Friday, December 30, 2016

My Praise For Dangal....

Manipulation of viewer's emotions is one of the major yardstick of success for Indian movies, particularly Bollywood films. That is also one way they escape from the clutches of logic and laws of physics. If your movie make viewers overtly emotional- make them cry, laugh, be angry or anything else other than think, you have a winner on your hand.

Aamir Khan is one movie maker (I would say movie maker because, as he involves in the production of his movies too, he definitely is a decision maker in the process) who is the master of manipulation games as evident from his movies like Lagaan and Taare Zameen Par. I am not demeaning him by this statement, I am being positive. His major achievement is that people expect something different every time his new film is announced. He delivers consistently by making movies with unique themes that also entertains because their structure doesn't vary from other standard Bollywood movies. Audience feel that they are watching something fresh, at the same time they are still in very much their familiar territory.

His latest movie Dangal is not different. I don't want to go into details about the movie itself. But it is a standard Aamir Khan fare- it's about a social issue, it entertains you a lot, it is well made in technical and artistic fronts, Aamir does a brilliant job and the same time ensures that his co-actors get meaty parts themselves, thereby backing his performance.

But my praise for the movie is for another matter. If you remember Aamir's movie Taare Zameen Par, which is about the proper upbringing of kids, you will be astonished to find that this movie portrays something extremely opposite. The easiest way out for the makers was to cover it up beautifully in emotions so that we won't identify this discrepancy.

But here their choice was to show it off by making Aamir's character a bit in grey shade and his behaviour bordering on child abuse. It adds another dimension to the movie. And that is why I feel the movie should be praised, along with several other positives. It gives an opportunity for the viewer to think.

Bridging Connections: A Collection of Sri Lankan Short Stories.

Edited by Rajiva Wijesinha, Bridging Connections is a collection of twenty five short stories penned by Sri Lankan writers. The book has representations from all three major languages of the country. Eight of the stories are English translations of Sinhala stories, seven translated from Tamil and ten are stories originally written in English. There are stories written in different eras- right from 1940s to contemporary ones.

The first story of the collection, titled Diversion is written by Martin Wickramasinghe, who is acknowledged as the father of modern Sinhala fiction. It is about the remnants of colonial attitudes still showing its ugliness even after the English left for good. Going Back is about a retired head teacher visiting her school nostalgically with her son who doesn't care. The Dancer very beautifully portrays a psychological aspect of married life. A Latrine For US Too establishes how a new habit is formed. Initially all are sceptical about building a new toilet, but are forced to make one by the law. Later one by one the family starts using it and it becomes a norm. This story, I feel has significance in the current Indian situation of digitalisation.

Today My Son Comes Home is a dark tragedy as the name indicates. The Teacher is about how desires can veil our humanity. SMS is a heart felt story about the interactions between a consultant and mine searchers in a war zone. Akka is a family drama about a divorced sister.

The Tamil stories starts with Chastity, which mulls about the importance of life over chastity of a lady. Satisfaction has a very personal narration about a boy selling wares to feed his family and to educate himself. Among the Hills starts as a romance and then by the end take an abrupt turn.

Thousands of Directions is about ethnicity and the ridges created by politics. It Could Happen Anywhere, Anytime is a tragedy of lives altered permanently by war. Thanks is a mini story that's interesting due to its sharp anti-Indian twist in the end. The Door of Infatuation is a hilarious retelling of an old mythological tale.

Stories that are written in English are more interesting because they are not translated and comes directly from horses' mouths. Also, absence of the strong ethnic divide seen in the previous two sections make it an interesting read. Notable are the satires Professional Mourners and The Doughty Men of Purantota. No State, No Dog is a story of sudden and drastic change in life, so is The Colour of Life. Home Coming contrasts expectations and reality. Reunion is a black comedy about extreme situations tearing the mind apart.

The Drummer is perhaps the most modern of the stories. The Price goes back to the theme of parents' inability to raise their children as individuals. The Rabbit's Retreat treads a nostalgic path of reminiscing about school life. The last tale Monkeys is like a wise Buddhist fable.

Title Bridging Connections signifies the attempt to unify the two ethnicities that are perpetually at loggerheads with each other. But the stories given in the book showcase the stark difference between their views and attitudes. It is interesting to observe how one party tries to avoid or sugar coat the issue while the other constantly brings it up to the verge of propaganda. One tries to induce restraint and a feel good factor in its stories, while the other tries to stoke the emotions.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

El Topo- Violence and Philosophy

Sometime back I had posted on the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune here. I was very much impressed by the vision and dedication of the subject of that movie, Mexican surrealist movie director Alexandro Jodorowsky. I found out that his first movie Fando y Lis is available on YouTube. I tried watching it but it was too much off my taste. So I decided on watching El Topo, his second attempt.

In a YouTube video Jodorowsky himself had elaborated his reasons for the existence of this bizarre Mexican western movie. It so happened that the first screening of Fando y Lis, during a Mexican film festival, ended in a full scale riot. As a result, when the movie was screened in USA, they chopped off all the surrealist scenes that were presumed to be offensive to US audience. To Jodorowsky's disappointment, the movie failed to generate any interest. He decided to make his next movie distinctly American- a western, containing all cliché elements of the genre with his style of surrealism.

El Topo starts with a bizarre image, that of a man with an umbrella riding a horse on a hot desert with a small boy who is stark naked. The boy then buries his toy and a photograph of his mother to declare he has attained manhood. The actors are the director himself and his real son. The movie proceeds to show them travelling through villages being plundered by looters delivering justice. He goes on his journey through desert with a woman, whom he rescued abandoning his son. She persuades him to win over the four masters residing in desert. He fights and win them all, by crook and luck.

But then the woman double cross him and leave him for dead. Some cave dwelling people who are deformed by centuries of interbreeding rescue him. After years he wakes up from coma and decides to help them come out of the cave by making a tunnel. His son who was abandoned has become a monk and wants revenge. 

The whole story happens in punishing landscapes in the background of unending cruelty and violence. Everything that happens on screen is so out of the world, but shot so strikingly, that you are forced to find the meaning of it. The movie delivers very high on shock value. But unlike some movies made with only that purpose, El Topo makes us aware that whatever is shown is unreal.

It works as a parable- of a spiritual journey that starts with self and ends in selflessness. Lot of spiritual symbols are thrown in- animals, violent and sexual activities, magic, deformed people, rituals. The movie never bothers to be correct- politically, socially or culturally.

When it was released it became a sensation. It was the movie that popularised midnight screenings, when movies that have disturbing content are shown past midnight in movie houses. If you can handle the disturbing visuals- caution: there are lots of that here- El Topo is an interesting puzzle for the neurons.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Avenger by Frederick Forsyth

A young American idealist relief worker is killed in Bosnia by a psychopathic gangster. To exact vendetta, his grandfather takes the help of Avenger, an anonymous person who is actually a Vietnam veteran who used to hunt Vietcongs in underground tunnel networks during war, an expert in rendition- picking criminals hiding in other countries and delivering them to justice. But what if this criminal is hiding in an impenetrable fortress made as a joint venture by Man and Nature, guarded 24 hours by armed soldiers inside a true Banana Republic and has the backing of... CIA!

All writers have their own style. Frederick Forsyth's style resembles the pose of a tiger about to pounce on its prey. The prey, when it sees the tiger, feels that the moment is infinite. Time flows too slow and you notice every tiny detail from your surrounding, all the while waiting for the inevitable action to happen. He sustains this tension throughout the narrative, building the ambience and gradually preparing readers for the inevitable final showdown.

Avenger is no different. Told in a non linear style, it's timeline span more than half A century. We get snippets of World War 2, Vietnam war, Serbian crisis and even the rise of Taliban. Like most of the Forsyth novels, in Avenger also, every action, every spoken word, every situation pays off by the climax. There is a lot of name dropping- of actual personalities and incidents, which again involves us more with the plot. Every character has a back-story, embedded with so much details that we identify with their actions, reactions and decisions. Each back-story has the potential to start a novel of its own.

The final resolution happens in just the last few pages, but the build up of the background- the quirks and motives of characters, the planning of the operations and even the establishment of the geography make the novel work big time.

Monday, December 26, 2016

കട്ടപ്പനയിലെ ഹൃതിക് റോഷനും ഓർമ്മശക്തിയും...

നാം കാര്യങ്ങൾ ഓർക്കുന്നത് എങ്ങനെയെന്നറിയാമോ? നമ്മുടെ ഇന്ദ്രിയങ്ങൾ അനുഭവിക്കുന്ന ഉത്തേജനങ്ങൾ തലച്ചോറിൽ എത്തുമ്പോൾ തലച്ചോറ് മുന്നേയുണ്ടായിട്ടുള്ള അനുഭവങ്ങളുമായി ഘടിപ്പിച്ചു നോക്കുന്നു. അതായത് നമുക്ക് നേരത്തേ അനുഭവമുള്ളതോ അറിയുന്നതോ ആയ കാര്യങ്ങളുമായി ബന്ധമുള്ള ഒരു പുതിയ അനുഭവം ഉണ്ടാകുമ്പോൾ അത് നന്നായി ഓർമ്മയിൽ നിലനിൽക്കുന്നു.

ഞാൻ നാദിര്‍ഷാ സംവിധാനം ചെയ്ത കട്ടപ്പനയിലെ ഹൃതിക് റോഷൻ കണ്ട് മണിക്കൂറുകളേ ആയുള്ളൂ. എന്നാൽ ഇപ്പോൾ അതിൽ നിന്ന് കാര്യമായൊന്നും ഓർത്തെടുക്കാൻ കഴിയുന്നില്ല. അതിന് കാരണമായി എനിക്ക് തോന്നുന്നത് മുകളിൽ പറഞ്ഞതാണ്. പടത്തിന്റെ ഘടന വളരെ അയഞ്ഞതാണ്. മൊത്തത്തിൽ നോക്കുമ്പോൾ ഒരു കഥയുണ്ട്. എന്നാൽ പല ചേരുവകളും ആ കഥയുടെ ഭാഗങ്ങളല്ല. പല കഥാപാത്രങ്ങളും വന്നു പോകുന്നു. പല ഹാസ്യരംഗങ്ങളും സമയം തികക്കാനുള്ള വെറും ഫില്ലർ മാത്രമായി പോകുന്നു.

ചുരുക്കത്തിൽ രംഗങ്ങൾ തമ്മിലുള്ള പൊരുത്തമില്ലാത്തതിനാൽ പടത്തിന് നൈസർഗികമായ ഒരു ഒഴുക്കിന്റെ അഭാവം പ്രകടമാണ്. അത് കൊണ്ട് പല രംഗങ്ങളും തിരശ്ശീലയിൽ കാണുമ്പോൾ രസിക്കുമെങ്കിലും പിന്നീട് ഓർത്തെടുക്കാൻ ശരിക്ക് വിഷമിക്കണം. പ്രത്യേകിച്ച് ഹാസ്യരംഗങ്ങൾ. കോമഡിയും മിമിക്സും പിന്നെ ഞാനും എന്ന ടിവി പരിപാടി ഒരു ചലച്ചിത്രമാക്കി അവതരിപ്പിച്ചത് പോലെ.

മുഖ്യകഥാപാത്രത്തെ അവതരിപ്പിച്ച വിഷ്ണു ഒരു ഭാവി വാഗ്ദാനം ആണെന്ന് തെളിയിച്ചു. ധർമ്മജനും സിദ്ദിഖും നന്നായി പിന്തുണച്ചു. തന്റെ ആദ്യപടത്തിലെ പോലെ നായികമാർക്ക് ഇതിലും കാര്യമായൊന്നും ചെയ്യാൻ നാദിര്‍ഷാ കൊടുത്തില്ല. സലിംകുമാർ തന്റെ പഴയ പ്രതാപത്തിന്റെ നിഴലിലൊതുങ്ങി നിന്നു കളഞ്ഞു.

പല കഥാപാത്രങ്ങളേയും കഥാഗതി മാറ്റാനുള്ള വെറും ഉപകരണങ്ങളായിട്ടാണ് ചലച്ചിത്രകാരന്മാർ കണ്ടത്. നായികയുടെ പരിചയക്കാരനായ ഹിന്ദിക്കാരനും, കഥാന്ത്യത്തിൽ ആത്മഹത്യയ്ക്ക് ശ്രമിക്കുന്ന കോടീശ്വരനുമെല്ലാം ഈ വകുപ്പിൽ വരും. ഇവർ ആവശ്യഘട്ടങ്ങളിൽ അവതരിക്കുകയും അവരുടെ ധർമ്മം കഴിഞ്ഞാൽ ആരാലും ഓർക്കപ്പെടാതെ ഒഴിവാവുകയും ചെയ്യും. ആൻമരിയ എന്ന പ്രധാനകഥാപാത്രം പോലും വെറും പ്ലോട്ട് ഡിവൈസായി അധഃപതിക്കുന്നത് സങ്കടകരമായി.

ഇത്തരം കഥാപാത്രങ്ങൾ അനശ്വരമാക്കപ്പെട്ട ഉദാഹരണങ്ങൾ വേണോ? ആൻമരിയ കലിപ്പിലാണ് എന്ന ചിത്രത്തിൽ സിദ്ദിഖ് അവതരിപ്പിച്ച വേഷം കഥാഗതി തിരിക്കാൻ വേണ്ടി മാത്രം വരുന്നതാണ്. എന്നാൽ അതിനെ പൊലിപ്പിച്ചെടുത്ത് അവിസ്മരണീയമാക്കിത്തീർത്തു. ദേവാസുരത്തിലെ പല മൈനർ കഥാപാത്രങ്ങളും, അപ്പുമാഷടക്കം, നീലകണ്ഠന്റെ പ്രമാണിത്തം വെളിവാക്കുക എന്ന ഒറ്റക്കാരണത്തിന് അവതരിക്കുന്നവരാണ്. എന്നാൽ അവരില്ലാതെ ആ ചിത്രം സങ്കൽപ്പിക്കാൻ പറ്റുമോ?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Teleportation Accident by Nedd Beauman

Preceding the years of World War 2, in Berlin, an accident is caused by the teleportation apparatus devised by Loeser, a stage director. It was made for a play which is also about an accident that happened in seventeenth century when another teleportation device made by set designer Lavicini for a play malfunctioned, killing as many as 25 spectators including himself. The accident in Berlin, though a minor one injuring only the hero of the play, sets off a chain of events which makes Loeser to chase a girl named Adele Hitler (no relations), across countries and to finally learn the truth about Lavicini's accident.

Ned Beauman's novel The Teleportation Accident cannot be pigeon-holed. Under a thick veil of black comedy, can be spotted multiple genres- sci-fi, spy, murder mystery, romance- lurking inside. It is a delightful read if you are ready for all the roller coaster thrills due to the subversion of expectations. The style of its prose is heavily ornated. The novel on the whole is a weird concoction of contrasts.

The characters of this novel are eccentric people who are tough nuts to crack. Loeser is the kind of guy who seems idiotic, self centered and one who bumbles along the plot. But like all the other people in it, who invariably have a mean streak running in them, the guy seems genuine and capable of free thought and change. It is this approach of the novelist that makes even the worst of them posses a human quality that endears the readers.

The Teleportation Accident deals with the concepts of space and time. Teleportation is the process of instantly transferring an object from one point to another. In the novel the characters consider only spacial coordinates while referring about teleportation. But the novel subtly alludes the fluidity of time also, by its structure that suddenly moves forward in time, chunks together, without any change accounted in its characters. Also in the climax, novelist unveil this concept glaringly by teleporting a character in time.

The novel displays several parallels between past, present and future. It seems to acknowledge the existence of a connection that links the events from different points of time. One theme that keeps recurring is the similarities between the lifespan of cities. Novel tries to establish that all major cities undergo similar evolutionary changes in social, cultural, political and economic fronts irrespective of the historical period. The need for finding teleportation in every era is established by the requirements of the development of public transport system in growing cities. The failure to invent it is given as a reason for the evolution of public transport.

Another interesting parallel is established between characters of Loeser and Lavicini. It is their carnal desires that drives them in their journey. They are in oblivion about the history that happens around them. Loeser at one point even predicts that the one person who may never make a difference in his life is going to be Adolf Hitler. Their respective character arcs reaches the zenith when they finally realises their folly and both discard their objects of desire.

The Teleportation Accident is a hugely enjoyable strange and wild ride through multiple coordinates of space and time, inhabited by the craziest of characters in a hyperbolic narrative. It entertains in a bizarre way, all the while giving our grey cells enough intellectual exercise.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Tiger: And It's Hunter...

This is the second movie based on tiger hunt that I watched recently, first being Pulimurugan, the Malayalam blockbuster. The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale is a Korean movie directed by Park Hoon-jung. It explores the peculiar relation between a hunter and a tiger, set against the background of Japanese occupation of Korea during 1920's.

Japanese governor posted in Korea has a fetish for tigers and takes up the extinction of Korean tigers as his mission. Aiding him are a group of Korean hunters who have trouble capturing the last tiger roaming in Mt. Jirisan. It is a gigantic beast nicknamed The Mountain Lord and is believed to be extremely powerful, cunning and intelligent. Their former leader Man-duk, who is retired from hunting after his wife's death, declines every offer to find its trail. But his teenaged son joins the hunt. As an aftermath, the relation between the tiger and the hunter is revealed.

I loved the movie for its emotional core, though keeping up the tradition of Korean movies, it has some great moments of extreme action, graphic violence and edge-of-seat suspense. The parallels between the life of the tiger and the hunter is what stands out in the movie. What made it more solid is the lack of much exposition. Man-duk doesn't speak about the tiger to anybody. Only the scenes between both protagonists are shown and it is upto us to decide what goes on in their minds and what determines their actions.

I mentioned the tiger as the protagonist in the last sentence. Though a graphical rendition, Mountain Lord stands out as a real character. It has as much, if not more screen time as the human protagonist and many times we root for it more than anybody else. It's pain and lose is portrayed in a heart touching manner and though the carnage unleashed by the beast when cornered is extremely graphic, we connect to the reason for its behaviour. The graphic team deserve a cheer for this accomplishment.

The movie unfolds very slowly, allowing us to soak in its atmosphere and ambience. Instead of just being a background for the action setup, deceptive Mt. Jirisan is made to become another important player in the game. I feel The Tiger is a movie about how the interference of society and invasion of external forces creates fissures in already fragile relationships, that is balanced on a status-quo. It's relevant!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Book Review: Small Steps to Big Reading

Small Steps to Big Reading is a self help book written by Dr. Hozefa A Bhinderwala and published by Bloomsbury. It is aimed to convert non-readers into readers. These days as an avid reader, I find many complaining to me about various issues due to which they are unable to pursue their reading habit as aggressively as they want to. This short book, I feel, can be a great answer to all of them out there who doesn't find motivation to pick a book, read and actually finish it. It even goes the extra mile and make you inspired to practice that you read in your daily life.

Dr. Hozefa A Bhinderwala is a practicing Psychiatrist and has taken up the cause of reading enhancement of public by organising workshops, classes and making videos from a decade. This book explains the process of reading theoretically. It details how our eye muscles, nerves and brain works in tandem to make sense of what's written on paper and how these informations are committed to memory for future use. The book also gives us practical techniques which can be used to increase our reading speed without compromising on comprehension.

For so short a book, it is great that Small Steps to Big Reading works simultaneously as a theoretical and practical guide and as a motivator to efficient reading. When people ask me how I read fast, my reply used to be that, instead of reading, I do scanning. But after reading this book I came to know that what I thought was scanning is infact reading and all other reading aloud and lip movements that many resort to, are basically child steps. My biggest surprise after reading the book was the knowledge that slow reading, instead of making you understand more, as per the general perception, hamper the quality of reading seriously. After reading the why's and how's, it make sense.

Small Steps to Big Reading is equipped with lot of illustrations that puts across its points more effectively. There are many examples given for every thing covered in it. The language is very simple and devoid of jargon which make the reading even more of a pleasure. The book comes with a Longitude sheet to help us with increasing the reading speed. It is infact something we can easily make ourselves and customise according to the needs. I tried it out and it really works.

Efficient reading is not just for the casual readers. Everybody can benefit from it because in today's world of information explosion, it is a necessity to keep up in order to stay in the game. Be it students, executives, business men or professionals, it is worthwhile and essential to explore the world of written words. This book can be a guide and motivator in that endeavour.

*This book was sent to me by the author for an objective review.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge: Conscientious Soldier?

Mel Gibson is a great actor and a greater director. All the three movies of his that I watched were spectacular and epic and that was why I was eager to checkout his latest movie Hacksaw Ridge. Hacksaw Ridge also turned out to be a very good movie. It is the true story about a conscientious objector, a soldier who doesn't take part in war, but was influential in the taking of the Hacksaw  Ridge in Japan during World War 2.

Desmond Doss decides to join army as a medic, after Pearl Harbor attack. But due to his deep religious belief and due to guilt feelings from some childhood incidents, he refuses to  touch a weapon or harm anyone. This causes trouble for him while training because his superiors and mates feel he is weak. The movie is about how he proves them all wrong on field, when he turns to be the most courageous of all.

Hacksaw Ridge as shown in the movie.

Andrew Garfield gives a convincing performance as Desmond Doss and is well supported by a great cast. The movie is successful in engaging the viewers' interest throughout the running time. I would rate Hacksaw Ridge below Brave heart,  Passion and Apocalypto, the other Gibson directorials that I watched. But that doesn't make it an unworthy movie in any regards. It's just that other movies are so overwhelmingly crazy the way they are made and Hacksaw Ridge consciously try hard not to go overboard, but without much success. This restraint, I feel has caused some confusion in the structuring of the movie as a whole.

I loved the way war scenes are shown. In other movies, they try to stylise and organise the action to make comprehension easier. Instead, Hacksaw Ridge show the chaos of the situation on your face. It feels like you are totally exposed to the brutality and carnage that happens on screen. This helps in portraying the rescue operation by a solitary Doss more effectively.

Real Desmond Doss

Though it is about a nonviolent person during war, the movie itself is not anti-war pro-nonviolence. Doss, though averse of using weapons, supports war and destruction. He just does his part of duty towards his country by contributing in a way that he can, as a medic. If he wasn't bound by his religion which prevents him from killing, he would have taken up arms. Though the movie portrays the brutality of war, it's more a plot device than a statement.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

It Might Get Loud: Rock n Guitar

Three great guitarists- Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, meet up and introduce to each others their individual style and philosophy. This is the premise of the 2008 documentary It Might Get Loud directed by David Guggenheim. The movie itself contains very few scenes of the meeting. Individual interviews, trips down memory lanes, initial struggles, demos of guitars and equipment they use and old clips of stage shows and photographs make up the rest.

The theme that bind the three narratives is electric guitar. Most of the reminiscences are based on their experiences of learning, knowing and playing guitar. It is interesting to know that the way they approach their guitar sets them apart. Jimmy Page has a love affair with his. He compares it to a woman to make love with, a romantic notion. For Edge, who is very particular about the sound he produces and techno-savvy among three, guitar is a tool to reach that sound that he wants.  Jack White, the garage rockstar has a more primal connection with it. To him, it's a fight that he makes while playing it. He need to win the fight to succeed.

The right move by the makers were to make the three stars to represent three distinct eras of rock music- after Great Depression, during Vietnam war and the Counter Culture movement and finally, someone from present times. This way, they managed to concisely line out the evolution of rock music. Another interesting factor to note is that while Jimmy Page and Jack White, the first and latest of them, are inspired by the Blues, The Edge has no such strains in him. It was interesting to see him clearly out of his comfort zone when others were discussing blues. It's like they reached a complete circle.

For me, the defining moment of the movie was when Page played Whole Lotta Love and others looked on, mesmerised. With all the differences of POV and generation gap between them, that scene demonstrate the power of music to unite all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Arrival vs Other Sci-fi Flicks...

It was a coincidence that I watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind just a few days before I saw Arrival, the latest Hollywood science fiction movie that is making waves around the world these days. When I watched Close Encounters way back in time, I wasn't able to appreciate it for all its marvel. After watching Spielberg spectacles like Jaws and Jurassic Park, it was dampening to see a very sober movie about alien contact that's basically devoid of any violent confrontation. It felt then that the sole purpose of their visit was to conduct an orchestra with humans.

But the next time after years, after attaining a bit more maturity and understanding, I was able finally to get the movie, especially the climax that totally flew over me the first time I watched it. Another science fiction film that portrays mankind's encounter with a higher civilisation is Kubrick's 2001: A Space Oddesey. It had more philosophical undertones than any other sci-fi movies that I watched. Arrival for me is more of a cross between these two giants.

Arrival manages to convey the wonder and anxiety felt by alien contact and communicating with them like Close Encounters. At the same time, it makes philosophical statements concerning the linearity of time like 2001. Arrival was a very effective movie experience for me till it reached its climax, during which some of its effects kind of worn off due to the abrupt way in which the business was wrapped up and the lack of any tangible payoff.

The issue with Arrival was that it was not focused on a singular aspect of its plot. In every 20 minutes or so, the movie chucks off most of its build up and its philosophy till then and move on to something different. This is not a bad thing normally. Even 2001 had a similar approach. But after all that breach of viewer's patience, 2001 comes up with some visuals and a philosophical stand that is much grander than what it showed till then- the star child. That makes the investment of viewer's time and intellect worthwhile. Arrival on the other hand doesn't offer anything such and settles for an ordinary, convenient ending that may have looked good on an ordinary science fiction movie.

Even that is fine when we consider what happened in Signs, a movie with a similar concept where build up was too good but the ending was one baffling WTF moment. (Signs makes us feel it's a movie about alien invasion while in-fact it's actually about how the invasion resolves the personal issues of its lead). Interstellar is another example, but it got away by Nolan's persuading skills that made me feel that the climax made a very important point, which wasn't the case as I found out when I watched it the second time.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

IFFK Bytes: Clash- On Humanity

I was in a confusion today morning- to watch Neruda or Clash. It was to be the last movie that I was watching in IFFK 2016 and wanted it to be a memorable one. Finally I circled on Clash, an Egyptian movie set during the clash between army and Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. And the gamble payed off, in-fact I hit a jackpot. Clash turned out to be an explosive movie that is capable to provide good exercise for your brain and your soul.

The whole movie happens inside a police van. Army rounds up and fill whoever it thinks can cause trouble into vans. In a van thus you find a cross section of Egyptian society. Our van contain journalists, Muslim Brotherhood activists, pro-army protesters and apolitical onlookers. The claustrophobic atmosphere become highly electric and we witness a human drama about companionship, cooperation and survival.

The movie has a political background and has characters with clear political affiliations, but strangely manages to stay apolitical concentrating on studying human behaviour in adverse situations. The characters are clearly etched, colourful and three dimensional people who has their feet solidly placed in the real world.

The movie marches forward in a breakneck pace, even with several instances of humor and irony underlining the humanity of the people forced to stay together in spite of their mistrust and hatred to each other. The scenes of riot and mayhem seen through the windows of the van was so original that one person near me suspected that it was shot during the real protest. A director who watched the movie with me was wondering how it was made while coming out of the show.

I don't know how, but I'm sure it was made with huge conviction and devotion on the power of humanity to survive hard times by keeping itself together.

IFFK Bytes: Strange Heaven- Turns Hell on Earth

Strange Heaven is for me a horror movie without any element that was horrific in it. A few minutes into the movie and getting a hint of how it's going to progress, I was staring the screen in disbelief. It looked liked a page torn from a Dystopian novel, but was in-fact based on existing laws of a country.

Strange Heaven is the story of a Polish couple and their daughter who immigrated to Sweden. Swedish law takes special care that kids get their rights and aren't treated bad by parents. They can call a helpline in case of any parental troubles and state discreetly takes care of the issue. A lawyer's statement makes it clear that parents most of the time never get back the children who are placed under foster care.

The daughter stumbles upon her parents having sex and mistakes it for a fight. She calls the helpline and as a result, a social worker, who takes her job a bit too seriously,  suspecting domestic violence, initiates the process to keep the kid under foster care of a couple whose kid died in an accident. The movie is about the plight of parents and their desperate efforts to get their kid back.

I was too shocked that such a thing is even possible. What is scary is that without getting parent's point of view or solid evidence of any misconduct to the child, such an action may be taken, causing insufferable pain to all concerned. It is the classic case where a law that is meant to emotionally guard a child, is executed in an emotionless manner. The enforcers repeatedly advice parents not to be emotional. And they prohibit any physical contact during allowed visits under observation of guards.

While watching the movie, I didn't care about anything other than the mental trauma undergone by the family. It was heart wrenching.

IFFK Bytes: Soy Nero- Deadly Ironic

Soy Nero was a stunning watch in the second day of IFFKA 2016. The movie has its plot based on an act which enables deported outsiders to acquire green card by joining US army and fighting. Green card soldiers were extensively used in middle east. The movie disorients you by shifting it's pace, geography and priorities abruptly, but by the end effortlessly manages to bind itself together and put forward a direct political statement.

It's the story of Nero, who was born and brought up in USA, but deported to Mexico. He is ready to join the army and fight for USA as he feels it's his only chance to be a proud American. The movie portrays the journey that Nero undertakes to realise this ambition and the deadly ironies that he has to face on the course of it.

The movie starts with a joke about an ant and an elephant being in love. By the end it is revealed that this ironical situation is precisely the plot of it. It starts as a road movie, proceeds as a comedy and culminates as a war movie. Yet it stays true to its core idea throughout. The movie is beautifully and artfully shot, especially the war scenes which are chilling to say the least. The fireworks scene in the starting is another startling display. The humor is stinging.

But the movie truly excels in the ironic statements it makes. It starts in the very beginning when police question Nero of his identity. Nero's quest for his identity and the solution of dying to protect it seems to be the limit of irony, but the movie neatly caps it when it shockingly displays in the end that even that is not enough and it's all back to square one.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

IFFK Bytes: Sink- Emotional Extremes

South African production Sink is till now the most intense experience of IFFK 2016 for me. This movie takes you down to hell and then back. By the time it ends you are sure to face every emotions of the spectrum in extreme measures.

Directed by Brett Michael Innes, Sink deals with a phase in the life of three individuals who are compelled to coexist under extreme circumstances. Rachel who works as a maid for rich couple Chris and Michelle is in a dilemma- whether or not to continue working for them after Michelle accidentally causes the death of Maia, her kid. She decides to stay as she has to support her family in Mozambique and she needs the income for that. Sink shows how this decision undone gradually the life of all three involved.

The movie is told in non-linear mode. It may disorient the viewers initially but makes the movie a compelling watch. Great acting performances- restrained and absorbing by all three leads and economic narration lifts the movie to a higher platform.

There was a Q&A session with the director that shed more light into the characters, vision and movie making process in South Africa. 

IFFK Bytes: Cold of Kalandar- Struggle With Nature

Just watched Cold of Kalandar, the Turkish movie directed by Mustafa Kara in IFFK 2016. It is a movie about a man's struggle for survival against nature. Striking visuals of rocky, snowy and wet terrain is the highlight of the movie. It is an inspiring watch.

Mehmet is out on mountains for days prospecting for ore. His wife and others feel it is a waste of time. She fights with him and urges to take up jobs with daily wages and support family. Snow in the mountains halts Mehmet's plans and to survive poverty and debtors, and finally he decide to take his bull for prize fighting. Will luck favor him atleast now?

I found the protagonist of this and the previous one's about which I blogged (After the Storm) similar in too many respects. Both had tasted initial success, but is currently seriously out of luck. Both try to make sense of the world around them with least while others, have labelled them losers. Their family are confused what to make of them and how to deal with them. Both of them finally comes in terms of their situation and rain is a driving factor in both movies for this positive turn.

IFFK Bytes: After The Storm- It's All About Life

After the Storm is a Japanese film that I watched today in IFFK. I remembered the movie Inside Llewyn Davis while watching it. Like that movie, this one is about a man down and out of his luck, trying hard to make sense of the world around him.

There are two kind of movies- ones that show routine life and ones with drama. This is of the first kind. Now, for these kind of movies to succeed, it should contain something deep and exciting. In latter kind of movies, the drama takes care of shouldering the work to some extent. With minimum possibility to contain dramatic tension, the former kind need more effort.

I feel that Inside Llewyn Davis perfectly nailed it. In Malayalam, Action Hero Biju is a movie that somehow got the mix right. After the Storm reaches an average mark. The protagonist is someone you come to care about, the humor is great and on many occasions you tend to draw parallels with your life. The problem is that these moments, by the midway point of the movie starts getting stale. From then, the movie starts relying heavily on actors to deliver instead of situations. Actors have done their part commendably well. Too bad that it has many moments that doesn't connect well. But if you consider your life too is just like that, it doesn't sound that bad.

Friday, December 9, 2016

IFFK Bytes: Being Seventeen- Teen Angst

Third movie watched in IFFK 2016 is Being 17, a French movie directed by André Téchiné. As the name indicates it is a movie about the psyche of teenagers. It's about the complex relation between two teenagers who are classmates that progress from rivalry to companionship and culminates in love.

Damien is the son of a soldier, who is sensitive and has issues in understanding himself. Adopted son of a couple, Thomas is his classmate, but starts a bitter rivalry with Damien that borders on bullying. Damien's mother brings Thomas home when his mother is hospitalised. Naturally both are uncomfortable and the movie is about how they deal with each other.

The importance of this movie lies in the aspect that it never tries to water down the issues or introduce feel good elements into it. There is a very natural element in the movie that makes the characters believable even when they go through extremely complex movements of life. Ambitions, motivations and desires of teenage mind is expressed convincingly in Being 17.

IFFK Bytes: Angel- Invisible Boy and Blind Girl

The second movie that I just watched on 21st IFFK is Angel. It is a Belgian romantic comedy directed by Harry Cleven. Angel is a very mellow movie with a thread bare story line with which making even a coherent film seems impossible, let alone an 80 minute feature that manages to engross and impress.

It is about a boy who is born invisible. His mother decides to keep his existence a secret to protect him from society. But he befriends a blind girl living next door, who is unaware of his secret. They grow up to be lovers. One day she decides to get cure for blindness with expectations of seeing him. But what would he do?

Most of the movie is shot in the point of view of the invisible boy. The tone is mellow and narration is concentrated on conversations. The movie makes the viewers interested in it by reducing every possible distraction on screen to a minimum. There are no beautiful background shots or racy BGM. But the drama is so intent and poignant that you cannot but fall for it.

IFFK Bytes: Indivisible- On Separation

I'm here at 21st IFFK and watched the first movie screened at Tagore. Indivisible is an Italian movie directed by Edoardo De Angelis about a pair of conjoined twins and their reactions to the prospect of being separated. The movie manages to portray the desperation and angst of the two girls effectively without opting to trivialise their issues.

Two girls conjoined at hips are good singers and does local shows. Their father manages them with the help of stoner mother and her relatives. A doctor offers to separate them. The whole balance of the family is thrown off when each member has their personal agenda to care for and react accordingly.

The movie succeeds largely due to the deeply nuanced performance of the twins. The movie is a study on the effects of selfish intents on relations. It's about clinging on to bodies even once you know it's better to let go.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

സിലബസ് മാറണോ, മനോഭാവം മാറണോ?

കേരള സർക്കാർ വിദ്യാലയങ്ങളിൽ കുട്ടികളുടെ കുറവും, കൂണു പോലെ മുളച്ചു പൊന്തുന്ന സ്വകാര്യ വിദ്യാലയങ്ങളിൽ പ്രവേശനത്തിനായുള്ള  തള്ളിക്കയറ്റവും എന്തുകൊണ്ട്? ഉത്തരമായി പല അഭിപ്രായങ്ങളും കേട്ടു.

സർക്കാർ സിലബസ് എൻ.സി.ഇ.ആർ.ടി സിലബസിനേക്കാൾ നിലവാരം കുറഞ്ഞതാണെന്ന് ചിലര്‍.

സർക്കാർ വിദ്യാലയങ്ങളിൽ ആവശ്യമായ സൗകര്യം കുറവായത് കൊണ്ടെന്ന് ചിലർ.

സ്വകാര്യവിദ്യാലയങ്ങളിൽ സൗകര്യവും നിലവാരവും കൂടുതലായതു കൊണ്ടെന്ന് കുറച്ചു പേര്‍.

അധ്യാപകരുടെ  വിമുഖത കാരണമെന്ന് ചിലർ.

സർക്കാറിന്റെ വിമുഖത മൂലമെന്ന് മറ്റു ചിലർ.

സർക്കാർ സ്വകാര്യ വിദ്യാലയങ്ങളിലെ നടത്തിപ്പുകാരുമായി ഒത്തുകളി നടത്തുകയാണെന്ന് ഒരു പക്ഷം.

മധ്യവർഗക്കാർക്ക് സ്വതേയുള്ള ഉയര്‍ന്നു പൊങ്ങാനുള്ള ആഗ്രഹം കാരണമെന്ന് ഇനി ചിലര്‍.

എനിക്ക് തോന്നുന്നു, നമ്മുടെ മക്കൾ സർക്കാർ സ്കൂളിൽ പഠിക്കാൻ വരുന്ന താഴേക്കിടയിലുള്ളവരുടെ മക്കളുമായി കൂട്ടുകൂടിയാൽ ചീത്തയാകുമെന്ന ഭയമാണ് ഇതിന് പുറകിലെന്ന്.

മറ്റെല്ലാ ന്യായീകരണങ്ങളും ഒരു നിമിഷം മാറ്റി വെച്ച് ഒന്ന് അവനവന്റെ ഉള്ളിലേക്ക് നോക്കൂ... സത്യമല്ലേ?

നിങ്ങൾക്കെന്തു തോന്നുന്നു...?

പാവങ്ങളുടെ കഴിവ്...!

ഇന്ന് കേട്ടൊരു സംശയം:
സ്വഭാവത്തിൽ പഞ്ചപാവങ്ങളായവർ കഴിവില്ലാത്തവരാണോ?...

ആയിരിക്കാം... ആവാതെയുമിരിക്കാം... ഇതിൽ രണ്ടു കാര്യങ്ങളാണ് ചിന്തിക്കേണ്ടത്.

ഒന്ന്, സ്വഭാവവും കഴിവും  മനുഷ്യഗുണങ്ങളാണ്. ഇവ തമ്മിലുള്ള ബന്ധമെന്താണ്? സ്വഭാവത്തിൽ ഉള്ള വ്യത്യാസങ്ങൾ കഴിവിനെ സ്വാധീനിക്കുമോ? നിങ്ങൾ ഓർത്തു നോക്കൂ... ഒരു പാവം സ്വഭാവമുള്ള ജീവിതവിജയം നേടിയ ആരെയെങ്കിലും മനസ്സിൽ കാണാമോ? അതേ സമയം, നല്ല ഉത്സാഹവും ഓജസ്സുമുണ്ടായിട്ടും കാര്യങ്ങൾ നടത്തിയെടുക്കാൻ പ്രയാസപ്പെടുന്ന ഒരാളെ അറിയാമോ? അതേ പോലെ തിരിച്ച്, ഉത്സാഹിയായി ജീവിതത്തിൽ ഉയരങ്ങൾ കീഴടക്കിയവരേയും, പാവം സ്വഭാവത്തോടെ എങ്ങുമെത്താതെ പോയവരേയും ചുറ്റിലും കാണാം. അപ്പോൾ സ്വഭാവം ഒരു വ്യക്തിയുടെ കഴിവിനെ കുറിക്കാനായി ഉപയോഗിക്കുന്നത് ഔചിത്യമല്ല. ചില സ്വഭാവങ്ങൾ ചില കഴിവുകളെ കുറച്ചു സ്വാധീനിക്കും എന്നതും ശരിയാണ്. എന്നാൽ ഇത് സാമാന്യവത്ക്കരിക്കുന്നത് അബദ്ധമാണ്.

രണ്ട്, ഒരാളെ കഴിവുള്ളവനെന്നും കഴിവുകെട്ടവനെന്നും തരം തിരിക്കുന്നത് എന്ത് മാനദണ്ഡം വെച്ചാണ്? നിങ്ങൾക്കു പാടാനുള്ള കഴിവില്ലെങ്കിലും കണക്ക് കൂട്ടാനുള്ള കഴിവുണ്ട് എന്ന് വെക്കുക. നിങ്ങൾ കഴിവുള്ളവനാണോ, കെട്ടവനാണോ? നിങ്ങളുടെ സഹോദരി നിങ്ങളെ കഴിവുള്ളവനായാണ് കാണുന്നത്, എന്നാൽ നിങ്ങളുടെ അയൽക്കാരന്റെ അഭിപ്രായത്തിൽ നിങ്ങൾക്ക് കഴിവില്ല. നിങ്ങളെഴുതിയ പാട്ട് കേട്ട ഒരാൾ അതിന്റെ ആശയം കേട്ട് നിങ്ങളുടെ കഴിവ് അപാരമെന്ന് പുകഴ്ത്തുമ്പോൾ, മറ്റൊരാൾ അതിന്റെ ഈണം ഭംഗിയാത്തത് നിങ്ങളുടെ കഴിവ്കേട് എന്ന് പഴിക്കുന്നു.

ഇതിൽ നിന്ന് വ്യക്തമാകുന്നത് ഒരാളുടെ കഴിവിനെ അളക്കുന്ന ഏകകങ്ങൾ മാറിക്കൊണ്ടിരിക്കും. അത് അയാളുടെ പ്രവർത്തിക്കനുസരിച്ച് മാറാം, അളക്കുന്ന ആൾക്ക് അയാളോടുള്ള നയത്തിനും മതിപ്പിനും അനുസരിച്ച് മാറാം, അളക്കുന്ന ആളിന്റെ വീക്ഷണകോണിന് അനുസരിച്ചും മാറാം. അപ്പോൾ നാം ഒരു സ്വഭാവത്തിനെ അടിസ്ഥാനമാക്കി ഒരാളുടെ പൊതുവായ കഴിവിനെ എങ്ങനെ വിലയിരുത്തും?..

Monday, December 5, 2016

Kahaani 2: A Piggyback Ride

Kahaani 2 has a good story. But not as good as Kahaani.

Kahaani 2 is a powerful movie. But not as striking as Kahaani.

Vidya Balan acted well in Kahaani 2.   But she was far excellent in Kahaani.

Kahaani 2 is shot beautifully. But it doesn't show the personality of its geography like Kahaani do, by showing the various moods of Kolkatha.

Arjun Rampal is wonderful as the assured policeman accomplice. But Parambrata Chatterji's vulnerability is missing.

Character actors have done good in Kahaani 2. But Bob Biswas and Khan are sorely missed.

The movie has good plot twists and suspense. But it is not intriguing like Kahaani.

Kahaani 2 is thrilling most of the times. But Kahaani offers full on edge of the seat thrills.

Background music complement Kahaani 2. It's BGM elevates Kahaani.

We smile of relief after watching the climax of Kahaani 2. We get dumbstruck and start replaying the whole movie in our minds after watching Kahaani.

So the moral of the story is piggybacking on earlier success can seriously damage your end product. If only they had changed the name of the movie instead of marketing it as a sequel of the much superior Kahaani..!

Postnote: Watch out for Jugal Hansraj, our old "ghar se nikalte hi" guy.     

World's Best Movie That Was Never Made..!

Jodorowsky's Dune is a 2013 documentary directed by Frank Pavich. Subject of the movie is a visionary director and his failed attempt to adapt a masterpiece science fiction novel on screen. It tries to state that if the movie was released according to the vision of that director, it would have totally changed the way movies are made thereafter.

Alexandro Jodorowsky is a Chilean surrealist movie maker of such underground classics like El Topo and The Holy Mountain. When his producer felt that it's time for the talented Jodorowsky to make his mark in Hollywood, he offered to produce a movie based on any of the book that Jodorowsky chose. Jodorowsky decided to adapt Dune, Frank Herbert's classic science fiction novel. He had never read the novel and the decision was made on the sole basis of a friend's recommendation.

The movie explains in detail how Jodorowsky went on painstakingly to assemble his team, as per him, his spiritual warriors. For him this wasn't meant to be an ordinary movie. He wanted to make a movie that gave viewers the effect of mind altering drugs without consuming them. He selected talented persons- illustrators, designers, musicians, technicians and actors who he felt were upto the task. In the movie Jodorowsky shares some interesting anecdotes with giants like Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and the music band Pink Floyd and how he convinced them to work for him.

Jodorowsky had a clear idea how his version of Dune had to look, feel and sound. Along with his team of designers and illustrators, he made a giant document that elaborated his story, script, characters, filming techniques. He send a copy to every major Hollywood studios. Everybody rejected it. They thought it too risky a game to spend a fortune on a bizarre movie by a director who made movies that lies out of the comfort zone of average viewer. They were interested in the movie but were afraid of the director. Dune was later adapted by David Lynch as a faithful, within the boundary movie, but failed to impress critics or viewers. 

Jodorowsky's Dune tries to find out how the document made by Jodorowsky was influential in the look of later movies and how the technicians and others introduced by him changed the course of movie making history. It also makes the case that his version of Dune was a missed opportunity that could change the whole concept of mainstream movie making. Some of the scenes are recreated by animation using the drawings from the book which makes for compelling viewing.

The movie consists mainly of interviews with Jodorowsky and many members of his team, movie critics and some directors influenced by him. Initially Jodorowsky seemed a weirdo, but gradually his passion, commitment, honesty and sense of humor won me over. If you are a person who wonder how movies are made, you will like Jodorowsky's Dune, but if you are the person who wonder why movies are made, this is the movie that's meant for you.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Milking Jason Bourne

It's a classic case of over-milking. Jason Bourne, the fifth movie in the Bourne series, (if you also consider the just-average Bourne Legacy starring Jeremy Renner as one among them,) is a huge letdown due to a single factor- greed. I was much excited to watch it when it was announced. The director of Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum, Paul Greengrass was not expected to do a sequel and Matt Damon was reluctant to do it without him. That's why they made one sequel without the star. So I expected something grand when they united again. Alas it was late when I realised that the purpose was to serve the greed of a Hollywood studio.

Now, Jason Bourne is watchable if we doesn't know it is a sequel to the much superior Ultimatum. It has decent stunts and some chases, an OK plot that binds it and some pretty good acting from Damon and Tommy Lee Jones. But when Ultimatum comes into picture, these factors aren't enough. The tag-line of the movie is "You know his name." The main issue with the movie was that he knew his name and most of the things about him, which kind of spoiled it.

In the previous movies, the suspense was so good that more than Bourne, we wanted to know about his past. The pacing was so tight that I can still watch all three movies back to back. (In-fact I did it last year.) In Jason Bourne, the suspense factor was pathetic. We could detect the twists from miles away. And the dilemma and confusion of Bourne wasn't evident anywhere. The plot looked totally padded up in order to achieve a respectable running time.

The pacing is severly lacking and the high tension pursuits of previous movies are just shadow-selves in this one. When Ultimatum came, the shaky camera action was a novelty and in that movie it beautifully complemented the shaky self image of Bourne. But here it becomes just another yawn inducing worn out gimmick.

The climax was the worst. The fight was drawn out for another long fifteen minutes after all secrets were let out and justice was served. It was an awesome 'unnecessity'. I was remembering the climax of Speed 2: Cruise Control while watching it, which was also fun but without any point.

Doctor Strange: Marvel on Acid

Every next movie in the Marvel Universe these days adds a different genre to the series. The latest one, Doctor Strange brings elements of fantasy. But the best thing about the movie is that it still stay strong on the ground covered by its predecessors. It feels that it is a movie of the series and a still excels as a stand alone one in its own credit.

Stylistically it is very different from other Marvel movies. Instead of the boy-toy-set look of Iron Man or Captain America, it goes for a look similar to Marvel's own Blade series, but with lot of added colours and better effects. I would say Doctor Strange is more Blade on acid.

Its about how the arrogant and ambitious Doctor Strange meets with an accident and ultimately acquires skill sets to bend time. As an origin story it's plot follows the text closely and doesn't offer anything substantially new. But it is the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character (he gave Robert Downey Jr. A run for his money) and breathtaking visuals that make Doctor Strange a compelling view.

Just think of the landscape bending scene of the movie Inception and imagine a movie made out 70 percent of such scenes. Doctor Strange is that movie. Most of the scenes are psychedelic and mind bending. However those who prefer combat scenes on the scale of Civil War may be dissappointed as there are not much of such scenes.