On Mala Noche

November 26, 2010

I saw Mala Noche, by Gus Van Sant, the night before. A bit of a co-incidence because I’d just finished shooting my first short, also about a gay couple, the other day.

I think the b/w cinematography was quite ironic because nothing in the film is really b/w, in terms of characterization. Walt is a good guy, sure, but he tries to buy Johnny out in the beginning, bargaining hard, fully aware of Johnny’s poor circumstances. Pepper, Johnny’s friend, is gay but he refuses to acknowledge his first fuck with Walt, also stealing a ten dollar bill from Walt who lets it be. Later on, as Johnny disappears, and Walt and Pepper have something which is more like an affair, Pepper almost hits Walt while he is trying to seduce him in the morning after they have made love the night before. Still, Walt helps him later on with more money and cares for him when he is ill. Johnny himself shows a sort of disgust towards Walt’s tendencies. However, he keeps getting drwan to him.

But I did have a problem with the narration. I don’t think it was necessary. For example, after that seduction-leading-to-violence scene, Walt tells us that for Pepper sex was an aggresive act that he preferred at nights and that his sexual desires were sterotypical, while Walt’s were more sophisticated. This is not necessarily true. Pepper’s violence can be seen in the context of his humiliation which comes from being in a realtionship not purely out of love and choice but also dependencey since is poor and on the streets literally. He is not gay per se, he is bi-sexual since as we are shown in film, he does have girlfriends. Also, the narration makes us see the film through Walt’s perspective – twice over, for he is, in the technical sense, the protagonist although he doesn’t make everything happen in the film – and for a film that has such beautiful characterization, it makes it biased. The images do speak for themselves very eloquently here.

Some scenes are so well-done you gasp thinking it is a first time director. For example, when Walt, Johnny and Pepper are in the car and Johnny leaves Walt stranded on the deserted street after locking him out of the car, then drives off, not going away, waiting for Johnny to approach, then drives away again, leaving Walt completely exasperated and fuming. It expresses their realtionship perfectly wherein Johnny plays around with Walt hurting him on purpose knowing fully well that Walt is smitten with him but taking care not to push him over the wall for he feels something for him too. For Johnny, it is probably a new and amusing experience and he had never had another person so much in his power. He is becoming more aware of himself and his sexuality where as for Walt, it is a frustating – but rewarding in different, non-sexual ways – affair.

Structure wise, the film is non-conventional, I think. I would call it episodic. You could say it is divided in three parts, starting with Johnny’s entry, his disappearnce and final re-appearance; Johnny’s the pivot around which the script revolves, him being the object of desire of the protagonist, Walt. The drama comes not primarily from conflicts b/w the characters but rather from within their own selves which then create situations to which they react, individually and collectively.

The dialogues are part of the mise-en-scene, evoking the mood rather than taking the narration forward, working obliquely but revealingly. For example, when Walt is reading the paper aloud about a murder of passion with homosexual attraction and its being spurned as the chief motive and the final bit when Walt calls Johnny a bull after he has come back swimming,defying the forced deportation, neatly tying in with the motto of the film – If you fuck with a bull, you get the horn.

It is one film where the camera and the editing are fully in sync with the script but not dependent on it. I don’t know how Gus Van Sant achieved that but I would love to know


On Rakta Charitra

November 21, 2010

I liked Raktacharitra more when I watched it again. It is a very well written screenplay: every scene is like an entity in itself and leads effortlessly to the next. And there is always something extra or unexpected to keep you asking for more.
Since the film is full of violence, it is interesting to see how it is presented from different perspectives. Despite the fact that both sides are equally brutal, there is something like good and bad violence in the film. Oberoi and others don’t seem to take pleasure in their acts of violence; they do it in a matter of fact way. Bukka is a villain because he is into enjoying his gratuitous acts of violence; he drinks while killing others, heightening his pleasure and thinks of strange ways to kill them. Also, both Bukka and his father have no qualms hitting women; something the other side doesn’t do. In fact when Bukka turns his ire on Oberoi’s mum, he says, after she has been saved by a police woman, that he could never believe Bukka could do that. In his idea of violence, that is not done. interestingly, in Company also, there was something like limits of violence: Oberoi didn’t agree to killing children which led to his split with Devgan.
The effect of violence on women is also interestingly shown: from being completely opposed to it – Oberoi’s gf, for example – they become completely used to it: Oberoi discusses Bukka’s murder on the dining table, with the women serving food nonchalantly.

On Shahrukh Bola

November 21, 2010

Shahrukh Bola Khubsurat hai tu is a classic case of a good inciting incident not being enough to propel a movie of 2 and a half hours.
The inciting incident happens when a passing Shahrukh Khan compliments a flower seller, Lali, on her beauty. This makes her admirer jealous;a book seller called John who looks like someone from JNU. He puts a knife into her. She lives, however. There is a prostitute, champa, who loves John. It is quite like Devdas, if you look at it that way and the maker is concious of it, getting John to recite dialogues from the film at one point in the film.
Chmapa’s character is the best thing about the film – a woman who lives on her own terms; hates, loves with passion; and is not killed in the end, like in other Bolly movies.
There is yet again a white woman in the film- the new fad in Bolly – and as usual, she has got nothing to do, having the least well-developed character. A real pity. And she also doesn’t understand the Indian concept of Justice. I wonder if she knew about NATO’s wars.

Here is something Aletta wrote about it: http://alettaandre.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/shahrukh-bola/

couple of observations about Robot

October 29, 2010

saw Robot in a Taluk called Mulbagal in Kolar dist. Karnataka. In Telugu; this place lies on the border between Karnataka and AP.

First: even though Aishwarya Rai has been on the verge of publicly gang-raped, once Rajini-Robot saves her, it is alright. She has no traumatic symptoms, it seems she might as well have been about to fall in a open manhole; of course, the whole thing is charade to show off Rajni’s macho prowess but not a little bit can be spared in the name of sensitivity?

second: The girl w/o any clothes on whom Rajini-robot saves from a raging fire and who commits suicide after her mother raises a hue and cry in the name of her lost chastity – saved life doesn’t matter. Lesson – die in the fire if you got no clothes on because you might have to commit suicide later on anyways to avenge your lost ‘honor’.

A Clockwork Orange

September 30, 2010

Saw it for the first time, yesterday. I don’t know what others think of it but to me, it seemed like a morality tale.
I think the clue to the film like mid-day down, after Alex has been ‘cured’, and the doctor says – “he is a good Christian now’ , or something to the effect.
I have been reading Nietzsche’s The Will To Power recently and I think the film is very much an affirmation of his critique of morality – Christian Morality’s, to be precise.
In the book, Nietzsche literally launches a war on all the values held dear by Christian morality, for example, meekness, humility etc. and accuses it of killing all that is noble, strong and privileged, all the impulses of life, all that is natural.
Alex is an extreme example of the kind of man Nietzsche idealises – in that way, probably, the film is a critique of Nietzsche’s philosophy too. He revels in celebrating his urges, especially those related to sex and violence – violence of course is a multi-faceted phenomenon, worshiped in films unlike anything before;here, Alex’s final curing doesn’t drive the violence out of him, it only teaches him not to use it against the community – the basis of law and state security – use it against the enemy. Also, I think a reason for the excessive violence in the film stems from the excessive violence exerted on Alex to break his will, the thumb rule of mainstream cinema, as expostulated by Laura Mulvey – a story needs sadism. A story like this needs maximum sadism.
A mishap takes place and Alex is arrested. As I have said before, he is cured which means he is turned into a man of the society who has learnt how to sublimate his urges.
Nietzsche should have seen it.

On Udaan

September 17, 2010

I found it very depressing. Of course, it could be that it was because of some personal circumstance. Or maybe, because it is actually so.
Poems are good – apparently some junior from school wrote the dialogues. Although they don’t have one single shot in which he actually sits down and writes them.
The relationship b/w the younger brother and the protagonist is well handled. Nevertheless, the last bit, where he tells him stories in the hospital and everyone else is listening in is staright out of a Hirani film. And that old man speaking lyrics from a Door’s song – god! very unbelievable w/o any back story.
The father is a stereotype, that is a problem. I understand strict fathers, who have no sympathy for arts – meet mine, for example – but it is never as simple as that.
Narrative is conventional – setup, conflict, confrontation. Resoultion doesn’t really convince.However, by not allowing the will of the protagonist to be broken, the film does subvert the narrative. Good attempt, for sure.

We Are Family

September 5, 2010

We Are Family is just what you expect from a Karan Johar movie; in that sense, it doesn’t disappointment – this is what my friend said after watching the film. I think she is right.

That is the best you can say about it. The reviews have been quite accurate anyway; Baradwaj Rangan has made very valid points about the film actually perpetuating patriarchal notions of women hood. For all the career woman that Kareena is shown to be, her getting selected for a design grant – she plays a fashion designer – is forgotten absolutely when she makes the mistake of losing one of the kids while having taken them out for an outing immediately afterwards; I am assuming you know the story.Of course, as my sister made the point, she makes her sketches for the show the same morning it is held.
True to its spirit, the film becomes centered towards getting the eldest daughter married off – it is not even considered worthy of telling the audience if she indeed made any progress towards her stated career goal of working in the publishing industry.

On Todd Solondz

August 28, 2010

I have a favourite new film maker and his name is Todd Solondz. It was in the papers that I read about him recently: that he was out with a new film, Storytelling, a sequel to his film about a child-rapist’s human side, Happiness.

A child rapist’s human side? That is something, I thought, very intrigued. (For showing something so ‘unforgivable’ like that,  the film’s original distributer washed his/her hands off the movie.)

Very well then, download. And watch.

Man, what a film!

It is not only about the child rapist, to start with. Rather, structurally, it is about three sisters , as the film keeps moving in and out of their lives.

One, the eldest, is married with a couple of kids: one in high school and other’s a babe, if I remember correctly. The other sister is a poet of some ‘succees’. The third, youngest one, Joy is heavily patronized by the other two, for not being much of a ‘success’ – yes, the first one thinks herself to be doing just fine in her suburbian bliss, with her child-rapist of a husband, a shrink by profession, and her kids, a picture of ‘normalcy’ . Joy holds a job in a call-center and has awful luck with dates; she also has a still-born musical career.

The child rapist husband counsels a man – Philip Seymour Hoffman – who likes to call random women on phone and masturbates, talking dirty stuff to them, before they realize what’s going on and hang up. An obese girl in the apartment has a crush on him but he doesn’t care, that is till the end, almost, when she confesses that she killed the guard of the apartment and cut off his penis because he tried to rape her once.

So, much for the plot – there is another strand about the child-rapist’s son dying to come and become a man. And the sisters’ parents’ marriage coming off.

The film is rich in irony and that reflects in the characterisations. As mentioned before, the eldest sister believes her home to be a suburban ideal and seeks her fulfilment in it. In a stunning scene, revealing of intense sibling rivalry and other mixed emotions, the youngest sister, Joy, tells her that she is happy around her, in her house, and she almost doesn’t believe her, questioning her instead and telling her that everyone in the family always thought that she(Joy) was doomed to fail.

The middle one knows that she doesn’t write from her heart and experience and rues that and worries that people will see how shallow she and her verse actually are, in her moment of solitude. Outwardly, she maintains the veneer and trappings of a ‘successful’ life, with a full social and sex life. I think Solondz could have been a little soft on her because she comes off as the worst  of the lot, totally fake and mean. In the final scene of the film, she begins to laugh about something Joy says, suddenly stops, says – ” I am not laughing at you, Joy. I am laughing with you.” To which Joy responds – ” But I am not laughing.”

Joy, the youngest, is actually the only normal person in the film  although her sisters would have her believe otherwise; sure, her job’s not amazing but how many of us have an amazing job? And who has great luck with dates, anyway?

Now, on to the child- rapist chap. First of all, excuse me for fixing his identity thus. Solondz surely would not approve. Well, as much as I appreciate Solondz’s efforts to paint him human, I have no sympathies for such people. Anyway, let us call him shrink from now onwards.

Of course, he is not the first out and out ‘bad man’ to receive cinematic sympathy. We have Natural Born Killers, Dead Man Walking, and countless other gangster films to think of. But rape is still rape. And child-rape something else altogether. Which is why it is truly remarkable for Solondz to show the man’s tenderness for his  coming-of-age son’s sexual dilemmas, the way he comforts him about his manhood; the son does love his dad which is obvious from the way he cries after his dad confesses that he indeed raped a friend of his. Otherwise, the shrink is a model husband and a normal every day professional. It makes it all the more important to learn that child-rapist don’t have fangs, long nails or horns on their heads. They indeed are as ‘normal’ as they come, except for in one department.

I liked this film so much I watched couple of other Solondz films : his first, Fear, Anxiety and Depression(FAD) and Welcome To The Dollhouse.

FAD is not particularly original; in fact, it is extremely Woody Allenesque. The lead character is an obviously pretentious, nerdy, playwright Ira. The soul of the film lies in the humourous dialougues. Ira’s fears – which come true, like a true Woody Allen film – anxieties and subsequent depressions are very reminiscent of say, Annie Hall’s Woody allen or Crimes and Misdemeanours’, for that matter.

Welome To The Dollhouse is more complicated, more original. The character of the bully with a retard brother, who actually ends up kissing the protagonist instead of raping her as he threatened previously is a sort of framework for the Shrink/child-rapist’s character in Happiness. So is the protagonist’s character, a 13 year old junior high girl, unattractive, unloved and often bullied at school, who hates her barbie doll of a younger – and mean – sister so much that she lets her get lost – literally. Of course, the pattern of sibling rivalry continues.

Check him out if you haven’t yet.

On Lafangey Parindey

August 23, 2010

Just saw this film, Lafangey Parindey. Was told it was bad; that Deepika and Neil don’t manage to pull off the tapori act.
That is true to some extent. Deepika more so. All those dialogues sound so funny coming from her – ‘aaj chaand khilela hai kya?’, for example, and even plain Bombay speak – ‘main dance karegi’. Neil is better with the dialogues, more convincing but he looks too posh, the rough edge is  absent. I mean, you can fight all you want, with thick blood dripping down your collar and all, but if you don’t get a character, you don’t. Aamir Khan was so much better in Ghulam, I mean, of course and it is a total rip-off of that character.  In films like these, a character also needs some kind of psychological motivation. Aamir had a strong one in Ghulam: his father’s betrayal and the subsequent guilt, very reminiscent of Deewar, of course.
Here we do have something like that but it is not as strong: Neil is guilty of causing an accident that costs Deepika her eyesight. But an accident is an accident and you can’t kill a person for it because it is unintentional. It is on this logic that the film’s theme of guilt and redemption hinges. Problem is, you already know it is not too much of a guilt and that the film will have a soft ending after all that building up. That is what indeed  happens in the end and you feel the director cheats you; I mean you can’t have your cake and eat it too; you have to see the film to understand what I mean exactly.
The film has three separate strands running into each-other, Neil’s fighting career, his romance and the dance competition – made worse because he can’t dance – and an investigation into the aforementioned accident. I think the last strand was unnecessary because it causes expectations of a thriller but belies them. As the Inspector – who behaves and talks like a commissioner – says ‘achcha, yeh love story hai’.
Peeyush Mishra is damn good. The scene where he slaps Neil is superbly executed;in fact, from that scene onwards, till the climatic dance competition – which is a real let down and Javed Jafri crying is so funny – the film holds water.
Music is cool, couple of songs are catchy.

What Happened To Kerouac

August 22, 2010

The second beat film I saw. First was Pull My Daisy which is not a full length feature and I didn’t manage to see all of it because the print wasn’t good or something.

It has all the usual suspects and some not so usual ones – at least for me. The usuals include, of course, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, William Boroughs, Herbert Huncke, Diane Di Prima, Gary Snyder, Carolyn Cassady, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Creely – who said four people don’t a generation make? Neal Cassady is there too, talking to Ginsberg, post one of the readings at City Lights and boy, is he handsome! Ginsberg  can’t keep his hands off him while two nubile girls look at them admiringly from the background.

Among the unusual ones, there is Kerouac’s daughter but she doesn’t have much of interest to say apart from the fact that Kerouac told her to go to Mexico, write a book and use his name, that he couldn’t, wouldn’t buy his own socks, that he expected his women to be like his mother. And there are couple of girlfriends of Kerouac vouching for the fact.

That is the problem with the movie. Even for an enthusiast/sucker like me, it was boring to go over the same stuff again. Yes, Kerouac couldn’t handle success  hated being associated with the hippies drank himself to death because as a catholic he wouldn’t commit suicide – but participate in orgies which is how Diane Di Prima says she met him first, in the bed I didn’t know that – wrote On The Road in three weeks using a long type roll or something it was derisively called ‘typing’ – by Truman Capote, amongst others – invented Spontaneous Writing in the process,  slept with Carolyn Cassady and fell out with Neal, loved his mother and wanted to marry her – okay, that I didn’t know too, the marrying bit and also that he threw a knife at her once. Basically, the movie breaks no new ground, peddling the same myth.

There is some rare footage, sure. Kerouac’s last interview, giving the interviewer  a hard time, giving a thumbs down to Ginsberg, contradicting a fellow interviewee, saying outrageously funny things like Vietnam War took place because of a plot hatched by the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese to get more jeeps in the country. Also, it is grotesque to see his movie star looks so hideously deformed because of all that alcohol. Very reminiscent of Elvis in his last days, curiously. Maybe it is what the American media does to its stars – nothing personal though – and I think Gregory Corso does make that point.

In the end, we are no more wiser as to what actually happened to Jack Kerouac. But it is not that hard to guess and we don’t need a film with a title like that to tell us – as if he were a cold war era spy.

Simply put, life broke his heart. And the world as it is.