Saturday, August 28, 2010

drowning "In The Mood For Love" - Wong kar Wai.

part of the beginning quote, which perhaps, was a sign of things to come.

It is a restless moment.
She has kept her head lowered,
to give him a chance to come closer.
But he could not, for lack of courage.
She turns and walks away.


Its been some time since somebody exercised such charisma, authoritative-poise and understanding over a subject, as severely obvious, understated yet complicated as 'Desire'. The word "Mood" used in the title is apt, because a lot of the movie is just that - Mood. Its writer and director, Wong Kar Wai (WKW),  is one of those gifted new breed of moviemakers who think through the lens, and use that talent to give the film a charged, rapturous boom-quality; the camera floats along, sneaking a look at the performers out of the corner of its eye. Narrative has rarely been his forte; instead his heart spills out onto the canvas of the breathing-and-alive screen with a swipe of bold colour.

WKW's masterly and meditative attempt explains, expresses and exemplifies the desire of two married people for each other which borders on the platonic, their attraction for each other, the obvious-innocence, indulgence and moral confusion, and the rote frosty glances of passer-bys. Throughout the movie, WKW, does-not, for a moment tread on unncessary judgement calls, nor does he force you to take sides or choose; he just presents - and a presentation of epic proportions it is...such is the relentless assault of super-beautiful images and sounds that you gasp for air, and end up wanting some more at the end of it all!

This is vintage, true-blue WKW. When did they stop making such movies, one wonders?!

The camera poses as a Voyeur, glanging over shoulders, peeps under bed-steads, gazes lovingly at this couple stranded in unhappy marriages, scans walls, adorned-floors, weeps at the agony of the characters, rejoices at their meetings, melts into the dark-stairs of the sneaks all the way. WKW immortalises everything in frame - the raindrops, the narrow red hotel-way, bulb at the street corner, parapet of the window, the winding cigarette-smoke, from noodle steam to the grill of a small metal fan; nothing misses his eye!

One glance at the camera-angles, subjects, palette of colours, choice of situations, muted-responses, splash of music and you know the master has arrived!  The subtly-melancholic score, composition of the frame, deliberate slow-motion of film, texture of surroundings at every frame reflects the tone and mood of things to come...WKW makes you ticklishly-aware of the stirring-power of senses other than the usually-wasteful tongue, the apparent insufficiency of words to relate depth, in a way very few people can, without resorting to the cult-of-chat, practised by a lot of European/Hollywood-heavies and perfected by a certain Allen, W.

The movie is set in Hong Kong, 1962, restively adorned with a contemporary repressive, morally-judgemental society. One of the recurring themes is the use of the Red colour throughout the movie, perhaps indicative of the rebellious confrontation and conflict in the minds of the characters (WKW uses Blue to this effect in 'My Blueberry Nights'). 

In the Mood is a narration of breathtaking beauty, hope and optimism of wreathing-souls, the stirring of desires, the unfulfilled longing for Love and Freedom  set up against a repressive environ. WKW masterfully whips up the apparent contrast, the fight ... bright, clear, sunny days with a dash of Red contrasted against the dark, drenchy rain, trinklings of the mahjong board, antics of drunken players and rants of the landlady perked-up by a sweetly-agonising score by the talented Shigeru Umebayashi and muted optimism thrown in by Nat King Cole's "Aquellos Ojos Verdes"....sheer Magic!

Su Li-zhen, a beautiful secretary in  a shipping company (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung) a newspaper editor, play a couple married to other people who are renting rooms in apartments right next door, and eventually discover that their spouses are having affairs with each other. Gradually, the two people lean onto each other, and the chunk of the movie is about this want of the couple constantly staring at each other through glazed, hurting eyes.

This probably is one of the swooniest love-stories ever made, which exults in its own painful tailspin. Its a poignant take on the dilemma of desire, the confusion of loyalties and the longing for Love and Life. It is in parts, also a celebration of all this and a mourning over the unnecessary. The high point, perhaps is the hauntingly seductive and audacious nature of its perception and interpretation of Love and the end-product is a totally no-holds-barred breathtakingly-gorgeous piece of cinema!

WKW not only chooses a theme with universal importance, the struggle between repression and indulgence, but he handles it with fairness and consistency. Moreover, he lets his audience  mull over and decide, never imposes a bit. 

'Donald Barthelme handles it like this:

    “Mother, have you noticed that this society we're in tends to be a little…repressive?”
    “What does that mean, Eugenie? What does that mean, that strange new word, ‘repressive,’ that I have never heard before?”
    “It means…it's like when you decide to do something, and you get up out of your chair to do it, and you take a step, and then become aware of frosty glances being directed at you from every side.”
    “Frosty glances?”
    "Your desires are stifled."
    "What desires are you talking about?"
    "Just desires in general. Any desires. It's a whole…I guess atmosphere is the…word…a tendency on the part of the society…”
    "You'd better sew some more pillow cases, Eugenie."

    - From Donald Barthelme's, Eugenie Grandet' (source).

A perfect collaboration between Wong and cinematographer Chris Doyle, who creates a jaw-droppingly sumptuous visual palette for Wong’s achingly passionate tale of romantic longing. On a purely aesthetic level, one of the most beautiful films ever made. (Josh Ralske, source)


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Great Prophets Of Cinema

Some directors I have admired and adored the works of......
.......Weekend, Band-e-apart, Breathless, T-Coffee and Cigarettes, 7th seal, Hirak Rajar Deshe, Jules and Jim, Vagabond, Red-Blue-White, A short story about Love, the great Dictator, The Circus, City-Lights.......Expressions shall never be the same again.......thank you!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

for the love of the Road, Movie.

The deliberate comma in the title of the cinema “Road, Movie” is telling, for the movie has two overbearing purposes – to showcase the amazing allure of the open Road and to impress upon the audience the sheer magic of moving-frames.
In his latest movie after a decade, Dev Benegal tries his best to put together a tale which is an ode to his love for cinema and the frantic tug of the road less traveled. To me, it appears that the director desired a mighty clubbing of the spirit of the Road-movie genre (where a protagonist comes of age at the end of his travel), with a Cinema-paradiso or a The Dreamers, but fails, although one can’t but praise the outrageous attempt. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome brave hindi-language cinema, with mainstream actors, against the odds of box-office pressures.
Although the movie appears well conceptualized, it tends to lose pace as the story progresses, since in some parts it appears a bit underwritten and therefore unfortunately borders on the could-be.
Briefly, the story is about the young Vishnu (Abhay Deol), who’s stuck and suffocating in the oil-business selling 'Aatma Tel' with his father. He grabs an opportunity where he has to transport a sickly, rickety Chevrolet truck, laden with cinema-reels and equipment and cartons of oil across the vast desert to a museum, and the prodigal Road starts rolling from then on! What follows, are Michel Amathieu's drop-dead gorgeous desert-scapes of the Kutch which are outrageously beautiful in their stoic-severity. The journey carries on with no civilization in sight, neighbored only by an unforgivingly arid and dry desert. Thankfully, the movie is low on traditional cosmetic embellishments, the ubiquitous song and dance sequences or those incredible costume-changes, although there’s an inane shove-smooch sequence thrown in.
While driving his rickety destiny-on-wheels across the sands, Vishnu picks up a dhaba-boy (Mohammed Faisal), who’s in the lookout for a better life, a rotund, ageing and garrulous cinema-lover mechanic (Satish Kaushik) who insists being dropped to the ‘mela’, and a sultry-siren gypsy girl (Tannishtha Chatterjee) in search of water. There’s an encounter with a corrupt cop (Veerendra Saxena) who’s willing to let them go only if they show him a movie, and in the moments that follow, the uncanny, sweeping love and power of moving-reels grab you! Fantastic shots follow with projections of yesteryear movies (Deewar) on ramshackle bicycle-lined village-walls, with the amused wide-eyed band of villagers in close attention! The ever-exaggerating Keshto Mukherjee enlivens the screen with a comical-remix of his oil-massage ‘sar-jo-tera-chakraaye’ song, and the antics of the inimitable Buster Keaton (and not Chaplin!) has the motley mela-crowd in splits. Such is the transformative power of cinema! Few cinema-moments later, a hilarious sequence follows where the director attempts a spoof, rather successfully so, in which the cornered and beaten Vishnu barters all his stinky-oil with water with a local water-ganglord (Yashpal)!
Although the movie is low on a story, the canvas is colorful, almost bordering on the cheerful and the story-telling is lush and vivid. What saves the movie from mediocrity is perhaps the deliberate open-ended nature of the ending. Abhay Deol is convincing in the role of a suffocated, dying-to-be-free youth on the less-traveled-road but he could do a lot without his irritating fancy for levis'-poses, and Mohammed Faisal’s acting is unhinged and amusing. Satish Kaushik plays the role of the mela-hunting, cinema-loving, happy- mechanic to perfection, although  Tannishtha Chatterjee got too wrapped in the glamorous-gypsy image and glaringly lacked the touch of ordinary.
A good weekend watch, all for the love of the Road and the Religion called Cinema.

Further info:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Dev,D"- justice done to Sarat Chandra, at last!

Arguably the best contemporary movie to have hit Indian theaters in the Hindi-language.
I will try to justify why I think so, and in the process, you can choose to agree or disagree with my notions, but you can't choose to ignore the movie- that's the overall impact of A-K's "Dev-D"!

Dev.D happens to be the recent'est of the numerous cinematic-adaptations of the famous Sarat Chandra novella "Devdas", which tells the story of a man and his obsession with two women. Devdas falls in love with his childhood-companion, but since she isn’t of the same ‘class’, he refuses to marry her (although continues to pine for her throughout the novel/movie). Later on in life, he gets intimate with a caring ‘tawayaf’ (prostitute/social-dancer) who loves him, but Devdas refutes her advances and pines for his old-flame, which is irritatingly-everlasting. Meanwhile, he continues with his sad, brooding, self-deprecating/apologetic/pitiable life-style until the very end. Overall, Sarat Chandra's imagery of the male protagonist is that of a confused, wide-eyed narcissist, who ends up losing both women to his indecisiveness and inability to take a stand.
"Dev-D" does justice to the novella, by picturising Devdas not as a hero, not as a pitied-victim of circumstances but a loser, who gets back what he sowed. The scoring point of the movie is the way the character of  the female leads have been developed - self-assured, confident, powerful, almost-invincible yet soft, caring and vulnerable. It's sheer magic!!

Director’s work:
What director Anurag Kashyap has done to the old story is to give it a very contemporary,  urban, women-centric expression, which the earlier adaptations of Devdas lacked. While attempting so, he almost tramples on Almodovar-land with his astute imagination and re-interpretation of the role of the two women in the novella. And, he refuses to relinquish any moral-space to the male protagonist and relegates him to the distant fringes of celebritydom.
This audacious attempt at re-framing an oft-reeled and read novel, knocks at, if not breaks, a lot of our inane moral and social ghettos, stereotypes and sets a definite ‘standard’, if you may, of deviant imagination.

Dev is the son of a rich industrialist, who is sent away to London when he was 12. Dev [played by the inimitable Abhay Deol] returns to his hometown and to Paro [Mahi Gill], his childhood sweetheart. She creates a character to connect with and admire, a gypsy, a free-spirit, well in touch with her sexuality and delightfully unbridled of tongue. As adulthood approaches and both reinforce their intimate ties, Paro sends Dev her nude pictures and has no qualms in carrying a mattress on her bicycle to the field, where she intends to have comfortable-sex with Dev-a rather insecure, immature, selfish, quintessentially-stereotypic chauvinist who does'nt think much about bedding multiple women, but develops moral-cramps upon hearing exaggerated claims of her sexual prowess from a source; giving Indian cinema a refreshingly irrepressible, deliciously-amoral and innocent dollop of sexuality. This unusually mature, detached, non-conforming visual-rhapsody on the prevalent notions of sexuality and contemporary-life is maintained throughout the movie, which is a welcome-breath away from the a-amorous ‘petal-touching’ scenes of yore.
Although they seem inseparable, a pilot-scene where Dev ‘justifies’ his stand of not marrying her, apparently alluding to their difference in ‘status’ and insults Paro, sets the stage for the amazing sequence of events which  would send their lives in a tizzy. Paro is married off to someone else and Dev goes into severe depression; digs deep into drugs, booze and women for salvation. He stays away from home, but lacks the dignity to call off the financial-assistance coming from his doting father.
Lenny [Kalki] likes to live her life on the edge -- a rich student with a penchant for adventure. After an unfortunate MMS-‘scandal’, she's abandoned by her family and is forced into isolation. As a runaway, she finds shelter with Chunni, a pimp. With great determination and inner strength she adopts an alter ego – Chanda.
As Chanda, she gets to be a high profile escort by night, while Lenny remains a college student by day. At this juncture, Dev enters her life, courtesy Chunni. Lenny, falls in love with this  confused-wastrel, who pines for Paro, tries to bed her sis-in-law and ultimately comes around to find peace with Lenny.
As the movie unfolds, Dev goes around his numerous flings, gets dumped but is still neck-deep into Paro, who comes over to meet him one last time; dumps him the way he deserted her, with an excellent deja-vu parting-shot. It was time to square up positions, and she does it with panache!
Extreme haughtiness, perhaps even arrogance dominates the entire movie-length, which is delightful. Scenes, dialogues, character-sketches, lyrics, music are irreverent, unapologetic, non-conforming and borders on the eccentric. Perhaps, its expected, given it's a A-K movie. Kashyap goes to great lengths to provide some deliciously-delirious visuals, totally out-of-the world songs and some great screenplay.
Remarkably and thankfully so, in this Kashyap-esque version of Devdas, both women enjoy extreme character graphs, independent in thought and action and importantly amoral and non-judgmental-- but Dev 's  character is a wastrel you're really just meant to feel sorry for,  a creepy fellow who is just not  in touch with his priorities or his life. Full marks to Abhay Deol, for fearlessly playing the loser’s role to perfection!
Another highpoint of the movie is it’s highly musical narrative. The astonishing Amit Trivedi's awesomely heady cocktail of myriad emotions, elevates the film itself to another level. Remember, it’s a 18-song movie, all of which totally justify their inclusion!

The biggest USP of the movie, is perhaps the unpretentiously-bohemian and 'intoxicated' manner in which the story is retold. The spontaneity of the delicious-profanity, sexuality sans vulgarity and the dignity of the free-spirited women and the awesome sound-tracks make this movie totally out of any stereotypic Hindi-movie genre and an absolute must-watch.

Further reading: None. Don't waste your time, go watch it!!


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jules and Jim: Francois Truffaut

Jules et Jim: No matter how much they try to catch up with her.............

Widely hailed as one of the finest in the World of Cinema, Jules et Jim is perhaps Francois Truffaut's most heartfelt and deepest ode to Women and Love, in a way few have ever been able to express themselves. Jules and Jim is an exuberant and poignant meditation on freedom, loyalty, and the fortitude of love.

The cinema centers and hovers around the female protagonist Catherine (brilliantly portrayed by the beautiful Jeanne Moreau). She's at times playful, at times insecure, beautifully sure of herself another moment, unforgiving and vindictive in another and has the most amazing beautiful eyes (resembling a Greek staue), in which Jules and Jim remain trapped for the rest of their lives.

Very briefly, Jules and Jim share an amazing friendship, but incidentally both fall for the beautiful Catherine (can't blame them actually :-)), but Jules manages to bowl over Catherine with his freshness, generosity and innocence. The movie is about the atypical love between the characters, their weaknesses, strengths and Catherine's yearning for total-loyalty.

The depth, quiet-aggression, love and finality of the character of Catherine is sensed even in the earlier sequences of the movie where Jules is shown narrating a personal incident when he was party to a discussion where women were humiliated, Catherine resents this and enquires whether Jules protested it or not. Jules replies in the negative, and to this Catherine jumps over the bridge into the river below - as  a mark of protest and total rejection of his inaction!

Such a notion of total-freedom, dignity, belief in completeness, and rejection of cowardice has a totally radical feel about it in the thought process and mindset, which is probably a reflection of the revolutionary times of 60's France when Truffaut made this stunner. This sequence is beautifully conceived, characterised and captured on reel.

Throughout the movie, the eccentricities and subtle-yet-extreme sensibilities of the character of Catherine is on full display and actually reduces the two male-characters to mere side-kicks. It actually may have been apt to name the movie 'Catherine' and not what it's called, simply because it's only about her and nobody else!

Jim harbours a secret fond-feeling for Catherine, but does'nt tell her until late in the movie. As it turns out, Catherine reciprocates Jim's feelings, and both decide to get married. Catherine had realised that Jules was too soft a guy and may never be able to satisfy her intellectual-romantic thirst. Being still married to Jules, she pursues and has many lovers in an apparent effort to satiate her depth.

In one such revelation-scene of the character of Catherine, she informs Jim, that on the eve of  her marriage to Jules, her mother-in-law had misbehaved with her, and Jules had'nt reacted at all. She had felt extremely humiliated at the incident and in order to get even, she had slept with an ex-lover to settle scores so that she could start her marriage with a clean slate!

In an another earlier incident, Jules had admitted to Jim that he was unable to 'keep' Catherine to himself,
because of his own character-flaws, his weakness and softness. When Jules protests this, Jim simply pleads and says "can't you see, she's a Princess?" slam-banging the audience with the very-high esteem with which Jules regards Catherine.  Of both Jules and Jim, it's Jules who understands and appreciates Catherine's sense of freedom and love although he knows he's himself desperately inadequate to fulfill it. As it later turns out, he intentionally offers Jim permission to marry Catherine, since all he wants is to remain close to Her.

Jim promises to return to Jules and Catherine, but dilly-dallies his return, since he's still in love with his mistress and is indecisive about Catherine. Now are perhaps some of and the only 'human' shades to the character of Catherine, where she's shown fretting over, and constantly asking Jules "Do you think Jim Loves Me?".

They all meet in Paris and Truffaut provides a stunning climax to this fantastic bit of cinematic-thought. Catherine invites Jules and Jim for a ride in her new car, and after asking Jules to wait for her and see her ride, she drives Jim over a broken bridge and into the river, ultimately killing both of them!

Jules and Jim remains an audacious attempt by this brave pioneer of the French New Wave of Cinema to explain and illustrate the finer, deeper and perhaps slightly-darker aspects of human relationships, specifically Love.

* a snippet: In Jeanette Winterson's novel, Written on the Body, the narrator is discussing French films. "They pack more action into their arty films than the Americans manage in a dozen Clint Eastwoods. Jules et Jim is an action movie." - source 'Wikipedia'.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

The shaping of Indian-Cinema

Influences: I would try to discuss the influences on both the resident Art-house cinema as also the Commercial cinema - the 'Margi' [classical] and the 'Desi' [regional] according to Sharangadeva's 13th century Sangeeta Ratnakara.:

The ethos, styles and expressions of Indian Cinema were majorly influenced by the following:

1) The great Indian epic-works like the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Panchatantra etc. influenced greatly the thought-process, value-system and imagination of the Indian masses, and also had a profound effect on shaping Indian-Cinema as well.
The well-known cinematographic techniques of side-story (an equally important fictional work where there is a definite start-, mid- and end- included in the main theme), back-story (a history or explanation which led to the present situation; a 'flashback' is a popular means of revealing a back-story), or a story-within-a-story (a 'layered' method of story-telling where one story is told during the continuation of another major story;  for eg. as in Mahabharata, the events of the War are related in great detail to Dhritashtra by Sanjaya thus constituting a story-within -a-story) were adapted from these great works.    

2) Another great influence on the structure of Indian Cinema was the colorful and lively traditional folk theatre of India, which became popular from around the 10th century. These regional traditions were the ‘Jatra’ of Bengal, ‘Ram Lila’ and 'Nautanki' of Bihar and Uttar-Pradesh and the ‘Terukkuttu’ of Tamil Nadu.

3) Ancient Sanskrit drama (led by such powerful playwrights as Kalidasa, Bhasa etc.) had a massive impact on Indian Cinema as well. With it’s highly stylized nature and emphasis on spectacle, where music, dance and gesture, it all combined together to offer an unparalleled dramatic experience. Sanskrit dramas were known as ‘Natya’ (the seminal work of Bharat Muni’s ‘Natya-Shastra’ specifically describes the proper way of staging a sanskrit natya), characterizing them as spectacular dance-dramas.

4) Distinct Parsi theatre effectively blended realism and fantasy, music and dance, narrative and spectacle to integrate into a dramatic discourse of melodrama. They invariably contained crude humor, songs and music, sensationalism and dazzling stagecraft, an influence of which was seen in  many ‘masala’ movies, a genre which started with Manmohan Desai in the 1970’s.

5) The Marxist agenda: Marxism set a model for large-scale state patronage of the arts, especially the cinema.  Marxist ideology-influenced Directors like Ritwick Ghatak, Saeed Mirza, Goutam ghose, Mani Kaul, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Satyajit Ray, Buddhadeb Dasgupta etc. wereimmensely driven by their Proletarian-sympathies and left back some magnificent cinema for all of us to savour.

6) Another influence was Western musical television, particularly MTV, which has had an increasing impact since the 1990s, as is recently seen in the altered pace, camera angles, dance sequences and music of recent Indian films.

I'd like to point out here that the Indian 'Parallal' or Art-house Cinema movement was  greatly influenced, in addition to the above, by a combination of Indian theater (particularly Sanskrit drama), Indian Literature (particularly Bengali literature) and European cinema (the French and Italian neorealism).

Further Reading:

* "Seeing is Believing" Selected Writings in Cinema - Chidananda Das Gupta.
* The Cinema of Satyajit Ray - Chidananda Das Gupta.