Saturday, July 31, 2010

Plot vs. Characters - Reflection of two kinds of societies?

Individualistic society's content always rely on strong characters, because characters are supposed to control and change the world, whereas collective societies always rely on intricate plots, with lesser emphasis on individualism of characters, as the fundamental belief and curiosity is about destiny, and understanding that not everything really is in an individual's control - individual is too small, and insignificant in the larger scheme of things controlled by both God and destiny. Which is why Chinese films - like the clouds, like the wind, rising the red lantern, or curse of the golden flower, have fantabulous plots and stories filled with coincidences, ripple effects, and million intricate possibilities triggered by a gargantuan system.

Confusions of a dangerous mind: Jesse vs. Summer

There is uncanny similarity between the two films - (500) days of summer and Vinnaithandi Varuvaya (Tamil). Both are love stories narrated from a boy's point of view. In both the films, the boys, from whose viewpoint the story is being told are entirely sure of their love for the woman. And in both the stories, since its the guy's viewpoint, the women come across as confused, and stereotypically 'hard to fathom'.Both base their stories with contemporary relationships as their landscape. Its probably a universal confusion with women, and perhaps even men...'Its hard to say no to someone who loves you so much, but its harder to say yes'. No wonder the women go out to explore the relationships but dont stay with the men in the end.

Incidentally, both the films were released almost simultaneously, and  across two culturally very dissimilar parts of the world. And these very same cultural differences, bring out the differences in the way the choices were made by both the women. Summer, highly individualistic and independent, makes her choice, is sure of it and takes responsibility for the end, she knows she did not love him enough to marry him. With Jesse, its more complicated, I couldn't really figure out if she decided not to marry the guy because of family, her father and for the sake of his social pressures or if she just used that as a reason, in her head and otherwise..because deep down she thought it wasnt the love worth fighting so much for? She is courageous, because she walked out of her marriage, and confronted her family, and confessed about being in love with somebody else...but also made the choice of not marrying her guy in the end, but marry someone her parents wished her to. Interesting to see Sheena Iyengar's theory of how our choice making process depends on where we come from, come alive through these two films, which are so similar, but for where they are set, which contributes to all the differences.While an individualistic society offers more choice, and the responsibility of making the choice lies with you, a collective society poses a lot of different external variables, and there is a lot of possibilities that one can play with, consciously and sub - consciously!


The movie is infused with hope in the bleakest situations, unexpected humor,  a 17 year old writer, small town pace and colorful dreams. Writer - director Vikramaditya Motwane says its about teenage angst, and coming of age of a boy. About teenage boys discovering sex, porn films, alcohol and cigs, coming to terms with their relationships, finding their place in the world,  making choices to follow their dreams and cribbing, frolicking with friends...
But to me, in addition to all this, this film is about complex characters, parenting and a father son relationship

Ronit Roy, who played the father was one of the best etched characters in Indian cinema, so far. I loved the fact that Ronit justifies his stance and we know why he has become what we see - A father whose wishes he adhered to, revered with fear, and submitted himself to...accepted his definitions of 'masculinity' and 'loser'..
They say that if you had a bad parent you didn't do anything about, you'll end up being the same monster in the future, because he dictates your world and creates 'the right definitions for you'. Ronit, a typical MCP, always weighs and assesses everybody with his set and standard definitions of masculinity...which is why he calls his boy 'a girl' and finds it funny that 'tumne sex bhi nahin kiya' (which was also his way of bonding with his son the manly way, weirdly endearing i thought) or calls his brother a loser, because he does not have kids...
 Never having been truly loved, resorts to life filled with self - pity - which is the most dangerously indulgent way of loving yourself. In his mind, he is the ideal father..the one who has given his savings and life for creating a bright future for his sons, except that his elder son does not want to live that future. He does all the 'done things' by a parents, like showing the son Jamshedpur, by pointing out to all the statues of famous men in that city, taking the sons for a 'picnic'...but the acts have no emotion, no life and definitely no love.Its rare that we know everything about a villain, his insecurities and his incapabilities and yet not feel like empathizing with him..

I also liked Rohan - the kid who plays Ronit Roy's of those strong willed heroes...self - assured, confident, silent and brave. Rohan is not someone who stomps around the world saying or thinking he is great. He is just quietly in peace with himself, who he is and discovers things about himself in his life. He isn't defined by peer pressure, but only by his dreams and conviction. His simple acts of courage, and his rebelliousness are really endearing and inspiring.

There were two extremes in the film...a 17 year old with ample conviction, a boy who knows what he wants, and who he exactly wants to be...and a monstrous, strict, self - piteous father who is stifling, scary and smothers the dreams and lives of his sons...I just thought its even more complicated in real...half monstrous parents, but kids also lacking in conviction :)

The film never loses its sense of humor and ingrained lightness no matter what how bleak the situation or how dark the plot - beginning with 'Kantishah ke Angoor' to 'Rathod' to 'Papa mujhe bhi hospital bejh denge' to 'Motumaster', the humor is what really brings us to tears, and builds empathy. And there is just so much hope, through and through in Rohan's character, and in the climax. Must watch for the humor, Rohan, and his Father played brilliantly by Ronit Roy, and of course, the most awesome music!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Children of Heaven

Majidi makes poverty an adventure, infuses simplicity into everyday life and makes it magical. Children of Heaven is a story of a brother(Ali) and sister(Zahra) trying to manage their lives with a secret to share (Ali loses Zahra's old pair of shoes,after getting them repaired,on his way from the cobblers). Ali and Zahra share the same pair of shoes, Zahra runs home all the way from school and Ali wears the pair and runs to school...
This heart warming film is about Ali's guilt, generosity, understanding of responsibility and their everyday mishaps when they try to share the same pair of shoes...
Typical Majidi style, with the kids as heroes leading the way to a new world by effortlessly lighting hope; An angry,helpless father burdened by responsibilities and poverty; The ambiguous and yet unambiguous, uplifting, and pointless ending - as if the point lies in the rest of the film and the end was only incidental. Such a must watch, for the innocence of kids, to rekindle optimism into the drudgery of everyday life

The class

To sum up, The class, is a film on melting pot identities and nuances...its a peephole into a 8th Std class in urban France portraying diversity at its best (students from diverse ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds belonging to different nationalities - Chinese, French, Moroccan, Slovakian, West Indies et al.)

So we see, an adolescent class of rebellious and confused kids...who are all trying to come to terms with their sexuality, figure out who they want to be loyal to - France or the nation they come from - when there is a football match going on, question their teacher about why he used Bill and not Ahmed in his example "Bill is going to have a burger", who they want to be when they grow up, what they are embarrassed about (answers range from 'my ears' to 'eating with my friend's mom').. and so on...
This identity confusion and conflict is brought up in a million places in the when Marin (the French teacher) asked kids to write their names and pin it up on their desks, every kid does it in his own unique with a flag of his nation, one with pink color and flowers et al..such a simple act infused with expression and individuality...Most of these scenes are really subtle...the director does not try to make any one point, he only realistically depicts a class
Through the movie, we traverse through the confusions and opinions of these different students' with different personalities - some rebellious, some shy, some grudging, some bullies, some petite, some perpetually in their own world,some sincere..but each with his own voice and story

The best part about this movie is that - visually, it shows a class through the eyes of a teacher...the camera sweeps through the class,with many students doing different things and shifts focus from one part/student to another section, all the while leaving the class to be real, alive and thriving.So even if the camera shifts focus, the class is always there,with the many students constantly doing different things

The class is also about an education system with its flaws and the many teachers who breathe life into it..particularly about Marin, with his best intentions, and limitations in capabilities.
Wanting the best for his students, he encourages a tough Suleyman to take up photography, tries to understand his students through their aspirations and biographies, and fights for them with the other cynical, indifferent teachers who want to 'systemize' every 'process', explaining that students are more human than to neatly fit into processes and expelling difficult students is only a temporary and unhealthy solution
But Marin, not being perfect, also loses his temper,calls some of his students 'cheap' and fights with them saying 'As a teacher I am allowed to say certain things that you can't'..(This scene to me, is about the power equation that a teacher shares with the class, and a teacher has to be able to understand and handle that power...students can't be at par with you when you are teaching them. However this power needs to be earned, and well - guarded, for the punishments for mistakes of a teacher are far higher, and more morally weighty).But this true depiction of Marin is what touched my heart, because that's exactly how things are - imperfect - be it the system, students or the teachers - and acknowledging them is the first step to understanding and improvisation

The class delves into so many themes related to school and the education system and Marin with his flaws, mistakes, realisations, best intentions and genuine efforts is so so relatable!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

LSD vs. Laalbaghcha Parel (City of Gold)

There is only one parameter on which I am going to compare both these films. Their treatment of morality.Both question/break the conventionally set patterns of morality - Sex before marriage, extra marital affairs, violence, brutal cruelty et al. There are two themes which usually constitute scandal - Violence and 'illegal' sex. Both the films have covered these themes in abundance.

While LSD is explosive and bold, I am not sure if it was thought provoking. LSD was a statement to make. Statement made, some appreciated the statement, some didn't. Considering LSD was definitely not entertainment,it should have atleast given some food for thought, right?
We never get to know the motivations of the crimes committed, so we only see victims to whom horrible things are done by villians, which apparently is depiction of a stark reality, that we already somehow know about. Somehow, I could not empathise with the victims or villians, and if it was about LOVE, SEX, and DHOKA, I didn't really question anything about them
And if you say, its only that LSD depicted what has never been attempted on screen before, lets give it credit for boldness, and not make it a good film!

On the other hand, in Laalbagh, all the 'crimes' (I am using the word for what is conventionally taken as that)committed were by characters who we knew. We knew what they wanted, who they were, where they were coming from, their circumstances and situations...They become relatable now, and their deeds seem to be justified, and yet in your head they are not..there is conflict and there is questioning...
When Kashmira Shah wants to have an extra marital affair with her neighbor, when she has a really nice husband who is impotent, whether you approve of what she does or not, you don't hate her. When kids take to shooting, and shoot left, right and center just like the kids in City of God, shooting without purpose, you're disturbed, but you make an attempt to understand their angst, confusion caused by poverty, and the bleak hopelessness that unleashes the animal in them. Such many examples. All the characters are heroes, villians and victim, grappling with a tough incomprehensible life...I realise, empathy and conflict is a deadly combination, won't leave without taking your sleep

Now I know why I wasn't so excited about LSD. There was a tiny voice within that quietly kept asking 'so what', and I couldn't really shut it up!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Guess who's coming to dinner

This movie is about prejudice. Conscious, and subconscious. Set in the America of the 60's, when racism was a seething social issue, a young white woman falls in love with a black man. The twist in the story is that the girl does not come from a conventional family that supports racism or is afraid of social opinion/taboo and therefore goes along with the flow of the world.She comes from a progressive family of journalists, who are opinion/thought leaders and who are forefront in opposing racism. So,sincerely and effectively, the parents teach their daughter how not to discriminate between people on the basis of their skin color. The daughter grows without the burden of prejudice, takes their learnings to heart and falls in love with this black guy and brings him home after she decides to marry him.

Technically, the parents should not have a problem, but they discover they do. Progressive thoughts, and dinner table conversations are one thing. The courage and conviction to implement thoughts into action, another. Prejudices, go deeper than you think and know. Most times, we think we can kill prejudices with thoughts, but discover that we haven't, only when the issue reaches our backyard and we are forced to face a situation and forced to take a personal stand.

The rest of the movie is about how both the families resolve their differences, and come to terms with their prejudices, how they resolve the conflict between thoughts and actions, and most importantly bridge the generation gap. The movie takes us through several conversations between different members of both the families, and gives a honest and fair chance to the confusions and fears that different members face.

One of the most cliche ways to resolve conflict of thought and action with respect to prejudices is to say I don't have a problem with the variable as such (race here), but I do have a problem with how the variable has affected your identity (exposure levels, upbringing, lifestyle differences, intellect, social acceptance/standing et al.)There is no opportunity to do that here in this story, because the black guy is perfect. One of the most respected doctors in the international community with Ivy league credentials, handsome and impeccably mannered. So,the only only thing that can possibly stand against him is his color. Now, really you need to, need to face your prejudice.That's another thing I love about the film, the way the parents were cornered to face the issue.

The movie is really relevant even today and would continue to be so even tomorrow, as the variable of race can be replaced with caste, class, religion, or any other social discriminator.

I highly recommend this movie...its funny, yet intense. Optimistic, and yet serious

Friday, March 19, 2010

Mary & Max/Harvie Krumpet

Give it to Adam Elliot to create a perfect imperfect man. Max and Harvie are not just underdogs, they are truly the guys you wouldn't like/see/accept yourself to be. With a million idiosyncracies, and other 'issues', these weird and quirky outcasts go on with their lives, with their own rules, own paradigms of relationships, and are warriors forefront fighting loneliness. Elliot really really sketches them well, details every aspect of their being, and makes sure they end up to be endearing characters.Elliot's way of making extraordinary stories out of normal characters and everyday lives is amazing.
While Harvie Krumpet is a short experiment with Clay animation and Krumpet's character, fairly optimistic, Mary and Max is on a much larger scale, and a lot darker. Mary and Max is about an unsual and very deep friendship between two pen pals, Mary and Max. While Max and Harvie are very similar, and sketched really well, Mary has a very standard story - drunk, self obessessed parents who are uninterested in her, a lonely childhood with no friends, an outcast in school for almost no concrete reason et al. I wish Mary was quirky too, cos that is the only thing that could have kept their friendship alive for such a long time. Otherwise, Mary was perfect to have a lot of friends and forget Max. Somehow, Mary's almost unflawed character takes away the believability of the story. But, you must watch the movie for Max. And try and catch Harvie here

Spring, summer, fall, winter...spring

Kim Ki Duk should stick to sex and themes around it. This movie is his attempt to understand Buddhism, but I thought it was oversimplified. It takes us through a boy's journey through the different stages of his life. How he lives with his master and undergoes training with him, how he decides to runaway with a woman  and enter the worldly life of Samsara, how he gets so involved in the material world, murders, and suffers and then reclaims his life back after returning to the monastery again. Havent we heard this a hundred times?
Of going through a worldly life, experiencing attachment and suffering and renouncing everything to attain Nirvana. Also to note, the second lifestage when the boy explores his sexuality has to be the longest segment (Kim ki duk!). My problem with the movie was the lack of details in the most crucial stage of his life, when he starts suffering, realises and resurrects his life. Which is precisely what I loved about Samsara, or even Herman Hesse's Siddhartha...both don't refrain from barging into the explosive confusion space filled with a myriad complex questions.
Overall, visually very beautiful, but lacking in substance and questions.

Un Buda

Un Buda is about Buddha's idea of balance. Depicted through two brothers, affected by a tragic incident of losing their parents in their childhood, who grow into two starkly opposite people. The elder one - Excessively logical and rational, never to embrace mysticism or spirituality or God, and the younger one - constantly self - depriving, ever trying to attain nirvana, by enforcing detachment, self imposing confines, too quick to sacrifice - his love, his desires, without really considering the middle path, the balanced way

This movie takes us through their heads and their arguments and logic for being the way they are and their realisations and moves towards finding balance. There is no other way out, every extreme is a wrong path.The women in the movie are brilliant, following their heart, providing for the much needed calm, perspective and balance to both the men. Un Buda is contemporary, relevant and makes the point it sets out to make

Good night and good luck

Its on the News media business. Its got Clooney :D. Its about responsibility of media, content vs advertising debates, politics and media nexus. et al. Its slick, well made, and has a whole lot of good actors.You can read up on all that elsewhere. For me, the interesting argument the movie raises arises out of this last dialogue in this last scene.

"Just once in a while, let us exalt the importance of ideas and information.
Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night.....the time normally occupied by Ed given over to a clinical survey on the state of American education.
And a week or two later, the time normally used by Steve Allen... is devoted to a thorough-going study of American policy in the Middle East.
Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged?
Would the shareholders rise up in their wrath and complain?
Would anything happen...other than a few million people would have received a little illumination......on subjects that may well determine the future of this country......and therefore the future of the corporations

To those who say, "People wouldn't look, they wouldn't be interested..."
"...they're too complacent,indifferent and insulated"...
...I can only reply: There is,in one reporter's opinion...considerable evidence against that contention.
But even if they are right,what have they got to lose?
Because if they are right...and this instrument is good for nothing...
...but to entertain,amuse and insulate...
...then the tube is flickering now...
...and we will soon see
that the whole struggle is lost.

This instrument can teach.It can illuminate and it can even inspire.
But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it...towards those ends

Otherwise,it is merely wiresand a box.

Good night, and good luck."

Being in the media industry, just as I hear the words,'clinical survey on American education' and "American policy in the middle east"
My instant reaction is "Who is going to watch this stuff???"
The movie and most debates are about Media taking advantage,
Media having to be responsible,
Media taking initiative to educate audiences

But Why does noone talk about evolution of audiences?
If the audiences really want to know the truth, they will ask for it
Do they ever appreciate honest and bland news?
Doesnt any onus lie on them?
Why do we always let the audience go scott free?
Why dont we give their intelligence some credit?
May be they know what they want and are getting it???
Which is not perhaps true stories and genuine in depth knowledge of issues

Isle of flowers

Isle of flowers is a 10 minute short film. To me, its all about communication that can make a bloody good impact. About how to build a case.How to be funny, build curiousity, connect seemingly disconnected facts and pieces of information and then slash everything with a sword of a message. So if you have 10 minutes to spare, do watch this here

Samsara (2001)

Samsara is a Ladaki film shot in the mountains of Tibet by an Indian director named Nalin Pan (You must read his biography sometime here). Its a powerful, thought provoking and visually beautiful film questioning the spirtual value of 'detachment'.

The movie begins with a band of Buddhist monks going to the caves to rescue and revive Tashi - who has been meditating for 3 years continuously, cut away from the world, in a state of trance. Tashi is really weak when the other monks find him, but has mastered equanimity, and has transcended notions of physical pain. They take Tashi to their monastery. Here comes the interesting part, I really loved the way of life portrayed in the monastery...slow, simple, calm...but full of life...I have never seen monks shown laughing and having fun;their loud, childlike laughter is heart warming; their everyday practise of compassion shown is refreshing and genuine. Tashi while convalescing realises, that he has sexual needs,and therefore manifests and meets the beautiful Pema. Tashi argues with his master in monastery that he hasn't experienced life in its entirety.
"Even the Buddha left everything only after experiencing its worldly offers, then why should we renounce everything just since we are kids"
And leaves the monastery to live a worldly life..the rest of the story is about how he falls in love, builds a family, does business, development of attachment towards everything worldly and his journey thereon...

A very interesting thing to notice in this world is how grey different characters are portrayed. Its as if they belong to a different plane of evolution, A plane above the rest, that is.Not flawless, but more capable of understanding non - violence and the concept of 'letting go' than most collectives. Pema's jealous lover gives her up on his own when he realises that she does not love him, but Tashi instead. Pema knowingly lets her husband make love to another woman understanding his desires, again without much ado; The landlord has much to lose, hates Tashi, but does not attack the angry Tashi back and says 
"You think I burnt your field? No one does such a thing here.Grow up!"

At a time of his lowest phase, Tashi wants to renounce everything and leaves his wife and son in the middle of the night...Pema questions if he is trying to escape or if he has really conquered his desires?? The movie makes you think about detachment,and if it can really be enforced? By trying to escape from our daily duties, lives and mundaneness, do we delude ourselves into believing that we attain detachment? And ultimately
What is more important? Satisfying a thousand desires or conquering just one?

This is one of the movies that has given me so much to think about, provided relatable characters with depth & flaws and very intelligently questions and counter questions assumptions we make about spirituality through Tashi's journey.Very rare, in books or in movies do we find human characters like us detailed, searching for things that we all search for with the same intensity, confusion and angst. Without any miracles that rescue or teachers who appear to show the way, just leaving the two protagonists by themselves to find answers


I love watching movies, and love reading. They entertain me, teach me, show me a new world...Usually, the magic of story and characters does it for me...
This is a attempt to put down all my thoughts about them.So that I can share, and you can too.A platform for discussions, conversations, and learning
Mostly, will write about unusual films and books. Every body has already said everything I have wanted to say about the popular ones,and in a much better fashion.