Archive for the ‘cinema’ Category

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)

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.

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“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)

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)

24 Frames

An image speaks a thousand words. Abbas Kiarostami however finds a million words to say in a still image. I entered the film with complete fatigue after watching almost 4 films on Day 2 at Mumbai Film Festival. Within 30 minutes of the film, almost 10-15% of the audience walked out and a few slept off. Somewhere I could imagine the smile on Abbas Kiarostami‘s face as he would always say, “Some films have made me doze off in the theater but the same films have made me stay up at night, wake up thinking about them in the morning, and keep on thinking about them for weeks.”

Abbas Kiarostami uses 24 inanimate pictures or paintings and creates spellbinding visual magic by sprinkling these images with music, sounds, and ,movement. An ice cold masterpiece from the auteur who takes a curtain call with the dedication of a student. These frames are intoxicating, melancholic, sleep inducing, and a fitting tribute to Kiarostami’s craft.

One of my favorite frames in the film is a frame where logs of freshly cut wood are stacked in the foreground, while two trees gracefully fall down over a few minutes over a mesmerizing track in the background. The added sound effect of wood cutting machines further make this frame a breathtaking visual. Tigers fornicating in the wild, cows loitering on beaches, a horse running in a snow clad forest, and a herd of deers migrating with the season make every frame look like a priceless greeting card. Kiarostami, you have left a void which can only be filled by re-watching your films. Thank you for the films.

Village Rockstar

Finally, a positive Indian indie film dealing with puberty, village customs, childhood, and the beautiful music scene in Assam villages. Rima Das passes the debut test with flying colors as she blurs the line between fiction and documentary while working with a bunch of complete non-actors. The usual village scenes like kids cycling on raw dusty roads, kids jumping into the water, and kids running around in beautiful grass landscapes are filled with new and fresh energy as the kids in the film are already woven into the milieu of this village.

Fascinated by music, these kids are often seen using old cans, thermocol sheets, and wooden planks to enact live music performances. These musical ambitions are a contrast to the landscape of the village where girls are still raised differently than boys. In an engaging tale narrated by a grandfather about Mahabharat’s Yudhisthir’s answers to tough questions; the 10 year old central female character is enchanted to know that her mother is larger than the sky. And rightly so, we end up discovering one of the most beautiful mother-daughter relationships ever witnessed whereby the mother defends her daughter who wishes to start a rock band, wants to buy a guitar, and even wants to climb those trees with the boys. The role of the mother and the daughter are essayed with rustic perfection creating beautiful images.

Rima Das has her named engraved across departments in the credits of the film accomplishing what very few can. Village Rockstars is a commendable attempt and yet another story from the Indian roots which is worth watching.

– Harsh Desai

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


S. Durga

Sexy Durga or S. Durga as it is now known to be in censor obsessed India. This is a psychedelic thriller, a documentary, a dark trippy film, a social commentary on state of women and goddesses in India. It tries to be so much that it ends up being nothing but a claustrophobic watch. The start of the film itself throws us on to a terrorising ritual practised in Kerala to offer respect to Goddess Durga. This gruesome ceremony is unsettling, discomforting, and very difficult to sit through. However, I am sure there are viewers for this real life gore too. Because these scenes however horrifying they maybe are shot with class, dedication and, with a passion to tell a story which is already said but still needs to be told again and again.

However, there is some very clever use of camera and street lights which makes the film watchable in parts. The best scenes in the film are scenes where the goons are trying to misbehave with a couple trying to elope in a omni van turned into a death metal psychedelic lounge with make shift lights and indie grunge music. This trippy Maruti Omni would put to shame the mystery machine in scooby dooby doo. The film has a story worth exploring regarding Kerala’s patriarchal society. Although, Kerala also happens to be the most literate state in India.

Besides the trippy van, horrifying opening scene, fantastic score; the film is also a hallmark of the hopeless nihilistic world we are trying to live in. It is a testimony to the fact that we are all perpetrators of cruelty towards woman. We are all stuck in lope just like the couple in the film who keep going back to the van inspite of trying to run away from the same.

Relang Road

“Weed is a plant and not a drug, I am Garden and not a criminal”

I have no idea why I have started with this quote. However, this is one of the quotes which is scribbled on a bus stop in a scene from Ralang Road. The quote, although interesting sets up a dark undertone which is waiting to explode in this atmospheric cross between Lynch’s style and Edgar Allan Poe’s cold poetry.
The thicker the blanket, the colder the surprises underneath it. The dense, thick fog reverberating in the opening shots of Takapa’s Sikkim is like an ice cold blanket which seems tranquil to look at
but hides the darkest of the secrets. The opening shots are hazy -almost confused me between the streetlight and the moon. The blanket in this film is full of how poetry, beer, weed, and candy crush
have pervasively influenced the landscape of an otherwise small town -nature resists consumerism in all forms. Beneath the blanket lies, a new in town math teacher who seems look a total misfit in the film (which actually works well in the favour of the character), kids wanting to even scores with the math teacher, a man wanting to commit a murder for a bag, and a vengeful woman. This sets multiple layers to the movie which strips itself scene by scene creating a ticking time bomb which is waiting to explode as the paths of the central characters cross each other.
The director succeeds in creating an original atmosphere with clever selection of visuals and composition in the film. A scene where people are packed into a jeep like cattle could have been shot in many interesting ways, however Takapa focusses on the eerie silence in the nature through the front view mirror of the car when the car is attempting its best to trash the forest peace. The scene also has one of the best claustrophobic conversations of the film whereby a person keeps convincing the central math teacher’s character to arrange his daughter’s admission in the school in exchange of pure Sikkim cow’s milk. In another scene, the math teacher gets into a fight with the barber while a small kid is busy enjoying his facial in the background. These scenes although very general and mundane, explode with eccentrically tense results for the audience. Sikkim definitely is no longer a touristy space for me after watching Ralang Road.
The clever use in the film of masked kidnappers, folklore grandma, trippy streetlights, drunk men, lottery addicted men, and even a cat are never your first thoughts about a small town film.
However, Takapa decides to take our judgements, turn them upside down, and fry them over a pan. In return, Takapa presents us with an unknown force or feeling from nature in this small Sikkim town which seems to resisting or getting far too comfortable with the new changes in the demographics and culture of the milieu- I am a nature’s baby and I felt somewhere so responsible to see how and what we have done to nature and the ecosystem of Sikkim. I am not sure whether this is what the film intended to address but I was moved to chills by experiencing the change in the ecosystem represented so casually in this film which absolutely works in favour of the film.

Ralang Road is one of the better films to have come out of independent circuit in India handling a fine balance between humour and acute coldness of a atmospheric thriller intact.

– Harsh Desai

(Tweets @iamharshdesai, Senior Partner, Lowfundwala Productions www.lowfundwala.com)

The Day After

“I think you still love me, but we can’t escape the fact that I’m not enough for you. I knew this was going to happen. So I’m not blaming you for falling in love with another woman. I’m not angry, either. I should be, but I’m not. I just feel pain. A lot of pain. I thought I could imagine how much this would hurt, but I was wrong.”
― Haruki Murakami

Never had I ever thought that Infidelity as a film topic could be dealt with such poise, patience, and, character. However, when Auteur Hong Sang-soo handles a subject this delicate, the result is a poetic, meditative, melancholic, and a boozy drama.

In competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes this year, this is the 4th film by the Korean master in the past 8 months – and oh boy, he seems to be operating at the prime of his career.  Set around the life of a morose publisher and his affair with a woman, Bong-wan (Kwon) spends most of his screen time discussing love and life getting over shots of Soju. Little does the new employee Ah-reum (Kim) knows that she is replacing Bong-wan’s flame Chang-sook (Kim Sae-byuk). When Bong-wan’s wife (Cho yun-hee) finds a love poem written by Bong wan, she assumes that the mistress is Ah-reum. Ah-reum on the other end is almost a conscious reflection of bong-wan asking him strange and unsettling questions over, again some shots of soju. However, not all the characters in the film seem as layered as Bong-wan.

This film is moody, painful, and a nuanced understanding of infidelity. Barring the sudden zoom shots, this movie can surely get you drunk on mid-life crisis without the shots of Soju.

The Florida Project

Florida Project will remind you of Short Term 12. This is a gem from Sean Baker who proves that he is a seamless storyteller with fresh sensibilities to tackle complex issues with simple narratives. The colourfully lit frames of the film have dark underlying tensions which suck you into the milieu at the outskirts of Disneyland in Florida. As an audience, you enter the film with shots of kids creating havoc with their mischief and abuses but you are left weeping in the end.

There is something about kids, something about their innocence which has the power to fill the entire screen up. Moonee played by the young kid Brooklyn Prince will win laughs and break hearts across borders with her performance of a brash kid who is always upto adventures with her rebellious mom and ragtag buddies. Willem Dafoe gives a nuanced performance, speaking volumes about his maturity as an actor in top form. A scene where Willem Dafoe is seen requesting the birds to clear the drive way is an endearing sight which speaks for the wrinkles he has developed on his neck over the years.

The Florida project, CO-written, directed, and edited by Sean Baker is a very special film. The screenplay is incredibly fresh, believable, and breathing with Florida vocabulary. Tangerine filmmaker Baker again uses dynamic shots resulting into a charismatic storytelling technique. The Florida Project is an unmissable experience.

– Harsh Desai

(Senior Partner, Lowfundwala Productions (www.lowfundwala.com)

Before you read this, let’s set the mood! 🙂 Just go and listen to the first 10 seconds of this (embedded below also) song. And then the next 10. And then the entire song, the verses as well.  And the interludes, especially the one at 3.08 sec.

It does something to you, right? Not at one place, but at thousand different places. Not one thing, a thousand different things. All those things carefully placed side by side or on top of each other or front and behind, all resonating against one another, the instruments and the senses they evoke, all combined into one rich, wild forest of music.

The first time I heard it, I went whoa, this is crazy! So carefree, so unique, so much banjarapan, so much more than Mehbooba mehbooba. I loved it! It was in cable TV times, CVO, I think. Had little clue who this R.D.Burman chap was, but knew he was somewhat special because Dad spoke highly of him and sister’s eyes began to shine when his songs played. Slowly, mine began too.

 

Manzil khoyi, dil bhi khoya milke aapse

That’s the thing with his music, it’s not about his prolificacy it’s about the richness that stays with you long after the song is over. Yet, on repeat listening, seems as fresh. So it feels it’s always been around yet it gives some new joy next time. Yes, it’s true, I must admit, of Chura liya hain tumne too, a song so ghisaoed that even Asha can’t make me listen to it anymore. But then sometimes, R.D. does, even today. I give in helplessly when the glasses start clinking mischievously. Ting ti-ding, ting ti-ding. R. D. is a sly musician, you know. Oh, did I say musician? I meant magician.

Years went by in the safe familiarity of his presence, never really actively sought though. The news of his passing had hit a dull spot, he wasn’t a potent memory, wasn’t attached to his music in my heart and mind yet. And then 1942, A Love Story happened. It rekindled all that sheer amazement I had when I heard Kaho kaise for the first time. Just that now I knew who this Burman chap was and promptly proceeded to fall in love with him; after his death and also much after I had fallen in love with his music.

Kaho kaise rasta bhool pade

It wasn’t until Jhankar Beats happened in 2003 that I actually realized this man is a cult in himself. And that he is still alive. Fourteen years later, watching that very fine documentary, Pancham Unmixed, reaffirmed this fact.

Just like R.D., this film seems to have been around me for the longest time. I happened to first know of it in 2009. I couldn’t watch it then, and it has crossed my path many times since and finally, like lost opportunities that are actually hidden boons, it fell in my lap the other day.

I’ve always wanted to understand the man and his music better but I didn’t go to know the technicalities of his music or the history of his life. I already knew what those who were closest to him thought and felt about him. So much is spoken of him everywhere you keep coming across these things all the time even if you are not looking. They are important of course, but yesterday I just wanted to feel the joy of knowing R.D., better, again. I wanted to feel that joy of familiarity and the joy of rediscovering him, again and again, just like I do with his music. Also watching old, favorite, Hindi films and film songs in NFAI gives an especially delicious, romantic kick. I went in smiling and came out crying.

Bahut door hoke bahut paas ho tum

I am a sucker for documentaries loaded with great artists and experts, especially Hindi film legends. Where else do you get to listen to so many great minds at the same time? There is a certain precision in their articulation and incisiveness in their observations that lends another dimension to the subject. The film is a huge knowledge base for R.D. Burman historiography but that is not the main reason it is important. There is something that binds the experts, friends, colleagues, and fans in the film and it is above the man or his music. It is the nature of their love for him; reverence, admiration, adoration, protectiveness, affection and a strange kind of happy-sad nostalgia of still feeling a man long-gone around them. It fills the film to the brim and I think it is this effusive romance of R.D. that makes the film far more valuable and memorable. It is this that I wanted to soak in and soak in I did, fully. It is this that told me that the man is still alive, and will remain alive now.

Actually, not exactly this. I had an inkling in June. A random FB post led to one song and that to another and for three whole days, I listened to these three songs non-stop, only three songs on loop, amazed yet again at the genius of this man. It made me so happy to listen to them I thought I will keep listening till I get bored. But it didn’t happen and I didn’t want it to happen either. There was this mad joy surrounding me and I was content to exult in it, the only thing I wanted to know, as always, was if the man knew how much happiness his music was still capable of spreading. Teer kya patthar bhi nahi haath mein dikhlane ko, kis ada se maare hain aapne deewane ko…And it all happened around his birthday and that was so maddeningly filmy I loved it even more. It was like he was around, taking me through the intricate, delicate joys of his music.

Koi mera…tujhsa kaha…

Pancham is a shared joy but a personal love, a very intimate bond, an individual connect each fan has with him, very similar but never the same. It’s like you will share your love story only with him, only he will get it. And get it he does, and how. And if you go to him when you have none he will give you one to dream about. A little like Shahrukh.

Those three to five days, as I was soaring up and down, in and out, this way and that on the tunes of O Meri Jaan, sharing love stories with RD, I kept thinking about the man who could do this. I got to know him much better through the film than the image I had created in my mind, it wasn’t different but it had holes. I had safely obscured his low phase from my mind. I had conveniently forgotten he may not have been as happy and happy-go-lucky as I like to imagine him. All of us want to remember him that way and the documentary affirms it loud and clear. My favourite image is him in his white shirt, white shoes, red muffler, red cap and sauve shades, sharing smiles of ever-lasting happiness with Asha Bhonsle, with just a hint of naughtiness as Katra katra plays in the background. That’s how I want to imagine he spent his entire life and is somewhere, even now.

Ek din bik jaayega maati ke mol

The image of the fallen R.D. still remains with me. A lot of the interviewees agreed he was ‘naïve’, and in his own words his ‘mind wasn’t understood well enough by those around him’. It was surprising but by the end of the film I knew he wasn’t naïve as associates think, nor a mad genius as fans want to believe, he was the most self-aware artist we will see.

And it is this self-awareness, more than his phoenix-like rebirth or a pied piper image, R.D. must have wanted to be known for, I think. Because only when your art is this self-aware can it flow so free, so fluid, so rich, so mysterious. Because only when your art is self-aware will you take great pains to stay with your melody and nurture it and nourish it, as Gulzaarsaab reminisces he liked to do, in Gulzar Remembers Pancham. Only when your art is self-aware will you blow bottles and trumpets with the same flair and only then will it be infused with that undying spirit of life, wriggling to be set free, that underlines every song of his.

The film introduced me to this R.D., scientist as much as an artist, maverick as much as disciplined, hero as much as human. I think it is possible that this very self-awareness told him that maybe he was too ahead of his times, and someday he would be understood better through his music. I think he let go early because he knew his music will live.

Tumne mujhe dekha hoke meherbaan

Almost 3/4th of the film is an effusive celebration of both the man and his music, detailed, descriptive, articulate and incisive – both in the observations and the weave of the film, the text and context, thematic relationship everything; bringing alive his persona and the palpable love for him. But when it comes to this part no one wants to acknowledge it, not even the film, it looks like. Suddenly no one has words; all that effusive articulation has evaporated. It is like even the film doesn’t know what to do…it lingers shortly, respectfully, on the wordless and graceful emotional moments, and leaves it in silence. As though gently laying a flower on R.D.’s memories in the same way Shammi Kapoor did on the memories of his beloved wife Geeta Bali, in that beautiful debut of R.D.’s … ruk gayi yeh zameen, tham gaya aasman… There was silence and stillness in the hall too.

It’s been three months and I still haven’t gotten bored of those three songs, life takes over from time to time but so does R.D., sometimes insistently, and I am happy to let him do so. After all, aisa sama na hota, kuchh bhi yaha na hota, mere humrahi jo tum na hote.

 Thank you for the music Panchamda 🙂

Fatema Kagalwala