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Good Night Good Morning: Finding Closure

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About six years ago around the same time, I met New York.

It was love at first sight.

I had just the script for it.

A conversation film that I had just written with Shilpa Rathnam simply because my friend Nischalakrishna Vittalanathan bought a Sony HVR V1U (He had spent a year discovering everything it can do and how to optimise it for shooting movies) and had insisted that I write something we can shoot quickly.

The pop culture references were mostly American since we had written it in English and it didn’t seem to work when we tried to localise it. (We’re still trying to do it, though!) Besides, this was a New year’s eve film in English. New York sounded like the perfect world for it.

Raja Sen was one of the first people to read it, a month after we started writing it and asked me who I had in mind for the cast. I was planning to shoot with newcomers. He was on the opinion that this script has so much potential that I should consider casting someone from Bollywood. He put me in touch with an actress who loved the script enough to say she would do it.

I had heard of Manu Narayan from Kaveri Valliappan, a choice strongly recommended by my best friend from school Murugan (they are both from Pittsburgh; Murugan had seen Manu perform in Andrew Lloyd Webber & A.R. Rahman’s Bombay Dreams in Broadway, New York). So New York it would be. We would shoot on New Year’s Eve. We would be there around Christmas and stay on for three weeks to wrap shoot. That was the plan.

But thanks to problems small filmmakers face with big stars, I ended up with just the first four minutes of the film. And I was going to leave New york, having spent the three lakhs more than the ten lakhs I had budgeted for the whole film – WITH NO FILM!

Just some great memories. The Pizza at Artichoke. Hot Chocolate at Max Brenners. Experiencing snowfall for the first time in Queens… while shooting it. The madness at Times Square on New Years Eve… Getting so sloshed to keep ourselves warm and almost surviving the night. Ask Raja Sen for the story of that legendary night he remembers only from accounts of other people… Going to Red Bank, New Jersey to see where Kevin Smith shot Clerks on his birthday… Living in a suite at the New Yorker hotel (where we were supposed to shoot) for a week… Shooting an obscure music video with our actress that had nothing to do with the film because our film shoot was not going to happen.

In between these highs and lows, I thought about how they did it back in the day before outdoor shoots were not logistically possible. The fifties. And it dawned on me that if I could do the same, I could probably be able to shoot the whole film in India if I went all the way and embraced everything the fifties were about.

So in that one week I had left in New York, I decided to salvage the best out of that situation. I hired a helicopter, got all the aerial shots I needed from New York to halfway to Philadelphia. I rented a taxi halfway between New York and Philadelphia and shot all around New Hope. I shot every possible outdoor shot I needed. I sourced every prop I needed to stay true to the milieu. The radio announcements on December 31, the newspaper of that day, the hotel supplies… We even stole their menu.

All the outdoors could be projected outside the static car inside a studio… and it would work great in a black and white film. We hadn’t started off trying to make a black and white film but this seemed like the only way out. So we rewrote the film to make it sound more like the fifties. More mushy. More cheesy. We sourced the right kind of jazz music – from Ray Guntrip in the UK to Gregory Generet from New York to Manu Narayan’s bandmate Radovan Jovicevic to Chennai based Maitreya to do a cover of Strangers in the Night.

I just need money to shoot. And to pay off the credit card and personal loan debts from the 13 lakhs I had already spent. To cut a long sob story short, it took me 18 months to get back on my feet and shoot again. With more personal loans and fresh credit card debt.

The actress who was to do the film wasn’t available anymore because of both health and date issues but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we found the incredibly talented Seema Rahmani… who I had messaged through Facebook after being impressed with her American accent in Loins of Punjab. She didn’t share her number. She texted back her email address and said she would call IF she liked the script.

Two days later, she did. She didn’t even want to talk money. It had connected to her at a very deep level. She called me every day to go over the lines until she came to Chennai three weeks later for the shoot and by the time she landed, she knew every single line of the script by heart.

It was a craziest of schedules. We put them up both at a service apartment for a month and even shot a few scenes there. We shot all of Seema in three days flat, all of Manu in two days and the five episodes in between the phone call in another four days. Including patchwork, we shot maybe ten days in all!

We had just finished edit and before we could figure out what to do, Megha Ramaswamy saw the film at Raja Sen’s place and recommended it to Galen Rosenthal of the South Asian International Film Festival, New York. It seemed like the place to premiere the film being the home of the film.

We also got a call from the Mumbai Film Festival. So we had back to back premieres in a week. Mumbai first and then, New York. Finally, AFTER the premiere, I was able to reshoot and replace a few shots from the first four minutes with Seema Rahmani walking down streets of New York (I had used the shots of the previous actress in silhouette for the premiere).

Manu’s Mom came for the premiere. She was moved to tears with the performance of her son. I would always cherish that night Manu got so emotional and said he found a brother in me. For life. I love that guy. For sticking with the project and believing in it. For years.

An American premiere was also the perfect excuse for me to go all the way to LA. I was hoping to meet my idol Cameron Crowe to give him a DVD of our film – because we had written it as that ten minute phone call from Elizabethtown coming to life. But that’s another story.

We then got invited to the Habitat Film Festival, Delhi and Shiladitya Bora, who was programming alternative content for PVR happened to see a poster of the film there that got his attention. He wrote to me asking for a DVD and offered to release it through his new banner Director’s Rare. That was the beginning of another great friendship.

On January 20, 2012, PVR launched its Director’s Rare banner with Good Night Good Morning. We sold 1500 tickets through 18 screens. It was a total disaster at the box office given. We hadn’t spent one rupee on marketing or publicity because I had already spent 30 lakhs on the film and was too broke to spend any more. I wrote an angry rant back then that got some people interested in the film and luckily for us, the reviews were good too.

Full credit to Shiladitya Bora to keep the initiative going and Director’s Rare today has released about 60 films since Good Night Good Morning. He had opened up and created a niche market for films like these.

Our share from PVR was Rs.99000. We got another Rs.25000 from Sathyam Cinemas from Chennai. Mela gave us Rs.50000 for an online release. And Enlighten sold 1000 DVDs that got us another Rs. 60000. So I had spent 30 lakh rupees and not even recovered three! We are still waiting for a decent deal for a TV premiere.

I still have three more months of Good Night Good Morning debt left.  I still need to pay my best friend Murugan $9000 dollars. I reminded him about it last week. He said even if you make it back, I want you to put it in the next film.

Thankfully, I don’t need to take on the extra baggage of producing anymore. And the market has opened up too.

There are some excellent modern producers and we found one such angel investor in Manish Mundra for X. But this is not about X.

This is about closure for Good Night Good Morning. A film about closure.

So guys and girls, the film is finally out there online. For posterity, hopefully. In all its HD detail.

You can buy it or rent it for Rs.25 on Google Play. It should be out on Amazon and iTunes soon. Maybe in twenty years or so, it would actually recover its cost.

If you want to help, do spread the word and pass this link to your friends. It’s not a bad film at all, I promise. There’s a link to the director’s commentary online as well that I recorded at home if you want to hear more about our adventures with low-budget filmmaking.

Thanks.

Why paying for Ek Villain hurts

I moved to Bombay three weeks ago.
It was a transfer I asked for, even if it meant shelling out over 50 per cent of my salary on rent. Because I LOVE movies and I wanted to be in Mumbai to catch the previews and get my reviews out by Friday.
We don’t have previews in Chennai and I have bought tickets for every Hindi film I have reviewed in my career. So this is not about wanting free tickets. I would gladly buy my own ticket and popcorn, knowing fully well, that 80 per cent of the time I am bound to be disappointed.
The reason you want to be at the previews is because as a film critic, you want the equal opportunity, just like your peers around the country, to form an opinion without having read any opinion on the film.
Because as a critic, it’s always best to walk in without the baggage of anything you’ve heard from others.
It was with that hope that I walked into the PVR at Andheri West (formerly Fame Adlabs) where the press show of Ek Villain was held on Thursday evening, along with my friend Raja Sen of Rediff, who had promised to tip me off about every preview in town simply because I was new to town (and not to journalism – I have been a journalist with The Hindu for 15 years now)
Niloufer Qureshi, who runs Hype, gave my friend Raja a ticket and said she does not have a single extra ticket for his friend. So I identify myself and tell her that I’m here to review the film on behalf of The Hindu. She tells me someone from The Hindu had messaged her and she had given a ticket away. I call that number to find out that she does not even work for The Hindu. Nor was she planning to review the film.
Before I could explain to Niloufer that she has unwittingly given away a ticket without checking the identity, one of her minions rudely interrupted saying: But I haven’t seen you before.
So I don’t exist?
Rule One of being a film publicist. Know your critics. If you haven’t heard of the third largest circulated English daily in the country, maybe you should give up your job to anyone who knows to Google.
I ask Niloufer to take my number so that this doesn’t happen again and she asks me to leave it with her minion. Because she is too busy being rude, you see.
And the minion also pretends to be busy and runs away without taking my number for future notification. Raja insists on waiting with me till the matter is resolved but given that this bunch of publicists didn’t seem to care, I tell him to go in and catch it, lest he misses the beginning. Besides, all those representing Hype were busy giving away tickets to their friends.
I then leave my number with one of her assistants and ask him to add me to the database and leave after sending Niloufer a text that this was no way to treat a critic when random kids who didn’t seem like they were even old enough to work, were given tickets for the screening.
I also tweeted to Tanuj Garg and Ekta Kapoor to report this incident, only to find out that they don’t care either. Even after seeing that I had once interviewed Ekta. It’s one critic less, you see. One bad review less.
There are better ways to avoid negative reviews, guys. Like not ripping off a Korean film without credit.
Don’t you dare say “See the film first and then comment.” I did try. I was sent away.
So I just have to depend on all the tweets from critics who confirmed that you indeed stole from I Saw The Devil.
I will try to catch the film again tomorrow by paying for my ticket, like I always did back in Chennai. But I do have a problem paying for stolen goods.

- Ek Critic.

Kochadaiiyaan: Amar Chitra Katha 3D

Kochadaiiyaan

Amar Chitra Katha. Comics we grew up with, with rich illustrations of stories of kings, wars and moral instructions, now in 3D, with the spirit of Rajinikanth. That should have been the peg. Kochadaiiyaan would have lived up to that promise.

Because that’s what it really is – technology that makes actors Amar, Chitra that’s not shot with a camera and a good old-fashioned Katha. “Once upon a time, in the kingdom of….”

Tintin and Avatar were possibly the worst examples the makers could have chosen to set the expectations. Simply because, though they were using motion capture technology, the makers here were working with considerably lower budgets, lesser time with half the number of cameras or markers used by those films to be able to generate that kind of data or detail.

It was an unrealistic standard and this has cost the makers dearly. Short of calling it Rajinikanth’s Tin Avatar (Gree-D) critics have ripped the film apart for the audacity of such comparisons (some of the more unkind reviewers have called it “a bad puppet show” and the technology “loose motion capture”). It was ambition way beyond their means. Or experience. Destined to fail, only because the makers aimed for the sky.

Strictly in that context, the tree-top isn’t a bad start. The 3D motion capture cinema has a long way to go and this may be a small step but it is a significant one.

Criticism requires holistic analysis of form and content but given that the pitch for this film has largely been the form, the film has largely been judged ONLY on the form and rather unfairly at that.

The medium is not always the message. The unrealistic marketing pitch aside, the form here is on par with Amar Chitra Katha comic illustrations, which is not necessarily a bad standard for Indian animation. It has an emotional appeal. We grew up reading those comics. Only that here, the quality of animation is quite inconsistent with attention to detail limited to the principal cast and even that emotive detailing that the principal characters are given aren’t strong enough all through. It is like watching Giant Robot in period costume.

The motion capture here doesn’t translate to emotion capture – not just because the makers could afford only half the cameras or markers used for by James Cameron and Spielberg but also because those were filmmakers with at least 30 years of experience in staging spectacles based on human drama, aided by the best cinematographers (Oscar winning Janusz Kaminski for Tintin and Mauro Fiore for Avatar) and producers with pockets deep enough to invent technology.

At the helm of Kochadaiiyaan is a barely-30 year old filmmaker making her official debut (after a shelved film) and NO director of photography. There are better ways to commit professional suicide.

But luckily for the ambitious young filmmaker, the film has already grossed 42 crores in its opening weekend, riding on brand Rajini. She just might get to make another film and I hope she does but may she have the wisdom to take professional help the next time around.

Criticism for the form aside, Kochadaiiyaan does not fare too badly in terms of content because this is material written by the Superstar’s trusted old-hand K.S. Ravikumar, who has his pulse on what the fans expect from Rajinikanth.

So the formula is recycled and quite effectively except for one blaring Rajini-myth-defying error – a self-righteous king who preaches to his enemies to NOT attack from behind ends up with a son who attempts to seek revenge twice through TREACHERY. Superstar will NEVER stab from the back, even if he has to settle a score. This is blasphemy and it robs the film of the Rajini charm. Maybe a weaker hero would resort to that kind of stuff. And this is the mid portion of the film that makes Kochadaiiyaan quite hollow.

Now, to the good news. It has a fantastic beginning – a hero introduction that does the Superstar all justice and a prologue that sets the stage for the epic story. Rana is a war hero who leads from the front and reunites the slaves of his erstwhile kingdom with their families (until the pre-interval twist reveals that he resorted to treachery). There’s a song post interval that slows things down further simply because the quality of animation is not strong enough to make us invest in the emotion-heavy scenes but once the flashback of Kochadaiiyaan kicks in, the film picks up furious pace and the punch lines keep the momentum going. There’s quite a bit of action and drama to sustain our interest till the end and most of this works because by now, we have got used to the inconsistencies of the animation. Also, it helps that we hear A.R. Rahman or Rajinikanth at their best, rising above the limitations of the storytelling.

The sequel set-up comes a little out of the left field but we could expect K.S.Ravikumar to fill in the blanks in the next episode and answer the basic questions. Like what on the planet was the other son doing all through Episode 1?

Loyalty to the state versus family is no doubt an interesting conflict but the first part has barely touched the tip of that iceberg. I would surely line up to buy tickets for the sequel because all said and done, Kochadaiiyaan is not a bad film at all, irrespective of the context and circumstances under which it was made.

It was believed that Superstar may never be able to act again, after he was critical and hospitalised. To actually get out of bed and act again, to take on technology you are not used to with the sincerity of a debutant, to follow the directions of another debutant and attempt something like this when the market is dissuading you from dabbling with animation, demands some amount of our respect.

We have now seen what the technology can do. This was a film made out of Superstar shooting for just five days. It brought the late legendary comedian Nagesh to life. This is technology that has the potential to immortalise our favourite stars even if their expressions seem a little too dead and robotic right now.

It is the birth of a new form of storytelling, even if hasn’t learnt to walk yet. And one that has successfully sold itself to the people in spite of its latent limitations and market mood.

Kochadaiiyaan deserves a chance and a viewing with an open mind. I found myself enjoying the film the second time around because I had already come to terms with the technical aspects of the film. Kids are more forgiving. They may actually like this a lot more than us grown ups who love to find faults, especially, if the makers set themselves up to fail with unrealistic Tintin and Avatar comparisons.

Don’t listen to the critics from the North. There’s a lot that’s clearly been lost in translation. Simply because you just can’t base your verdict on Dunston Checks In from people who have watched Ek Bandar Hotel Ke Andhar.

Update:

My dear friend and the most hated man online Rediff critic Raja Sen who called Kochadaiiyaan a bad puppet show has these counter arguments.

1) Growing up, the thing about Amar Chitra Katha was that it was consistently fascinating. Not only was it well illustrated, but the storytelling breakdown was quite sensational — never a dull moment. Which isn’t what you can say about this film where every other moment is followed by a song. You think the Pixar generation of children is going to sit through these songs? They’ll leave. Or make their parents buy them Iron Man action figures for making them sit through this.
2) You say children are more forgiving. Balderdash, my friend. Children are tremendously demanding, which is why the most successful children’s films are always the most universally loved among adults (and critics) as well. For every Chhota Bheem — which has managed to successfully find and connect with an audience — there are hundreds of Indian animation attempts that have crashed and burned.
3) The whole Dunston Checks In / Ek Bandar… analogy is misplaced here, considering that this is not just a Tamil film dubbed into Hindi, like Sivaji was. In Bombay theatres, Kochadaiiyaan has been promoted as a massive Hindi release — massive because Rajini himself has dubbed for it, apparently doing so after ages. If a lot has indeed been lost in translation (as I’m sure it has), far more care should have been taken to make sure it holds its own in Hindi. Either that or it should have released with subtitles.
4) Any actor going through serious hospitalisation is a grave thing, and while I’m glad Rajni has bounced back — and has indeed done well here, vocally — that can’t be a criteria on which we judge the film. Just because we haven’t done mocap before on this scale as a nation doesn’t mean we start calling this laudable. (Does this mean we need to go back and celebrate Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘visionary’ RaOne as well?)
5) Finally, if we’re to make allowances based on the fact that the budgets are much lesser than the west, then we as test-audiences — because that’s what we are, clearly — should be fed these films with much lesser ticket prices, NOT what we pay for Avatar or The LEGO Movie.
6) An animated film has to be different from regular movies. This is like Roadside Romeo, that canine Saif Ali Khan film which could have been a live-action film. This could have been any Rajni period epic…. so why animation? I don’t think the North Indian critics have judged it purely on the quality of the animation (then they could have reviewed it after sitting through ten tacky minutes) but every one of us has been disappointed by the lack of originality and freshness in the storytelling. Imagine a Ghajini cartoon. Or even Coolie. There’s no point, is there?

 

 

Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa: What heartbreak sounds like

Image

I’m a nineties guy.
The nineties were when I fell in love for the first time. And listened to Pehla Nasha over and over again.
The nineties were when I learnt to ride a bicycle. It was the time when Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander made every kid in school feel cool, like a hero who owned the world.
The nineties were also when I first had my heart broken. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa made me sign up for music classes. My school already had a band, they didn’t have a drummer. So I learnt drums. For a month or so.
The good old nineties.
When Jatin-Lalit were the sound of music, at least for the young.
My top five films from the nineties were Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Andaz Apna Apna and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
But since I’m supposed to pick just one, I’d go with Kundan Shah’s delightfully entertaining Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, one of Shah Rukh Khan’s most pure and endearing performances ever.
It wasn’t the most original story. So it was all the more fascinating how Kundan Shah managed to make it so fresh and straight from the heart.
In spite of the fact that Ramesh Sippy’s Saagar was set in Goa too. The dynamic of the love triangle was uncannily similar to Saagar (which incidentally, is the first Hindi film I ever saw in a movie hall…Ega in Madras, maybe why these stories of unrequited love appeal to me most) but I’m pretty sure that Kundan Shah didn’t want to hide the source of inspiration.
Watch out for the yellow handkerchief that Kamal Haasan picks up during ’O Maria’. It’s the same one Anna has in her hand during the song Deewana Dil Deewana (Also just for fun, compare what Dimple is wearing in O’Maria and what Suchitra is wearing in Deewana Dil Deewana!)
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sunil lived on through Kundan (ahem!) in Raanjhanaa, who does exactly what Sunil does when he is going to the railway station to meet his childhood sweetheart after years. If Sunil engineers a flat tire, Kundan steals the spark plug. Sunil rides his motorcycle, Kundan his scooter. They both have the same energy, excitement, hopes and flowers for the girl they have been waiting for.
They weren’t the typical nice guys. They were capable of lying (Remember “Enter the Dragon club jahaan waiter log bhi plate phekte hai?!” “Ee!”) and pranking to impress the girl.
I love the scene when Sunil tells Anna Chris isn’t coming and takes her out only to get caught when he’s gone to get her ice cream. She screams at him and chucks the cone he got her, leaving him behind with his ice cream. He wants to throw the cone too but changes his mind and eats it anyway. It’s moments like that that made Sunil so relatable.
Saagar, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Raanjhanaa. Three generations. Same old story. Unrequited first love. The heroes were brats, under achievers, slackers… Who rather be bums than have a career, who let their lives revolve around the girl than figure out a way to make a living. They brought joy to people around them. Through music, through friendship, fun, song and dance. They are who we wanted to be growing up but forgot in the business of life.
I remember going in search of the navy cap in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa that Shah Rukh wore, rather unsuccessfully. I related to the character so much that it felt like the story of my life, more so because Shah Rukh Khan as Sunil spoke Konkani, a language I speak at home.
I still find myself singing ’Ai Kaash ke hum hosh main ab aane na payen’ when I’m on a date late at night. No road trips are still complete without us singing ’Aana mere pyaar ko’, ’Sachchi yeh kahaani hai’ (the genius of Farah Khan’s choreography) or ’Woh toh hai Albela’ (incidentally, SRK just tweeted that this is his favourite song).
Remember the moment when Sunil, after catching Anna kiss Chris, sits alone in the beach and plays a sad tune when Anthony Gomes (Goga Kapoor) notes “Lagta hai koi bahot sad hai re”. That is what heartbreak sounds like. Yes, The Moldau River.
The influence continued so much that when I wrote my first film almost 15 years ago, when I was 22, I named the character based on me Sunil in my debut film That Four Letter Word. It was a terrible film I ended up making, twice over seven years by the way, but it was all part of growing up.
But the slacker in me is still alive. He speaks through characters in my films. As Turiya (Manu Narayan) in Good Night Good Morning says: “All I want to be is to be a bum but be with the girl I love… and that she loves me.” Thankfully, this one worked. Ah well, sometimes we win.
So even today, when I sit to record music for my films, I can feel the train.
“Jungle se guzarti hui train. Ladki khidki se bahar dekh rahi hai… jhoomtey hue pedh (“Aur pedh pe baita hua ek bandar” “Chupp bey bandar”), aasmaan main uddtey hue panchi (“Haan, haan mujhe bhi dikh rahe hain”), parbaton se guzarti hui ek suraang… Aur whistle pe whistle maarta ek engine… Deewana… Dil Deewana…”

Presenting X

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Is man meant to stick to one woman?

Is film meant to conform to one genre?

X is a one-of-its-kind film because eleven Indian filmmakers with disparate styles of filmmaking have come together to make different parts of the same film.

NOT an anthology but a single story.

The story of K (Rajat Kapoor) a filmmaker with a mid life crisis, who meets a mysterious young girl (Aditi Chengappa) who reminds him of his first girlfriend at first, and subsequently, of every woman in his life. Who is she? Is she real or imaginary? A stalker or a ghost? His past catching up or a character from the script he is writing? As the night unfolds, the mystery heightens as we cut back and forth between present and past to discover who he really is. Each flashback episode, directed by a different filmmaker (since every woman/story required a different genre) unravels the role of a different ex in his life.

What is it that makes us tick or stop? What is that we truly want or miss in our lives? What is it that keeps us anchored or free falling? What is it that makes us move or let go? Are we products of our past or present? What is that X factor that defines who we are?

Truth has at least as many answers and shades as the lovely ladies in the film: Aditi Chengappa, Bidita Bag, Gabriella Schmidt, Huma Qureshi, Neha Mahajan, Parno Mitra, Pia Bajpai, Pooja Ruparel, Radhika Apte, Richa Shukla, Rii Sen and Swara Bhaskar.

Directors Abhinav Shiv Tiwari Sankhnaad (Oass), Anu Menon (London Paris New York), Hemant Gaba (Shuttlecock Boys), Nalan Kumarasamy (Soodhu Kavvum), Pratim D. Gupta (Paanch Adhyay), Qaushiq Mukherjee (Gandu, Tasher Desh), film critic Raja Sen, Rajshree Ojha (Aisha, Chaurahen), Sandeep Mohan (Love Wrinkle Free), Sudhish Kamath (Good Night Good Morning) and Suparn Verma (Ek Khiladi Ek Hasina, Acid Factory, Aatma) have shot this film produced by Nigeria-based Manish Mundra in California, London, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai.

In English, Hindi, Bengali and Tamil.

In strikingly different styles as a bridge between the various cinemas of India. Mainstream, Arthouse, Popular, Underground, Regional and Global – all at the same time.

National award winning Editor Apurva Manohar Asrani(Satya, Snip and Shahid) has taken up the responsibility of putting eleven styles onto one canvas in a way that brings out the bigger picture.

Executive Producer of X, Shiladitya Bora is available for meetings at the Film Bazaar, Goa for international distribution and festival enquiries.

Almost all the directors of X will be in Goa as well. Watch out for the signs.

Do say Hi! We might just give you a sneak preview of the film everyone’s waiting to watch.

(The trailer should be out soon. Watch this space.)

Lucia: The sweet and the sour

Lucia

I was blown away by Lucia. Because it took the core of one of my favourite films ever – Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky (a remake of the Spanish cult hit Abre Los Ojos) and made it so damn accessible. Something even Hollywood’s best couldn’t achieve despite having a super star studded cast: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz and Kurt Russell.

Adaptation maybe too strong a word but if you’ve seen Vanilla Sky as many times as I have, you’ll see it’s the same idea that’s at the core of both these films. A virtual reality programme Life Extension (that guarantees you Lucid Dreams that makes you live the life of your choice in your dreams) is substituted by a pill called Lucia (“a corny name for a drug that gives you Lucid Dreams that make you live the life of your choice in your dreams) here.

Both are stories that tell you that the sweet is never as sweet without the sour, as Vanilla Sky puts it. Both are stories about protagonists who fall in love, lose it and try to win it back using the pill/programme.

Both films begin present day with an investigation that’s a result of an attempt to murder and we cut back to see the life of the protagonist before he took the pill/signed up for the programme. While Vanilla Sky takes 70 per cent of the film to tell us about the LE programme, Lucia plays its cards upfront and lets you in on the big secret: right in the first scene. That it’s all about a pill called Lucia!

This minor change in structure helps us to invest on the character and what his dreams mean to him instead of wondering what the hell is going on. Not to say that Lucia does not have its share of WTF moments!

But the true triumph of the filmmaker is that he creates a world and character so real and endearing that you can’t help but root for its underdog hero. Backed with Siddhartha Nuni’s trippy cinematography (it’s unbelievable and also, little ironic that this tribute to cinema has been shot entirely with a Canon 5D), director Pawan Kumar intercuts between three narratives rather seamlessly – the present day investigation, the dream narrative and the reality narrative – and often blurs the lines between the three without ever making this seem muddled up.

Though it does take digs on commercial cinema, it is also smart enough to use the trappings of mainstream cinema to its advantage. There is an item song (but used as a spoof), there is drama, fight scenes, even sentiment (the Shankaranna subplot that packs the poignancy of Cinema Paradiso… the director says he hasn’t seen the classic) and comedy (the song where his girlfriend sends him off with a bunch of foreigners to help him learn English), but all of this is employed with a lot of heart.

When most arthouse cinema is trying to be commercial these days, it is quite commendable that a mainstream film has tried to go this arthouse. The film’s sense of humour is a big plus and barring the songs that add to the length (but then, they are used as a part of the narrative), there is very little you will end up cribbing about. Also, it helps that the actors – Neenasam Sathish, Sruthi Hariharan and Achyuth Kumar – are so bloody good.

The masterstroke of Lucia, however, lies in the twist that subverts the entire story and justifies its structure and colour treatment (the film uses black and white for one narrative and colour for the other to ensure we never get confused). Pawan plants clues all through the film for those paying attention that nothing seems like an afterthought. But yes, if you are familiar with the genre, you might see the twist coming from a distance.

But Lucia is not about the twist or the suspense. It succeeds because it’s about the hero and his dreams. It’s one of those films that is worth watching the second time just to see if knowing the ending changes how you perceive what’s going on.

So don’t wait, go book your tickets. This is one hell of a chill pill if you love your movies. A trip you won’t regret.

He Says, She Says Spl: No more Happily Everafters?

By Sudhish Kamath & Shonali Muthalaly

HE SAYS:

Forever and ever?

Back in the day, before the invention of mobile phones, we used to talk, hang up and spend the rest of our time living a life. We shared it with people we loved because they were around you more than anyone else.

Like the mobile phone that replaced telephones, we are not attached or wired to anything anymore.

If you are young and born in the late Eighties or Nineties, you know the longest relationship most people have had is with their mobile phone.

Back when we had landlines, we rarely changed phones. Today, we change mobiles every year or two.

In many ways, these phones have become a metaphor for our love lives.

When it comes to love, the concept of forever has forever changed. Handwritten long love letters have been replaced by single character emoticons.

Like phones, the lifespan of relationships, is coming down every few years. There’s so much activity in our lives and our batteries are draining quicker than before.

When it stops working and can’t be fixed, you get rid of it and get a new one because you need it. You need it because you are used to it.

Close proximity with computers and mobile phones has only made us adapt and learn from machines. The inbox has become an extension of our mind space. We store information as files and delete what we don’t need.

We live online. Friends are on Facebook, people follow on Twitter and closest buddies on Whatsapp. And Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is as simple as Unfriend, Unfollow, Block, Ignore and Blacklist.

The nineties said friends are the new family. Today, networks are the new friends. We spend more time on networks than with friends.

The need to belong and find acceptance within the network is superseding the need for relationships. With most urban youth having their first relationship at 16 or 18 and not ready to commit until they are 30 or 40, they don’t want to wait till they are married to get physical. Careers have become more important because it’s become more difficult to find a well-paying job than a relationship.

Once the most intense relationship breaks down, every relationship after that pales in comparison, leading to disillusionment, emptiness and a temporary void.

Like the end of a really good sad movie. Eject. Insert new disc.

Or shutdown. Log in.

I see dead people.

Yet… all it takes is a moment to bring a heart pounding back to life.

Heart. The most resilient thing ever. With a lifespan of over a 50 mobile phones. With an inbox so deep and limitless. With strength that can withstand the greatest of falls. It’s built to love. No matter how hard you try not to use it, you just cannot control it. Want a happily ever after? Surrender to it. It has an endless supply of love. Release it. And it will set you free.

People come, people go. Love stays. Forever. And ever.

SHE SAYS:

Why wait for forever?

Modern love is tough.

Perhaps that’s why Mr Right has been replaced with Mr ‘Right Now’.

Cynical? Not really. Perhaps we’re finally realising the significance of Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Live the moment. Luxuriate in the ‘Now’.

The world has changed. Love used to mean romance: poetry, roses, candle lit dinners. Boys begged common friends for your phone number. Wrote you ten page letters, with cute cartoons drawn in the margins. Composed songs for you, and strummed them on beat-up old guitars.

In the Nineties we fell in love and channelled the likes of Savage Garden: “I’ll be your hope, I’ll be your love be everything that you need/ I love you more with every breath, truly madly deeply do…” Contemporary chartbusters are very different. Think Eminem and Rihanna singing ‘Love the way you lie’: “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn/ But that’s alright, because I like the way it hurts/ Just gonna stand there and hear me cry/ But that’s alright, because I love the way you lie.”

Welcome to the free fall of modern love. Breathless. Relentless. Unapologetic.

So you’re in love. And out. You break a heart. Have your heart broken. Dump. Get dumped. Have a fling. Cheat. Experiment. Maintain ‘friends with benefits.’

It’s fast, it’s ruthless, it’s no holds barred. Speed dating, powered by technology. Relationships on steroids.

Girl meets boy. Girl googles boy. (And vice versa.) A little Facebook stalking, Whatsapp through the night, dates set via SMS. There goes the mystery. But not the drama. By date two, you’re half way through a relationship. Texting, sexting, booty calls. Love and lust, inextricably intertwined. Till it’s over. Till you’re at a party. Again. Exchanging BBM pins. Again. Here we go. Again.

Love at first sight? Please. You have got to be kidding. This isn’t a Jane Austen book. Or ‘Harry Met Sally’. Or a Celine Dion song. They seem so naïve today. Romance instagrammed: Charming – but far from real.

Love today is far more complex. An information overload, incessant connectivity, inescapable uncertainty.

But it’s still love. And it’s still real. And perhaps, it’s more resilient. Because, ironically, in this age of high-tempo relationships, we’re more understanding than ever before. After all, we’ve all ‘been there’. We know what it’s like to hurt. To cheat. To fall in love. Truly, madly, deeply.

So you’ve become more sceptical? It’s called growing up. Another bad relationship? It’ll make you appreciate the good ones. Had your heart broken again? Take pride in your courage to keep believing.

Meanwhile, enjoy the good times. Even if they’re temporary. Maybe Mr Right Now will turn out to be The One. Maybe he won’t.

But in the end you’ll realise that love hasn’t changed. Our generation is as infatuated with finding “the one” as our parents generation was. Only, our odds are better. After all, we’re more willing to take chances. More open to living life on our own terms. And modern love has made us so much braver.

(This originally appeared here).

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