Category Archives: Indie cinema

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 | 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)

A Shot of Short | The Explorer (Alexander Vestnesstraumen & Ola Martin Fjeld)

This a marvellous piece of movie making, no matter it is only 60 seconds long. And this will resonate with all those people whose younger siblings have made their lives miserable. Linus is busy on a project, one you can make out is scientific, brilliant and an intelligent experiment born out of the very geeky corners of his mind. His younger brother is proving to be quite bothersome at this precise moment when he is hoping for his experiment to succeed.

This funny one-minute film by Norway’s Alexander Vestnesstraumen and Ola Martin Fjeld is smartly made — has great shots that describe things perfectly within their one frames, the editing is hurried, but only because of the sense of urgency this story demands, and the bombastic score that stands out — driving the drama of this silly, aggravating situation all the way to the punch line.

Enjoy!

His Master’s Voice | Park Chan-wook

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Park Chan-wook (1963 – present)

South Korean film director, screenwriter, producer, and former film critic

One of the most acclaimed and popular filmmakers in his native country, Chan-wook’s films are noted for their immaculate framing, black humour and often brutal subject matter. Park said his films are about the utter futility of vengeance and how it wreaks havoc on the lives of everyone involved. His films have a massive audience worldwide, having done spectacular business and won close to 25 awards across several international film festivals. Hollywood filmmaker Quentin Tarantino considers Chan-wook’s films to be one of his biggest sources of inspiration.

Films of Note: Joint Security Area (2000), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003), Lady Vengeance (2005), I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (2007), Thirst (2009), Night Fishing (2011), Stoker (2013)

Tuesday Blog | 3 Ways Brexit Could Devastate the Movies

Game of Thrones - Brexit

“After Brexit, the UK will be forced to re-negotiate quotas and taxes for exports to the EU. In 2015, the UK exported 41% of its movies to the EU, surpassing its American exports. Imminent financial pressures will likely diminish UK film exports, thereby disincentivizing production.

The Creative Industries Federation, which represents British creative industries, voted 96% in favor of Remain for these very reasons. British film industry stalwarts Patrick Stewart, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightley, Jude Law, and director Steve McQueen penned a letter stating that their country’s “global creative success would be severely weakened by walking away.”

Emily Buder, for nofilmschool.com

The UK has for long been the power centre of Cinema with its legacy of theatre and the manner in which its churns out such brilliant film directors, actors, cinematographers and other film technicians. We have often joked that while the rest of the world gets basic vaccines against germs and diseases, the British are inoculated with bugs that enhance their stage and screen skills manifold. The same holds true for most European countries, which have government-sponsored, but healthy cinema cultures and thrive on a film market that is known for its co-productions. European film production, distribution and talent management companies have frequently collaborated to create and bring to the world some excellent examples of cinema.

The Brexit referendum, which has separated UK from the rest of EU could change a lot of the international film production and distribution treaties. Here is an article from nofilmschool.com which enumerates and discusses three ways in which things could go south for the film market in UK and EU.

 

Tuesday Blog | Anurag Kashyap’s Exploration Of Urban Lives & Its Decadence!

Anurag Kashyap

PC: Jamuura.com

 

Kashyap has a special relationship with Mumbai and especially its underbelly. Some might say he is Mumbai’s Orpheus who constantly makes a journey to those hellholes and back so that he could tell us their stories. Be it UglyThe Girl in the Yellow BootsBombay Velvet and now Raman Raghav 2.0, the city has always been Kashyap’s muse. And it is not surprising. For it was under the tutelage of his mentor Ram Gopal Varma, Kashyap wrote that famous Bombay gangster movie of all time, Satya.” – Sayantan Mondal for Jamuura.com

Anurag Kashyap is among the most revered directors in the country today with cinegoers thronging the theatres every time one of his films release. And although he began in the indie/underground space (his first film Paanch remains unreleased but very widely viewed, thanks to torrents), he has very meticulously built himself into a brand that grants his movies very successful openings at the multiplexes. As a youth icon, he echoes their views – whether radical or pragmatist and progressive – and his anti-establishment statements via his movies have won him fans. He has been open with his stories of struggle while trying to find a foothold in the industry and his personal life, making him a rare director that people love to hear talk in front of an audience, as well as from behind the camera. His recent films may not exactly have set the box office to fire, but he remains a solid inspiration for aspiring filmmakers.

Read more about Kashyap’s commentary on urban life and decadence; strong statements that he makes through his movies.

His Master’s Voice | Michel Gondry

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Michel Gondry (1963 – present)

French independent film director, screenwriter and producer, he is noted for his inventive visual style and distinctive manipulation of mise en scène. He is well known for his music video collaborations with The Chemical Brothers, Björk and The White Stripes.

He won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay as one of the writers of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), which is often ranked one of the greatest films of the 2000s.

Films of Note: Human Nature (2001), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), The Science of Sleep (2006), The Green Hornet (2011), The We and the I (2012), Mood Indigo (2013), Microbe & Gasoline (2015)

 

 

A Shot of Short | Grandma’s Hero (Ben Ozeri & Corentin Monnier)

Two main characters, a fantasy world staging, a focus on humor and an external conflict compose this fun short created by students at Danish school The Animation Workshop.

Grandma’s Hero features ambitious environments and aesthetic work, presenting a great variety and number of characters and creatures. The Animation Workshop’s production system, which usually functions with groups of 7+ students (in this case they’re 11+), helps produce films of remarkable scope. Plenty of very wide shots are used to describe the environment, along with pans and tilts. Camera moves are also used during action sequences. Visual rhythm is high, with great attention dedicated to sound and music to accentuate it and mark contrasts and changes of pace.

Among other narrative devices the short makes good use of psychological/subjective narration (the hero’s imagined events represented in his eyes at 1m57) and a nice frontal shot of the hero walking towards the camera (3m07) with ellipses to transmit passage of time and the character’s increasing frustration.

Featuring great stylized character designs, quality animation and plenty of gags, the film’s playfulness is also worth noting – it likely mirrors the production process the authors went through.

*Reproduced from http://filmnosis.com/shortfilms/grandmas-hero/

 

Tuesday Blog | Aligarh: a review

Aligarh 1

The frame opens and stays where it is in possibly one of the longest opening shots in Hindi cinema in recent times. Watching from where you are, you become a voyeur, peeking into the windows of a house in a colony barely lit by street lamps in the fog that is characteristic of north Indian winters. For a long time nothing happens on screen, but your mind is already abuzz and sensing what is to come. And then the movie begins.

Aligarh, directed by Hansal Mehta is  the true story of Prof. S. R. Siras (Manoj Bajpai), who was the Head of Department at the Department of Modern Indian Languages in Aligarh Muslim University. Not one to shy away from telling the truth, Mehta has not changed much about this man and his identity. Which is why the film has unofficially been banned in Aligarh, which is so telling of the times we live in – commit atrocities on those who do not conform, and disguise your inability to adapt as defense. When it is you who attacks someone not from your tribe because you cannot empathise, the excuse then is generally, “but his immoral ways are ruining our culture.” Suddenly, you gain the higher moral ground and become the victim as well – such a delicious combination for those seeking sympathy. This line of thought is exactly what Mehta is challenging: Who is the oppressor and  who is the oppressed?

aligarh2Siras is an outsider, no matter how you look at him. He is a Marathi man in a Hindi and Urdu-speaking city. He lives alone, surrounded by families in the quarters identical to his own. He plays Madan Mohan’s compositions and sings along with the nightingale-like Lata Mangeshkar in his own soulful, but broken and tuneless notes. He probably gets himself drunk every night so that he can sleep. He occasionally gets a consenting rickshaw wala home to quell his loneliness. But don’t call him ‘gay’, for he cannot understand how three letters can convey the vast range of emotions, urges, and baggage (in a society like ours) that make him the man he is. That word reduces his identity to make it uni-dimensional, and he dislikes that.

aligarh3Aligarh is also the story of the young reporter Deepu Sebastian (Rajkumar Rao), who befriends this man he set out to write stories about in his newspaper. He understands Siras, his loneliness and his pain. He finds Siras’ quirks endearing: the peg he needs to have every evening after he comes back home, the autograph he needs to sign with his own pen, his poems in Marathi that he translates into English while his case is being heard in the court (he doesn’t care to be an activist and doesn’t understand legalese), the way a blush creeps up his face when he is told he is good looking, his mild manner even when he is affronted, and many more such small things that make the man someone you’d love to know.

Their personal stories also move parallel to each others’. Both try to ward of intrusions into their privacy, and both are outsiders (Deepu is a Malayali living in Delhi). However, while Siras is the quiet timid man satisfied to be able to stand against the tide, Deepu is full of energy, fighting his daily battles with gusto. But while in a flashback, we see Siras gently kissing the face of his partner in a closed bedroom; we are told they has been doing this for eight months now. We also see Deepu kissing his coworker passionately on the roof of their workplace after office hours. As the movie progresses, you begin to take stock of whatever Deepu has said and done, and you wonder if he is in love with Siras. Is his  fling with his female coworker something he becomes part of to avoid being in the kind of situation his friend Siras is in?

aligarh4The backdrop against which the interactions of these two men is set is the painful realisation that despite the raging debate on the criminalisation of homosexuality in India, there is an utter lack of sensitivity. The judiciary can declare homosexuality legal, but the general public will continue to look at gay men and women with absolute disdain and refuse to accommodate them in whatever small manner possible. Even the champion of gay rights, the giant of a lawyer Anand Grover (Ashish Vidyarthi) gets offended when Siras thinks of him as gay too. He is possibly in this for the name, fame and a certain standing among his peers. The other lawyer (Balaji Gauri) is too steeped in age-old prejudices to be able to even want any kind of justice for Siras. She even wonders how a 64 year-old has the “strength” to have sex. She is most likely from that section of society that look at sex as something that a man and a woman have with each other after they are married. There is no more sex in such marriages after the desired number of children. Sex for such people is strictly procreational.

Here, the case around Siras’ dismissal from the University takes the shape of a man engaging in consensual sex with another adult of the same gender versus the breach of his privacy, when TV reporters break into his house, beat him up and film him in a compromising manner. They are followed by Siras’ colleagues who had set this up to settle old scores with the man who had worked with them for over 20 years, and grown to become an HoD despite being a Maharashtrian. There are so many injustices against this man who has only kept his head down and done his work well, only because he is an “outsider” in every respect.

I feel Mehta must have interviewed everyone on the crew various questions pertaining to gay rights and sensitivity and only then upon being satisfied with their answers, taken them on the film. Writer and Editor Apurva Asrani and Cinematographer Satya Rai Nagpaul have collaborated with the director and the actors to create a masterpiece that will possibly go down in the history of Indian cinema as he most sensitive and nuanced portrayal of gay people in India. While those in the metros walk the Pride, there has barely been any small city/town/rural representation of homosexuality in any media. Aligarh is named so because it is about the city more than it is about Siras. Aligarh is the lead character in this film. Aligarh, the city is so claustrophobic for Siras. In contrast, his small apartment makes him feel freer. He can be himself when he is there. When that shred of liberty is also snatched from him, he becomes lonelier than ever, trying to find a space to call his own. Aligarh and its people drive Siras towards his eventual end. Aligarh still continues to be in character and refuses to have anything to do with this beauty of a film. And Aligarh is just one of many places in our country that looks at men like Siras with absolute contempt.

If Siras humming along to Aap ki nazron ne samjha pyar ke kaabil mujhe doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what will.

 

 

Oscar Week | Friday Fun Fact | Room (Lenny Abrahamson)

Room

Room is a 2015 Canadian-Irish drama film directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Emma Donoghue, based on her novel of the same name. The film stars Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, and William H. Macy. Held captive for seven years in an enclosed space, a woman (Larson) and her 5-year-old son (Tremblay) finally gain their freedom, allowing the boy to experience the outside world for the first time.

Brie Larson isolated herself for a month and followed a strict diet in order to get a sense of what Ma and Jack were going through, and she claimed she avoided washing her face during filming, to really make clear on-camera that she was not wearing makeup. In preparation for her profoundly complicated character portrayal, she spent hours with a trauma specialist researching the psyche of one incarcerated to the extreme degree of her character “Ma.” This was not the kind of information that could be readily found in a Google search. Ma’s real name is Joy. Room is one of three movies released in 2015 and nominated for Oscars in which the lead is named Joy. The others are Inside Out (2015) and Joy(2015).

The film was largely shot in sequence to make it easier for Jacob to perform as his character evolves. Jacob Tremblay did his own stunt work, and wore a wig in the scenes where Jack has long hair. Although an experienced actor, Jacob could not bring himself to yell at Brie Larson in the scene where he is angry about his birthday cake having no candles. Finally the director had the entire cast and crew start jumping up and down yelling and screaming until he was able to do it himself.

There are several subtle references to the fact that while they are still imprisoned, Joy continues to breastfeed Jack even past his fifth birthday–many years after the age when most breastfed children get weaned. Although this is not explained outright in the movie, it is implied that there are several reasons that she does this. First, it provides some extra nutrition and physical immunity for Jack. It is also a way of comforting him–taking care of him emotionally and adding to their bond–and encouraging him to go to sleep before their kidnapper arrives each night. Furthermore, it provides a small amount of natural birth control for Joy, who likely would have been loathe to endure another solitary and unsanitary labor in captivity or to place another child in the traumatic position that Jack is in.