Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rush to the Top...

The season of 1976 was probably the most controversial and dramatic in the history of F1 racing. British driver James Hunt of Mac Laren and Austrian driver Niki Lauda of Ferrari were legendary rivals competing for championship title. Lauda, the reigning champion and the top scorer that year met with a serious accident on a wet racecourse, sustaining severe burns. On his absence, Hunt won some races reaching close to his score. Lauda, after six weeks of incomplete treatment, returned to race and defend his title with a bandaged face! The tournament ended in a nail-biting climax on a rain washed, dangerous track in Japanese circuit with the winner emerging with a single point lead.

Ron Howard made an incredible movie about the rivalry between the two giants. Titled Rush, the movie has Chris Hemsworth playing Hunt and Daniel Bruhl playing Lauda. Rush is a smart sports movie that's in equal parts a thriller and a study of two characters of extreme contrast. The lead actors convincingly portrayed the two racers. Racing scenes are top notch in quality, and expertly portray the excitement of the event.

Imagine you are shown a fine picture. Then it is zoomed out to reveal that it is just a very minute detail of a much larger picture that is made up of innumerable such details. This movie gives you such a feeling. The rivalry is what the movie is all about and you are made to invest a lot in it. But the final reveal, I feel, is that it is just a minute detail that makes up the much larger and more interesting history of Hunt, Lauda and Formula 1. That is what I loved the most about it.

I had one minor issue with the movie though. The whole movie beautifully illustrates the differences between the lead characters through their behaviors, choices and mode of working. At last a confrontation scene is included where they lists their life philosophy again, which I felt was a needless exposition.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Kasaba and Anti-feminity

Let me be clear about this. Kasaba doesn't offer anything new qualitatively, structurally or ideologically. It just follow the route made by the kind of movies that the director's father and his team popularised in past. It entertains in bits thanks to Mammootty who has a great time on screen, playing the rogue police officer Zacharia. Mammootty had acted as a police officer who works on his own terms several times before- most notably in Avanazhi. Just imagine Avanazhi stripped off the vulnerability and emotional fragility of its protagonist and you get Kasaba.

Kasaba hogged limelight when many viewers accused the movie of being anti-feminine. Accusations snowballed soon, resulting in huge negativity and alienation of family audience from theatres. The makers even had to face the ire of the State Vanitha commission for scenes allegedly depicting women in poor light.

While watching Kasaba, I was focusing on the alleged anti-feminine views endorsed by it. And now after watching it I am still not decided. There are scenes that show women in poor light for sure, and many dialogues are loaded with double entendre about "acts of intimate nature". But does that mean the whole movie supports objectification of women? Can we arrive at a conclusion by plucking just one piece of act or dialogue, away from the context that the movie as a whole alludes?

One important aspect to consider is the setting of the movie. Most of it happens either in brothel or police station where there are high chances of situations blowing out of the level of decency accepted in other areas of our society. Now, if the makers tone the whole thing down, it could seriously affect the credibility of the effort. So I felt that, on that front, it was a job well done.

Second complaint about the movie was the derogatory tone used in the dialogues of Mammootty. Now, there are certain particular occasions when the character does it. We notice him going all out when a female character flirts with him, like when his subordinate Jagadeesh's wife serves him food. It is clear that she flirts with him with the consent of her husband and it is a plan hatched to trap the superior. Notice how Mammootty diffuses the situation by playing along and not showing any embarrassment when Jagadeesh walks in. He even makes Jagadeesh participate in the drama and subverts the plan.

He does it also with a female character who is an antagonist in the story. He flirts for challenging her, for gauging her and in climax, as an act of self-defence. In another scene,  we can see him clearly aiding the same lady when she is in distress. If we observe his behaviour with other female characters, it is evident that the guy has deep respect towards them. Many scenes show him boasting to some male characters about his preferences in bed. Even that, as casual they sound, serves to be a way of handing them a message and checking their reactions.

Atleast four of the female characters in Kasaba show great depth. They defiantly refuse to be mere show pieces in a movie that is primarily meant to be a showcase for the machismo of an aging superstar. Sure, one of them get a raw deal and succumbs early on, but she defies her enemies till her end. The antagonist, another female character, is cruel, scheming and a murderer. Even she has a charming naivity and a convincing back-story.

There is no point in defending a doomed endeavour, but I feel it is essential not to label something wrongly. Kasaba as per me is not anti-feminine. It is just another movie that lacks a target audience.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Portrayal of the marginalised

Every building, apartment, mall or shopping complex in big cities are built trampling on the bodies of native people who belong to the lowest strata of society. Kammatti Padam is a Malayalam movie directed by Rajiv Ravi, based on the true story of a slum on which Ernakulam city was built. It is the story about how Kammatti Padam was transformed into a sprawling city and how the lives of its dwellers were affected by the process.

The movie possess a menacing style and unfurls without any haste, taking its own sweet time. I remembered Gangs of Wasseypur while watching it. It's very detailed and invest quite a lot on its quirky and colorful characters- not only the four or five major ones, but even those who appear in just a single scene.

Kammatti Padam uses a nonlinear narrative. The movie starts in the present era, when a middle aged man, Krishnan, obviously stabbed, get in a bus. He struggles to keep his consciousness thinking about his violent past in Kammatti Padam. The movie skips quite a few times back and forth in time. First half covers the life of main players and reveals the motive behind Krishnan's return from Mumbai. These are the most entertaining parts of the movie were you are shown a lot of style and substance. But it is the latter half that was my delight.

In second half, movie change gears into the neo-noir mode. Here Kammatti Padam can give any of its Western counterparts a run for their money. Krishnan's searches lead him into the seedy underbelly of the cityscape that he himself was partly responsible in creating. Like any PI of a true noir he faces the  odd challenges and confronts the truth.

Using Dulqar Salman for the protagonist may be a commercial decision by the makers. I love to imagine Krishnan as a guy with more unconventional looks and not this sophisticated. But still he did total justice to the role. Kammatti Padam is a movie made on grand scale and totally worth the time that you invest on it. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Slaughtered Turkey is The Black Swan..!

You feed your turkey daily three times for 1000 days. In its point of view, humans are a species destined to feed turkeys for eternity. When it look back in life all it can see are perfectly peaceful, idle and comfortable days and no reason for any worry or uncertainty in future. But on the one thousand first day you decide to have turkey for dinner. So much for learning from past.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, call this catastrophic event (from your turkey's POV) Black Swan. Black swans are events that are unexpected and highly improbable, but once occurred offers perfectly plausible explanations. The incident of September 11, 2001 is a perfect example of the black swan. No one expected it, none predicted it, but after its occurance everyone came up with perfectly sensible explanations for it.

According to Taleb, mankind is wired genetically to downplay the effect of randomness in life. We have a natural tendency to behave like the turkey in our example. So we are never prepared for an encounter with a Black Swan and are totally surprised when one stares on the face.

For thousands of years civilised world had only seen swans that were white. So the general knowledge was that all swans were white. It took the sighting of only one black swan in an Australian island to dispel this knowledge for ever. According to Taleb, this is one deficiency of human knowledge. All it takes is the sighting of one black swan and what we thought as everlasting, eternal truth becomes obsolete. So he proposes being careful when we try to learn our lessons from history and being cautious while implementing them in life.

According to Taleb most of the important events in the universe are black swans and not able to foresee one is a serious issue with scientific and statistical predictions. He is especially critical of Gaussian statistical analysis using bell curves of normal distribution. Gaussian model is adequate for non-scalable subjects like height, weight or score of students were extremes don't make a huge difference to the average. But for scalable topics like the collection of a movie or turnover of a company, where extremes or outliers effect the average severely, depending on Gaussian model can result in catastrophe in long run.

The Black Swan is an extremely interesting book that I read in recent times.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

പ്രേതം, ഷറഫുദ്ദീൻ പിന്നെ MST3K

MST3K  (Mystery Science Theatre 3000) ഒരു പഴയ അമേരിക്കൻ റ്റിവി പരിപാടി ആണ്. ഒരു ഭ്രാന്തൻ ശാസ്ത്രജ്ഞൻ ഒരാളെ തന്റെ പരീക്ഷണത്തിനായി ബഹിരാകാശപേടകത്തിൽ തടവിലാക്കുന്നു. ലോകത്തിലെ ഏറ്റവും തല്ലിപ്പൊളി പടങ്ങൾ തുടർച്ചയായി കാണുക- അതാണ് പരീക്ഷണം. കൂട്ടിന് സംസാരിക്കുന്ന യന്ത്രപ്പാവകളും! മാനസികനില തെറ്റാതിരിക്കാൻ പടം കാണുമ്പോൾ അയാൾ സ്ക്രീനിലെ ദൃശ്യങ്ങളെ പരിഹസിച്ച് കമന്റ് ചെയ്തു കൊണ്ടിരിക്കും, പാവകളും കൂടെ കൂടും. ഓരോ എപ്പിസോഡിലും ഓരോ പഴയ ഹൊറർ- സൈഫൈ ചിത്രങ്ങളും കൂടെ റണ്ണിങ്ങ് കമന്ററിയും.

എനിക്ക് ഈ പരിപാടി ഇഷ്ടമായത് ഞാനും പടം കാണുമ്പോൾ കമന്റ് അടിക്കുന്ന സ്വഭാവമുള്ള ആളായതു കൊണ്ടാണ്. ചിലര്‍ക്ക് ഇത് അലോസരമുണ്ടാക്കാറുണ്ട്. പക്ഷേ നല്ല കമ്പനിയുണ്ടെങ്കിൽ ഇത് നല്ല ഒരു അനുഭവമാണ്. MST3Kയുടെ വിജയം വിസ്മൃതിയിലേക്ക് ആഴേണ്ടിയിരുന്ന, കലാപരമായോ സാങ്കേതികമായോ ഒരു ഗുണവുമില്ലാത്ത പല പടങ്ങൾക്കും ഒരു ആസ്വാദകവൃന്ദത്തെ ഉണ്ടാക്കിക്കൊടുത്തു. Robot monster, Plan 9 from outer space, Manos, Santa Clause conquers Martians തുടങ്ങി പല ചിത്രങ്ങളും കൾട്ട് പദവിയിലേക്ക് ഉയർന്നു. മോശം പടങ്ങളുടെ തമ്പുരാനായ Ed Wood നെ കുറിച്ചു പഠനങ്ങളും ജീവചരിത്രവും   Johnny Depp നായകനായ സിനിമയും വന്നു. ഇവിടെ മിഥുൻ നായകനായ ഗുണ്ട, ടി. രാജേന്ദ്രന്റെ വീരസാമി എന്നിവയ്ക്ക് ലഭിച്ച സ്വീകരണം നോക്കൂ.

MST3Kയെ പറ്റി ഓർത്തത് ഇന്നലെ രഞ്ജിത്ത് ശങ്കറിന്റെ പ്രേതം എന്ന ചിത്രം കണ്ടപ്പോഴാണ്. പ്രേതം മോശമായതു കൊണ്ടൊന്നുമല്ല, ഷറഫുദ്ദീന്റെ- പ്രേമത്തിലെ ഗിരിരാജൻ കോഴി- കഥാപാത്രം കാരണം. അയാൾ ഇതിൽ ഒരു പ്രധാന കഥാപാത്രത്തോടൊപ്പം കമന്റേറ്ററുടെ പണിയും ചെയ്യുന്നുണ്ടു. ഇത് ഒരു പരിധിവരെ പടത്തിന് ഒരു മെറ്റാ ഡൈമെൻഷൻ കൊടുക്കുന്നുണ്ട്. ഒട്ടും അരോചകമാകാതെ വളരെ ഹാസ്യാത്മകമായാണ് ഇത് നടന്നതും.

പടം കാണുമ്പോൾ നമ്മുടെ മനസ്സിൽ തോന്നുന്നത് അപ്പോഴപ്പോൾ സ്ക്രീനിൽ നിന്ന് കേൾക്കുന്നു. ഉദാഹരണത്തിന് ഒരു സീനിൽ ഇത്തിരി ഇഴയുന്നു എന്ന് ഞാൻ മനസ്സിൽ ചിന്തിച്ച സ്പോട്ടിൽ, 'ഇവൻ ഇത് ലാഗ് ചെയ്തു കൊല്ലും' എന്ന് ഒരു ഡയലോഗ്. നമ്മുടെ മനസ്സിലെ പ്രതികരണങ്ങളെ diffuse ചെയ്യിച്ചു സിനിമയിൽ വീണ്ടും ശ്രദ്ധിപ്പിക്കുന്ന ഒരു സൈക്കിളോടിക്കൽ മൂവ്..!