Tag Archive: films


Fav excerpts from The Hindu

Some 70mm moments – The Hindu. Reminded me of one of my fav OSTs –  the departures soundtrack –  Music

A still from Departures.

The International Film Festival in Goa in November 2013 came alive with young audiences from across the country patiently standing in long lines to watch serious world cinema. They were the real stars of this festival. In many shows, disappointed audiences were turned away because every seat was taken. There is a new audience out there, ready for new ideas, new film grammar, and new reflective cinema. The time is long overdue for a publically financed network of art theatres in every city in the country. In my three days in Goa, I spent most time with the Soul of Asia segment, which introduced me to some fine films described in an earlier column. I recall here a few other films which remain with me even as the weeks pass after the festival. The best of these, from the same Soul segment, is a meditative exploration of death and the discovery of the joy of service. In the Japanese Departures, Director Yojiro Takita follows an out-of-work cello player, desperate to find any employment to survive. The young man answers an enigmatic advertisement from a funeral company, and finds that his work involves embalming and decorating corpses before they are buried. Gradually, he discovers an unexpected vocation in helping bereaved families cope with death, loss and regret.

Another reflective film, on the theme of loneliness, is the Dutch director Nanouk Leopold’s It’s All So Quiet. A middle-aged farmer lives alone in his dairy-farm with his bed-bound elderly father whom he tends diligently but without love, haunted by memories of childhood violence. As he perseveres with his daily routine of caring for his milch cattle, there are two other men he encounters regularly, one a milk collector who drives to the farm each day to pick up milk; and another, a very young farm hand who takes a room in the farmhouse. Each barely talks with the other, but there is throughout an undercurrent of unfulfilled emotional and sexual longing. The film adopts a minimalist narrative style, deploying few words and even less drama. But it evokes a lingering sense of solitude and isolation, which resonated deeply.

Adopting a diametrically opposite idiom of exuberant comic irony is Philippine director Jeffrey Jeturian’s Ekstra (Extra), an affectionate salute to the underdog. It follows one day in the life of a middle-aged woman extra, a bit player in television soap operas, after she is woken in the early hours of the morning one day to drive to a location shoot in the neighbouring countryside. The director subversively casts one of the Philippines’ best-loved actors, Vilma Santos, in the role of the extra. The viewer for once roots for the anonymous crowd — the farmer on the fields, the domestic help patiently waiting, and the guests in the background of a wedding — while the lead players strut and recite their lines. We watch the class system in the enormous gaps in food and lodging between stars and extras. The film mocks the hilarious script trajectories of the soap opera, and the vanity and fragile egos of its lead players. I often felt that if just the names were changed in the film’s script, it could have been located in India with no substantial changes.

There were many homage retrospectives as well, including of Czech director Jiri Menzel, whose entertaining but slight opera comedy Don Juans opened the festival.However, the tribute which delighted me the most was the one to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, an exceptional screen writer who passed away earlier this year. She was through all her adult life an acutely observant, unsentimental but sympathetic chronicler of the human condition. Her life spanned three continents, and she belonged to all, but also to none. A Polish Jew born in Germany in the 1930s, her father survived the Holocaust but took his own life when he discovered that almost his entire family was slaughtered. Ruth married a Parsi Indian architect Jhabvala, lived in and loved India until 1975. She moved to New York where until her death she collaborated with James Ivory and Ismail Merchant to write many memorable films.This was a single-film tribute, and we owe Jhabvala’s memory a richer retrospective of all her films. In Goa I enjoyed watching Shakespeare Wallah with Ruth’s elder daughter, Renana Jhabvala, a senior social worker whose work in SEWA I have long admired, who the festival authorities had invited to pay tribute to her mother. As I watched the film 45 years after I first saw it, I found fitting that Ruth’s story was ultimately about impermanence and the inevitability of change. The poignancy of the doomed idealism of a British theatre company dedicated to introducing Indian audiences to Shakespeare, but for whom people have no time as tastes change and time moves forward inexorably, was heightened acutely for me as I watched an India of my childhood now long past.

Dance like a man

C.V. Chandrasekar in performance. Photo: R. Ravindran

Rhythm beyond music

It is common knowledge that tala or rhythm adds a vital dimension to music by completing the triad of ragam, taalam and bhavam. Without tala, music would be rudderless. Without rhythm, nature would be monotonous!

It is not often realised that rhythm is a subtle and omnipresent element that goes beyond the realms of music. It impacts us from all sides.

“Life is about rhythm. We vibrate, our hearts are pumping blood, we are a rhythm machine, that’s what we are,” said popular American percussionist and musicologist Mickey Hart.

Rhythm is present in some form or the other in all aspects of our existence. To begin with, let us draw an elaborate analogy between music where rhythm is distinctly cognisable and the environment around us where it is subtle.

The importance of tala cannot be undermined.  It binds music together.  A hundred voices at the Thyagaraja Aradhana vocalise Pancharatna Kritis in unison in a particular raga.  What holds them together and prevents the disparate elements from running helter-skelter?  It is the tala that lends cohesiveness to the rendition.

The legendary percussionists of yore Palghat Mani Iyer and Palni Subramaniam Pillai unequivocally established the fact that rhythm was the sine qua non for an ideal concert.

Ustad Zakir Hussain’s twinkling fingers pirouetting on the twin heads of his tabla often times blurred the lines between music and rhythm! The rhythmic tintinnabulation emanating from the ankles of Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj causes one’s spine to tingle.

If Carnatic music can be traced to the Sama Veda, it also draws upon the esoteric metric values that govern the chanting of the Sama Veda stotrams.

In western classical music too, the various genres are centred round their respective rhythmic patterns, be it decked in movements such as adagio, allegro or vivace! The quest for rhythmic perfection is achieved by a strict adherence to the ubiquitous metronome during practice sessions.

Music moves as does rhythm. It is the ineluctable rhythm underlining the music that unwittingly touches, excites or depresses one.  It can put one in a romantic frame of mind through lilting beats or lull one into a soporific mood through a monotonous beat dulling the senses!

Latin rhythms like samba and rumba shoot up the adrenaline; bolero and beguine create the romantic mood; R and B induce trance and salsa generates a sense of foot-tapping exhilaration.

Rhythm in its subtle form defines poetry in all languages as it does, for example, the sonnets of Shakespeare in the iambic Pentameters. Eminent English Poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, describing The Brook creates an onomatopoeaic effect (read poetic rhythm). with the following lines: “I chatter over stony ways, In little sharps and trebles, I bubble into eddying bays, I babble on the pebbles.”

Rhythms are the very ingredients — sometimes palpable, sometimes too subtle for cognition — that keep us tickling through life. The first signs of rhythmic heartbeat are noticed when the foetus is 40 days old!

Later in life, it is the heart rate, pulse on the wrist and the rush of blood (BP) calibrated through the veins and arteries that determine whether the rhythms of life are healthy or not! An arrhythmic heart spells danger just as how indifferent rhythm could ruin good music!

Nature has rhythm written all over it. The staccato chirping of birds, the trumpeting of elephants, the “legato” growl of the big cats, the cacophonous chatter of primates, the cadence of waterfalls, the roll of thunder and the tremolo whistling of the zephyr —  all bespeak an infinite variety of rhythms that permeate the environment. And many a musical score has been inspired by them!

At a macrocosmic level, the entire constellation, studded with planets, has its own rhythmic cycle to fashion its movement as in the intricate interior of a wristwatch.

Life appears to be one long symphony to be appreciated in all its rhythmic hues as we keep time on the path to eternity!

This too shall pass

 

Illustration: Satwik Gade

The author looks at the year that was.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the year of promising sanity, it was the year of blinding hypocrisy, it was the time of dwindling religious belief, it was the time of horrendous religious fundamentalism, we have everything before us and we have nothing before us. So here’s what 2013 was about.

A former colonist country that spent centuries exploiting and systematically stripping Africa invaded the North African country of Mali, in a strange twist of historical irony, to liberate it from militant Islamism.The West, that decries the spreading virus of fundamentalism, still used all its technical might to write one of the world’s most sophisticated computer viruses, STUXNET, to seriously damage Iran’s nuclear programme. This year, the country eventually caved in and agreed to limit its ambitions in exchange for lifting of sanctions that go back to a people’s revolution that replaced a tyrannical West-backed Shah who was put in place after the assassination of a democratically elected head of state who wanted to nationalise the country’s oil resources.Meanwhile, North Korea was busy turning the cognitive dissonance knob to 11. They still use DOS, floppies, fax machines and Dyanora TVs but managed to detonate a nuclear bomb underground. Comically obsolete, yet scarily dangerous.Speaking of comical obsolescence, Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina became the first head of a major religion in the 21 century to actually make sense in a world that is rapidly running away from religious belief. As faith struggles for relevance and grows stale with mould, he is a breath of fresh air.While religions are still figuring out if it’s okay for a woman to have control over her reproductive parts and if it’s moral for two consenting same-sex adults to love each other, scientists in the US managed to clone human embryonic stem cells. It is one of the most significant breakthroughs in bio-technology, one that could eventually cure many of our most intractable diseases and increase our lifespan to the point where retiring at 60 will seem ridiculously early. Folks in Texas were printing guns in 3D this year, while professors in Cornell University were printing ears in 3D with actual living cell-gels, thus promising a future where we can give printed ears to people shot at by other people with printed guns.Snowden in 2013 revealed what George Orwell in 1949 had already revealed in 1984: that Big Brothers who spy on their citizens will go on to do very bad things. He then asked for asylum in a country with a long history of its own citizens seeking asylum from his country.At the same time, the world lost a brother with a big heart, Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years based on intelligence provided by American spies to an apartheid regime. His death subsequently brought forth a torrent of hypocrisy on social media, with senators who had voted to declare Mandela a terrorist now composing 140-character paeans in his praise.As one democracy spied on its citizens, the struggling democracy of Egypt deposed a democratically-elected government because it was too religiously inclined.Typhoons and cyclones hit us hard this year while we were still busy debating the political correctness of ‘climate change’ vs. ‘global warming’. We bemoaned pollution in our cities while driving internal combustion engines powered by subsidised diesel and asking for ‘extra plastic covers’ from retailers.India sent a probe to Mars and underpaid maids to the US, while China sent a rover to the Moon and underpaid employees to their deaths several floors below sweatshop complexes. The US launched a dysfunctional website to fix a dysfunctional healthcare system and launched functional drones to kill innocent people at wedding functions.We produced civil engineers who write software code for banks, while churning out whizkids in Newtonian mechanics who migrate to the US to design complex financial derivatives for banks that bring down world economies to the point where outsourcing to India is simply the only way to go. We seem to have that strategy nailed down.  Our moviemakers are still making films that disobey every law the good Isaac ever wrote down. We then universally pan these movies, criticise them to bits, rant about them eloquently and then fork out Rs. 450 per IMAX ticket to watch them with our families because well… it’s timepass.

  Loss and loneliness – The HinduExcerpt

The poetry of cinema can teach one to care deeply.

  …………..Some of those Indian films which best spoke on those eternal themes of enduring art: love, loss, loneliness and longing.

It is more than 30 years since I first watched Aparna Sen’s sensitive and observant 36 Chowringhee Lane , but I still feel a twinge of grief at the thoughtless betrayal of the lonely, ageing Anglo-Indian school teacher, played to perfection by Jennifer Kendal. Unmarried, her brother is senile and confined to a nursing home, and her friends are slowly dying around her. Her secluded life lights up after a chance encounter with her old student and her boyfriend. They visit her often and fill her home with youth and laughter, and she believes they are her friends. But their only interest in the old teacher is to use her flat for lovemaking when she is away at work. Her eventual discovery of how they used her, her heartbreak and dignity long haunt the viewer.

One of the most aesthetically accomplished Hindi films of all times is Abrar Alvi’s Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam (Master, Wife and Servant). Set at the turn of the last century, it maps the hopeless and ultimately tragic rebellion of a woman, memorably played by Meena Kumari, married into a decadent feudal household. Unwilling to accept the traditional station of a landlord’s wife, she feels humiliated by her husband’s drunken nights spent in the company of courtesans. She demands respect. In a desperate bid to attract him, she even takes to drinking alcohol like the dancing girls. But he scorns and spurns her, and she ultimately slips into a melancholy alcoholism. As the years pass, and the fortunes of the decaying feudal household crumble, she cannot shed her craving for liquor, and the family ultimately has her killed. In her tortured discontent, we observe the incipient stirrings of feminism, even though her revolt is not against men’s domination as much as their disrespect; and her defeat in achieving a measure of dignity in her marriage destroys her.

(Clockwise from top) Stills from ‘Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam’, ‘Mathilukal’ and ‘Apur Sansar’. (Below) Nutan in ‘Bandini’.

A similar lingering melancholy pervades Ritwick Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara (A Star Covered by a Cloud). Sombre and poetic, it describes the fortunes of a young woman in a refugee family in Kolkata from East Pakistan impoverished by the Partition. She supports her family in their penury and hardship, but is cynically used by each of them, unmindful even as she sacrifices her own happiness and dreams. The protagonist’s aching longing is denied by her own goodness and her exploitation by those she most loved. In the haunting final sequence, as she lies dying of tuberculosis, she cries out to her brother: “I want to live”, words that became embedded in the hearts of a whole generation in Bengal to symbolise our doomed yearning for all that we have lost.

……………………..A much lesser known film, but one close to my heart, is Jahnu Barua’s Konikar Ramdhenu (Ride on The Rainbow). It depicts stolen childhoods in a juvenile home for children in conflict with law. A young boy escapes the violence of his alcoholic stepfather to work in a garage in Guwahati. But the garage owner tries to sexually assault him, and the boy hits him with a rod on his head which kills him instantly. The cold, loveless abuse of the juvenile home in which he is incarcerated is powerfully recreated, relieved only by the kindness of the superintendent.

These themes of loss and loneliness are most exquisitely evoked in Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar (Apu’s World).

Bimal Roy’s lyrical last film Bandini (Imprisoned

………………..The wistful longing, the pain and humanity of many of these films became part of my own growing years. I learned from them the poetry of cinema; I suffered with their protagonists; but maybe they also taught me to care more deeply.

More @ http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-sundaymagazine/loss-and-loneliness/article4818915.ece

Taking a knife to a classic | The HinduExcerpt

Thoughts on Hitchcock’s Psycho, Gus Van Sant’s remake of the film, and the ruthlessly butchered version shown on television

Psycho is widely seen as the progenitor of the modern-day slasher film, yet watching it today, I wonder if that credit shouldn’t actually go to the movie Hitchcock made immediately after — The Birds, where the “slashing” came through beaks and talons instead of a knife gripped by an unforgiving hand. In a sense, yes, the famous shower scene opened the sluices for everything graphic and gory we see today, but behind it all is a nagging moral tone that seems very much a vestige of the 1950s (Psycho was released in 1960) — hardly “modern-day”.

…………… The most touching aspect of Psycho is that the heroine, Marion Crane, dies after she decides to go back home and hand over the money she’s stolen and face the consequences.

Today, though, God is largely absent from the screens, and when we see bad things happen to people, we do not think of it as His vengeance. The Birds is truly a modern-day movie, in the sense that it’s all chaos. Birds swoop in and attack and then, just as suddenly as it all began, it ends. People are punished — apparently — for nothing at all, for nothing more than simply existing with the usual shades of human foibles.

They do nothing more to invite misfortune on themselves than, say, the victims of the serial killers in The Silence Of The Lambs or Se7en or Zodiac (though the serial killers themselves could probably be traced back to Psycho). That’s what we see and know today, that innocent folk suffer and die all the time, and that’s why The Birds, more than Psycho, appears to me the progenitor of the modern-day slasher film.

These thoughts came about a few weeks ago when I was unwell, confined to the indoors and thrown at the mercy of television channels. There’s clearly some kind of unwritten law that the day(s) you’re actually free to watch hours of television, there will be nothing worth watching — but by some stroke of luck, I stumbled into Gus Van Sant’s 1998-remake of Psycho, a “modern-day slasher film” at least with respect to the year of its release.

The film, as you may know, is a scrupulous attempt to replicate the Hitchcock classic. The non-numerical lettering of the date is the same: FRIDAY DECEMBER THE ELEVENTH TWO FORTY THREE PM. The cop who questions Marion, who’s fallen asleep in her car, still wears creepy dark glasses that block out his eyes. But it’s in colour — so we see, for instance, that the bars that fracture the screen in the opening credits are green. And the stolen amount has increased from $ 40,000 to $ 4,00,000.

Despite what’s been said, Van Sant’s film is not a shot-for-shot remake. In the opening scene in this version, Marion and her lover are in bed, after making love. In the older film, the implication is still that they’ve made love, but because of censorship restrictions, they couldn’t be shown in bed together — and we see him standing beside the bed.

Then there are changes in the characters. In the older film, we get the feeling that Marion was making it up as she went along, whereas here, she has a crafty gleam in her eyes, an I-pulled-it-off look. The theft seems premeditated, and thus we don’t feel sorry for her when she’s killed. And because of this change, we don’t understand why she repents, why she wants to go back and return the money.

For 1998, it’s strange that Van Sant didn’t feel free enough to do more with the scares, because, seen today, the original Psycho is hardly scary, more interesting as a director’s showcase than as a thriller that will make you jump out of your seat. The new film, therefore, is little more than a curio. And it was even more of a curio on TV, after the censors got through with it. This is what happens in the famous shower scene: Norman’s mother comes into the bathroom, she lifts the knife, Marion screams, and… we cut to Mother leaving.

Stabbing, clearly, is too much for Indian television, never mind that our masala movies such as Rowdy Rathore, featuring far more graphic violence, are allowed to run almost untouched.If Psycho is known for anything, it’s the shower scene, and now there’s no shower scene. ……………..