Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Small Step, Big Dream

Robin sharma says “life sends you very much what you expect!” I somehow never believed it completely, until last 11th October, 2006. On that day, life just didn’t send me what I expected, it rather sent me what I had dreamt. A dream which always looked unachievable. A dream which, made me look immature in my own eyes. The dream was, to see myself on a big screen, in a movie.

I did see myself in a movie. On a big screen. I saw myself, walking, talking, playing harmonica, playing small drums, speaking. I didn’t like any of what I saw myself doing. I didn’t like myself in general. However, what excited me was the fact that more than 500 people, sitting in a cinema hall with a capacity of around 600 people were watching me, laughing at me, recognising me. The event was the launch of documentary-movie, “Camino a Bollywood”.

“Camino a Bollywood” is story of Sara and her pursuit of her dream. Sara is a bollywood dancer in Barcelona. In fact, we met at the very first Bollywood party in Barcelona. I still remember that. I received an email from Sunny Singh. I was just 15 days old in Barcelona! The party was in street named, “Granada del Penedes”. That was the first bollywood party for both of us. Since then, I have been a witness of Sara’s journey. From being one of the anonymous partiers, she grew to become a performer of ‘bollywood dances’ at prestigious places like “La Paloma” and “Apolo” over the period of two years. I, being an Indian, a movie-buff and Sara’s friend, was an automatic choice for director of the movie, Raquel Barrera (also Sara’s sister), to be Sara's companion in her journey to Bollywood. Our journey to Mumbai was eventful, stressful and exciting. It was one of the strongest experiences of my life. This is where Dimitri was borne. Dimitri is the other half of my dual personality, who was hidden so far somewhere within me. Dimitri is exactly opposite of me. Well, who is Dimitri, we will talk some other day.

I won’t let the story out. But yeah, we did meet lots of important people in Bollywood. However, when the promotion of the movie started, I was taken by surprise. I didn’t have any idea as to what would be the level of promotion. Sara became an overnight star. She is synonym for ‘bollywood dances’ in Barcelona. That was somehow expected. But I also started appearing everywhere. I went to attend a press conference. I thought, I spoke such lousy things, nobody would ask me any question. But no! One journalist asked me about my experience and how would it help me in my phd. Another journalist from the prestigious newspaper “El Periódico” took a long interview. I gave an interview at Com Radio. There was a photo shoot. Meritxell, a friend and a well-wisher, exhausted two full roles on me and sara. I was still on a high after the press conference, when the day of premier of the documentary arrived. By now, it was promoted almost as a movie. In fact, it does have a look of a movie. Till that day, I hadn’t seen the entire movie. I was eager to see the movie.

The movie started. The second scene. I saw, Sara and myself, walking on sea shore. Symbolically starting our journey. In the background, starts the song “Sakhi maaro saybo suto…faliye dhaali dholiyo”, beautiful poetry written by Vinod Joshi, composed by genious Amar Bhatt and the sweetest voice in the universe, of Jahnavi Mehta, My sister! Some tears were urging to gush out, but I asked them to stay where they were, I didn’t want anything to obstruct my sight. I wanted to watch the movie properly. Scene after scene. Things were moving in front of me. Everything looked familiar and still it had a fresh feeling. When, it finally ended everybody rushed. To congratulate me and Sara. people were happy. Everyone was happy. Paloma’s mother (Paloma is girl friend of Alex Herrero, the editor of the movie), came to me and looked at me with a mother’s eyes, and told me “Para nosotros, eres lo mismo, cómo Shah Rukh Khan para vosotros” (For us, you are the same, as Shah Rukh Khan for you people). I had no words.

After the premier, Kim Page interviewed us for Radio Free, Barcelona. She asked us “What next?” I had no answer. In a phony manner I said, “Salvation!”. She must have thought, what a hypocrite! But friends! I was honest.

Next day, I was numb. Not in a position to think or do anything. A bit scared. I was asking myself, “Will this end here?” or “there is more to come?”. I hope this is not a one-off event, but the first step in a ‘long race’.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Movie Review - La Tigre e la neve

Here is a review of Roberto Benigni's latest movie, La Tigre e la Neve (In English, "The Tiger and The Snow"). What happens when you make a masterpiece? Well, you need to live upto the expectation in all your subsequent creations. This is quite difficult. Coppola was fortunate that he had the space and story to make Godfather II and III after making the masterpiece Godfather. But on the otherhand, Ramesh Sippy couldn’t make anything close to Sholay, Shyamalan despite being very creative, hasn’t been able to come any close to Sixth Sense. The same is the problem with Roberto Benigni.

After making one of the unforgettable masterpieces of world cine,a “La vita é bella” (Life is Beautiful), he hasn’t been able to repeat his brilliance. While his solitary directorial venture, “Pinocchio” was a disaster in both economic and creative terms, his acting assignments in Asterix and Obelix and Coffee and Cigarette were of little significance. Finally he fell prey to the same what most of the movie directors do, i.e. taking refuge in a formula.

He is using the formula of “La vita é bella” in “La tigre e la neve” (The Tiger and The Snow), and that becomes just too evident. The story of the movie, takes place in the modern era, in the year 2003. the central characters of the story are Attlio and Vittoria. Attlio is a poet and professor of poetry but his full time occupation is to love Vittoria. He, madly in love with Vittoria stalks her almost everywhere, but with little success. Vittoria goes to Baghdad, during the period of Gulf war to write a book, where she gets hurt and is on the verge of death. Their common friend Faud, also a poet, informs Attlio about this. Attlio, somehow reaches Baghdad and saves Vittoria’s life. Unfortunately, gets caught by US troops and gets deported, and Vittoria is unaware of his heroics. Whether, she knows that it was him who saved her, I won’t reveal.

Movie is definitely beautiful with some really nice moments and a very original story. There is a good mix of comedy and emotional scenes. However, the problem is that you just can’t stop comparing this movie with “La vita é bella”. Simply, because the director has made it too obvious that he wants to remake the same movie with a different setting. Another problem is , that Benigni’s character occupies too much of screen time and it doesn’t give enough space to other characters to develop properly. The most unfortunate is the treatment given to Jean Reno’s character. Especially its abrupt end with a suicide just doesn’t jell with the rest of the story well. Let me tell you, this is not a bad film. It’s just that I am a bit too disappointed with the fact that even a person like Benigni, could make such a mistake of adopting a ‘formula’.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Birth of Comedy

I read something wonderful in the epilogue by Labhshankar Thaker in the Gujarati translation of Charlie Chaplin's autobiography. Here are some excerpts and finally my take.

Sergei Mikhalovich Eisenstein wrote an article about Charlie Chaplin in 1946, in Sight and Sound, titled “Charlie the Kid”. He explores Chaplin’s process of perceiving the world. Well, I found a very good note about the root of smile that Chaplin generated and spread across the world.

Eisenstein describes a scene from Andre Marlaux’s novel The Condition of Human Existence. The author takes us into a poor Chinese household. The husband apparently looks drunk. He is laid down on the bed. His wife is slapping him with both his hands. Probably to wake him up. And their kids, are sitting on the floor. They are looking at the lady slapping heavily the drunk husband and they are laughing like crazy. They are completely uncontrollable and the sight of their mother, hitting the father is making them even more berserk. The image of slaps and the father’s head swinging from one side to the other is creating this frenzy.

However, the reality is that the father is not drunk. He is dead. Yes, he is dead and his wife is beating up the dead body because he left his wife and kids hungry and close to death. Small hands of the skinny wife, and the big head of the dead father and it’s swinging due to beating up; all this created laughter.

Eisenstein compares those laughing kids with Chaplin. It was pain coupled with innocent observation.

Chaplin was the mother of laughter. Laughter, which was born in the womb of pain!!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Where Do Ideas Come From ?

Recently I read Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography where came across a very nice but small passage about ideas. Surprisingly, in the entire book, he doesn’t talk much about the process of movie making. He says that people asked him several times, as to from where did he get all the ideas to make movies. But he never had a satisfactory answer to that.

He says that ideas come from this deep and intense desire to have them. A mind with such a desire keeps searching for events that could provoke imagination. Later, things like music or sunset could give shape to ideas. He advises to pick up a provoking theme and expand it by getting involved in it. If, you can’t expand it then leave it and look for another theme. A good process to get what you want is one, which involves throwing off something from what we have accumulated.

However, he is the most impressive, when he says that ideas come from patience, until the stage of madness. Man should be able to bear pain as well as retain enthusiasm for a long time.
Well, most of what I have written here, we have heard elsewhere in one form or the other. The only reason, why I wanted to share this is because, it comes from one of the most creative geniuses of the human history. Economics tells us that access to unique information creates an advantage. But advancement in technology has nullified this information advantage. It’s hard to retain unique information about anything. Hence, the unique source of advantage now, is idea. This is where most of us are struggling. Be it movies, literature or business. Being original is the biggest challenge. The fastfood lifestyle has actually diminished our patience. Hence, reliance on sequels, imitations, copies, adaptations. The key to victory is, patience, until madness

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Omkara - Indian Othello

I saw Omkara. I wanted to watch it because it is based on Shakespeare’s Othello. I wanted to watch Othello because, my father used to play ‘Othello’ in his college days. I have seen his photographs as Othello, standing next to the dead body of Desdemona. So I have a special emotional attachment with this story.

Omkara is so widely reviewed that writing a review on Omkara is a futile exercise. Unfortunately in Spain, neither Hollywood nor bollywood movies get released first. Hence, I am generally late in watching and reviewing both of them. These days, Indian blogosphere is so active that if you don’t write a review within 60 hours of the movie’s release, you find it difficult to write anything. (60 hours because, laterst people watch the movie by Sunday last show and post the review by morning). A lot has been written about this movie’s music, direction, language (cuss words) etc. so I won’t talk about them.

Omkara is adaptation of Othello. Omkara Shukla (Ajay Devgan) is a Bahubali, a right hand of a politician Bhaisahab (Naseeruddin Shah) somewhere in hindi belt of north India. In the beginning of the movie he elopes with beutiful Dolly (Kareena Kapoor). After some time, when he promoted the political hierarchy, he appoints, Kesu Firangi (Vivek Oberoy) as his successor instead of Langda Tyagi (Saif Ali Khan), who had been faithfully working with him for about fifteen years. Tyagi, smitten with jealousy and vengeance spins a plot wherein he convinces Omkara that his beloved Dolly has an affair with Kesu. The end is tragic. Between these characters a very important character is that of Indu (Konkona Sen Sharma), who in the end reveals the truth to Omkara. But it’s too late! Needless to say, Omkara is Othello, Dolly is Desdemona, Kesu is Cassio and Langda Tyagi is Iago while Indu is Emilia.

I liked Omkara for various reasons. Mainly for the adaptation which takes care of the smallest possible detail. E.g. Shakespeare’s Othello was dark skinned and here Ajay Devgan, not only has a darker complexion, he is always wearing dark. To highlight the contrast between his dark skin and Dolly’s fair complexion, some nice dialogues have been delivered through Indu. Where she teases the couple saying, “ koyle ke lote me doodh”. Othello also pointed at unfortunate termination of an interracial affair. Othello was a black moor (Moors are Arabs who ruled southern Europe in medieval times). An effeminate element of Saif’s personality comes out when he puts the cumurbund on his head or when he is shown polishing his nails. This fits very well with some of the interpretations of the character which say that Iago had an effeminate element and he secretly loved Othello.

I must say casting was superb. Especially casting Saif Ali Khan as Iago is a master stroke. His face, his physique and make up unthinkably fit well with the character. i fail to understand, why this character has been compared with Gabbar Singh of Sholay. Gabbar Singh of Sholay was a dacoit. Here, Langda Tyagi is involved in anti-social activities, but in the context of the movie, he is simply a jealous human being, who wants to avenge injustice caused to him. Cinematography of the movie, was of course comparable to Sholay. No other movie except Sholay has captured vast arid planes of northern India more beautifully on celluloid. The other interesting element in cinematography was use of colours and shades to suit the mood and characteristic of the characters. E.g. in most of the scenes of Omkara, you see dark shades and use of dark colours implying evil and pessimism While most of the scenes of Tyagi, come with green and dark green shades, to reveal his jealousy and evil intentions.

Still, I thought that there was a lapse in development of characters of Omkara (Ajay Devgan) and Kesu (Vivek Oberoy). In Othello, Othello was a moor and dark skinned and hence, he had all the reasons to believe that Desdemona (here Dolly) could be attracted towards Cassio, a white European. However, here I didn’t see a big contrast between the characters of Omkara and Kesu. Kesu is shown to be someone having educated in a college and someone who speaks English. However, otherwise Kesu’s character is shown to be so subdued that this subtle contrast doesn’t make such a big difference as it does in Shakespeare’s Othello.

So far acting is concerned; Saif Ali Khan is a clear winner. Iago’s character is one of the most celebrated characters and Saif has grabbed this opportunity with both hands. I also believe that Kareena kapoor has given her career best performance here. Othello is a very complicated character, so is Omkara. But Ajay Devgan does it with excellent ease. After giving an award winning performance as Bhagatsingh, the actor has been growing each day. I felt sorry for Vivek Oberoy. After a long time he got to work in a strong movie. But unfortunately his character is completely overshadowed by other strong characters and performances. On the other hand Konkona Sen Sharma doesn’t have to worry about length of her role. Her screen time is probably the least among all lead actors, still, she leaves an unforgettable impact on the movie. The ease and grace with which she does her part, puts her in the league of actresses like Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil.

It is said that who ever plays Iago does well in acting career. What happened to Othello and Iago of my father’s play? Well, Othello, my father, is a retired bank executive today. And Iago, is a successful politician! Didn’t I tell you, whoever does Iago, does well in a career in acting!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Block to Creation

Both of us know,

I can’t create you!
Unless, I erase myself!

My ego and your modesty!
I, don’t want to be erased...
and You, don’t want to be created…….

Monday, May 01, 2006

Whose Fault?

41 year old, K.Suryanarayana, an innocent engineer, father of three young children and son of a retired deputy collector K Chandreshkhar, was brutally beheaded. What for? For religion? For freedom? What was his fault? What is the fault of his young kids, Manisha, Anusha and Satya Teja?

Why was he abducted and killed? Not just because, he was a Hindu. But because he was an Indian. Because Talibans know that India is a potent country governed by impotent leaders. Killing Indians is easy and safe. If you kill an Indian, you can send strong signals across the international community. At the same time, you are also assured of ‘no retaliation’. Verbally, there will be some condemnation. But no reaction. No precautionary steps to ensure that such things wouldn’t happen in future. Indians are like free feast for all the terrorists. You can attack them at will. And you can achieve what you want.

Look at these photographs and tell me, were these people ever a threat to any religion, any faith? Did they deserve such grief and tragedy?
What is the mistake of these innocent people? What will they do now? Who will take care of these innocent kids, old parents and unfortunate wife?
What did government of India do?
Well, they mourned the death. They warned terrorists that India will not bow down to terrorists. I have never heard more funny things in life. Terrorists have already won this battle. Interestingly, I have some pictures from other parts of India, the same day.
The first picture is pro-reservation demonstration. The second picture is anti-reservation demonstration. This just shows, how successful our politicians are! They will never have to fight elections on issues like, unemployment, inflation, external debt, social security, law& order etc.
They will always have issues of religion, castes, communities and faiths to help them.
The great Uma Bharati has floated a new party. Rahul Gandhi is campaigning for his mother. Nothing has changed. Nothing is ever going to change. Innocent Indians, will keep being killed and beheaded. Our leaders will keep enjoying "divide and rule". We will never become humans, we will never be treated like humans.
We were, we are and we will always be "Voters".
Before, I finish this post, I receive more news. 36 innocent hindus were brutally killed in Jammu. And communal violence erupted in Vadodara. Indians will keep dying. .......
At times, I think.......
We are destined to remain "a nation of snake - charmers".........

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I Spik Gud Inglis

When it comes to being lucky, few things can match being borne into a Gujarati family. And if you are brought up in Gujarat and have studied in a Gujarati School; than you are definitely lady luck’s chosen one. Simply because being a Gujarati bestows upon you several privileges. If you study in a Gujarati school you have some special facilities which are not available anywhere else on this earth. First, you are always good at mathematics. However, the definition of mathematics here is limited to Subtraction, Addition, Multiplication and Division. It doesn’t include spiritually depressing elements like trigonometry, algebra and calculus. (Frankly speaking, there was a period of 6 months in my life when I seriously believed that Calculus was a Greek guy; probably brother of Herculus). Second, you never have to enervate your body, mind and soul in scorching heat under the name of physical training (PT), and you can keep your mind fresh for dealing with tough mathematics (refer to the definition given above). Once an innocent classmate asked me “Why the class is called ‘PT’, in which we just run here and there?” I answered “Because it is dedicated to PT Usha.” (Don’t laugh!! See the GK).Well, you could see the problem here. It was my lack of knowledge of the English language; that didn’t allow me to blossom the way I deserved. Well, you would ask me that as per national education policy (Do we have one?); education of sports is a must. Agreed! In fact, we did study sports officially. Even took exams. But only written exams. Hence, without ever having played football, we knew all the rules, number of referees, height and width of the goal post and transfer fees of David Beckham.
However, life in a Gujarati School is not all roses. There is one weak element which haunts me even today, and that is English. Learning English is something that doesn’t come naturally to us. The reason is simple. Gujarati has its roots in Sanskrit. Moreover, it has heavy influence of Farsi and Arabic. So! We are too far from English that has highly unscientific Anglo-Germanic roots. An English teacher of mine used to pronounce Creature and Minoture (Probably in the story of Icarus) as crietyur and minotyur. Thanks to my ever circumspect reliable Gujarati genes, I had keenly observed, with profound academic interest, posters of than recently released horror cine classic, 'Hungry Vultures', on public toilets (written in Devnagari script also, for its target audience!); I brought to my teacher’s attention the potential error in pronouncing ‘ture’. Needless to say, he kicked me out of the class, blaming that I was discussing things out of syllabus and distracting the class. Yes, welfare is a bigger priority than knowledge in Gujarat. The environment around me was also very influential. Gujarati kids, along with tummy and tobacco also inherit some intelligence. Hence, in their childhood they create their own pronunciations, their own vocabulary. Some of our neighbors used to say that they liked Errotizments on TV. I was under their awe, until I discovered that the real word was Advertisements. Another biggest thing that plagues our development in English language is that we assume some English words to be Gujarati, and eventually try to translate them back to English. Some of my classmates believed that Sauce (as in Tomato Sauce) is a Gujarati word. Hence, when they went to US, in the supermarkets they started asking, “Please give me a tomato sausage.” Till recent past, I thought that Rickshaw was a Gujarati word. Once at Gandhi Ashram I bumped into some foreigners. They asked me, “How could we go to the Airport?” I wanted to tell them that they should take a Rickshaw. But my ignorance and creative gujarati genius made me tell them, “You should take the three-wheeler taxi.” They preferred walking. So original!!

Due to our relative disadvantage in English, we are also discriminated against. In several jobs, Swamies, Chopras and Chakroborties, score over us, just because they fake some weird accent. You may not believe but even in sports, we have to face discrimination due to English. Once I joined a Cricket Academy (Of course, run by a non-Gujarati; Gujarati would believe only in theory, e.g. Parthiv Patel). However, I was kicked out of it because of English. Why? Well, because, I believed that Coach is past tense of ‘To Catch’. (Too much of knowledge). Gujaratis know the art of saving money. They apply this to language also. In English, in thousands of words, we needlessly attach an ‘h’ to an‘s’. But gujaratis respect the identity, completeness and self-sufficiency of an ass (‘s’). Hence they avoid pronouncing ‘h’. E.g. Siris Sah of Sahpur has a su sop (for puritans – Shirish Shah of Shahpur has a Shoe Shop). Once a thankless non-Gujarati professor of ours, dared to ask a classmate, Sasank (technically Shashank) to speak loudly 5 times, “She sells, sea shells at sea shore”. Sasank, a true Gujarati, loudly pronounced “Se sells se sells at si sor” for 5 times. The professor now speaks only Korean, when in Gujarat. Sasank was so proud of his achievement! However, the same Sasank was left clueless, when he was denied a US Visa for “Using abusive language at the Visa office”. Actually, the lady visa officer asked him about his favourite English author. Unfortunately, the only name that came to his mind was ‘Shakespeare’! However there is one thing, I have never quite understood, i.e. why we Gujarati tinker with the breadth of the pronunciation? E.g. 'hotel' becomes 'hawtel' and 'board' becomes 'bawrd'. But the reverse happens with tall (toll) and stall (stole). Once my friend Golwala, who has a sweet mart (sweets are staple food of 90% Gujaratis, the rest live below poverty line), introduced me to Pravin from Dhrangadhra, “This is Pravin, he rapes snakes in my shop.” What was he doing? Combination of Harmesh Malhotra (The director of Nagin and Nigahein) and Gulshan Grower (A bollywood actor who has over 100 rape-scenes to his credit, in his illustrious movie career)? I recovered my senses when I was told that his real occupation is to wrap snacks in the restaurant. My friend from Rajkot once told me that he lives in raw house; I wondered why he didn’t live in a finished one? Well, it was a row-house (typical word used in India for a number of houses constructed adjacent to each other in a row) and not raw house.

Another peculiarity of our English is that we change original words because we fall in love with them. Out of sheer love, we cajole these words, which at times is jeered at by ignorant non-Gujarati puritans. E.g. while getting pampered by a Gujarati – Smart becomes smarty, proud becomes proudy, wide becomes widy, side becomes sidy etc. In an engineering school in Modasa, once a student arrived late. When the professor asked him the reason, he said that he had some psyche problems. After detailed investigations it was unearthed that his bicycle had a flat tier. But you know, bicycle is cycle and cycle is cyckie, which we took as psyche. Ah! The Gujarati Creative Genius!

Well, Gujaratis may not be great at English. Their pronunciations may not be perfect. But than the whole world speaks English with the native accent. The only problem is that we somehow magnify this issue in India and especially in Gujarat. It’s unfortunate to see that some Gujarati kids, just to show that they speak English, try to speak even Gujarati with an English accent. But this becomes a matter of debate time and again. If students who study in Gujarati school are not good at English, than its not because they can’t learn English, rather it’s because they are taught in a wrong manner. In our schools we are indoctrinated with a sense of inferiority in terms of English language. We are always told that English is a ‘tough subject’; nobody tells us that it’s an ‘easy language’. My trivial experience with foreign languages has made me believe that Gujarati is a very 'complete language'. Proper knowledge of Gujarati can help us grasp other languages better. Not only Gujarati is one of the sweetest languages but as I mentioned before, technically as well as literally it is one of the most complete languages. Gujarati has a wide array of cerebral, dental, guttural, labial and semi-vowel sounds, which is not so easy to find in other languages. Literally it is a complete language because it can accommodate such wide and vivid forms of poetry such as Ghazal (Mariz), Geet (many ……), Haiku (Snehrashmi), Sonnet (Kalapi), Nazm (Mariz), Meter less (Suresh Dalal) etc, etc? Other than poetry, Gujarati is a unique language where various literary experiments like poem-dramas (Nhanalal) and Harmonika (A unique combination of poetry and prose by Madhu Rye) have been successfully carried out. I just want to convey a small message to all the education-reformists of Gujarat; ‘We shouldn’t worry about speaking English like The English, we should rather worry about speaking Gujarati like The Gujarati’.

(The positive features of Gujarati language that I have highlighted above are found in many other languages. I talk about Gujarati, because it's my mother tongue and hence I assume the right to speak with authority. The point is not that Gujarati is superior to any other language, rather that it is not inferior to any other language. For that matter, no language is inferior to other languages.)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Water - A Review

At times, we watch movies, with a purely masochistic inclination. We watch the movie, because we predict that it will hurt, it will cause pain, it will provoke thoughts and it won’t let us sleep. But we do it because we seek pleasure in that pain. For similar reasons I watched Water by Deepa Mehta, and well! I got what I wanted; pain, disturbance, thoughts and of course pleasure.

Did I like the movie? It’s difficult to answer. I can say that movie disturbed me and there were moments when I really regretted having watched it, but than I should also say that if I happen to direct a movie someday, I would like to make a movie like Water. Water is purely a director’s movie. At times, directors use deceptive scripts to leave a deep impact on the viewer’s mind. In a deceptive script, you lead the viewer to believe in one storyline and force him to predict the progress of the story and suddenly thud him with a shock. Shyamalan did that in Sixth Sense effectively. It is easier to do that in a thriller or suspense. But Deepa Mehta does it wonderfully in a social drama. She disappointed big time in Fire, but this time she has done a brilliant job.

The movie starts with an 8-year old Chuiya becoming widow. She isn’t even aware as to what being a widow means? She is sent to a separate Ashram. There are 14 women who live in this house for Hindu widows, an old, forlorn two-storey house. These widows are forced to live a life of social alienation and poverty. The women are sent here to expiate bad karma, but more often than not, to relieve their families of financial and emotional burden. She hates almost everyone here. She lives in the constant hope that her mother will come to take her. However, she makes good friends with a young beautiful widow Kalyani (Lisa Ray). Another important character in the Ashram is that of Shakuntala (Seema Viswas), who is not brave enough to question traditions but also is not dumb enough to surrender to taboos, she treats Chuiya with a parent-like affection but also maintains a strange distance very typical of the place. And there is Madhumati (Manorama), an unchallenged leader of the Ashram. Madhumati’s only friends are her pet parrot Mitthu and the pimp eunuch Gulabi (Raghuvir Yadav), who not only keeps Madhumati supplied with ganja, but also with the latest gossip. To survive, the two also indulge into a side business; Gulabi helps Madhumati to prostitute Kalyani (Lisa Ray) and ‘sending’ her to the houses of the elite of the city. A fresh graduated lawyer Narayan (John Abraham) accidentally meets Kalyani at the ghat and immediately falls in love. Kalyani, also attracted to Narayan, cannot get him out of her mind and starts refusing to oblige Madhumati and her `clients.' Meanwhile Narayan ponders how he can arrange a clearly forbidden meeting. Narayan finds a way to meet with Kalyani and during a covered buggy ride through the British section of the city, declares his intent to take her away to Calcutta. Kalyani returns to the widows' house and whispers the secret of her wedding plans to Chuyia, who is thrilled at the prospect of a wedding feast where one can eat as many sweets and forbidden food as one desires. Chuyia unfortunately blurts out the couple's secret to Madhumati, and all hell breaks loose at the house for Hindu widows. Suddenly Kalyani's resistance to being ferried across the waters by Madhumati's pimp makes sense. Not only has Madhumati lost a source of income, but also the disgrace of a widow's re-marriage will doom them all to seven lifetimes of being re-born as jackals. Madhumati menacingly enters Kalyani's isolated hovel, throws her to the floor, shears her long black hair and locks her up until she `comes to her senses'. Shakuntala, over the protests of the other widows, unlocks the door to Kalyani's room. It's a quiet act of rebellion that leaves everyone speechless. A liberated Kalyani walks out of the house, Madhumati's booming voice following her. Kalyani bathes in the ghats, washing away the cruel face of her tormentor, and walks to the small deserted temple where Narayan is waiting for her. Narayan tenderly explores her sheen hair and in a whisper asks her once again if she will marry him. At this point, the movie seems to be heading towards a very clichéd bollywoodish fairytale-like climax. But no! This is not ‘memoirs of the geisha’. This is where the beauty of direction comes to life. The director forces you to predict the climax. And than the story takes a turn, as does the boat heading towards Narayan’s home. Why? What happens next? Well, I shouldn’t reveal the story. What follows next is shocking, touching, thought-provoking, extremely painful and cinematically brilliant.

Water, caught itself amid grave controversy in the very early stage of the shooting. It’s true that the story has some shocking elements, but I didn’t find it offending Indian cultural. Rather, I found it to be a very good story and brilliantly executed in one of the finest movies of recent times. Some of the scenes really leave a deep impact on you. Throughout the movie, there are many dialogues criticizing Gandhi and his ideology. But these dialogues are put in such a wonderful context that it in a way conveys the tremendous impact that Mahatma Gandhi had on the social, political and even religious psyche of the masses. In fact, in the climax, Gandhi’s teachings emerge as an alternative to tabooed concept of religion. Overall, it’s a story of introspection. It’s an attempt to look for our own weaknesses and our own problems.

So far as performances are concerned everyone has done an excellent job. The young girl Sarala who plays Chuyia is brilliant. Manorama, a crooked vamp of yesteryears gives one of her best performances. It is difficult to imagine anybody else in that role. Lisa Ray has lots of limitations as an actress. But here, her role is written in such a way that she really fits the character very well. In fact, her roll is so well written that it’s difficult not to fall in love with the character. John Abraham has an important character and he does a very good job too. However, I do feel that he didn’t do enough homework on his diction and accent. His Hindi sounds a bit ‘metro-ish’ and doesn’t carry either clarity or feel of Hindi spoken in Hindi-belt during 1930s. Veterans Wahida Rehman and Kulbhooshan Kharbanda also shine in smaller roles. Raghuvir Yadav is superb as ever. He sings a thumari in one scene while taking Kalyani to a ‘client’ and that sounds so melodious! However, Seema Viswas steals the show. Her role is the most complicated and challenging and she is just awesome.

Water is not without limitations. Movie was shot in Sri Lanka. Outdoors even though beautiful, have a tropical Kerala-like look and it is hard to accept it as Varanasi. Moreover, at the Ghat they show South Indian marriage ceremony taking place. I have never been to Varanasi, and it’s difficult to say how many south Indian marriages used to take place at Ganga ghat of Varanasi in 1930s. When Kalyani leaves the Ashram and meets Narayan, there is a symbolic scene where widows are shown playing Holi inside the Ashram. The scene has a strong symbolic impact but somehow I didn’t find it consistent with the rest of the movie. However, the biggest letdown of the movie is the last slide. After a fantastic climax, a slide appears where it is written that still in India there are some million widows and many of them are maltreated. This piece of information is completely unnecessary and kills the impact of the subtlety of the script. Whatever, the point that director wants to make, is already made with the movie in the strongest possible manner, and the extra piece of reinforcement actually spoils the spirit.

Well, finally this is a very good movie. I strongly recommend all of you to watch it at least once.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Creation and The Creator

I envy Woody Allen. I hate Woody Allen. I envy him because he gets amazing and innovative ideas, he writes excellent scripts and he is astoundingly original in whatever he does. I hate him, because he has ventured into most of the creative terrains that could be covered through the medium of cinema. Nothing is left for me!!

Well, let me come to the point. I recently watched one of the lesser known works of Woody Allen; “A purple rose of Cairo”. The highlight of the story is that a character from the movie comes out in a cinema hall, falls in love with a woman sitting in the audience, and wants to live in the real world like real people. The actor who performed the character is worried that his character / his creation has gone out of control. The creator (actor) and the creation (character) confront each other and debate upon it.

This is one of the most puzzling questions in the arena of arts, who is bigger? The Creator or The Creation? History is replete with examples where creations have been immortalized while; creators have been obliterated from our memories. Followers of Indian cinema still remember Mother India, but the creator Mehboob Khan doesn’t ring a bell. Some years ago in a program where Lata Mangeshkar performed “Ay Mere Watan Ke Logo”, Dilip Kumar reminded the rest that, we have forgotten the creators of the song, Kavi Pradip (lyricist) and C. Ramchandra (Composer). Amjad Khan is still remembered as Gabbar Singh. Pankaj Kapur is still remembered as Karamchand. Well, Pankaj Kapur also featured in a TV serial titled “Mr. Fantush”. Here Mr. Fantush is a character of a novel that comes out and goes out of control of the writer (performed by Anang Desai). Al PAcino’s Simone and Jim Carrey’s “The Truman Show”, stand out as one of the most interesting movies on a related theme. Simone has a unique story. Al Pacino is a movie director who creates a virtual character called Simone. Nobody knows that Simone is a virtual character; everyone believes that it’s a real woman. Unfortunately, Pacino is overshadowed by his own creation. His grief reaches an extent where he has to create death of his own character. The Truman Show may not be on similar path. The only difference is that here, the director (Ed Harris) treats a real person as a character. However, the real person denies to be treated like a character and leaves the false world he was forced to live in. does this happen to characters as well? Probably yes. Some characters are created so strong that they just deny living a life forced within their limits. They want to break free. Eventually, they do it also. Creations run away from the shackles of the creator and enter the public domain.

Creations are like kids. They have their own lives. Some of them, live longer much longer than the creator. Some of them just fade away in no time. Da Vinci passed away centuries ago; but Mona Lisa is still in her youth!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Seismograph of Solitude

Frozen terrain of moments

Boiling dreams !!

An earthquake in the offing ?
(photograph : Le Jardin du Luxembourge, Paris)

Creation & Life

Two weeks ago I visited an exhibition on Works of two directors of parallel cinema, Victor Erice from Spain and Abbas Kiarostami from Iran. Apart from their various creative works, there were a couple of very interesting pieces of work by Victor Erice, which I wish to talk about here.

Victor Erice, some years ago, made a documentary on Antonio Lopez, a renowned painter of Madrid. Lopez has drawn some excellent landscapes. Victor, while making the film, visited sites, from where Lopez captured these landscapes in his vision and than brought them on the canvas. Victor captured the same landscapes in his camera; of course with motion and sound. He created two beautiful artworks from this experiment.

First was called Apuentes or just notes. Here he first showed the landscape and than the motion picture with the soundtrack for the same place. Through written notes flashed on the screen, he explained the difference between the painter’s vision and the reality. This was a wonderful experience. In a very brief and beautiful manner he showed, how an artist reinterprets reality with his own choice of colours and shades, without doing any injustice with the reality. As you can see, I am struggling with a verbal handicap in explaining this experience.

If in the first artwork I was handicapped, in the second one I am literally impotent. Let me just describe the entire process and leave perception and imagination to you. Look at the image at the top. Now imagine that there is a large white screen, put up in front of you. In the middle of the screen there is a dark square, on which there are not lights. Gradually, lights illuminate the white screen and a soundtrack starts. The square in the middle is still in dark, while rest of the screen has been illuminated with a yellow shade, akin to broad daylight. The soundtrack is that of a noisy traffic. Coupled with the soundtrack, illuminated screen creates an impression of a big road busy with traffic during peak hours of the day. Puzzled but amused you start liking the sound and light. Then gradually lights fade, soundtrack also regresses and focus increases on the square in the middle, which emerges to be a canvas; the one given above. In the end, there is total focus on the canvas, no lights elsewhere, no sounds, and on the canvas you see the picture. And you realize that the director just walked you through the process of the creation of that landscape. The process ended in what they called ‘Ontological Silence’.

Isn’t this a metaphor for life? You are thrown in chaos; a big muddle of noises, and shades. And you picking up the right shades, shadows, colours, objects, and sounds create a picture of life on the canvas of moments. And when the picture is complete, there is no mess, no chaos, and no confusion: but only silence, peace and beauty. That’s creation! That’s life! Creation is not an event in life, it’s the truth of life, a process, which ends only with life.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Art & The Artist

For whom does the artist work? For the sake of art? For the sake of admirers? Or for the sake of life?

In our youth, on one hand; we already have some experience of life, and on the other; still lot of curiosity is left to see more. Out of this clash, of experience and curiosity, an artist is borne - in all of us! Many of us are ignorant of it, some of us are skeptical about it, some of us are evasive about it, some of us are just aware of it, some of us are proud of it, and a few are arrogant about it. This arrogance is borne out of brilliance and knowledge of that brilliance. Recently I was reading famous Gujarati play, “Kahe Koyal Shor Machaye Re!” (Why does cuckoo create noise?), written by one of the finest playwrights, Mr. Labhshankar Thaker. The preface to the play is as enjoyable as the play itself. He writes about his concept of ‘drama’. It implies from what he writes that a playwright doesn’t bother about real, surreal and neo-real. All he does is to have fun, through creation of characters. He refers to famous Austrian playwright Peter Handke. Peter Handke wrote a play called ‘Self-Accusation’. In that play the stage is empty. The auditorium and the stage are however illuminated throughout. The curtain is not used at any point of time, not even at the end of the play. This is a drama, an ‘obra de teatro’, but there are no characters. From two speakers alternatively we hear male and female voices. Theatre is an audio-visual art form. But Handke creates his world only through audio. Isn’t this is clear defiance of the expectation of audience? An average theatre spectator would not accept this as drama. But Thaker says, if some stupid/stubborn/critic, says this is not a ‘play’ than hell with him. Handke wrote another play called ‘My foot my tutor’. It has two characters, but entire play is silent. Samued Beckett’s ‘Act Without Words’ is also a ‘speechless’ drama. Interestingly (and quite fittingly), Handke’s first play was titled “Offending the Audience”. In this play actors insult the audience, and later praise them for their performance.

One such example of arrogance mixed with brilliance was Andy Kaufman. I had never heard of him, until I saw the biopic about his life, “Man on the Moon”, where Jim Carrey plays Andy Kaufman. Andy was an American entertainer famous for anti-humour. His forte was to shock the audience. Be it faking death of an old lady on the stage, fake imitations, fake personality (as Tony Clifton) or be it fake wrestling with a real wrestler, he was always a step ahead of his audience. He irritated the audience so much that they had no option but to like him. The movie is one of the best I have ever seen. One must watch this movie for two reasons. First, To see how big an actor Jim Carrey is. It is a pity that such a talented actor has still only one oscar nominations to his credit. Second, the movie depicts how difficult it is to create fun. How painful is the process of making people laugh? How evils of commercialization have spoilt innocent joy of artists.

Andy Kaufman was an artist, who knew his brilliance and was arrogant about that. However, Andy Kaufman also suffered a lot because he was never understood. He was always forced to do things that he wouldn’t himself enjoy. When he himself tried to have fun, he was denied and rejected. An artist believes in his/her art and wants to enjoy his creations. When we see that an artist is arrogant with his audience, we should double-check our perception, may be we don’t understand him. May be he wants to show us something else and we are forcing him to show us what we have already seen!
(Images : Top-Left: Peter Handke; Top-Right: Jim Carrey; Center Left: Andy Kaufman

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha - A Review

During my early childhood my father used to play a game with me and my sister. He would start telling us a story about a ghost. The story would start with a man getting off the train on a forlorn railway station at late night. The man would find a horrific looking man with a horse-cab and would ask him to take to a nearby village. On the way the cabman would stop and would say he has seen a ghost. And my father would stop there saying, “Now more, next time.” Do I need to tell you that there was never a next time. My sister and I would beg, order and throw all types of tantrums to make him finish. But he would never. He just enjoyed this. However, he used to say this simple story with such wonderful expressions, both linguistic and vocal, that we would be completely engrossed in the process. However, at the end, we would be disappointed not because that a story with such potential never got completed, but because we didn’t got what we were promised.

Watching ‘Memoirs of Geisha’ somewhat reminded me of this episode of my childhood, because by the end, I was left with the same sense of disappointment. The movie leaves you with a deep sense of deprivation because it doesn’t give you what it promises. Throughout the story, I used to feel that “now, it will take off”............... “now, it will take off, and it never happened.
However, 'Memoirs of a Geisha' has a wonderful story. Its the story of a girl, sold at an early age to become a Geisha, her infatuation with an elder man she meets during her childhood and even the man's secret reciprocation to her love. The movie has a very strong story. Moreover, it happens in Japan during the Second World War, hence it has an excellent premise. The movie boasts of a highly talented and internationally renowned cast – Ziyi Zhang (Crouching tiger hidden dragon, House of flying daggers); Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow never dies, CTHD), Ken Watanbe (The last samurai) and Li Gong (2046). However, a poor screenplay and dull direction wastes this excellent opportunity. The screenplay acts like a dumb striker in a football game, who wastes every single opportunity of scoring a goal. Let me reiterate, the storyline is simply superb and provides with an excellent opportunity for a ‘classic’ movie. The story is all about a girl’s emotions, and one would expect a lot especially when the scriptwriter is a woman (Robin Swicord).

Well, this is not a bad movie in all senses of the term. For the sake of three gorgeous ladies, a novel love story and a peep in ethnic Japanese culture, this movie is worth watching at least once. I am expecting an Oscar nomination in the category of costume design. Cinematography is immaculate. Musical score has already begged a golden globe. Ziyi Zhang has given a commendable performance. However, my personal favorite from this movie is Li Gong, who plays a very complex character with a negative shade. I was surprised, why didn’t she get a golden globe nomination for the best actress in a supporting role?

Finally one thing about the director and the art of direction. I just couldn’t help feeling throughout the movie. Human faces have its own science of expression. A director needs to understand this science. Director needs to know, how to use the facial expression of the artist and for this he needs to know this ‘science’ of facial expression. I just feel that director Rob Marshal is unaware of the geography of Mongoloid faces. Just try to remember the quality of work both Zyang and Yeoh gave under the direction of Ang Lee (Brokebeck Mountain). Ang Lee is a Taiwanese-American and knows how to mix the best of both worlds. (Can you believe that the same guy made Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tigers Hidden Dragon and Brokebeck Mountain?)

Well, after a long time an impersonal post! Hope you all would like it!