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Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa: What heartbreak sounds like

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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).

Vishwaroopam, Polarisation and Duality

A colleague was recently attacked for his positive review of a film simply because he had authored a book on the filmmaker. This, despite the fact, that he had mentioned that in the review itself (This amounts to full disclosure).

Additionally, my colleague had expressly put it on record in the book that he’s a fan of the man. You cannot be more honest than this.

So maybe I should start with this piece with a disclaimer too.

I am a huge Kamal Haasan fan – to an extent that I believe that the difference between Kamal fans and others is that true Kamal Haasan fans are also smart enough to criticise his films. They are quick to see how The Scientist became Neela Vaanam.

I also know Mr. Haasan personally because I was once involved behind the scenes in organising the Chennai International Screenwriting Workshop. He’s always been an inspiration to me as a filmmaker and my film begins with thanks to him.

So, when his partner Gautami was telling me about their new portal Maiam, I had in fact suggested, that I would like to review ‘Vishwaroopam’. I told her that maybe I could write a very critical piece on the film once I had watched it and that they should carry it to establish the credibility of the website.

She was game. I was excited because I really wanted to find out if they would carry a bad review. Too bad we can’t find out now.

Because the day the film released, I messaged her back saying I cannot do it. I loved the film. It didn’t make any sense for Haasan’s own portal to carry a positive review.

Coming back to my colleague and the controversy of social networks attacking critics, I must admit that it’s quite a difficult task to resist from replying to people. Because the idea of a social network is to socialise with people. And when you are a film critic, everyone has a counter opinion.

This year, we have seen fierce disagreements on pretty much every other film. ‘Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola’ (which I thought was pretty OK though inconsistent and a few loved), ‘Akaash Vani’ (which I loved and many hated), ‘David’ (which I loved and many hated), ‘Kadal’ (which I thought was bad by Mani Ratnam standards but a few liked) and ‘Vishwaroopam’ (which I loved and a few hated).

When everyone is a critic, the art of criticism becomes even more significant. At the risk of sounding condescending/patronising, I must say here that the average Joe hasn’t been exposed to the basics of criticism or film studies. He reacts on an instinct, like a child getting his first injection saying: “I don’t like it. It was a bad experience.”

The average Joe probably hasn’t understood why willing suspension of disbelief” is such an integral aspect of storytelling, an artistic licence that allows the filmmaker to tell stories that are larger than life.

Which is why while he has every right to crap over everything he has paid to watch and troll anyone who does not agree with him, these shouldn’t be taken seriously for the same reason that critics shouldn’t be taken too seriously either. What you need to consider is the criticism – the arguments – why is it good or why is it bad.

Since, it’s easier to present further arguments using a modern relevant example, I am going to demonstrate by dissecting ‘Vishwaroopam’ and take you through my thought process of interpreting the film since this is a classic example of a film that’s got polarised reviews from critics, fans and haters.

And also because it’s all about the duality – of being a commercial film with so many metaphors to put most arthouse films made here to shame.

SPOILERS FOLLOW, read further only after watching the film.

Genre: Spy thriller.

What that means: Which means plot involving saving the world/country/city from bomb/some form of nuclear attack/terrorist plot/conspiracy. Simply put, not everyday events. These are things that require action, willing suspension of disbelief.

Director: Kamal Haasan

What that means: This is an atheist filmmaker and activist actor known to make films about humanity, compassion, non violence etc but is considered arrogant, indulgent and narcissistic. The films he has directed so far are usually rich in metaphors and recurring motifs. Mental note: Watch out for them.

The hero: Vishwanath a.k.a Viz who we learn is actually Wizam Ahmad Kashmiri, a secret agent who had infiltrated the Jihadi group.

What that means: First, Viz is an effeminate dancer, who isn’t quite the man of the house, contrasted with his working wife – a Brahmin meat eater – a sharp contrast to the vegetarian Muslim hero. The paradox.

The duality of all their roles. Like the trailer informs us: Everyone has a double role. “I am a hero and a villain” as the hero tells us, a man with “too much emotional baggage” that he has no time to get into since he needs to save New York. His surname Kashmiri is a hint of who the man is: A Muslim abandoned by his father, torn between his love for the State and sympathy for his brothers across the border. Till the end of the film, he refers to the villain of the film as his “brother Omar”.

The villain: One-eyed Omar Qureshi, Jihadi leader who considers Osama his mentor, but also questions his God.

What that means: An eye for an eye? Literally blinded by his beliefs (or possibly a bomb shrapnel/gunshot from American forces as we will probably find out from the sequel), he can only see one aspect of Jihad as presented to him by his mentor – Osama Bin Laden. Omar is educated, speaks English and acknowledges to Wizam that he knows health care is important but cannot afford to have white doctors around with American soldiers held hostage in the next village. He’s as human as anyone, a man who questions his God on the face of adversity. He’s troubled yet does what he believes is right. In one of the most telling shots in the film, he takes the filth from his teeth and feeds it to a pigeon – the metaphor for peace loving Muslims in the film. We see these pigeons in Afghanistan and later in the US. In the US, pigeons are poisoned with pellets that spread radiation and terror around New York. Pigeons and Jihadis who end up dead after being exposed to radiation in the warehouse: #sameguy.

The conflict: The growing terror network of Jihadis around the world caused by American attacks on the Islamic world.

What that means: Haasan decides to intercut between cause and effect – training in Afghanistan and terror in New York – while taking us through Wizam’s days as the villain (when he betrayed his brothers for his duty towards the State) intercut with his days as the hero (when he has to fight his brothers trying to wreck havoc among innocents). In the Afghanistan portions, we see him discover the human side of the Jihadi. Omar loves his son, who wants to be a DOCTOR not a WARRIOR (Later, we also see Omar playing with his son by blind-folding him and quizzing him on the kind of bullets – semi-blind man wanting to blind his son in his game of violence).

Omar’s son refuses to be called a child when Wizam tries to put him on a swing. But another child-like grown up is quick to get on the swing, is more easily swayed. This character ends up becoming a suicide bomber at the NATO base after he’s given a burqa (eerily introduced into the frame as a hand puppet by the senior Jihadi – again, a lovely metaphor to show that the kid has become the hand puppet later when he wears the burqa and blows himself up!). As we cut from the newspaper shot of his death, Wizam remembers the now dead kid swaying on the swing, as he walks across another swing with a younger child on it.

It’s a shot of the swing in the background that lasts all of two seconds. A little later, he sees the dead doctor lying near a dying horse, frees the animal from misery by shooting it dead (again, duality and the irony – that death is sometimes the kindest act you could do), takes her stethoscope and gives it to the kid who wanted to be a doctor.

The father walks in and points his finger like a gun and mock-fires at the kid’s defiance. The hero helps the kid point his finger as a gun at this father and mock-fires. The villain’s sidekick laughs, villain mock-fires at the sidekick. Kid runs out of his home and starts mock-shooting other kids. It has become a game. Kids shooting kids. Violence begets violence. This is a harbinger of things to come. American troops bomb the village, killing innocents. Cause. Intercut with Effect – Jihadis come to America, bomb New York. Not just Jihadis from Afghanistan, from all around, including Nigeria.

Treatment: Intercutting present with past, effect with cause, in a rather REALISTIC tone for a spy thriller!

What that means: This is a spy thriller. There’s absolutely no need for restraint. We have seen Bond, Bourne and even Agent Vinod do the craziest badass things. Yet, Haasan wants to play it real because he wants us to invest in the people and care for them. The only thrills are through rash driving cars in traffic. And gunshots. Not hand to hand combat. The spy knows he cannot barge into an FBI operation, he can only politely request: “Can I come with you?”

His wife, being an expert on the nature of the radioactive material, is asked to help the bomb squad. When she first mentions the Faraday Shield that was needed to stop the bomb from being triggered by a mobile phone, the bomb expert knows what she’s talking about. Later when she is allowed to the room by the FBI officer who thinks it’s over, she repeats the need to get a Faraday Shield. The bomb geek says the Faraday Shield “should be there in five minutes” (so he clearly has arranged for one already).

Realising that might be too late, she looks around and sees that a microwave could do the same. She saves the day. Why should she? Because education saves life. Not violence. A doctor saves life. DOCTOR not a WARRIOR (Deja vu? Omar’s son wanted to be a doctor) Woman preserves. Man destroys. Not the hero… who gets to put the last bullet into the Jihadi after he’s shot multiple times by the SWAT team. Compared to other heroes in movie situations like this, our hero doesn’t get to do much at all, except maybe blow through the bottom of the door to make a cockroach get away from the Spycam. Earlier when the FBI officer Tom apologises to him for kicking him, before he could say anything, his boss, the Colonel (Shekhar Kapur) butts in saying: “No need. These things happen.”

Haasan is happy to take the backseat and let other characters deal with most of the action. It’s quite unusual for a hero considered narcissistic to give the villain a far more complex role than his own.

Moral: A Muslim agent has to fight a Jihadi group that he once infiltrated and betrayed.

What that means: It’s not everyday do we see a spy thriller made out of India that looks so credible and plausible, while maintaining the equipoise and the duality of truth – of both camps. American and the rebel camp…The Jihadis.

The villain, Omar is fighting for a cause he strongly believes in. Even if it’s caused by blind beliefs, to avenge the death of his family. What US calls collateral damage. The duality of truth is that while there are fundamental Muslims like Omar, Vishwaroopam also tells us that are many liberal Muslims like Wizam, who marry Hindu girls, who stay vegetarian, are patriotic to the country, are peace-loving, have sympathy for their misled brothers… and yet are willing to fight for what they believe is right. To save innocents from collateral damage.

You can replace Wizam in Afghanistan here with Jack Sully in Pandora (Avatar). A man sent to infiltrate the natives for unobtanium/oil that the imperial capitalists want. While Jake wasn’t a native himself, here Kashmiri is a Muslim himself fighting his misled brothers. He maybe misled himself, given that his act of betrayal leads to death of innocents in Afghanistan. He knows he did a lot of wrong, which is why I strongly suspect that we will learn in the sequel that he did in fact, save Omar’s son, who is probably now studying to be a doctor.

It’s very rare to see a Muslim hero, a patriotic one at that, in our films. Or even American films for that matter. Haasan takes a genre template and infests it with so many metaphors, recurring motifs and meaning for those who like depth in their cinema. And I haven’t even got started on the science versus religion subtext (a theme that he explored in Dasavatharam as well).

But I have to concede it’s mostly lost on the audience. But I wouldn’t blame the filmmaker at all. Because that would be like blaming a writer for the illiteracy of his reader.

The average Joe isn’t cinema literate. Which is why criticism, NOT critics, is all the more important today. Criticism means arguments, not just judgments in 140 characters (though we do that too as a teaser to the full review later). We present our case, let you watch the film and make up your mind.

But at the end of the day, it’s still just one person’s opinion. I don’t expect you to agree with me. Similarly, it’s not fair for you to expect a critic to agree with you. If you will only read reviews you will agree with, you must write your own and read them.

A true critic understands duality. That it is possible for the film to be good and bad at the same time, depending on who’s watching it.

Which is why, it’s all the more important, to present your arguments and leave.

Let people be the judge.

Because people also are smart enough to see the difference between argument and judgment. Between reason and emotion. Between critic and troll!

(This was written as a guest post for IBN-LIVE)

David: Three for the price of one!

 

One’s a super stylish, black and white, moody gangster film that punctuates the narrative with sudden bursts of bullets in the tradition of the best noir films. And David (Neil Nitin Mukesh is really good) is the good guy-protecting-the-bad facing a moral crisis.

Another is a grungy, high-energy, coming-of-age tale of a young musician who sets out to avenge his father’s honour. David (an earnest Vinay Virmani) here, is the good guy wanting to embrace bad for revenge.

The third is a slow, lazy, breezy, drunk… almost stoner, unusual ‘romance’ between a happy go lucky drunk and a deaf and dumb girl. David (Vikram is endearing) here is a bad guy (drunk, juvenile, vandal who goes around punching women) wanting to be good and romantic.

Yes, the fact that these three stories/genres are set across different decades -  in 1975, 1999 and 2010 – is a bit of a stretch and even more when the filmmaker insists that the climax of all three stories happened on March 3rd!

To be honest, I was dreading the fact of watching a film connected only by a name that might end up having a contrived climax that tries to tie up everything. But luckily for me, David was all about the journey and not the destination.

David is an exploration of morality – between right and wrong – and it does so with so much more restraint and style than the blatant in-your-face good versus evil face-off in Mani Ratnam’s Kadal. While I knew from the promos that the film was going to pack a lot of style, what I didn’t anticipate was the surprising amount of soul and substance and a filmmaker in supreme control, so damn confident of his craft.

Here, you are not just rushing through the motions for the sake of pace but exploring it slowly, letting your audience soak in the rich textures of character, their environments and inner turmoil. David is the journey into that part of the mind that is at a two-way fork on the road and how their demons, their Daddy issues, their meeting with their Goddesses shape their destiny.

There is so much glorious detail in David that sets it apart from most Bollywood films. Every frame is so exquisitely composed and choreographed to capture character and mood, a perfect marriage of form and content. The first is dead serious, the second bitter-sweet realistic and the third completely zany and creative. While each character study is faithful to the genre the story is set in, the journeys of the three Davids have one thing in common – they all want answers. David is about the unravelling of those answers while cashing in on its artistic licence and constantly reminding you of its fictional nature through its storytelling devices – music video-like montage sequences, stylised action (the shootout sequence is simply fantastic), surreal supernatural twists, larger than life atmospherics and lavish shot compositions that will put Sanjay Leela Bhansali to shame.

Remember that classy, slo-mo shootout picturisation of the jazzy version of Khoya Khoya Chand in Shaitan that the filmmaker indulged in simply because it looked so cool? There’s a similar boxing sequence here set to Damadam Mast Kalander. Only that this time, Bejoy connects it to what’s going on in the film and uses it to underline the David-Golaith theme running through the film. This is not style for the sake of it. This is style that underlines the film’s central conflict. As a physical manifestation of the battle with the demons.

The relationships are so tenderly etched out in all three stories – be it the classic love story in the first, the unusual bond between an elderly widow and a musician or the beautiful friendship between a drunk and the lady running a massage parlour. It’s these touches that give David its heart and their meditation on the choices they need to make, gives the film its soul. The all encompassing style with which the narrative unfolds is just a huge bonus.

David has to be among the best looking films to have ever come out of India. I’m happy to report that it’s also among the bravest. It’s never afraid to be politically incorrect, whether the Davids are doing right or wrong. Bejoy gets it right.

It’s easy to make a fast film. To make a slow one requires balls.

It’s easy to make a film as a moral science lesson. But to make an amoral film requires guts.

David packs in the spirit of the indie in the big bad world of Bollywood Golaiths.

Mr. Orange approves, Mr. Nambiar.

(I saw a bit of the Tamil version as well, Jiiva is fantastic in it. Will surely now go watch the semi-dubbed Tamil version just for him!)

Kadal: Mani Ratnam at sea as gospel meets masala

Kadal

Kadal is a difficult film to write about especially because a lot of why it doesn’t work lies in spoiler territory.

So do come back to read this only once you’ve seen the film. And yes, that means you must watch it. Even knowing that it is bad. Simply because even a bad Mani Ratnam film is better than most films made.

To begin with, the faulty Prologue should have been done away with at the editing table. It gives away too much information that makes a significant plot twist before interval predictable. We were better off not knowing how exactly Arvind Swamy and Arjun know each other. Because once we know their equation, it’s easy to see a twist coming the minute Arjun returns to the scene. This weakens quite a bit of the first half of Kadal.

The prologue is a weak first scene because Arvind Swamy’s priest comes across as a little too uptight for us to see him as good. He’s like that pest in class who gets you caught for copying. Which is a pity because the character actually blooms into a real person a little later when he enters the village the film is set in. He smiles a lot, he likes people and as tolerant as he is with mischievous urchins, he doesn’t hesitate to slap the kid when needed. And just like that, an uptight stereotype became a real person. Wish we saw more of this human side with his nemesis, who takes character exposition to new heights by taking the name of the Devil in almost every scene he appears. Saataan this, saataan that! Yes, we get it. You don’t have to come in black-and-black to talk about Saataan post interval, we understood who you represent from the very first scene.

It’s not just the simple black and white, good and bad stereotyping that fails Kadal, it’s also the lack of character motivation… What are the these people doing in the film?

An orphan boy who wants his “father” and the whole village at his feet, signs up with the Devil halfway into the film… So far, good. But ten minutes after interval, his “father” is dead and there’s nothing left for the boy to do but wait for the climax to redeem himself. So he bides his time romancing the heroine.  A couple of songs with almost similar visuals – and at least one same reused shot of the couple in a bicycle on the shore in both songs – put the film into a time warp.

Nothing happens. One principal character is away and the other free to do what he wants to.

The priest who has to prove his innocence and win back the trust of the villagers… does it instantly on return! And the Devil of the villain has absolutely nothing challenging him till the climax.

To re-emphasise, as the film does again and again all through the second half, the villain’s graph coasts along gloriously smooth, the boy’s is stuck in a time warp and the other is in exile finds himself suspended from the film and the story.

We have the boy turn all out killer without the slightest hesitation and turn soft again almost instantly every time a romantic song sets in. This is as uni-dimensional as any Tamil masala film, not what you would expect from Mani Ratnam. But it also wants us to learn lessons of forgiveness from the church! Only Mani Ratnam would have thought of making masala meet gospel!

There are some great moments where you can see the class of the master – like the scene during the opening credits when we see the child for the first time, as he discovers that his mother is dead. It’s such a powerful sequence all the way to the burial and you wonder why he didn’t just open the film with this compared to the weak opening at the seminary.

The first half has many such moments – especially the first half hour when the village warms up to the priest who employs a tape recorder to break the ice, the priest’s relationship with the orphan, his attempts to tame the runt all the way to the arrival of his wounded friend from the past! The subplot involving Lakshmi Manchu is quickly forgotten in the second half and the boy’s transformation from bad to good happens with the weakest of Mani Ratnam’s heroines… a girl who behaves like a child (like Priyanka in Barfi, not as over the top). Mani Sir, this is not a new type. Almost, all Tamil film heroines behave like they are 14 year olds with a crush on the hero!

Rahman’s songs are picturised great and the film looks fantastic no doubt but the overdose of the simplistic Biblical good versus evil discourse turns the film predictable. But for the unbelievable unprecedented technical excellence in the picturisation of the climax (Rajiv Menon’s cinematography brings the storm alive), there’s very little the second half offers in terms of good cinema.

The actors are mostly good. Gautham Karthik reminds us of his father and gets a dream debut, the girl is bad but that’s probably because of the ill-etched character she’s been assigned while Arvind Swami gets to make a superb comeback and Arjun gets to be all out bad, even if uni-dimensional. But they have all worked hard on getting the diction right. The technical team gets the milieu somewhat right. Rahman has given us a rather eclectic unusual soundtrack and if the film is let down, it’s only by the weakest material Mani Ratnam has ever been associated with (the screenplay and dialogues are credited to Mani Ratnam and writer Jeyamohan).

For a more superior and authentic film set in this milieu, go watch Neer Paravai (incidentally Jeyamohan wrotes dialogues for this too) which had a lot more to do with the sea than Kadal, where the sea, barring the spectacular climax, is just pretty wallpaper for the rest of the moral science lesson set inside a church!

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