‘One Idiot’ A Short Film Directed by Amole Gupte as a part of IDFC Mutual Fund’s ‘Investment Awareness by Youth’ Initiative

 

Note: This short film is in English.

Shared with permission of Hardik Acharya, Senior Vice President – Retail Sales, IDFC Mutual Fund. I do not own any rights.

site link: http://www.idfc.com/

 

Amole Gupte, the award winning writer of the 2007 Taare Zameen Par or Like Stars on Earth also aided IDFC Mutual Fund Limited, India’s leading integrated infrastructural financial player, in their latest initiative of educating youngsters about investing in the share market from an early age. A 30 minute short film directed by him was screened at my business administration faculty today. Mr. Hardik Acharya, who gave his kind approval to let me share this film on my blog, visited the faculty accompanied by two young employees to give a short seminar on the subject of investment.

Cheerful and funny by nature, Mr. Hardik conducted a lively session for the students; this is the forty fifth college where IDFC has conducted this seminar and so he seemed to share a good rapport throughout, except for the predictably condescending question ‘Is everybody there with me? Say ‘YES!’ which teachers are wont ask during seminars and lectures. Although there was not an elaborate Q & A session because of paucity of time, the short film helped many students realize just how important it is to plan about money from an earlier stage in life.

The short film is called ‘One Idiot‘, which is the nickname given to one character in the film who as expected, does not turn out to be an idiot after all. His actual name in the film is Bugs, and he is a friendly portly middle-aged man who is unfairly ridiculed by teenagers and neighbors for his unusually happy-go-lucky and bubbly personality. Teenagers residing in his area call him ‘idiot’ and ‘cockroach’ to his face and poke fun at him whenever he returns from the vegetable vendor. Not only is Bugs unfazed by their juvenile taunts, but he also manages to laugh it off and greet them with the same enthusiasm everyday. We learn more about Bugs later.

One of the teenagers taunting him wants to visit the David Guetta concert with his girlfriend but has no money. Fearing that he might lose his lady without buying the Rs. 3000 tickets for her, he begs his little brother to help him. The little bro’s role is most probably (since there’s no mention of the cast) played by the same kid who portrayed the boy who likes dressing up as a girl, in the 2013 film Bombay Talkies. Here too the character he plays (that is, if its the same actor) wise beyond his years; on seeing his brother’s female friend badmouthing Bugs, he goes up to her and slyly pokes fun at her figure. When his brother asks him to leave, the kid tells him that even he is more careful about money than his brother and doesn’t spend it recklessly for a highly demanding girlfriend.

The kid meets Bugs near the elevator and and is invited for lunch. Big bro on the other hand looks out for ways to get money for the concert. At the dining table, little bro offers to lend him sixty rupees that he earned that day from his cricket tournament but big bro refuses, finding the sum too insignificant to be of any help. Little bro reveals that he has at least six thousand rupees with him, and tells big bro not to underestimate him.

We then learn a bit about their family. While mum is busy making shopping plans on her phone most of the time, Dad is busy worrying about the growing debts. Mum is a bitch from the beginning, yet dad isn’t a saint either – he too is impulsive when it comes to his own purchases. When the cook serves lunch for the family, little kid wonders what’s on his plate, pulao or khichdi, or something altogether different. His mother’s response: ‘Just finish whatever’s on your plate’ or something like that.

Little kid hurries to Bugs’ house, where he is welcomed with open arms by Bug’s family. The kid gets to eat mouthwatering south indian food: avial, chutney and appam, at Bug’s home-sweet-home. Meanwhile, big bro sneaks into little bro’s bedroom and searches for the key to his piggy bank. After some desperate searching, he finds the key and greedily opens the piggy bank, only to find not cash but a letter inside.

Little bro confronts big bro after lunch (of course everything is lighthearted and humorous in tone) for stooping to such embarrassing levels of desperation. When big bro asks him where the money is, little bro tells him its in SIP. Big bro has a big question-mark on his face (just like I had on hearing the word) and asks him what SIP means. Little bro tells him that SIP stands for Systematic Investment Plan,  and that he has managed to make around sixty two thousand by investing all his birthday money and cricket money into the plan. And guess who encouraged him to join the plan? Bugs, ‘The Idiot’.

The big reveal leads to further revelations; Bugs’ net worth is a startling hundred crore rupees. Now big bro and his friends do not look at Bugs in the same way. There is an extended scene where Bugs invites big bro and his mates and educates them on the importance of money and proper investment.

This initiative is worth a watch for throwing light on not just on the reckless spending habits of teenagers but also on the value of money in today’s world. The teenagers in the film have new-found respect for Bugs only when they know of his net worth. They are not impressed by his optimistic nature, because it sharply contrasts with their largely cynical outlook on life. This story tells us that there is a stress-free way of living life king size, when we can balance all our responsibilities well. The only criticism I have against this film is the song sung by Bugs at the end, which is saccharine to the point of idiocy.

One of the more ridiculous rules in college is that cell-phones and cameras are not allowed inside campus, so unfortunately I could not click any photos.

 

 

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Review of Nasha, a 2013 Bollywood Film Directed by Amit Saxena, Starring Poonam Pandey, Shivam Patil

GRADE: D / 20%  Nasha-Poster.jpg

 

Summary: The filmmakers don’t know what to focus on in Nasha, the sex or the story. And sadly, both get a bad name.

 

Cast

Poonam Pandey as Anita
Shivam Patil as Saahil
Mohit Chauhan as Saahil’s Uncle

 

Nasha gives teachers a bad name. Consider this. Anita is a newly appointed extra-curricular activities in-charge at an apparently urban high school (with probably the most dirty-minded students, whose behavior is supposed to be justified here only because they’re ‘coming-of-age’). She plans to conduct a romantic play during the academic year and wants her students to rehearse at her home (why? And she gets an enthusiastic approval from the headmistress, who’s totally lost it, it seems). Surprisingly, only the protagonist Saahil and his bunch of loafer friends turn up everytime, as if there are only ten students in the entire school. The boys are only there to ogle at her, and our ‘innocent’ Anita never notices their constant staring, like she’s got partial vision or what?

 

Poonam pandey housefull 2 screening.jpg

Poonam Pandey plays Anita

Our drama teacher is so liberal-minded she joins them as they all sing a song together on erection. On field i.e. during rehearsals at her lavish home, she wants them to get into character (drama teacher Stanislavski would be rolling and weeping in his grave) and demonstrates to Saahil’s girlfriend how a lady should flirt. The character Anita most probably chose to play was a dominatrix, as only that can explain the manner in which she corners Saahil and gets on top of him while his friends gawp open-mouthed (who wouldn’t?). Saahil is infatuated with her and masturbates every night in bed fantasizing about her. That’s until Anita’s beau Samuel turns up and the movie takes a different albeit equally predictable track. What’s disturbing, very disturbing here is Anita’s conduct as a teacher. She openly smooches and probably even french-kisses Samuel in front of the kids during rehearsals. In one scene, he lifts her in his arms and takes her home in front of the students (since when is that considered professional?). When Saahil flubs during one rehearsal, Samuel tells him “Tere se nahi hoga, chal (You can’t do it. Move!” and then waltzes his partner romantically; I’d probably have left that instant and never returned.

 

Now believe this. The two guys arm-wrestle and later race one another to prove who the better man is. Samuel pushes Saahil to the ground during the race and the kid starts bleeding. While Anita nurses Saahil’s wounds, Samuel whispers to him inappropriately that he’s finally got Anita’s attention. Samuel proceeds to dab whiskey on Saahil’s wounds, which irks Anita all the more. To make up, he takes Anita to one side (about two steps away from Saahil) and whispers something to her. They make up immediately and start smooching. Saahil gets up and leaves in a hurry. Once they’re done kissing, Anita notices Saahil’s absence and says ‘Arre, yeh kaha gaya?’ (Oh, where did he go?). Next time, why not get a room instead of making out in front of your student, that too one who totally digs you?

 

After a while, the play is completely forgotten. The major problem in this film is that Anita is not shown as a bad example of a teacher, even though she’s setting a very poor one. Those who’d seen Cameron Diaz in the average comedy Bad Teacher would remember how her character took a pleasure in acting obnoxiously with her students and colleagues. There’s nothing to hint that Anita’s behavior transgresses a teacher’s code of conduct; even the background score played for her is a sweet and positive one. What’s also surprising is that the headmistress had no reservations or objections regarding her wardrobe, which mostly included revealing tops and mini-skirts (am not being a prude, here. Any Indian middle-aged female headmistress would have outrightly objected).

If teachers are given a bad name, wait till you hear how male relatives are depicted in Nasha. Saahil lives with his dad and uncle; we also get to know that mom is dead and the two men make jams for a living. Now try listening to this without exclaiming “What!!”. As Saahil is masturbating one night, his uncle (or dad. It’s interchangeable, really) enters the room and tells him something like “Aur kitna karega?” (How much longer will you continue?). Saahil feels embarrassed and stops, of course. Now, why on earth will a person enter the room knowing that his son is masturbating inside? Even if he unknowingly does, wouldn’t he stop on realizing and hurry back outside? Why would he embarrass his nephew by telling him that he’s caught in the act? In another scene, Saahil’s father tells him “Porn dekhne ke bajaaye achi movie dekh” (Why don’t you watch some good films instead of porn?” (Saahil is jerking off to porn at that time). What!!!

 

Nasha is also plagued with three of the most ridiculous songs in memory. What’s worse is that we don’t get enough of what we had come for i.e. nudity and sex (anyone who says “No. I came for the direction and acting” is a fat liar). Poonam Pandey, known especially to cricket-lovers as the ‘girl who posed naked in a magazine after Kolkata Knight Riders won IPL’, will surely join the ‘Muses of Mahesh Bhatt’ brigade alongside Sunny Leone soon. Pandey has long and sexy legs, a bodacious bust, a beautiful back and a bootylicious butt, plus she’s certainly more expressive than Leone. She has a wide manly-looking lower jaw, but she looks very flattering nevertheless, especially with appropriate lighting. But Nasha doesn’t let her go all the way because of the Censor watchdogs. Whenever the focus is lifted from her body to her acting (not bad considering the ridiculous part she’s given to play), the result is a disappointing detumescene. The filmmakers don’t know what to focus on in Nasha, the sex or the story. And sadly, both get a bad name.

 

Review of 2013 Film ‘The Ship of Theseus’, a ‘Hinglish’ Film Directed by Anand Gandhi; Starring Aida Al-Khashef Neeraj Kabi and Sohum Shah

Anand Gandhi.jpg

Anand Gandhi – The Man Behind Ship of Theseus

GRADE : AA / 90%

Summary: The Ship of Theseus is a painstakingly dialectical observation of the transient human forms journeying in the sphere of reality. The film is deep, sometimes dense enough to put you into a storm of confusion, yet its mysterious powers to stimulate your mind into questioning the basis of existence is nevertheless a remarkable feat for writer-director Anand Gandhi.

Cast

  • Aida Elkashef as Aliya Kamal
  • Neeraj Kabi as Maitreya
  • Sohum Shah as Navin Parnam

The Ship of Theseus is a painstakingly dialectical observation of the transient human forms journeying in the sphere of reality. It examines the paradoxes in arguments about human beliefs, values and ideologies, exploring through the cave of space and time to find answers in the arcane light of truth. The film is deep, sometimes dense enough to put you into a storm of confusion, yet its mysterious powers to stimulate your mind into questioning the basis of existence is nevertheless a remarkable feat for writer-director Anand Gandhi. It’s all the more astonishing to know that Ship of Theseus is Gandhi’s debut feature film, and wait it you hear the biggest shocker – this work comes from the same man who began the incredibly contrived ‘evil mother-in-law vs. saintly daughter-in-law’ tradition in Indian television soaps such as ‘Kyuunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (Because the mother-in-law was once a daughter-in-law herself)’ and ‘Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii (Story of Every Home)’ more than a decade ago.

This man has completed his journey, his eight-year pilgrimage at last (he conceived his idea in 2005, after making two short films ‘Right Here Right Now’ in 2003 and ‘Continuum’ in 2005) and he has found some answers, which he brings to the world in the form of Ship of Theseus. His search is probably still on, yet this film is as good as it gets.

Deconstructing the mighty body of Ship of Theseus to its bare bones would require considerable expertise (missing Mr. Ebert) and hence pardon me if my attempt falls short. There are three characters embarking on three different journeys, catalyzed by the coaxial theme of organ transplantation. The transplantation acts as the physical manifestation of the Plutarchian paradox, which questions that ‘if all the parts of a ship are replaced plank by plank and the same were used to build a new ship, then would the new ship remain the same ship as before?’.

Aliya Kamal, a visually impaired photographer whose perception of beauty and art is developed through touch and sounds in the absence of images, seeks for perfection in her pictures and often rejects photos her boyfriend finds great, leading to arguments between the couple. Her sixth sense of using sound (plus her boyfriend and the always reliable editing software) as her guide to capture delightful visual moments is threatened by her decision to go ahead with a cornea transplant to restore her eyesight. She shall realize that there’s no such thing as a ‘swan cart’, an image she had designed inside her head for God knows what.

Maitreya, the second character, is an English-speaking erudite (and atheist) monk who fights for noble causes such prevention of animal cruelty during cosmetic and medicinal testing. He journeys on foot to fast track court (which is consistently sluggish) and lets his Parsi lawyer fight on his behalf (the defense lawyer meanwhile rubbishes the case as ‘a sentimental petition’, and door to door begging for alms. When his protégé Chavarka notices him saving a centipede from being squashed under somebody’s foot and letting it go on top of a leaf, he jokes that ‘the centipede may have been trying to commit suicide and now being saved, would have find his path to nirvana’; there is constant friendly arguments between the two revolving generally around the idea of moksha or enlightenment.

Soon, it is found that Maitreya has liver cirrhosis and the ailing monk, whose staunch refusal to touch any object made at the expense of torturing animals, refuses to undergo a transplant which would also involve taking dozens of such pills. He withdraws into seclusion, and ends up punishing his own body; for someone who believes so much in karma (what goes around comes around), God knows what sin did the saint commit to suffer so much pain.

Navin, the third character, is a money-minded stockbroker who busies himself in the world of shares and stocks even when he is admitted to the hospital. Once released, he goes home where his art-loving grandmother (whom he calls ‘ajji’, which means grandmother in Marathi) scolds him for showing little interest in art and social matters. When she is admitted to the hospital after fracturing her leg, she arranges a Rajasthani musician to sing folk tunes for her and her friends inside the hospital; Navin meanwhile fidgets around, trying to find a way to escape. The two have an argument later, where Navin accuses her of being intolerant towards his attitude of living, which is to luxuriate in material comfort and yet have basic human compassion. When he learns that a poor man’s kidney was stolen a day before he got his own kidney, he fears he might have the man’s kidney and searches for the true owner. God knows what drives him all the way to Stockholm in search of the new owner.

Anand Gandhi captains his Titanic Ship along its course, and it remains totally unhampered by any stupid icebergs. The easy way to look at this movie is that it’s about organ donation, but on closer look, you’ll see the theme of ‘reconfiguration of human psyche by external forces’ shining through. The film’s structure is so massive, it’s themes so multitudinous, that you don’t feel sure at times whether you are moving in the direction the film intends you to move. My advice for those who can’t understand everything would be to leave it to God and just understand what’s easier for your mind to comprehend. Subsequent viewings will reveal further answers.

The cinematography by Pankaj Kumar is extremely fluid, and Gandhi allows the camera to remain static over long periods of time. That’s where our actors, Aida El-Kashef, Neeraj Kabi and Sohum Shah (also the producer),  do all the excellent visual communication, bringing an emotional intensity which gives these philosophical concepts a simpler, human form of expression. There’s some powerful imagery here that draws our focus to the grand scheme of things. We begin to question ourselves then, wondering “God knows why…?”. Our journey begins.

 

Film Louvre Treasures – Singin in the Rain

Note: In ‘Treasures’, I shall review some of the films I’ve already watched. These films have in some way or the other become a part of me and my appreciation has grown for them with every watch.

Cover of "Singin' in the Rain (Two-Disc S...

Cover via Amazon

Here, I review Singin in the Rain, a Gene Kelly, Stanley Doden Film Starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Donald O’Connor, R.F. Simpson, Cyd Charisse.

The first time I watched Singin’ in the Rain was on television probably four years ago. I remember having called it ‘the best movie I had ever seen’. I immediately rented a DVD and watched it five times in the next two days, each time loving it all the more. I watched it with my grandmother and my nine year old cousin and they loved it too; my cousin found Gene Kelly’s dialogue ‘You reptile!’ so funny he repeats this line whenever I mention about the film. Four years have passed and I still remember the hooks of all the incredibly catchy songs. I’ve also done my service by recommending this film to anyone who may have a liking for old musicals or who is depressed in some way or the other; I wouldn’t do this usually because most musicals, old or new, have failed to blow me away the way Singin’ in the Rain has.

Finally, I got my hands on the Collector’s Edition of Singin’ in the Rain a few days ago and lent it to my cousin for some days. She saw it with her mom and said, on returning the DVD, that both enjoyed the movie immensely. This is a kind of film that can be asked to check if a person is human: a) Yes, I enjoyed Singin’ in the Rain, for confirming you belong to the human race and b) No, I didn’t enjoy Singin’ in the Rain, for sending you back to the planet you came from. So I gave this movie another watch, this time on my home-theater. Would I sing along with the same enthusiasm I had for it four years ago? I would… I would.

Even elaborate notes in my diary, which pointed the revealing mistakes I overlooked in my previous viewing, did not impact my fondness towards the film, which is so great I wanted to hug this darling film in my arms once again. Mr. Roger Ebert, while placing this film in his list of ‘Great Movies’, remarked that the ten minute spectacular Broadway Ballet sequence before the film’s climax didn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the film, but also mentioned that he knew of MGM’s trend to include a lengthy song and dance piece in their earlier musicals. I

English: Portrait of Cyd Charisse from Singin'...

Cyd Charisse from Singin’ in the Rain  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

too was about to write this sequence off when it began, yet by the end I felt Broadway Ballet was the perfect moment to represent the spirit of Singin’ in The Rain. And why would I not want this sequence when it features ethereal dance goddess Cyd Charisse who’s probably the hottest thing ever for connoisseurs of women. She represents the unattainable in Hollywood, who shuns anyone incapable of satisfying her material needs, including our hero. Yet, our hero has gotta dance no matter how bad times are. He only has to keep ‘Singin’ and Dancin’ in the Rain!’ and life will surely get better.

Another reason why Singin’ in the Rain is so highly regarded is that we learn quite a bit about Hollywood in the late twenties, when silent films began dwindling in numbers after the influx of talking pictures. From a historical perspective, we learn about the famous Chinese theatre in Hollywood which, as mentioned in the book Oxford History of World Cinema, had ‘a green bronze pagoda roof towering some ninety feet above the entrance that mimicked an oriental temple. Inside a sunburst pendant chandelier hung sixty feet above two thousand seats in a flame red auditorium with accents of jade, gold and classic antique Chinese reproductions’ (most modern multiplexes look like shanty houses in comparison). This is the place where lavish premieres were held, where entertainment reporters (since the term ‘paparazzi’ wasn’t invented until La Dolce Vita released in the sixties) waited in anticipation of celebrities who arrive one after the other in expensive cars, and where fans cheered their lungs out whenever their idols waved at them.

Cropped screenshot of Jean Hagen from the trai...

Jean Hagen as self-centered diva Lina Lamont Singin’ in the Rain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, leading silent film actors, arrive at the beginning of Singin’ in the Rain to the premier of their film ‘Royal Rascal’ at the Chinese theatre. The Hollywood reporter who interviews them wants to hear how Don and Lina became the most desirable couple, and when Don starts talking about his best pal Cosmo and tries introducing him to the audience outside, (Cosmo’s standing behind the reporter, sadly ignored), the reporter taps Cosmo’s hand as though signaling him to stay out and that she only wants Don to speak about himself and Lina. And so our Royal rascal narrates the rosiest picture of his past where ‘dignity mattered’ to him the most; of course we’re able to see he’s bluffing entirely, only to satisfy the gossip-hungry tabloids. In reality, Don and Cosmo played in cheap motels and vaudevilles, sneaked into B-grade films and remained without employment too, until Don, who’s fit as a fiddle and ready for film, got a chance to work as a stunt hero in Roscoe Dexter’s movies and was offered by R.F. Simpson, producer of Monumental pictures, to act opposite leading lady Lina Lamont. Cosmo, on the other hand, provided orchestration for Dexter’s films (in those days, an orchestra would be present at the filming, playing along with the action) and remained in Don’s shadow.

The ‘love’ between Don and Lina is also entirely fictional, as everybody on the set knows that Don hates the repugnant, bossy, vain, screechy pain-in-the butt Lina, who ‘can neither sing, neither dance, neither act. Triple trouble’ (I beg to differ. Lina did seem to act well at least in her silent films); a delusional Lina meanwhile believes Don is her man only because fan magazines suggest so. Lina’s voice is so grating she’s urged by the studio to remain silent during premieres and let Don do the talking. But with the success of talkie film Jazz Singer, both Lamont and Lockwood are compelled to learn how to talk in movies for their next talking picture Duelling Cavalier, taking diction classes which make up for some of the most hilarious sequences;  poor Lina pronounces ‘can’t stand’  as ‘caaayn’t staaynd’ every single time.

English: Gene Kelly and girls in Singin' in th...

Gene Kelly and girls in Singin’ in the Rain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our hero is smitten with small time stage actress Kathy Selden, after he lands up in her car while escaping his fans. While their first meeting doesn’t really go that well (beautiful girl Kathy disparages Don’s pictures as ‘dumb shows’, while ravishing rascal Don teases her ‘pretentious loftiness’. Later, at a party, she aims a cake at him, which misses and hits Lina right in the kisser), Don nevertheless cannot forget about her and later meets and courts her, crooning the lovely number ‘You were meant for me’. When the preview of Duelling Cavalier turns out to be a disaster, Kathy and Cosmo cheer Don up with the infectiously hummable ‘Good Morning’ and suggest him to turn Dueling Cavalier into a musical, naming it ‘Dancing Cavalier’ instead. They also decide to use Kathy’s voice for Lamont, without informing the latter that her voice will be dubbed. The problem arises when narcissistic and manipulative Lena finds out their plan and threatens to sue Simpson and take over his production unless her demands are met (which is to sign a long term contract with Seldon to use her as a dubbing artist for Lamont so that she herself would never get her chance to shine).

While a couple of recent musicals with lofty ambitions and complicated cinematography (Les Miserables) haven’t exactly done well critically, Singin’ in the Rain remains everybody’s beloved for its relatively simplistic approach to make us laugh, cry, sing and dance and love. The camera either swoops in our out and its usually dissolves which transition to the next scene, and I prefer this to the jerky movements in Les Miserables. The writers don’t hesitate in letting us know what happens behind the screens, but never let the film turn into a depressing downer, an approach most directors would choose today. There’s the fake publicity tactic, sucking up and the usual envy among actors, especially the ladies; its Zelda, a cast member who looked disgruntled in an earlier scene where Simpson singles her out for her performance, who lets Lena know that Kathy’s dubbing her. Yet the music remains cheerful, upbeat and the dancing extremely lissome; Singin’ in the Rain is above all a sexy film.

Gene Kelly dancing while singing the title son...

The Crowning Achievement is the Title Song “Singin’ in the Rain” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The best spotlight moment in the film would be the ‘Singin in the Rain’ sequence with Gene Kelly; the song is one of the most mellifluous compositions ever written. Would I keep this song as the guiding motto throughout my life? I would… I would.

Review of Nine, a 2009 musical Directed by Rob Marshall and Starring Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Fergie

NineA ver4.jpg

Nine (wikipedia)

Summary:  Nine has characters who represent characters of another film (Fellini‘s 8 1/2)  but do not distinguish themselves to become characters of THIS film, thereby seeming like wandering apparitions

About one year ago, I went to watch a Gujarati play on the theme of ‘harrassment of women by their NRI husbands’, written and directed by an acquaintance who was pursuing his Postgraduate Degree in Dramatics. As this was a local play with a completely local cast, I decided to bring a buddy along for moral support in case the play stank. Unsurprisingly, the play proved to be a massive disappointment with its crude treatment of the subject matter and ridiculously unnecesary focus on supporting characters (like making the gravedigger the lead in Hamlet). Yet, to my bewilderment, people cheered on and gave it a standing ovation it didn’t deserve. I realized later that the antagonist in the play was a very popular name among Gujarati audiences, and so they cheered him on as he hammed endlessly, while I looked on bemused at all the beaming faces around me.

When the seven ladies of Nine (Dench, Cotillard, Cruz, Loren, Fergie, Hudson and Kidman) turn up one after the other in the opening musical sequence of Nine, I sat looking at the screen with the same bemused expression, and the question ‘What am I supposed to feel here?’ crossed my mind. These seven wonderful dames of acting may have caused a flurry of applauses had this been a live play (Nine is originally a Broadway musical), but they little impact when they such a grand entry on film for the simple reason that the entire thing is ‘filmed’.

I have not seen Fellini’s autobiographical classic 8 ½ either (on which both the play and the film are based), although the DVD does wait for me in the cupboard (will follow Mr. Roger Ebert’s advice in his review and catch the film tonight). This makes me more alien towards Nine but not too much because I have seen Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ four times and regard it as one of my favorite movies. So the parts which evoked a sense of familiary were Nicole Kidman’s ‘ideal woman’ character and Daniel Day Lewis’ ‘detached persona looking for a centre’, which Marcello Mastroianni played excellently in LDV. The main question here is: does Nine work as a musical and a movie independently in its own right? The answer is sadly a no.

A smiling man wearing a grey hat with piping above the band, and a tan Western style shirt, stands in an office, posing for the camera.

Daniel Day Lewis Plays Guido Contini in Nine

The experience of watching Nine can be compared to visiting ‘Marina Abramović’s – The Artist is Present’ exhibition without having any clue of who she is or what she has done. The film has characters who represent characters of another film but do not distinguish themselves to become characters of THIS film, thereby seeming like wandering apparitions who don’t really care about each other or this film. They function like the (actually) moving portraits in the Harry Potter stories; they wink, they smile, they laugh, they cry like humans but in the end, they remain portraits. And the worst part is that they’re given such dark and ugly sets to sing and dance around, robbing all the richness off the mise-en-scène.

The reason for such unappealing sets is that all the performance pieces are figments of Guido Contini’s often prurient imagination. The protagonist suffers from artistic block after two of his films flop following a streak of critical and commercial successes. After one reporter boldly asks him during a press interview whether ‘he has nothing to speak about’, Contini performs a great escape and books a room for himself at a hotel under a pseudonym. His next movie ‘Italia’ does not have a script yet and its cast and crew are left stranded without Contini, who spends much of his time at parties and events dreaming and fantasizing about the women in his life. There’s angelic Claudia Jennsen: his inspiration, Luisa: his lonely wife, Carla: his sexy mistress, Lilli: his costume designer, Stephanie: an alluring reporter, Saraghina: a prostitute from his childhood, and lastly his Mamma. And unfortunately, everybody gets a number or two to perform (in Contini’s mind). This basically goes on in a repetitive manner till the end, where finally the plot decides to move another inch or two.

There is not one song I can recollect now, except ‘Cinema Italiano’ which too stays in mind only because of its irritating hook. The other reason I think the number is easy to remember is that it’s got a livelier and brighter set with performances we can actually see. The rest of the numbers are hampered by lack of light; if one has seen Gene Kelly’s super-duper-brilliant ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ he or she would remember the incredibly colorful sets and lighting which instantly evokes the performances to memory. The performers themselves in Nine aren’t memorable. Fergie, Dench and Cottilard know how to ‘sell a performance’; Fergie as most would know is an established singer-performer while Dench has a grande damme showstopper charm. Cruz is predictably sexy (with delectable bosoms) while sex-goddess Loren is motherly.  And what about the man of the house: Mr. Daniel Day Lewis?

Oh, what a disappointment. Bringing a characteristic method approach to become Guido Contini, Lewis fails to get the ‘performance element’ that protagonists of a musical require that too in plenty. And I remember actress Meryl Streep telling in her interview with James Lipton that ‘she added the element of performance in her acting after being mesmerized by one of Lisa Minelli’s performances’; watch ‘Mamma Mia’ and you’ll get what she means. Actors in a musical should have the ability of selling themselves through their characters. Gene Kelly does it best. Lewis however buries himself deep within his character and makes his whole act damn gloomy. And he ain’t that good a singer either. Neither is he as addictive and infectious as Streep, who radiates even in her worst films. In fact, Lewis on a bad day digs the grave for his character and the whole film. That’s a tragedy.

Review of World Of Apu, A 1959 Bengali Film Directed by Satyajit Ray and Starring Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore

GRADE: A / 80%
Sharmila Tagore – Aparna
Apur Sansar title card.jpg

A naughty moment happens in the morning after newlyweds Apu and Aparna have made love to each other. We know they have made love because of the way Aparna blushes when she gets up to start her morning chores. Just when she gets out of bed, her saree ka pallu is caught under her sleeping husband. Aparna gently tries to pull it once, twice and finally gets it out the third time when she nudges her husband slightly. She pats him on his back, smiles and walks outside to wash her face. Apu, who was pretending to sleep this whole time, then smiles back at her. She coyly asks him ‘How long will you continue staring at me?’. They have fallen in love at last.

The film I speak of is World of Apu, released in the year 1959. Forward to the present time. You switch on your idiot box and watch the latest Indian television serial. Tragedies are yet to strike the protagonists and their families with the hellacious force of Jupiter’s thunderbolt (usually joint families that seem to spawn rapidly like an epidemic virus, only so that there can be plenty of reaction shots; oddly, many of the children look nothing like their parents…). Currently, the story revolves around a single guy and an unmarried girl falling in love gradually over twenty episodes(or fifty, depending on TRP generated by googly-eyed kitschy romance-loving female audiences). There are a couple of stolen glances usually after some obnoxious flirting, and its generally found that the boy and the girl begin their relationship on a wrong note. Until the famous ‘saree ka pallu’ sequence, after which the two finally fall in love.

Now here’s how the scene would be filmed. The lady absentmindedly bumps into the guy (most young female viewers have already begun already fanning themselves like they’ve got their hands on the guy) and the two spend lengthy minutes staring like a couple of very stupid dogs (proud owner of three Labrador retrievers, so know it) into each other’s eyes while holding each other in static position. The cameras frenziedly try to capture the couple from all possible angles of modesty until the couple finally let go of each other. The girl begins to turn very slowly in a slightly different direction from where she was originally heading (maybe to dump something into the dustbin or to wash her hands after potty, but that doesn’t matter) when suddenly she realizes her saree ka pallu is caught with the hero’s shirt cuffs (another aahhh! from the girls). It’s like she’s got metal hooks attached to her saree that somehow manage to cling themselves onto the hero.

She nervously looks back at him, and he too looks p*ssy-faced at her. Camera cuts to static close-ups alternating with long-shots and mid-shots, again com every possible angle of modesty. Usually the girl’s too freaked out to pull the pallu out from his cuffs so its the guy who does the honors. Wait till they discover kissing, forget sex! A generic romantic score will play all over the scene, and cliched background sounds shall be heard too, like invisible leaves rustling or non-existent wind whistling. It’s sad there’s no horny wolf around to howl.

 

It’s also very sad and unfortunate that many would actually prefer to watch this kooky depiction of love than the one we see in The World of Apu, which kicks into the bin any form of pretentiousness that often plague scenes of love. Here we find Apu and Aparna, a couple that has married under the most extraordinary circumstance, quietly accept their fate and learn to live together happily till fate directs another change. She knows no English, he spends his hours teaching her spellings. She fans her husband while he eats his dinner and then has her husband fan her while she eats, which rules out sexism; I remember feeling very uncomfortable watching one of my aunts in Chennai serve the whole family first (including my cousins, who would keep telling her ‘Mom, you are coming in the way (of the television)!)’) and take her food after everybody leaves the table. He acts like a spendthrift so she becomes cautious with money. While taking her home in a taxi after they watch a talkie, she asks him why they couldn’t ride in a bus, and he replies she would’ve felt uncomfortable in a crowded bus. She was not brought up in such surroundings, you see. And now I want to come to the extraordinary circumstance that tied the fates of Apu and Aparna: Aparna’s intended husband turned insane (literally) on the day of the wedding, and if Apu, who was only a visitor invited by his best friend Pulu to his cousin Aparna’s wedding, did not marry her, then her life would be cursed.

Then why did Apu, a literate who would scoff at any superstitious ideas, agree to marry Aparna? He struggled to make a decent living; having no money to continue his undergraduate studies, he was under qualified for the teaching job, and it was below him to accept a job he was terribly overqualified for. He earned a meaner salary of ten rupees a month, and some additional whenever his short stories were published in the journal.

It is difficult to answer this question, but then again, is it really? Anyone who has seen Pather Panchali shall remember how Apu’s father Harihar could never say ‘no’ to anyone; the man promised to buy a shawl for an old lady known to the family even though his family was in the most desperate financial circumstances. So while the marriage does come as a surprise, it isn’t that hard to understand why Apu acquiesced. If you notice well enough, you’d find a Harihar in Apu and a Sarbajaya (Apu’s mother) in Aparna. Again, I guess it would not be difficult to make this observation because Satyajit Ray, the film’s director films the scenes of Apu and Aparna in a composition that reminds us of his parents. The laconicism of dialogues helps here too, obliquely hinting that a similarly extraordinary circumstance might have led to Apu’s parents’ marriage.

When Aparna dies during childbirth, Apu is not by her side. She dies a tragic death in her village, while Apu stays back to manage his home, his job and continue writing the partly autobiographical novel he is working on. A messenger informs him about Aparna when he returns home, expecting to find Aparna back from the village after a two month stay at her ‘maayka’. The shot is captured memorably by Ray using an unsettlingly slow zoom and a foreboding sitar note (chosen by Ravi Shankar, whose work in The Apu Trilogy has been consistently immaculate). Imagine how a moment like this would be captured on a television serial, with its shrieking score and frenetic camerawork. An absolute disaster.

A theme of abandonment is recurrent in the trilogy, with Apu refusing to take his newborn child Kajal with him. The child remains for years at his mother’s ancestral home with his grandparents. Apu now carries the haunted look we often saw on his mother’s face in Pather Panchali whenever her husband would leave their home for months on end. We see the shadow of Harihar in him as he wanders haplessly in search of work and stability.

In one of the most stirring scenes in movies, Apu decides to abandon his novel, letting his manuscript fly away with the dismal wind. The camera here almost freezes and so does Apu as the pages slip from his hands into the woods below (he stands at the foot of a hillock). Its an extremely difficult choice, and yet its for his own good; he would now be able to shoulder the responsibilities he has been abdicating all along.

In terms of psychological complexity, I honestly believe the film could have gone deeper, and I think the problem here is me: I have watched a lot of movies. And I am well aware that Apu’s character is secondary to the journey he undergoes, as emphasized by the sound of the passing train, there were times I wanted to hear Apu contemplating his decisions because he seems like a very intelligent adult. The absence of dialogue functioned better in Pather Panchali because Apu is only a kid then. But again, it may be that I’ve seen so many great films already, I’m expecting too much!

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Review of ‘Sixteen’, a 2013 Bollywood film Directed by Raj Purohit, and Starring Izabelle Liete, Mehak Manwani, Highphill Mathew, Wamiqua Gabbi

Sixteen Official Poster, 2013.jpg

Sixteen (Wikipedia)

GRADE: BB / 60%

Summary: Sixteen is a simple story with a share of heavy-duty moments handed to actors who seem less capable of handling the same. The plot makes for an interesting though not compelling watch.

Cast

Wamiqa Gabbi – Tanisha

Izabelle Liete – Anu

Mehak Manwani – Nidhi

Highphill Mathew – Ashwin

Keith Sequeira

After hammering his boorish (although caring) dad dead with the same trophy used by his dad as a weapon to verbally denigrate him for declining results, Ashwin flees his home on foot. A few shots show him running hopelessly along the streets of Delhi, and the camera moves in and out during this scene. It’s just how this scene should be shot, except that actor Highphill Mathew does not know what he should emote in this short span of seconds. All he does is run- he could be a runner for a city-based marathon, or a guy who’s escaping a bunch of thugs or simply a jogger who wants to remain fit. But he’s none of that, and that’s where Mathew falters; he needs to convey a range of conflicting emotions while he is running, for the simple reason that he’s just killed his own dad, whom he loved for his caring nature and loathed for his violent temperament. Alas, all his sweat and his father’s blood go wasted.

Sixteen is a simple story with a share of heavy-duty moments that are handed to actors who seem less capable of handling the same. The scene mentioned above isn’t the only time Highphill Mathew slips, in fact in another scene coming towards the end of the film, he again isn’t able to do much justice to his character. It’s a scene which has the actor break down out of compunction for his past misdeeds, and all poor Highphill is able to do is whimper weakly because he’s no Laurence Olivier.

And this is where the low production value of Sixteen acts against the film because it supplies a theatrical look to the indoor scenes. And the ‘stage’ needs actors who can bring the fullest of emotions to set the screen on fire, because there is no great locale or elaborate décor to draw attention away from the acting. Its sweet when things work, but when things don’t, our actors look like stationery lazy stools and chairs supplied with lazier voice-over. And director Raj Purohit has his own amateur moments; note that he’s responsible for most of the creative decisions, also writing, editing and penning lyrics apart from directing Sixteen.

a) Most of the film is captured in mid-shots (head to torso) of two characters occupying the screen. And mostly it’s the camera cutting back and forth from one person to the other.

b) There is a soundtrack with about six-seven songs that is completely unnecessary (who is going to buy the album anyway?). Unmemorable numbers with forgettable lyrics penned by Purohit extend the film to over two hours; a taut ninety minutes would’ve been enough for Sixteen.

c) Characters in this film are neither entirely good nor totally evil. The shades of grey make them interesting. However, Purohit unnecessarily misleads audiences by painting a crucial character as a villian, a sexual predator, a potential pedophile in one scene by adding ominous background music for him, when the guy is just like any other human, with shades of good and stains of bad.

d) We get a cheap little editing technique in one scene. One girl is shown asking many questions to her friend, and the camera cuts repeatedly after each question. After we hear the questions, we then get to know how the other girl has answered the questions. So the camera shows her next saying ‘Hmm…’ a couple of times. This kind of editing suits a short film, but it looks clumsy in a feature film like this and also confuses the viewer about the tone of the movie. Is the scene funny because the girl isn’t paying any attention, or should we sympathize with the girl, whose boyfriend has just dumped her? The latter requires the character to stay stationery so that we can know that she’s sad and that her friend is concerned about her. Instead, this is turned into one sloppy gag.

e) Purohit wants a feel-good ending for the film. But he’s the guy who wants his audience to smile so he can see their sixteen teeth on the upper jaw and sixteen on the lower. So there’s a prolonged happy ending that assures, then reassures, then emphasizes, then marks with a big arrow that the ending is indeed a happy one. I would’ve smiled showing all my thirty-two brown teeth (thirty-one real and one fake) had the film ended with the other happy ending I saw ten minutes before.

Now that I’ve scolded ‘Sixteen’ like a fussy parent for its little mistakes, I can calm down and encourage the movie like a forgiving parent for all its goodness. The plot makes for an interesting (although not compelling) watch and I’m happy this film is uninhibited in its portrayal of young Delhi. The most memorable storyline would be the ‘Lolita’ inspired love triangle between 16 year old Tanisha, her aunt and a dapper 32 year old writer who lives in their house as a tenant. The story of the two other girls Anu and Mehek also have interesting turns, especially the point where the promiscuous Anu realizes that her parents live an open marriage (my cousin, who saw the film with me, cried ‘What!’, never having heard the term ‘open marriage’). Ashwin’s story starts strong but dwindles after his escape, and both I and my cousin totally forgot his character until he came back after a long absence.

I asked my cousin, a regular visitor to Delhi, what she thought about the depiction of these teenagers. And then she began with stories of how absolutely crazy, stupid, looks-and-fame obsessed Delhiites were, just like Anu, Ashwin, Tanisha and Mehek. All at the age of sixteen.