Tuesday Blog | The Binary of it All

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Recently while watching a short film on YouTube, I came across a comment about the video which puts many things in perspective for me. “So cute! I thought its gonna end up being a psycho short film,” was a comment some anonymous viewer had made, and it made me reflect on the growing binary nature of our society. It made the stark reality apparent leading me to ponder upon the reasons for this development. Culturally speaking, though I am no anthropologist, I can see many factors pointing to this phenomenon and the all-pervasive nature of these factors only points to how deeply this has begun to take hold of us as individuals.

The seedling of this binary is placed in the clear-cut definitions as demonstrated by Indian stories, mythologies and heroes. There never has been the space for a grey character to assume full shape. Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana in Ramayana do not at any point take center stage. Their ideology belongs to the fringes with their personalities exalted only as a devotee of the God. This representation was further reinforced by the Indian movies of the time placing their firm belief in Hindu mythology and this polarity of choices to define the characters.

qissa-movieFirst, there is the historical perspective of partition. It is a wound we have never bothered to treat. It has festered and formed the menace we are seeing today in our country in terms of the various religious and regional hyperboles. The division of a country bound by a culture which dissected these very lines in times of slavery led to its unraveling during times of difficulty of the most inhumane kind. With the violence that followed in its wake, that generation grew up making their choices in clear cut and definitive terms. This split reinforced the idea of good and evil in their pure form leaving very little space for the grey. These were people driven by a very simple understanding of gaining back what they had lost as property, dignity and status, and armed with that they went forth to conquer the frontiers of this new world unfolding in front of them.

Second, the subsequent generation of this country, with its ideas placed in the newly-developing nation and its maturing structures, began displacing their father’s earlier dreams of survival and establishment with dreams of taking deeper roots in the society, providing security to its next generation and chasing power (sub-consciously, I think this was a direct reflection of the people’s perception that those in power are rarely hurt in turbulent times) in corridors of bureaucracy. With this thought at the centre of their activity, we saw that generation of Indians vying for spots in government, administration and politics. Those were the times when none of these were considered dirty. This sense of not wanting to be dislodged became the centre of all industries as well. The senior most authorities are not looking for dissent or challenges from the society. They feel threatened and turn vicious. The evolution of our culture guardians could be seen in this. Once their position as the sole compass of the society was challenged their rhetoric became more confrontational, poisonous and vociferous. Once again this is reflected in the cinema of the time. The emergence of the “Angry Young Man” meltin
g into a common man fighting against a system so rotten that its veins also pump poison is not a coincidence. Once again it was a question of a amitabh-bachchan-in-deewarlarger evil growing with its roots still absorbing the hurt, pain and anger from the past wounds and the struggles of a single man in this storm. The good v/s evil equation continued. The parallel cinema movement tried to present the middle ground but it could not sustain itself in the face of major lack of funding for cinema as an industry during the eighties and nineties.

Newer dreams came to reflect Indian reality with the Generation X questioning the sensibilities of their predecessors. The middle ground was growing. However, the inability to deal with our past always drives us in directions which are not of our choosing. The fact that we never addressed partition as a wound came to impact us in many parts of this country. The hero was rebelling against the system, still but the systems were becoming internal. He was fighting now the family, the friends, and the lovers and in that sense these smaller units came to represent the society in general. The struggle remained between good and evil however in social interactions these lines could not contain themselves. It was OK to let go of young boys teasing girls as frivolous and childish. After all there were bigger things to worry about. Patronage from these smaller units has stoked the fire for grey characteristics to emerge. In these interactions, our society continued to struggle with the larger image of good v/s evil while not clearly understanding the definitions of what it meant in real life. Ideological positions became the centre of all our discussions. We were seen busy discussing politics, religions, community life, morality, philosophies in cafes, streets, paan shops and public transport. We had an opinion on everything in terms of what is right and what is wrong. Our real lives, on the other hand, were fraught will contradictions. We professed that politicians should be clean, while as bureaucrats we pocketed money, we spoke about how Babus do not let any file pass through unless something exchanges hands under the table while we gave small bills to policemen for not giving us chalans for breaking the signal.

Our on screen heroes came to reflect this subtle change in the attitude of the protagonist towards good and bad. His definitions were fluid till a time of extreme crisis presented itself. He would be frivolous in classrooms, cheap and masochistic towards his women, however, faithful to a fault in his friendships. This bond came to represent the new hope that Indians were extending towards each other for finding the trust they had lost at the time of partition. Barriers were broken and friendships forged across caste, creed, political beliefs and religion. However, the Indian collective was shaken badly by the events of 90s. While the economy was opening up, throwing up choices for consumers the country was closing its doors towards the bonhomie it was pushing itself to create. Newer rifts were seen emerging, and newer areas of dominance for smaller groups became the norm. The hero was turning his anger towards these cliques forming on the edge of the society and threatening to engulf the peace of the neighbourhood. This neighbourhood hero came to fight smaller injustices hurled at him. His was no longer a fight with the family, as he was the antagonist of the goons, the fighter for justice at that level.

new_facebook_reactionsThe newer generation is disconnected from politics, religion, traditions, and rooted only in consumerism. This is not a critique of the society we have created but a mirror to reflect upon. In the wake of economic choices being created we have turned into binary creatures. This is good to eat that is bad to watch, this must be discussed that cannot be named and so on. The internet revolution with Facebook offering choices of reactions that have come to represent the range of human emotions and so many platforms that make up for the variety in our life has only turned our imaginations to futility. We refuse to create new ideas impacting a large chunk of our population, we fail to acknowledge the power that lies within the bounds of our urban imaginations and we ignore the population that works silently in turning the wheels of this country.

This binary has come to represent the news we consume today and also the opinions we form. That there are more than two sides to an argument, something that has been part of our shashtratha tradition and the culture of debate we have in this country, is something we fail to see today. A Bihari has come to represent certain slang in many cities no matter how many honest taxi drivers we meet coming from that region. A Punjabi has come to represent a loud, boisterous, masochistic, ruffian no matter how many mild mannered gentlemen we meet during our travels across the country. We have examples aplenty in the films we make, in the stories we tell and in the art we create pointing to the ill of the society if only we wake up to take notice. The stereotypes in movies point to how we view people, cultures, regions, religions and almost everything else in binaries. It is this restriction we have placed upon ourselves based in our evolving culture that forces us to break out in places where there are no fears of reprimands. On such occasions we go to the extremes and become the worst of us.

In these cultural misappropriations and the binaries they throw up we have lost the space for the middle ground. If you are not seen taking a stand you have no backbone and are only worried about analysis and if you do take a stance which is counter majority you end up being sidelined no matter how pointed your intentions are to encourage debate on the topic. That someone can be a Hindu believing in the divinity of Ram and Sita and be equally enamoured by the idea of multiple narratives of Ramayana (more than 300) is a contradiction most people find difficult to reconcile. That someone can be a loving caring daughter and still not want to visit her parents more than once a year is not understood by people.

yin-and-yangWe have to check our existence and define why binaries have become so necessary. If we are brought up like this and I am certain that forms part of the problem we become rigid structures unable to explore new ground and forced to repeat our cycles of existence over and over again. We are not given a chance to commit our own mistakes and are told in clear terms by our parents about what we must choose and what me must learn to keep aside. We are left tottering in these circumstances and never end up growing up really even though we settle down in quicker numbers compared to may be rabbits. We continue the binary approach and end up spouting, “I get all my entertainment from news channels (as in actually since they also end up giving recaps of saas bahu serials)”, “I am not interested in politics, since it is a dirty world (and so dirtier and dirtier people keep getting attracted to that world and clean, efficient people keep running away from it)”, or “So cute! I thought its gonna end up being a psycho short film (since that would end up making me face my realities).”

– Abhinav

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His Master’s Voice | Emmanuel Lubezki

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Emmanuel Lubezki Morgenstern, A.S.C., A.M.C. (1964 – present)

He sometimes goes by the nickname Chivo, which means “goat” in Spanish

Mexican Cinematographer

Lubezki has worked with many acclaimed directors, including Mike Nichols, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Joel and Ethan Coen, and frequent collaborators Terrence Malick, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Lubezki is known for achieving many groundbreaking cinematography techniques, and his work has been praised by audiences and critics alike, earning him multiple awards, including eight Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography. He won in this category three times, becoming the first person to do so in three consecutive years, Gravity (2013), Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), and The Revenant (2015).

Films of Note:  Sólo Con Tu Pareja (1991), Como agua para chocolate (1992), A Little Princess (1995), The Birdcage (1996), Meet Joe Black (1998), Great Expectations (1998), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Y Tu Mamá También (2001), Ali (2001), Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), The New World (2005), Children of Men (2006), The Tree of Life (2011), Gravity (2013), Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), The Revenant (2015)

 

Friday Fun Fact | Kung Fu Panda

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Kung Fu Panda took four years to make. According to VFX supervisor Markus Manninen, the computer animation used throughout the film was more complex than anything DreamWorks had done before. The first DreamWorks Animation film to be released in IMAX, Kung Fu Panda was the 3rd highest grossing film of 2008.

The film was originally going to be a spoof of the kung fu genre, but one of the directors, John Stevenson, wanted to have a blend of comedy and action to make the film more epic, saying, “I wasn’t interested in making fun of martial arts movies, because I really think they can be great films; they can be as good as any genre movie when they’re done properly.

The opening scene is an homage to Japanese anime, as both directors are big fan of the genre. They wanted to distinguish the opening dream sequence, so it was hand drawn, whereas the rest of the film (with the further exception of the animation in the end credits) was CGI.

One character that needed revisions was Tai Lung, who continually seemed too sympathetic as the villain of the story. As a result, the producers included the sequence that illustrates the story Tigress told about Tai Lung’s betrayal of his father’s principles, and his rampage after being refused the Dragon Scroll to make him sufficiently despicable to the audience. By contrast, Po was refined by Jack Black and the writers from an unpleasant obsessed fan who unsettled his heroes to an affable martial arts lore devotee, painfully self-aware of his inadequacies.

The Kung Fu/Wuxia convention, where attacks on the correct nerve/Chi points can cause paralysis and other effects, is adopted, although it is not explained in the film, and the jade figurine topped sticks on the shell worn on the imprisoned Tai Lung are positioned at the traditional Chi energy points of the body. The sticks are intended to keep the villain from accessing the power from those points, which is why he was first concerned about removing them before attempting to break his chains.

Kung Fu Panda had a massive impact upon the Chinese audience when it released. To get the ambiance of the film perfect, production designer Raymond Zibach and art director Heng Tang had spent years researching Chinese art and kung fu movies. This effort, combined with the rest of the crew’s extensive research and knowledge of Chinese culture, so impressed the Chinese that there were meetings by official government cultural bodies to discuss why their own country has not produced animated films of such quality themselves.

 

 

 

A Shot of Short | Taking Flight (Brandon Oldenburg)

Remember that time when your grandparents created a whole new world with their stories? You were transported to the magical land where anything could happen. You were the hero of the story, and it was because of your smarts and strength that you saved someone else, your city, or even your planet! What fun! What great storytelling!

Director Brandon Oldenburg‘s Taking Flight takes you back to childhood when grandparents are our heroes. The short’s website, says of the film, “Taking Flight is a short film inspired by the life and heritage of Antonio Pasin, inventor of the Radio Flyer wagon. In this fictional tribute to Pasin’s legacy, what begins as a small boy’s over-scheduled, over supervised, boring day with Grandpa turns into a larger-than-life journey, narrowly escaping wild monkeys and battling aliens to save the universe. Through the power of imagination and epic adventure, a boy learns to be a kid, a father learns to be a dad, and a grandfather reminds us all what childhood is about.”

About the Director: Brandon Oldenburg is an award-winning illustrator, designer, sculptor and film director. After co-founding Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, Louisiana, he won an Academy Award for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, an animated short film about the curative powers of story.

He has also received an Emmy Award for his directorial work on The Scarecrow, a film and game experience for Chipotle Mexican Grill, which garnered over 14 million views on YouTube. His other recent film projects include an Annie Award nominated short based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, The Raven; an Emmy Award winning film collaboration with Dolby Laboratories featuring Mr. Morris Lessmore, Silent, and a film adaptation of The Numberlys, a Webby Award winning app and bestselling picture book published by Moonbot Studios. Alongside Moonbot co-founder, William Joyce, Oldenburg is the co-host of TCM Movie Camp, a new program on Turner Classic Movies created to foster a love of classic movies and filmmaking in young audiences.

Oldenburg’s illustrations have graced the covers of prestigious authors’ books such as Elmore Leonard and Michael Chabon. In 2010, Oldenburg was honored with the Distinguished Alumni of the Year from Ringling College of Art and Design, where he received his BFA in Illustration in 1995 and serves on the Board of Trustees.

(Info courtesy: takingflight.com)

Midweek Line Up |10 Films with Inspirational Lighting

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The Cinema encyclopaedia is so vast, that just naming 10 extraordinary films under any category is likely to cause serious fights, even among close cinephile friends. Nevertheless, take a look at these classics mentioned in this list of films with some great use of light to enhance the film, featuring works of Terence Malick, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Alfred Hitchcock, and even David Fincher. Despite missing many names, this list is a good place to start studying the effect of lighting on cinema.

Find the list here: 10 Films with Inspirational Lightning

His Master’s Voice | Morgan Freeman

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Catherine Deneuve (born Catherine Fabienne Dorléac)  – 1943-present

French actress, singer, model and film producer

She gained recognition for her portrayal of aloof, mysterious beauties for various directors, including Luis Buñuel and Roman Polanski. In 1985, she was chosen as the official face of Marianne, France’s national symbol of liberty. A 14-time César Award nominee, she won for her performances in François Truffaut‘s The Last Metro (1980) and Régis Wargnier‘s Indochine (1992). She is also noted for her support for a variety of liberal causes.

Films of note: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)Repulsion (1965)Belle de Jour (1967), The April Fools (1969), Tristana (1970),   Hustle (1975), The Hunger (1983), Scene of the Crime (1986),  My Favourite Season (1993), Place Vendôme (1998), Dancer in the Dark (2000),  Potiche(2010),  The Brand New Testament (2015), Standing Tall (2015)

 

A Shot of Short | Presto (Doug Sweetland/Pixar)

This delightful film is about Presto, the magician and Alec, his rabbit in a hat who plots revenge against the overbearing and cruel magician. While the rabbit in a hat trick brings Presto great fame and fortune, Alec is left to languish in a cage, a carrot just out of reach.

Alec is decides not to take Presto’s abuse any longer and rebels giving the magician a taste of his own mean spirited medicine. The rabbit is determined to get the last laugh at the expense of his demanding employer. The film is filled with slapstick, magic hats, vaudevillian antics, all in five minutes of screen time.

When searching for the style of the short, Sweetland decided that it should be like Tom and Jerry with Presto in the Tom role and Alec in the Jerry role. There was a melding of the old and the new.

It wasn’t Sweetland’s original intent to bring the feel of old style cartoons into this film until he found his story not only called for it but would thrive because of it. He found that the art of directing an animated film was something like “boot camp” where he would have to shape and refine his vision.

Through hours of work Presto morphed from the amiable magician to the comic antagonist with the kind of relationship with Alec that would bring to mind classic pairs like Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny. They were meant to be antagonists, to do battle and once again the rabbit was going to gain the upper hand.

– via www.filmschoolrejects.com

Tuesday Blog | Of Cinema, History and our Future

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In my child-like exuberance when I first read about the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn possibly having atmospheres and water I was tempted to find out why we have not sent out missions to inhabit those places? Similarly, when I first heard about the reconciliation of West Germany and East Germany I was enthused to find out why India and Pakistan could not re-unite? I went up to my geography (for I did not understand then that space exploration was not part of her subject) and history teachers to find out if something was being done along those lines? The firm responses I got from my admonishers put me in my place. The first one asked me angrily to “write a letter to NASA and find out” and the second one told me sweetly, “Beta, Pakistan is our sworn enemy; we can’t possibly forgive them for all they have done to us.” I wonder what would have happened had I written that letter, may be even one to the President of India.

At that time I might not have been able to articulate but there was constant talk of the population explosion that India was going through and the only solace we could have was that we were second in the list, not first. Some part of me was searching an answer to these questions. May be in finding a new spatial colony I saw some resolution to the said issues. I remember once having wondered out loud to my Baba, “why don’t we dump a lot of water from the ocean in the deserts of Rajasthan during summers. That way clouds can form and rain can happen solving the water and agri-crisis”? He answered after some thought, “Because there once was the ocean there. The water evaporated and the salt turned the soil into desert. It is not the lack of water that is the problem babu, it is the presence of salt. Dulaar kam naikhe baakir ghaav dher baa ta khees badhat jaala (It is not the love that is missing, but the wounds are deep and the anger keeps growing”. He was, of course, speaking about some family feud but the words made sense. The meaning extends into eternity.

Today, we are living in a deeply fraught world. The fabrics around us are collapsing or seem to be coming apart at the seams. There is deepening of isolation, coupled with anger which finds no resolution or outlet. The regimentation at home lends itself greatly to us taking liberties in public spaces. Thus, desecration of public monuments becomes a gift from father, breaking of traffic rules is a show of ‘who gives a beep’ attitude, and the manifestations continue to grow and govern us.

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On the other hand, there are the misfits, the misplaced and the mistaken like us, who tread carefully lest we infringe upon someone else’s lives and toes accidently. We are continuously concerned by the absence of recognition of good. There seems to be no reward for good behaviour anymore in our society. The space in which we grew up might be considered rootless by some but that does not deny us our convictions. We left our homes and found a world continuously changing and getting shaped by positive intent. We are pushed to the brink now asking ourselves ever so regularly, what is the good in being good if bad behaviour goes unpunished and good behaviour is pushed aside constantly. We grew up in Bombay (which does not discard its history of being part of the larger subcontinent and home to ‘Mumbai’kars), we grew up in Calcutta (which never shunted the deep impact of Durga Puja), we grew up in these inclusive and thought-provoking spaces which invited us as outsiders and subsumed its reality into ours. This rootlessness that we are accused of is what gives us a sense of rootedness. It is because we have missed our homes we know the fabrics so well and acknowledge fully well that the strengths of that system are not to be shunned.

Reading someone like Khaled Ahmed in The Indian Express the hope becomes real and alive. But then the cynicism creeps in, which has its way of taking hold of our thoughts in today’s day and time, and we ask, “hasn’t the wind of change been blowing always? Have we not always had lovers of the two nations across the borders and have we not always been singing songs of peace and love?” Many things coincide today. The restlessness the country is witnessing is visible. The world order is being questioned and upturned in no small measure today. Irom Sharmila has broken her fast and decided to shift her battlefront and steer her energy towards the electoral process. AAP has come to power in New Delhi. In all this, the death of Mahashweta Devi puts a silent question mark on the psyche of our nation and its identity. The words of my Cha (Uncle) come to mind and the Middle Walkers gain strength, “Just before a new order has to emerge chaos will show its ugly face. It will flicker like the dwindling flame, passionate, angry and destructive.” We continue on our path of finding truth unfettered.

calvin_and_hobbes_pounceAnd the child-like exuberance shows its cherub face again. The stripes of gold and black become visible in the grassland, giggling as they come closer. Phrases have been coined and mouths have disappeared. Time has not been able to let us rest. Shedding the baggage of our history can we move forward?

Can we look at the violence in our past and address it? How many more generations will we let perish before we address the pains handed to us during our freedom? The misogyny handed to us then continues to fester in the honour killings we report. That land came to represent roots and women came to represent honour is the greatest gift the British left behind. Our fault lies in nurturing this crime and making it our legacy. The story of protection of women and capture of land and crimes related to both these aspects of our lives is the larger narrative of this country which a population will shun and resort to frivolity in all aspects of their lives, all in the guise of, “my life is already fraught with so many issue why should I waste three hours of my life worrying about other people’s issues? Let me go to a theatre and watch a mindless comedy, where a chimp and a man take turns slapping each other, for 500 bucks instead!”

It has been futile so far to show people the inter-connectedness of events but the cinema of this country should be taking that responsibility and be keener in showing us what we are and how we have become. The unfortunate reality is that the current crop of leading filmmakers and the earlier crop of filmmakers are all descendants of immigrants who were children at the time of India’s partition. Their account of the journey from across the black line on the map to Bombay was fraught with events that never found any outlet or redressal system in society. No one was willing to engage with this pain. But we need to be child-like in our exuberance and ask larger, more relevant questions. We are laughing today when we listen to political leaders of various countries causing mayhem and laughter-riots in turns, but we do not realise that it is us who puts them in that position of power.

childlikeOur ignorance levels are higher than ever, our conversations are shallower than ever, and yes, it is true that every generation will have something to complain about when it comes to the next one, but the manifestations around us are scary and we must recognise this pattern lest things go out of our hands. If we have to talk about our heritage and all that we have given this world in the past then we must concede that idea influx was the biggest reason why that society could impact the world. We must open our eyes to the possibilities of what can be and what was. We must bear in mind our responsibility to us as children when we could dream of a colony on Europa after having heard of the moon landing, we would think of our deepest fears and process them like external objects, we would trust our judgement and make friends with the world. We would dream and create in the movie halls then. We need to pick up that baton now and start swinging for the fences, lest we forget why we hurt so much, and only end up treating the symptom of the pain and not the root cause. I urge once again, bring forth your child-like exuberance and dream again for that is a wonderful way to look for truth for as my father once said, “the truth is only one and there are ways to reach them.”

-Abhinav
-Shibangi

His Master’s Voice | Paolo Sorrentino

Paolo Sorrentino

Paolo Sorrentino (1970 – present)

Italian film director and screenwriter

Sorrentino is considered among the most audacious contemporary filmmakers today. His work has been critically acclaimed across international film festivals and the global film community. The themes he depicts in his cinema have led him to be compared to Frederico Fellini, Ettore Scola and Michaelangelo Antonioni.

His film The Great Beauty scored a hat-trick, when in 2014 it won the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film,  BAFTA award for Best Film Not in the English Language, and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, after being nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Films of Note: One Man Up (2001), The Consequences of Love (2004), The Family Friend (2006), Il Divo (2008), This Must be the Place (2011/English), The Great Beauty (2013), Youth (2015/English)

His Master’s Voice | Akira Kurosawa

 

Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa (1910 – 1998)

Japanese painter, sriptwriter and filmmaker

Regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, Kurosawa directed 30 films in a career spanning 57 years. His last few films were made using his paintings as  storyboards after he had lost his eyesight.

Entered the Japanese film industry in 1936, following a brief stint as a painter. He most frequently collaborated with actor Toshiro Mifune with whom he has made 15 films. His film , Rashomon, was first to open up Western film markets for Japanese films, leading to the popularity of many Japanese filmmakers.

In 1990, Kurosawa accepted the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. Posthumously, he was named “Asian of the Century” in the “Arts, Literature, and Culture” category by AsianWeek magazine and CNN, cited as “one of the [five] people who contributed most to the betterment of Asia in the past 100 years”.

Films of Note: Sanshiro Sugata (1943), Drunken Angel (1948), The Quiet Duel (1949), Stray Dog (1949),  Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952),  Seven Samurai (1954),  Record of a Living Being (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), The Lower Depths (1957),  The Hidden Fortress (1958), Yojimbo (1961), Sanjuro (1962),  High and Low (1963),  Red Beard(1965), Dersu Uzala (1975), Kagemusha (1980),  Ran (1985)