(A rewrite of a previous written article. Perhaps it is for the best...)
One of the movies that I saw in the Films on Films fest that has had a profound effect on me was Close-Up. I have always heard a lot of these Iranian film makers and this was the first time that I saw one of their films and, to be quite honest, I am very, very impressed. This particular film, based on a real-life incident, tells the story of a man whose love for the films and writing of a particular director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, makes him pretend to be the director and fool a family. Whether it should be called a documentary or a film is a question best answered by the director but for me it is a film because though it documents real-life happennings with real-life people, it does not have the forced nature of a docu-drama.
The gist of the story is that there is this guy, Sabzian, who is arrested at the the beginning of the movie for pretending to be Mohsen Makhmalbaf and is charged with attempted fraud and his subsequent trial reveals several aspects of himself and the influence films have had on him. Through him, the director seeks to present how cinema affects people and gives an argument for making the kind of cinemas that he and Makhmalbaf make.
Sabzian's first words in the movie is "For you, I am just a common crook", which generates audience sympathy for a man who has been misunderstood and framed with a criminal offence. So right at the beginning, without the camera ever showing us the face of Sabzian, we have already developed an affection towards Sabzian; we being the ones who understand the eternal dilemma of the Different who seek to co-exist with others in a rigidly rule-based society and that, obviously, includes everybody. The second time we see him in the film is when Abbas Kiorastami meets him in the prison and he tells him that he did it for his love for cinema and his message to Makhmalbaf is "Your 'The Cyclist' is within me." So, even though the trial is presented in an objective manner with everybody's viewpoints being shown, it is Sabzian's that stands out, not only because his speech occupies the major portion of the trial section of the film but also because the audience is already with him right from the beginning. That is intelligent filmmaking. This is just an instance of the subtle ways that the direcor uses to convey his messages.
The trial ends with the family withdrawing their charges against Sabzian believing that he did not mena to defraud them and that he would lead an honest life after this. Something that the audience is already rooting for them to do.
The genius of this film is that it uses the real people to reenact the incidents preceding his arrest and the usage of the actual trial video of Sabzian. So, there is no artificiality in the happennings of the film. The scene where Makhmalbaf comes to meet Sabzian when he is released and which is shot, apparently, without the knowledge of Sabzian is heart-rendering inspite of the distance between the camera and the subjects and the failure of the microphone pinned to the lapel of Makhmalbaf's coat. In fact, by showing the failure of the microphone along with "we just lost sound. Makhmalbaf's lapel mike is old and there might be a loose connection" shows us the difficulty in shooting real life as unexpected things happen and there is no way to go back and reshoot the scene once more!
There was something that impressed me a lot about this movie and that was the acting done by non-actors. I wondered at the fluidity of their performances and never did I feel that there were acting, which is a hallmark of good acting. Some of these questions is partly answered by Abbas Kiorastami in Ten On Ten where he expounds on his style, philosophy and methodology of filmmaking. He says that he chooses non-actors to play those roles which are close to their own actual self and he does not believe in keeping a written screenplay because a better and more natural performance is gotten by actors when they paraphrase the lines they have told to speak than when they memorize written words. In Close-Up, the people were playing themselves and thus it was easier to give a very natural performance as they were not acting to be someone else. But still non-actors generally tend to become self-conscious in fron of a camera, particularly with a lot of strangers (crew members) working to make the film. I suppose therein lies the skill of the director who is able make the subjects concentrate on their roles rather than be intimidated by their surroundings. An interesting thing that Kiorastami tell us in Ten On Ten is that the digital camera is somehow able to extract natural performances from non-actors, perhaps because of its relatively small size and reduction of crew members that it creates. The handycam seems to be the best way of shooting real people in real settings as it hardly intimidates and requires little skill in using it.
There is no doubt that I want to watch more Iranian films, particularly that of Abbas Kiorastami, the fatehr of Iranian New Wave.
To know more about this man, read this article -
Abbas Kiarostami - Not a Martyr
PS. Hmm... This really has turned out better than the lost post!
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
(A rewrite of a previous written article. Perhaps it is for the best...)
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
I wrote a review on Abbas Kiorastami's Close-Up on this blog and now I cant find it anywhere!!!!
The post just seems to have disappeared into thin air.
Urggghhhhhh.... This is frustrating.
With the verbal constipation I am experiencing these days, this kind of unexplained disapperances is just not welcome!
Mental note - will have to rewrite it again. Perhaps, right now.
Posted by Madhat at 4/26/2005 09:41:00 PM
Saturday, April 23, 2005
There is this great film fest going on in Bangalore and I did not even know about it till late yesterday evening. It was a holiday for me and hence, I had not checked my mail till I got into an internet cafe and I find a mail from a friend informing me about this event. I am looking at the screen a little stunned that I did not know about it. It is in some place called Guru Nanak Bhavan on Miller Tank Bund Road and I have no frigging idea as to where it is! I ask the cafe guy but he doesnt know either. So I do what I usually do to find some place in Bangalore; I opened my map of bangalore to look at where it is but without an idea as to the general neighbourhood of the place, I was lost. So, I try google and google, as usual, gives me a hint as where it might be - Vasanth Nagar. So, I look into the map again and I discover that Vasanth Nagar is quite near to MG road. In fact, it is just off Cunningham road. So, though I knew that I had missed one movie (The man with a movie camera) and another had already started (Camera Buff), I set off to this place in an auto (and also had a pleasant philosophical conversation with the driver!).
Camera Buff was a very well made movie and from what I saw of it, I was cursing myself for loitering aimlessly on MG rd.
For the next two days, we saw a plethora of movies which all had one thing in common - they were films that talked about cinema. I am on the seventh moon!! The orgnaisation that screened these movie, Collective Chaos, sounds like the kind of thing I have bene looking for in Bangalore. Yippee!!!!
There is a 'face-to-face' with Tibetian poet Tenzin Tsundue about the Tibetian situation and a screening of a documentary at 6.45 Pm today. Unfortunately, my job will not allow me to go. :((
Anyway, I am just happy, though I cancelled my trip to Nandi Hills, where I was thinking of camping in nature.
Posted by Madhat at 4/23/2005 10:20:00 PM
I never seem to realise that over a week has passed since I last wrote on this blog. Somehow, time seems to slip by me and I am terrified by this phenomenon. Not until I looked at my last post do I realise that it was dated 10 days ago...
Anyway, not a lot has been going on, except work and more work! Thats right! We are heading towards a release and we had to finish coding last week and testing began this week. Boy! I would receive like 15 mails a day and was staying regularly till 10 Pm in the office.
Anyway, I suppose that is the heat of the job. Right?
Posted by Madhat at 4/23/2005 09:59:00 PM
Friday, April 15, 2005
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
"What do you want?" the shopkeeper asked him a little harshly. He had been standing there in the shop for a few minutes now without saying a word and looked quite uncomfortable. The irate shopkeeper was eyeing him suspiciously. There had been an increase in the number of crime committed by young men and needless to say, the presence of a silent youngster in the shop was not very comforting, unaware that it was the young man who was more nervous than he was.
"I... ", he began and he was at once seized by the familiar dread of embarrassing himself which had the effect of drying up the words that he had formed in his head for this occasion. A whirlpool of feelings raged in his breast and he was caught between the contrasting emotions of shame and desire, each pulling him in opposite directions. Caught between contradicting emotions, he could neither speak out his query nor could he direct his feet towards the door.
He tried to firm up his resolve and took a deep breath with which his determination returned temporarily. He used the moment to speak again. "Do you..", he began but the effort of speaking those two words deflated his lungs and in its flow the rest of words got dissolved without a trace left of them. The effect of another unsuccessful effort on him was too much and his ears reddened along with a distinct rise in temperature of his face. By this time, the shopkeeper was also looking at him as if he were some lunatic from the streets. He looked up again but now it had become more difficult for say anything and he walked out of the shop with his face red and eyes bent down with shame.
This was the second time he had tried to get what he desired, each time it was a different shop and a different day but the sequence of events that you witnessed just now was the same. Who was this young man and what did he want? I would tell you but it would sound too ridiculous without proper introduction of him and his story.
His name is Ravi and he studied at the nearby college. The road to a decent education had not been easy for him and he had struggled to score in his school exams. It was mainly his mother's fervent desire to see him educated that had motivated him this far. When he had finally gotten admission and a fee waiver at a well-known college in the city, his mother got very excited and had distributed sweets to all their neighbours. Her over-enthusiastic response to what he considered to be a relatively mediocre achievement embarrassed him slightly but her enthusiasm had been genuine and the sweets she had bought had come at the cost of her modest savings. Her gesture touched him deeply and he made up his mind to make the best of college education and placate his family's economic hardships. So, with tears in the eyes of mother and son, they had bid adieu as Ravi moved into the city to continue his education.
Ravi was very apprehensive of the city but he wasn’t prepared for what the city offered. He had lived all his life in one of the satellite towns of the city but yet the city culture was new to him. This was not the first time he had been to the city but all his other forays had been short-term visits usually to get something that his small town did not offer. The mannerism of the city dwellers was at once interesting and at the same time, alienating. It seemed that it was a whole new world that he had entered. He was understandably apprehensive of the city and its people.
So, when he entered the college gates, clutching his satchel that contained his first year books, his demeanour made it easy for his seniors to identify him as a fresher. He was soon accosted by a friendly guy who took him towards a bunch of people who at first asked him a lot of questions. He answered them in monosyllables as he was not used to being interrogated by strangers.
“What is your name?” “Ravi”
“Where are you from?” “Shivajipuram”
“Can you sing?” “No”
They laughed and said that they will teach him to do all that even if it takes the entire day. There was something in the way they looked at him - like hyenas around a carcass - that unnerved him and sent a shiver down his spine. He did not know then but it was the beginning of his torments that would extend not just for the day as his new-found “friends” said but for days and weeks together.
Nobody had ever told him that people in the city would be so mean and at first, he thought that he was being targeted for his rural look and feel. But soon he realized that it was not the case and often, he would not be the only ‘bakra’ surrounded by a gang. A day spent appeasing one bunch of people followed by another was tiring, both physically and mentally, and often, he thought of chucking college but his family’s condition and the promise he had made when he left home stopped him from doing something silly.
Ragging was easy for people who had cultivated such talents like singing or dancing. One beautifully sung song or a well-executed moon-walk was sure to evoke “wah-wah”s and “hurrah”s and sometimes a treat from an enthusiastic member of the clan of seniors. Others had to entertain in other ways. Some would tell rapacious jokes and others would mimic filmstars. And there was this one guy who had a peculiar way of speaking that was hilarious to everyone who heard it but for himself. Sometimes, he would smile; a meek, embarrassed smile that told more about the hurt he felt than his happiness.
Sadly for the subject of this story, he was not very interesting and he ended up doing the most demeaning tasks that were tailored to make fun of him. This experience with inconsiderate and insensitive people made him more of a recluse than he already was and he would avoid people, in general, as much as he could but he could not escape them…
Here, even the girls ragged. He had seldom been in contact with girls, and his few encounters with them had never exceeded the cordial, and the girls were shy and taciturn in front of him. But the situation was quite the inverse here. The girls were brash and had no qualms in heckling him. Once, he was even made to “propose” to another freshie by them. It was quite an embarrassing situation for him as he said those words with the customary rose that goes along with in these kind of situations. His chocolate brown skin hid much of his feelings but his mannerisms did not. He was after all a simple boy from a conservative family. On the other hand, the girl to whom he presented the rose was unconcerned and accepted the rose mechanically as if it were a daily chore for her. “And why shouldn’t it be?” he thought, “she is so lovely.” She is the kind of girl who would have boys hovering around her like bees around the last flower of the spring. (Narrator’s note – I do think the pun was intended)
Tired of the constant ragging, he sometimes hid himself in secluded and well-covered parts of the campus to give himself a little bit of peace. Once, when he went to one of his usual hiding places to have a quick lunch (rather than eat in the cafeteria), he surprised someone who was already there. The readers would recognize him as the boy whose accent we got acquainted with earlier.
“Hi, I am Ravi.” “Vivek”
They did not need much explanation. They both knew instinctively why the other was there.
“You must be hungry. I have some fruits for lunch which I am willing to share with you.”
And thus, he managed to make a friend. College is the time where one makes the thickest of friendships and the bonds that you form last for quite a long time and are created so easily. All that was required to form this friendship was a common feeling of persecution. Soon, the duo became a trio with the addition of Veeru, the son of a middle-class Government servant. Their diverse background served only to cement their friendship than hamper it in any way. Within a few weeks, they became very close. They knew eachother’s likes and dislikes and shared their ideas.
Veeru had a fetish for Bollywood movies. The glitzy stories and fantastic settings captivated him and very soon, he managed to hook the other two to the films too. A “chalo yaar” during the weekends and they would go see the latest film showing in the nearby theatre. The effect of these stories was noticeable in their attires, walk, and talk. They would spend endless hours chatting about their favourite scenes and the stars on screen.
He saw her often. As first year students, they shared a number of classes and she would usually hang out in the cafeteria with her friends. He never had the courage to speak to her, much less when she was surrounded by a number of strangers. He remembered the first time he had met her and was still embarrassed by the words he had been made to say to her. That remained the only expression exchanged between the two of them. And even though their paths crossed often, she never seemed to recognize him, while he tried his best to say ‘Hello’.
He gathered information about her from secondary sources.
“She is a pahaadi. Studied all her life in a boarding school in Dehradoon.” And he would be filled with romantic notions of the hills and its enchanting fair-skinned people.
“Arjun. That’s who she is with these days.” And he would curse poor Arjun a thousand oaths.
“She dumped him in the cafeteria.” And he would feel a little sympathy for Arjun for his public humiliation.
His crush did not go unnoticed amongst his friends. They would tease him when they found him in a reflective mood and a shy smile on his face. Even though he was a little peeved by this, he did not take it to heart as he knew that it was in jest.
“Where is Ravi?”
“Where else? In the library, pretending to study!”
“Oh no! Not again, yaar. I wish he would stop obsessing about her. But I also wonder wonder what he thinks about so much. Childish fantasies, I guess”
But what was really going on in Ravi;s mind was how best to enunciate the word ‘Hi’ so that it would seem to be just friendly and not as a love-struck stalker for she was standing at about an arms length from him in an empty elevator. Their eyes met momentarily when she had entered the claustrophobic box but there was no flash of recognition in her eyes. Ho ‘Hi’s. No “aren’t you the guy who …” Nothing! It hurt him a little that she did not notice him and while he was still contemplating on how to make his first move, the doors opened and she stepped out taking along with her all his hopes.
As the elevator doors close, so did the doors to his happiness. He hoped for a tonic that would give him the confidence and self-belief of the heroes he had seen on screen, who would pursue the one they loved with single-minded determination and finally win them over by teaching them a lesson on how to be an Indian woman. He believed in the veracity of these fantastic stories that are but a narrow representative of human behaviour.
A desperate mind always finds a solution – not always a right one. And he did find one! The ad promised results in a few weeks. He thought that the product would make him more presentable and didn’t the ad show how the product gave a person the confidence to nail the interview and succeed? He built his dreams on these false premises promised by the ad.
It was this product that we saw him trying to buy at the start of this story. He had been unsuccessful so far but his desire to get it had not diminished. He devised a plan. He realized that the more time he spent in uncertainty, the more difficult would it be to pull it off. The best way to remove a band-aid is to do it quickly. And so he tried again. He walked into the shop and blurted out, “Fair & Lovely.” The shopkeeper gave him a tube and named a price which he gladly paid. There were no looks, no laughs; nothing embarrassing happened. He would later come to know he was not the first guy to buy the cream, and that it was used by both men and women equally, though it is seemingly marketed for women. He felt a little foolish for making such a big deal out of it. But as he walked out of the store all that was in his mind was the thought, “Six weeks to happiness.” I wonder, I really wonder.
Posted by Madhat at 4/13/2005 10:21:00 PM
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
There has been a sudden deluge of people looking at my site today. I was actually stunned to see 32 visitors in a day! On closer examination, it looks like blogger has put my blog in the pool of blogs that you will visit on clicking the "next blog" link at the top right of this page!
So, you do not really go to a random page... Looks like blogger randomly chooses a pool of blogs to circle around on clicking the "next blog" link.
[Update] the visits have peaked at 12am and lasted for an hour. So, my blog was in the pool for an hour. Gives me insight into how blogger does some things...
Posted by Madhat at 4/12/2005 01:28:00 PM
How often does it happen that you walk into a movie hall to watch a picture of which you do not have high expectations but come out with the feeling that you have just witnessed one of the better movies of Hollywood. Well, it does not happen to me a lot. So, I usually do not walk into the doors of the theatre thinking that this might turn out to be one. Plus, this one was touted to be a comedy and having seen quite a few Hollywood comedies, I know what to expect from such movies - two hours of silly humour.
Well, I did see Be Cool a couple of weeks ago and I mentioned that in one of my previous posts, where I also said that I will not waste my time reviewing it. And when I went to this movie, I did not think that I will be writing this review. So, I think you can guess that I am going to rave about this film. :)
Well, the gist of the story is that Sandra Bullock as Gracie Hart, a FBI agent and the winner of the Miss Congeniality title in the previous movie, has trouble continuing her undercover-agent status because of her new-found fame. So, the Bureau decides to use her to market itself. Sometime later, Ms United States, a close friend of Gracie, gets kidnapped and our star abandons her star status to go back to active detective work.
Thats it! A simple, no-frills story! Well, it was expected, wasnt it? So, what am I raving about?
Let me tell you about the characters. Let me see, there is Gracie Hart of course. And there is this black female agent who has a anger management problem and beats up men left and right with no qualms about doing that (sounds like a stereotypcial lesbian..), there is this other agent - a backstabbing, lying, conventional beauty who would use her lure to grow up in ranks, and of course, there is Ms US, a simple, sweet, dumb pin-up queen. Among the male characters, there is a cross-dressing fashion consultant who is employed to take care of Gacie Hart, a dumb male agent who is basically a pushover, an authoritarian chief of FBI of LA who dismisses Gracie's investigation (perhaps because he considers her to be dumb as she has become the "new face of the FBI"), a couple of brawny criminals who kidnap Ms. US, and a typical loan-shark. Quite a variety of characters, right? The real star of the film is Gracie Hart, who transforms into a beauty queen after being rejected by her boyfriend but finally realises that it is not important to really concern about "people who care about people who care about themselves" but to be what you truly are and not stick to any steroetype that the society expects you to adhere to for acceptance. So you see, though the diverse characters are quite stereotypical in themselves, the fact that both male and female sexes are shown to have such diversity that ranges from good to bad is what I liked about this movie. Also, the movie does not privilege the masculine or the feminine, but individualism and the uniqueness of our selves. That is how the film ends with Gracie taking back the advice she gave to young Prescilla...
At the beginning of the film, Gracie's boyfriend dumps her and she goes through a tough time getting over it as it she had taken "a chance at relationship." And there is no romantic angle in the film until the end where there is an obvious (an something I guessed a long time before the end) linking up between Ms US and the dumb male agent. But the movie really privileges friendship, a much neglected relationship in movies. This was something I liked more!
The final words of the movie is "World Peace" and it does not look cheesy at all. It is in answer to Gracie's question, "What do we all want?" and Prescilla answers with this phrase. Prescilla means this but when Gracie repeats the phrase prefixing it with "I would have said, 'sterner punishments for parole violators'", the meaning is different. Perhaps, it is an acceptance of world views differing from hers (remember she says 'World Peace' in the original only to please the crowd that does not cheer her wish to see parole violators punished sternly).
Update - She does not say harsher punishments for parole violators but "and pride in your personal beliefs and your right to defend them."
The movie does what its trailers promises you to do. Comedies require a couple of characters to gel well; examples are Tom & Jerry, Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges, etc, etc. It is an excellent comedy flick which works because of great on-screen chemistry between the actors. Sandra Bullock looks a little old for the part of a beauty queen but pulls it off convincingly. The black actress as the angry young woman is mediocre but she fits well with Sandra. Plus there are some real laugh aloud scenes which will keep your tummies tickled.
Posted by Madhat at 4/12/2005 12:11:00 PM
Friday, April 08, 2005
Peace, isnt it what we all want? The domain differs from person to person but it is essentially the same want. A little peace of mind or a pleasant afternoon without any noise to put your leg up and relax or a world without violence and injustice. But when you wake up one morning and on the front page of the newspaper there is a picture of a building ablaze, you wonder why there is a picture of a burning building on the front page but you look closer and you see that the picture clearly shows the words "Tourist Reception Center" and you know that all is not well in the world, and that the "peace process" is creating more un-peace than peace.
The TRC (as I will refer to it in short) was the place where the bus passenegrs were accomodated and where the visitors from PoK would be hosted. Needless to say, it was "heavily guraded" or it was just thought to be for the two suicidal terrorists, apprently, managed not only to get through the highly secure gate but were also able to torch the building! The building, like all buildings, was combustible and this one was highly so as nobody could stop it from burning up. Whether the building still exists today or it doesnt is a mystery but the blaze captured by the photographer did not look like one that would have been easy to contain. Is this the state of security in Srinagar, one of the most heavily guarded places in the world, and at a place where a deserate effort to derail the peace process was expected? What does it show? Does it reveal the desperate and unstoppable nature of fiyadeen squads or the incompetence of our armed forces?
I have pretty critical of our armed forces in the past. But there was this one time when a friend of mine, whose father is a Major in the army, told me how over-worked the sepoys of the army are. According to him, there is a huge manpower shortage in the army, which means the men who are already there in the ranks do a lot more work than humanly possible. Such overworked people working in sensitive areas are bound to nervy, jumpy and followers of "shoot first, ask later." For this reason, the level of stress is high in the army and the reason for the rape of local women by the army men. For this reason, he asked me not to chastise the Indian army but the Indian state that creates such working condition for its men. I suppose there is a shortage of manpower in the army. A indication of this is the innumerable advertisements and signboards inviting people to join the army and "be a winner for life." The fact that armymen are working under extreme conditions is a troublesome one and one that should not be ignored but what is the solution to this problem? Increase the strength of the army? But according to my friend, there is a shortage of equipment too. Armymen working in difficult weather conditions do not even have appropriate and essential gear for living there. Plus, inducting more men means more defence expenditure that already is bulging at over Rs. 80,000 crores per annum! Thats Rs 80 per capita per year! Doesnt seem like much does it? Compare it to the average per capita income of an Indian - Rs 11,799 per year. Notice that it is per year, which means that it is less than 1000 per month! Also no that this is the average. Given the huge economic differences between the rich and the poor (I read somewhere that such a huge disparity in income is unhealthy for a country but sadly as always, I do not remember where I read it... I need to record my readings), what this means that a great amount of the population subsist on much, much less income per year. For them, 80 rupees per year will be quite a big deal. Also, defence spending is the largest share of the yearly budget. And actual development spending is much lower. In addition to all this, we pay a 2 percent educational cess that is supposed to fund new schools and improve the facilities of government-run schools.
Seeing the ease with which the terrorists were able to get past a heavily guarded place in Srinagar, I suppose it would be easier to hit places which are not so well guarded... So, is the fear of terrorism that is bred in the whole country in excess? Is our society paranoid?
In spite of this strike, Manmohan Singh says undeterred, "the bus will roll on." I get a feeling that security and safety of the passengers is being compromised for petty political gains. There has been a lot of security provided for the buses yesterday but is it really feasible to provide such extensive security for all such future journeys? And who are these nameless. faceless passengers? Are they anonymous because revealing their identity is quivalent to passing their death sentences? If this bus journey was a true indicator of peace measure, there would not be so much fear and security. The fear and extensive security suggest that this is a forced peace and not a genuine one.
This bus has been called a great CBM and has been looked by the media as a step towrds peace. I wonder... Look at the Lahore-Delhi bus. How much has it really contributed to peace? Has it brought the people of the two countries closer? Has it been able to bring strangers from the two countries in contact? Has it been able to reduce the hatred that the citizens of the two countries have for each other?
Quite frankly, the answer is no. The situation is no different from what it was before the bus diplomacy. One gets the feeling that the passengers on the bus are mostly people who are going to meet their relatives they have lost contact with because of partition. Or is just because the stories in the media is mostly of people reunited with relations after fifty years. There are no stories of people travelling for a visit to the Lahore fort or the Red fort. There are no stories of people meeting strangers in the other country and making new friends forgetting the enimity between the two countries. Is the absence of these stories indicate the absence of such people?
Peace is a tangible possibility if and only if the politicians do some genuine CBMs and not just shows for the media. But when there are parties that feed and promote the fear of this particular neighbour for their political survival, is my dream of peace between the two countries a dream? Perhaps, there is another way. And that is by a grass-root movement that involves the people of both countries, which is a difficult one to achieve but not impossible.
Posted by Madhat at 4/08/2005 08:02:00 PM
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Monday, April 04, 2005
I went to see Million Dollar Baby on the basis of its oscar winning feat and also because of the controversies it has stirred up. One one side it has been praised very highly as an excellent movie and on the other it has been at the receiving end of handicapped activists who do not agree with the film's ultimate ending.
The trailers promised a well-directed movie but there were a lot of issues that turned up even in the trailers. Glorification of boxing on screen is not new. The Rockys of the 80s and 90s have done that for some time now. People enjoy brutality and like to see people going at eachother with animal ferocity. A film that glorifies a brutal sport such as boxing cannot be expected to be about peace, can it? (Unless you are talking about Ali!)
The second thing I noticed about the trailers was that the movie seemed to be of the opinion that for a woman to be anything other than trash, she needs to be a masculine, brutal, single-minded competitor and her femininity is a barrier to success. "girlie, tough aint enough"?
The third thing I noticed in the trailers was the emphasis on the christian way of life. The images of Eastwood kneeling in prayer near his bed and "the only person who comes to mass that long is one who cannot forgive himself for some reason." While, I do not mind religious elements on screen, Hollywood movies with such stress on Christianity tend to be tailored for their "Jesusland" viewers and thus, in general, conservative and anti-liberal.
I still went to watch this movie as I really did not want to miss an oscar-winning movie. Plus, I loved Hillary Swank in Boys Don't Cry which I think was one of the best pieces of acting on screen ever. Another major reason for seeing this movie was that I had nothing to do on a saturday afternoon!
I found this movie problematic on many counts. One of the major issur I have always had with Clint Eastwood movies is the treatment of his female characters. In all his movies, females have always played a secondary, dependent and dummy-like roles. In this one, we see a repeat of this all over again.
"Wait, isn't the main character a female?"
Oh, yes, she is in the sense that she is a woman by sex. But feminine, she is not. right from the start to finish, she is masculine. Whether it is in embarassing someone in the gym for teasing her for being female or her ruthless mannerisms in the ring, there is a lack of feminine characteristics that give the message that for a woman to be anything other than trash, she needs to be masculine. All the rest of the female characters are shown to be insensitive and downright leaches on society. Whether it is the daughter of Frankie (Eastwood) who returns all the letters her father sends her or Maggie's (Swank) mother who is more worried about losing about her welfare and who tries to get Maggie to sign over her assets to herself after she is bedridden or Maggie's knocked up sister whose boyfriend is in jail and is apathic to Maggie's success, they are all shown as despicable characters who cannot be sympathised with. Katie, Frankie's daughter, is completely silenced as she is never shown on screen or given space for her views on her father. Maggie's sister is also silent in words but her actions speak of her selfish and leachish nature. I suppose it was to be expected in an Eastwood movie, Eastwood being symbolic of masculinity immortalised by the 'Dollar' movies.
The film glorifies boxing in such a deluge of views of opinions from Frankie and Eddie (Morgan Freeman), who is also the narrator of the film.
"If there's magic in boxing is the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It's the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you. "
" everything in boxing is backwards"
I can never accept boxing as a sport. It is brutal, inhuman and designed to suit the needs of a bloodthirsty, sadistic audience that craves for more and more punches to be thrown, noses to be broken and tooths knocked out. The fighters are modern gladiators, except now they do not beat eachother to death but give them such disabilities as Pugilistic Parkinson's disease. It feeds on the human innate tendency towards violence. Society frowns on violence as being bestial but it legitimizes and deitifies violence in the boxing ring...
The depiction of Maggie's mom is very telling of the political situation in the US. At a time when Bush is cutting spending on social welfare and cutting taxes for the rich, this film's depiction of Americans dependent on Welfare as leaches makes me suspect its intentions. Well, I suppose it is true that there are people who remain unemployed so as to get free lunches through the welfare system and a representation of such a character could be accepted but it looks quite suspect amidst all the conservative stereotypes that the movie reinforces and promotes.
Amidst all these conservative ideas of the movie, how could the issue of God be left? There is a strong religious flavour to the movie that you cannot miss even with eyes closed and a dormant mind. There are scenes with Frankie praying to God, chatting with the local priest about God along with religious advise. "If you do this, you will be lost for ever."
The final twist in the movie is when Frankie helps Maggie to commit euthanasia. The reasoning being that "I think I did alright!" and that there is nothing left to live for. There has been a lot of protests over this ending of the movie which has been pointed out as promoting murder of disabled people. I think the criticism is a little harsh in this respect. I suppose one must respect the wishes of a person who wants to end his/her life rather than living as a vegetable. I can live with this ending. But peeves me is the amount of "pro-life" noise being made about the Terri Schiavo case (she has been living as a vegetable for a decade and recently, her husband got a court order approving taking her off life-support) in the same country where this movie, which seemingly approves euthanasia, garners box-office success and critical acclaim along with a bunch of pretty little men!
In spite of all its faults, the film makes for good viewing. Reasons? Great acting, good direction, and some good dialogues. The socks conversation between Eddie and Frankie is one of the best exchanges I have seen on screen for some time. Hillary Swank is amazing as a determined female boxer whose fervent wish is to alleviate her "trash" status.
I suppose you should watch this movie but do it with a pinch of salt and a clear mind.
Posted by Madhat at 4/04/2005 06:50:00 PM
Sunday, April 03, 2005
I am not really a great fan of Hindi movies but I do watch some selected few now and then. So why did go to watch My Brother.. Nikhil? There are some reasons for that...
- It is a low budget movie by a debutant director and it is not a commercial Bollywood movie, a genre I despise from the bottom of my heart.
- It has Victor Bannerjee and apparently, he agreed to do the film based on the script (hmm.. that must mean that at least script showed promise)
- It talks about social problems that accompanies a disease like AIDS in India. Looks inspired by Philadelphia, which I liked.
So, thats it. Thats all is required by a movie to attract me to it. All it needs to do is show promise. Of course, in this age where media is for sale, it is extremely difficult to judge which movie or book is good. An example of this is Tokyo Cancelled; one review compared the author to Salman Rushdie! and I fell for it; in my opinion, it is not worth the money I paid for it.
The movie did not disappoint me at all. I am one who notices the technical details of any movie but for a movie to be good, it does not need to be technically excellent; it needs to be made with a large heart. The film is low-budget and it shows throughout the movie but you will hardly notice it as it is a good movie and worth watching at least once. In fact, it is one of the few recent Hindi movies that I would suggest you to watch (remember, I would not recommend Black).
It is a story about a young man who contracts the dreaded virus - HIV and how the society responds to this revelation. It shows how people respond irrationally to things that they have little knowledge about and how even your parents who doted on you would throw you out of the house and find it very difficult to come to terms with the situation.
People are, in general, insensitive and selfish. But the movie does not chastise people for being so. All it says that people respond in this manner because they do not have all the facts before them. One of the best scenes in the movie is when Nikhil goes back to his former job and his manager asks him to resign citing people's fear that they might contract the disease from him. Nikhil responds by saying that it is he how who should be afraid of people around him as he could die by contracting a disease like common cold from any one of them. By pointing out the irony of the situation, the director has effectively communicated the lack of information available at that time (and today?).
Nikhil's story is told in the form of flashbacks by people who have known and loved him. But the real heros of the story are Nikhil's sister, who stands by him through thick and thin, and Nikhil's gay partner, who loves him in spite of the fact that Nikhil put him in danger (though he does not contract the disease).
It is shocking to see that, at one point of time, AIDS victims could be forcibly isolated and locked up by law! The story is set in the late eighties and pours into the early nineties and it is at a time when the campaign to educate people about AIDS was gathering momentum. But even now, people respond with the same kind of fear to AIDS patients and in spite of knowing about the way AIDS spread, they distance themselves from the victims. One of the main reasons for this is the isolation of AIDS patients from mainstream life. I could perhaps put the problem in one statement. If HIV positive people were allowed to live a normal life in society without gossips and finger-pointing, perhaps the gossips and finger-pointing would disappear.
The best way to combat the social problems that HIV positive people face is by educating people and letting them mingle. The movie stresses on this fact when Anju, Sam, and Nigel go on a public awareness campaign to free Nikhil from his confinement. They go out on the streets, meeting people and telling them about HIV and AIDS, and how cruel and unnecessary it is to keep HIV positive people under lock and key.
The rest of the movie shows how Nikhil manages to carve a niche for himself in society and suffers the repercussions of the HIV virus. It takes two years for his parents to finally accept him as a victim of a dreaded disease.
There are so many things I liked about this movie. One of them is Victor Banerjee. Victor, Victor Bannerjee; what an amazing, amazing actor! He plays the role of a stern father, who is a task-master and has high ambitions for his son, to perfection. He is the best act in the movie. His acting is natural and he lends the movie the much needed intensity that other actors fail to bring about in their roles. And he does not over-do it. It is just right! What can I say? I enjoyed watching him on screen.
The other aspect of the movie that I liked is the directing. It is a very tightly written script and the direction is good. He uses light effectively. He uses the darkness of the night to depict a dark mood in one of his characters. He uses the morning light for reminisces and positive thoughts. His framings are simple and uncluttered with needless extravagances. There is a lot of thinking that has gone behind the scenes and that shows on screen.
Another aspect of the movie that I liked that is that it is unapolegetic about gay relationships. Nikhil and Nigel are partners who are in love with eachother and the director shows their relationship with sensitivity. It is interesting to see this in a country where gay relationships are illegal and punishable by law! Another arachiac law, you say?
The film is set in Goa, place that I recently visited for a short visit. During the trip, I felt that, in spite of being a commecialized tourist spot, Goa has a small town feeling; where everyone knows everybody. The real Goans are hidden from the tourists and their culture is hardly seen by outsiders. The film reaffirms my belief in my observation. But I might be wrong as I stayed there for only three days.
Finally, let me say a word about Juhi. How can I not say anything about her? She is her usual optimistic self in this movie and she is the bright spot in a movie that is grim from start to finish. Her smile lights up the screen at the appropriate instances and helps in lightening the mood a little. I hope she will keep appearing in such good movies, for the selfish wish to see her on screen...
Posted by Madhat at 4/03/2005 12:06:00 PM
I had a crazy week. First I arrived a little late on Monday to office because the Bus I took from Goa to Bangalore came at 8AM (My training begins at 9.30 am and I needed a minimum of two hours to reach my place, unpack, change and hurry to my office (no bath :( ) ). In all this rush, I did remember to get my rolls from Goa (one of them is still in my camera) and some old ones (one was two years old!).
After the day in office ended (at 8.30 pm :( - I had to stay back to do some real project related work), I walked around looking for a photo studio. I found one on Brigade road. It was a Pro lab and consequently (in my opinion), expensive. They charged 40rs for developing a colour roll and 100rs for scanning a roll in "low" resolution. I thought that let me just try out this shop once as I had B/W rolls to be developed too and I did not trust some arbit studio to do a good job and this was a pro lab, so... I tok my chance and gave all my rolls (five in all) to be developed, printed and scanned! Yeah, I have them all in digital format and the resolution is not bad either! Some of them are here -
IITK in the night
SPIC MACAY Pics
Teejan Bai in IIT Kanpur
After this, I ran out of space in Yahoo photos :(
I will make another id (it is free, right!) and share the rest...
I visited my sister at her hospital on Wednesday night (she was doing night duty that night) and I gave her the engagement pics which was one of the B/W rolls I developed this week.
I read a review on My brother... Nikhil and I got interested in the movie. It was on Rex (Brigade rd) till thursday. So I caught the last show on thursday night. It was a good movie and I think the director shows a lot of promise. Hope he does not go the Bansali way... Keep watching this blog for a detailed review of this movie.
I had not planned to see any movie on Friday night but we (me and my team) worked rather late that night and my boss (batch '99, IITK) suggested we go to a movie. At first it was Million Dollar Baby (which I wanted to see anyway) but at the last moment we stopped at Symphony and bought tickets for Be Cool, a sequel to Get Shorty with the same character Chilly Palmer. It was a very silly movie and had some nice laughable moments but frankly, not worth your time. So dont expect a review of this movie from me!
Yesterday, I thought I might as well catch Million Dollar Baby, the movie that has been making a lot of noise (and not just in the Box-Office). I went to Rex again to catch the 3.30 Pm show. I did not like this movie. Apart from some really good acting, this movie represents what I hate about the movie industry. Read more in my review of this movie.
Today, I have planned nothing more than write these reviews and alsoe finish the first draft of a story that I have been writing. I have been writing the second draft simultaneously and I have planned to finish that by Tuesday. I think the third draft will be ready by next weekend and then, I will publish it on my blog...
Ok, let me stop all this nonsense on how I spent my week and go on to my reviews...
Posted by Madhat at 4/03/2005 11:27:00 AM