Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Paris, Texas

Finding a movie boring after longing to watch it for months is indeed a frustrating experience. Such was my state of mind, when I had to sit through the 2 hours and 20 minutes of Paris, Texas. It had been suggested to me by my trainer at a filmmaking course. I had fought with salesmen in most of the famous DVD stores of Mumbai having been told umpteenth number of times, “No sir, we don’t have it and we haven’t even heard of it”. So obviously when Ranjit messaged me that he has downloaded Paris, Texas from torrent, I was really happy.

Lets start with the story. For those who dislike people revealing the story, I think it doesn’t matter in this case. It starts with a man in mid 40s walking aimlessly in a desert somewhere in South Texas. From his appearance, you can make out that it’s been more than a while that this fellow has been roaming in wilderness. Someone informs his brother, who comes up and takes him back to Los Angeles. It turns out that this fellow had left his home some four years back after a troubled relationship with his wife. His wife couldn’t bring up their son on her own, so she left him in the care of this guy’s brother and his wife. Four years have lapsed since then and the kid is now ten years old. He obviously can’t take his father for his father upon his return. But soon the non-existent bond between the father and the son develops. They flee from the house in search of the kid’s mother. They find her in circumstances, which are the only pulse-racing moments of this otherwise staid film.

Coming back to why didn’t I like it. One, for its sheer length. I think it shouldn’t have been even a second more than 90 minutes. In ethereal films, length is the most important factor. Two, apart from the end, the most important part of the film is how the kid accepts his real father and leaves those whom until yesterday were his parents. There is not a single scene, which explore this. How on earth can we expect a kid, who is staying with his parents in a superb bungalow in Los Angeles, leave everything for a father, who he is sure is somewhere close to a nomad. My understanding of things is: Kids are really selfish, for they love themselves the most and are yet to understand the importance to reciprocate.

Imagine this scene. The duo of father and kid are in search of his mother. They are staying in a hotel room. The father has found the mother and he is finally going to tell her about the whereabouts of the kid. But he thinks that he still can’t bridge the gap with her so he chooses to go out of their life. He records a message for the kid. Sitting alone in a hotel’s room, which is overlooking a plethora of steel structures and is entirely devoid of intimacy, the kid is listening to that message. There is absolutely no change in his facial expressions. From the exterior, he is as normal as he was in the bedroom of his home in LA. How can we expect that the lack of intimacy (at such a young age) and an emotionally disturbing message are having no visible impact on the kid?

I cannot convince myself that this is even a good film let alone being a great one. I think the writer and the director understood the psyche of escapist father and husband well enough, for it is easy to think like an adult. However, they completely failed to understand the psyche of a kid.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

On Benegal

Years ago when I watched Ankur, I couldn’t understand why it was so depressing and difficult to relate to. Needless to say, I didn’t like the film. I had also ruled out the possibility of ever liking Shyam Benegal's work. That was until a friend of mine suggested me to watch 'Bhumika' - a real life story of flamboyant Marathi actress Hansa Wadekar.

Bhumika starts with Smita Patil dancing in front of male audience with heavy make-up. The heroine credited with making dusky looks acceptable in Hindi cinema was wearing so much make-up that I cursed Benegal for making her look unnaturally white. That was until I realised that she is playing an actress in the film. As Smita moves out of sets, the shining face becomes rather grim and she is sans make-up. There is not a stray of gray in her hair, but her body language suggests that she is not in early 20s. Cut to the scene, she comes to her home. A middle-aged man with ample gray in his hair to suggest so, is waiting for her. He doesn’t look old enough to be her father. He doesn’t look young enough to be her husband. He can be a husband still, given that men are fond of younger women. But his body language doesn’t really suggest so. Benegal doesn’t establish their relation yet, and they plunge into an argument. Smita pulls the arm of a girl. Again from Smita's looks its tough to believe that she is her daughter. Smita screams at the middle-aged man (played by Amol Palekar), "Will you ever stop blackmailing me through this young girl". The young girl looks more like Smita's younger sister and I got the vague idea; may be Amol Palekar is actually her father and this young girl her sister. Well that was until Smita changes her saree in front of Amol and its only then after I guess some 10 minutes of screen time, that I realised that he is and for sure is her husband and the young girl her daughter. Well that is Benegal - a man who doesn’t spoon-feed his audience, who doesn’t reiterate the obvious and who expects his audience to have a minimum intelligence quotient.

Last week, I watched Junoon. A period film directed by Benegal in 1978. The film is set in 1857. A group of rebellious sepoys have butchered few Englishmen at a church in Delhi. The firebrand leader of the group is Naseeruddin Shah and one of his acquaintance is Shashi Kapoor - who too is a rebellious sepoy - not as much a hardliner as Naseer though. Shashi falls in love with daughter of a murdered Englishman. He gives shelter to the daughter, her mother and her grandmother. He is arrogant, since sepoys were getting better of their masters then. Yet, he is in love with the English girl - who very well knows that people of his ilk have butchered her father. I don’t want to divulge the story, as that would kill the fun of watching the film. But yet again, the detailing done by Benegal is exceptional. The characters speak exactly the same kind of language spoken around Delhi and Merrut those days. Ismat Chugtai wrote the dialogues in Urdu and you feel as if you are transported to 1857. The actors work really hard to get the body language right. Naseer and Shabana Azmi are so believable as fanatic leader and a possessive wife that you wonder if you are looking at actors or real characters. The surprise of the lot is Shashi Kapoor, who plays the pathan madly in love with English girl, while being still married to Shabana Azmi. Its utter pity that Shashi Kapoor had to play second fiddle to the macho men of 1970s in the “so-called” commercial films. His urdu is approximate if not accurate, his body language is right too, his eyes do a lot of talking. Benegal uses several mediums to depict that era. So the film starts with a peer prophesizing the demise of British rule. I was comparing Junoon with the most successful period film - Lagaan. A film set in Champaran in Gujarat, while the characters speak in Avadhi. No matter how hard Aamir Khan works, he is miles away from Naseer and Shashi. Moreover, Ashutosh Gowariker takes him clean-shaven making him and through him the film look even more superficial.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Advantage (?) of Being on The Better Side

Mumbai has come to a halt. Motormen have gone on an indefinite strike. So the lifeline that is the local trains are not running. People have no option but to go by road. And the lesser said about Mumbai roads the better. They hardly look like roads of a metropolitan city. Britishers had made much wider roads. Thanks to decades of corruption, we have illegal shops and at some places entire market brought up along the roads, which has obviously eaten up the space. So when you look at a Mumbai road, you dont simply look at the road, you look at a deluge of hawkers, shopkeepers, beggars and labourers. They are the kind of the people we convinently ignore. Ha...Life goes on...Damn..How does it matter as long as I have a nice air conditioned bed-room at 15th floor, where even their stentch can't reach.

Yesterday the haves and have-nots of Mumbai came much closer to each other. I heard few "respectable" ladies sleeping on the road next to Planet M showroom. "Respected" men too had to climb on a tempo and had to endure the travel like a rooster. I saw respected men and women walking, standing, sitting, sleeping on the pavements, which are home to homeless. For once, the have-nots can accuse the haves for breach of privacy.

The motormen strike has clearly shown how easily the lives of haves and have-nots can collide. It is also a "gentle" reminder for fools like me not to feel so proud of having a "nice" life, in a country which is otherwise not nice at all.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rarest of Rare Case : What a mockery

How far away are we from reality? A news piece caught my attention last week. It appeared in Delhi's edition of Indian Express. It was about honor killing of a couple some five years ago in Kaithal District of Haryana. The guy and the gal had fled from their homes to marry, as their families were against the marriage. The reason was : they were from same 'gotra'. I dont know what is the technical meaning of 'gotra', neither do I care a fuck about it. I think it will be something like a caste. Why I think like this is because years earlier, my mom had told me that I cant marry a gal with 'Sehgal' surname, as she is like a sister to me. I didnt find it odd then, but I find it strange today.

Okay, lets get back to the story. So, the couple got married. But soon after it, they were hunted down by gal's brother and cousins and were butchered by them. Such cases are known as 'honor killings' in India, as the family sacrificed their own daughter to save their 'honor'. The case was doing rounds in court for the last five years. Yesterday, I read the piece : Hayrana High Court gives death to 5 accused, life imprisonment to one and 7 years in jail to another. It was one of the few moments I felt really proud of Indian Legal System, for there is a ray of light even in darkest corner of this country, where sex ratio is dipping and having a gal child is considered as a curse. But when I read further, the public prosecutor had appealed to the judge saying that this was "RAREST OF RARE CASES". Even a dumb ass can imagine that the judge must have been moved by a plea like that. But, isnt it strange that the public prosecutor and the judge - the watchdogs of legal system - think that it is a rare cases. Arent they reading newspapers? Every other day in Delhi, I used to read about honor killings and that too in english newspaper, whichs readers would like to believe that they have urban sensibiltiies, which make it hard for an editor to get such a story to print, still he does it. Think about how many such stories will be appearing in hindi papers. What kind of utopian world we live in?

Anyways, it finally turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the judge did think that it was a rare case and awarded a severe penalty. But here too, should the severity of punishment have anything to do with the prevalance of that kind of crime? I dont think so, in fact the more prevalant the crime is, the stricter should be the punishment. I hope the following things should happen:

a) Indians learn "correct" english. It can well be the case, that the lawyer knew that its not a rare case, but still 'RAREST OF RARE' is a powerful phrase, so he used it

b) We as a society can take few steps to open our own eyes.

Friday, January 22, 2010


I've been wondering what to write on my blog. Haven’t written anything in last three months. That perhaps explains that I am not as bored as I was when I writing lots of them. Didn’t even have an interesting encounter with a rickshaw wallah. Didn’t read a really interesting book. O yeah, read 'V' by Thomas Pynchon. I think the last time I had to apply so much head was when Raja took financial market classes at Tapmi, a full five years ago. Never before, I understood so little, but just had a faint idea that the guy is too profound for my taste. So thought lets dedicate this blog to Thomas Pynchon. There is no build up in this blog. I don’t want to tell the story. So fuck the logic. I will pass the judgment straightaway. I think nothing sums up the brilliance of this writer more than this statement (which of course is not mine) - If the first half of 20th century can be described as Kafkaesque, the second half can easily be called Pynchonsque. Oh yeah yeah, all those lovers of European, primarily non-American literature, will take it with a pinch of salt. Kafka presented his protagonists as victims, who were doomed at the hands of system. In his most famous work, The Trial, Joseph K knows that he hasn’t committed any crime. Perhaps, the police know it too. But, he cant prove it in court and he knows from the day he was arrested that he will be hanged. And for those, who know it all, who know the inefficiencies of the system and who think that such books are nothing but a rehash of fundas well known, please read it. A book is not good for what it says; it is good for how it says. Joseph K's mind is obviously frustrated, but he doesn’t die a loser's death. He dies fully aware that he was helpless. I think a mere acknowledgment at his part that he is nothing more than a pawn relieves him of the concerns people have about after life. If the life itself was fuckall, who gives a fuck about after life. So when Joseph is stabbed, he merely suffers from physical pain, no mental pain. Kafka died young. Most of the stuff was written, when he must have been pre-occupied by after-life thoughts. For anyone who is really worried of dying a loser's death, please read 'The Trial, I bet you will have this feeling - If I couldn’t do it, so what? And even if I indeed did it, so what? The novel was written in 1920s when Europe was undergoing a political change. Leaders - military and political were wrestling with a power-obsessed clergy often screwing the common man.

A full forty years later, a 26-year-old American called Thomas Pynchon wrote V. It was a time of social awakening in US. Blacks got their rights. Rock and roll was far more than music, as it empowered the youth. USA had plunged into Vietnam War. A huge section of society was disillusioned. Drug addiction soared. I came across a line on Pynchon - "His character bounce from farce to paranoia". It’s my favorite line for the last three months. Americans knew that the theory that communism is a threat to US was nothing but farce much like Iraq having weapons of mass destruction (history does repeat itself). Still, they were scared of communism, or perhaps something that they didn’t even know. May be, when you are rich, you have a lot to lose, so you are prone to get scared. Politicians grabbed this chance and created a villain out of Korea, Soviet Union, Iraq. So the central theme of V is farce and paranoia. More important is, at least what I think, events in history are so damn intervened that no matter how hard one tries, he/she wouldn’t be able to spot who was responsible for what. To put it simply, people of my generation, born in 80s, think that it was US, which protected Kuwait from Iraq for its gains. Actually, the precedent was set by UK, which was funding its deficit from oil money made in Kuwait much earlier than US. So US is not only to blame. And who knows, it can be some other country before UK. So entire human race is very much like a native lost in a city. The more you try to understand history, the more you are at loss. Better read it like a fiction. Pynchon brings this out through a messed up character called - Herbert Stencil whose father was in British Army. So he had been to different parts of the world where some conflict was boiling. He would tell his son stories. It doesn’t stop there. Stencil connected the dots from whatever he heard from his father and filled the holes with his imagination to such an extent that he almost lost the grip of reality and the reader is left wondering "is this something which his father told him or just a figment of his imagination?” Its so true of all of us, what we call knowledge is just a sum of facts and imaginations. In all his father's stories, there was a woman. Invariably, her name started from the letter 'V'. The quest started when Stencil thought it’s the same woman who chases his father and somewhere she knows the link to all international conflicts. How much of this is a fact and how much a fiction, I couldn’t know. May be the larger purpose was not to know who was responsible, but to realize if not fully comprehend the real complexity of the events.