit of hope, inside all of us that this can’t be it that finds validation. That our lives cannot be just about doing taxes, choosing stationery supplies and ordering takeout. That somewhere beyond all this mundaneness there is a place where we are needed. A sort of Inception inspired deception that, this is a dream and all we need to do is wake up to realise we were meant for greatness all along. I’ve romanticised it as much as the rest of you guys.

Aww GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

“I was right! I always knew I was meant for more than this!”

There is also a certain amount of appeal that the spontaneity of the transformation holds. One moment Jake is in his room doing his “delusional” drawings, the next moment the monsters wearing human skin have come for him and he escapes to Mid-World. There is no gradual change here, the appeal I guess of such sudden transformation is that we believe they it happen to us. Right! We don’t need years of prep for it, there is no waiting time, the next moment the monster-skin-people could come for any of us. There is that deceptive hope that that moment could happen to any of us, because all it takes is a moment for the shift to begin and for the dream to end. The spontaneity of it, is proof of its probability and we begin to anticipate that moment. I’ve certainly started looking for scars behind earlobes.


DEATH  ALWAYS  WINS

Stuff like that always gets you thinking about what you’ve been upto all this while. And rather than course correct or work even harder its totally human to just put your feet up and go, “well I’m still dreaming, they haven’t come for me yet.” It’s just reassuring to know and live with the hope that any moment the dream could end and then, then we shall be truly awake and all of this, all of this will just fall by the wayside, as we embrace who we were truly meant to be, all along. When we shall throw away the cloak of mediocrity that hid our own powers all this while and show to the world who we truly were.

Hero GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY


After all, the desire to be in a story is all that drives us.
The desire to wake up one day and know that life is the dream.

– Percy Bharucha

(The author has been previously published in eFiction and eFiction India, Eastlit, Reading Hour, Gratis, The Madras Mag, The Ascent, The Creative Cafe, Invisible Illness, The Writing Cooperative, Bigger Picture, Hundred Naked Words, Be Yourself, Fit Yourself Club, Hopes and Dreams for the Future, Written Tales, Poets Unlimited and The Haven. He writes regularly on Medium and runs a bi-weekly comic strip called The Adult Manual. He also tweets infrequently at  @Sab_Bakwaas_Hai)

Bad news first – Large Short Films continues  to be moronic and is still peddling Chaitanya Tamhane’s name in all their communication, even in their medianet promotions.

And the good news – Somnath Pal’s gorgeous looking animated short is out. It’s beautifully evocative. Do watch it. Also, the posters are so striking, we are sharing all of them here.

And here’s the short

This is bizarre. And it just doesn’t seem to end. So we are forced to write this post.

Hey Large Short Films, you awake? You drunk? You know the role of director in making a film? And how different it is from being a producer? You know what Somnath Pal has done?

Why is Chaitanya Tamhane’s name being peddled everywhere for Somntha Pal’s film Death Of A Father. First, it happened during Mumbai Film Festival. The communication was so deceptive, everyone thought that Chaitanya has directed a new short film. Nobody knew about Somnath. His name wasn’t mentioned anywhere.

Even Varun Grover, who was moderating the Q and A panel for the shorts, had no clue till he was there.

We understand that you want to cash in on Chaitanya’s name, and it’s great that he is supporting other talented filmmakers. But how about we get the basics right. We don’t know what Somnath and Chaitanya feel about it, and how they are allowing it to happen, but this is atrocious.

Even the trailer that they have put it now, the description has Chaitanya’s name, and no mention of director. In the trailer, the credit has producer’s name first, and then comes director’s name. If it was some well know director, i wonder if they would have the guts to do something similar. Just because he is a new director, one can get away with anything.

WTF! And WHYTF! Anyone has a valid explanation?

Here’s the trailer

 

LOVELESS

We as an urban global world have slowly found arrogant comfort and convenience in being lonely and loveless. I am certain that when the world will be dying, we will be busy waiting for a youtube video to buffer.

These were my first thoughts after coming out of the cold, edge of the seat, apocalyptic, eerie, and devastating piece called Loveless by Andrei Zvyagintsev (Leaviathan and The Return). This is a burning symphony on the spiritual disaster of a failed marriage as Andrei uses lifeless streetlights, streets, cold Tarkosky forests, and empty abandoned buildings to document the remains of a ruined marriage. Unlike most of the movies I have seen, the first time we see a couple arguing over who does not want to keep the child over the usual debate of who would love to take the custody. The couple going through the failed marriage along with modern Russia seem busy in loveless intimate acts, selfies, luxurious apartments, status, money, freedom and, sleep while their child goes missing from their house. As Nietzsche quotes, “They do not want to know the truth because the truth would break their illusions” The couple are forced to run around abandoned buildings, hospital beds, make phone-calls, reach out to neighbors, and deal with bureaucratic cops – and they do so with the zeal and enthusiasm of a dead octopus.

In one of the most heart-wrenching sequences of the film, the police, search party, and the father of the lost child are seen searching an eerily- in-ruin abandoned building in the middle of the forest which used to be the missing kid’s spot. The shots of this building by Andrei’s regular cinematographer Mikhail Krichman are metaphorical of the loveless state a disastrous marriage can take. Cannes Jury Prize winner Loveless is an essential film to watch. The film will has morose impacts on your mood – as Marcel Proust would put it “Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is the grief that develops the powers of the mind.”

ASHWATTHAMA

We all have grown up listening to the stories about the warrior Ashwatthama still being alive, though, not as a result of being immortal but rather as curse given to him by Krishna. According to legend, Krishna was angry with Ashwatthama for killing Pandava’s sons. He decided to curse Ashwatthama to avenge the destruction of Pandava’s lineage – hence cursing him with an unending life of pain and suffering. Krishna cursed Ashwatthama with terrible leprosy that would haunt him for 3,000 years. Krishna further stated that Ashwatthama would not be helped by anyone or provided food or shelter.

Now imagine a young 9 year old Ishwaku, who is growing up on this story, and suddenly is burdened with equal pain as Aswatthama is in the legend. Francois Truffaut meets Satyajit Ray in Pushpendra Singh’s Ashwatthama – a surprise gem in the India Gold section of Mumbai Film Festival this year. Pushpendra Singh inter-cuts between the painful reality of the kid’s existence after the loss of his mother with folk songs, cultural narrative of Rajasthan and Madya Pradesh, Ishwaku’s dreams, imaginations, and search for Ashwatthama who is supposed to be living in abandoned ruins of the village. The myths, religion, and customs of the village shape devastating childhoods for the kids living here. The plight is shown with rich impact through an almost black and white lifeless atmosphere. Pushpendra Singh looks completely in control of this film as every shot of the film is rich and haunting aided by cinematographer Ravi Kiran Ayyagiri. A few rare moments of imagination of the kid explode with color on screen, bursting into the suppressed desires flowing with the mind of Ishwaku.

Although, the influence of the likes of Truffaut, Kiarostami, and Ray are evident; the film still is one of the most authentic, pure, rustic, and, genuine coming of age movies I have ever seen. The film is filled with melancholic nostalgia – especially if you have spent your childhood days loitering around in vast landscapes and nights spent imagining the stories from your family storytellers.

ZOO

“Death is not the greatest loss. Loss is what dies when you’re still alive”, said Tupac. Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.’s sour turned friendship is a severely heartbreaking tale for upcoming rappers. This tale has its fair share of influence on the underbelly of Mumbai slums.

Aspiring rappers from these slums, Prince Daniel and Yogesh Kurme are dreaming to become an epic rap duo like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. However, Prince is also certain to not let their friendship turn sour like it happens in the former story. Little did they know that the landscape they are trying to survive in is filled with drugs. Messi played by Rahul Kumar (Millimeter from 3 Idiots) aspires to take over his elder brother’s drug empire inspite of having a potential career in football. Messi’s brother played by Shashank Arora is a drug seller who supplies ‘sugar’ to a city running deep on these white lines. This also includes Shweta Tripathi’s character who has not stepped out of house since months owing to a past incident. Her life is filled with PS4, online food deliveries, coffee, and delivery of sugar. The lives of all these characters somewhere or the other end up with drugs taking away the best of them.

However, in the process of showing this degradation due to drugs, Shlok Sharma gives us some really fresh scenes like Shashank’s character playing a dumb waiter at a coffee shop, Prince and Yogesh singing probably the most hilariously obscene rap lyrics ever witnessed in an Indian film, or Messi doing a Robert De Niro like mirror scene. The rotting drug filled contemporary Mumbai underbelly has been captured with complete accuracy by Shlok Sharma in this film completely shot on an Iphone. The narrative of Zoo fills much more complete than it did in Vasan Bala’s Peddlers. Having disliked Haramkhor, Shlok Sharma’s Zoo was a pleasant surprise for me.

MACHINES

Rahul Jain’s Machines aims to empathise us with the sub humane working conditions in textile factories of Gujarat, India. It raises the same old questions of wages, standard of living and, the work life balance which is absolutely missing in the lives of the workers documented. However, Machines is shot in a meditative fashion, allowing some of the shots of the Machines to make you really wonder who the slaves are – Machines or Men themselves?

The cinematography of the film is breathing with sweat, chemicals, dirt, and life in these factories. These breathing shots allow you to experience life in these windowless rooms. Men bathe, eat, work, and live around chemicals as if they are living out of a suitcase in Tokyo. In one of the most subtle yet painful shots, a man is seen entertaining himself by resting his feet on a machine which is in full throttle action, the vibrations of the machine are music to his tired musceles which are being massaged in the process.

Rahul Jain succeeds in creating an immersion point for the viewers through sight, sound, and smell through shots of the nightmarishly sludgy company rolled around in profits while their workers survive on peanuts. The 70 minute film is a visual treat which raises no new questions but still immerses is in the textile toil of carried by the workers. The final scene of this movie is a stunning blow where a group of workers surround the camera and start asking the intentions of the film being made. The sound design on the film is commendable as a musical treatment comes together through the various noises of the factory creating an invigorating track of sorts which leaves you thinking.

NOTHINGWOOD

“ No Hollywood, No Bollywood, We are Nothingwood; we have no money and no resources. Qayamat is here (end of the world) but my Ishq-e-cinema (love for cinema) is forever. “

Father of 14 kids in the worn torn Afghanistan; Salim Shaheen is the prince of Afghanistan’s film industry where cinema itself has been banned by the Taliban. Sonia Kronlund documents the extravagant and tour de force director Salim Shaheen while he is shooting his 111th movie which is an autobiographical affair on his own transition from being and Army General to being the Badshah of Afghan Cinema. Salim Shaheen and his crew’s energy is as infectious as a film crew finishing their student project. The passion of Salim Shaheen for films over bullets reeks out of all the statements, songs, visuals, which are beautiful woven together in this documentary.

In one of the most job dropping yet hilarious scenes, a chicken is sacrificed on the sets of the film to showcase spilled blood in his new film. This scene is a testimony to the love and passion for cinema which is harboured by Salim and his team. With almost no resources and funds, Salim has been making films since decades. A huge fan of Bollywood actors Dharmendra and Manoj Kumar, Salim started by making lip sync videos by singing to the famous Indian songs. Today, his movies are seen by people across the sides of Taliban and Police.

This film is an ode to film makers, a love letter for people who are so wildly passionate for cinema that they can do nothing else with their lives. A retired army general turned filmmaker Salim shows us that passion is all you need for making a movie, rest is and always will be upto the destiny. This film will leave you cheering in the end for Salim’s relentlessl and infectious energy.

– Harsh Desai
(Tweets: @iamharshdesai
Senior Partner, Lowfundwala Productions http://www.lowfundwala.com)