Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Social Network

At an age where everything happens at the click of a mouse, and we swear by what we read on our social networking sites, life seems to revolve around the computer screen and all the time we spend in front of it. From updating status messages to uploading unlimited photographs to sharing our common interests, our social world is getting defined by how we like to portray ourselves online.

The Social Network, directed by David Fincher is testimony to how such an idea of developing a website that has grown as enormous as The Facebook has come to rule our lives. Jesse Eisenberg, who remarkably plays the character of Mark Zuckerberg shows us how the world’s youngest billionaire came to create a social networking site that proves to be a revolutionary finding. Unlike his character in Adventureland, Eisenberg is more nerdy, less socially active, and focused on his genius finding. The movie is the tale of rewards, and the complications of lawsuits filed against Zuckerberg. He is accused of stealing an idea, and we see him fight through the case with resolve and confidence.

The film meant many things to me. First, the phenomena of Facebook itself. What had started as a mere revenge stunt in college, turned out to be something that people couldn’t get enough of. From rating college girls based on their hotness, to its popularity lending to the growth of an entire social networking site where people not just got to post a profile of themselves, but also got to know others who they may be interested in.

We search for names and faces. It is the virtual meeting point and place to interact and get to know people we already may have met. It is like a dictionary of a person we want to get a quick update on. Today, rather than exchanging phone numbers, a person’s name is enough to track them down on Facebook. It’s the ideal way to stay in touch. More than e-mails, or phonecalls, the Facebook is the most convenient way for me to keep in touch with my friends. There is no obligation, the internet is an open book, and Facebook is the social meeting site. I not only get to say hello to my friends, but I also get to see their photographs, statuses, and all the updates that I’d like to know. It is addictive. It will take you to unlimited opportunities of connections. What better means for communication?

Facebook has now crossed the boundaries of age, countries and continents. It has become a global networking arena. A site of reunions, discussions, personal thoughts, mood descriptions, photo sharing, laughs, memories, triumphs and defeats. It has come to define our existence in the real world. Are we who we portray on our Facebook pages? Or is it a place to reclaim what we wish to be seen as? A drug that may not cease to satisfy, it can be a bug as big as the virus we fear most. We need to learn how to keep it away. While it is a pathbreaking instrument to bring the world closer, too much time spent on it can result in a virtual social life. Only.

The Social Network will show you the genius behind it all. Watch it for a story that is as real as I write this, and as fast as your mind is thinking about your next status update. Yes, you are bitten by the Network.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Conversation

Your auditory senses couldn’t be more alert. The Conversation, directed by Francis Ford Coppola in 1974 has one of the most engaging sound tracks that will grip you in a way you cannot forget.

Establishing a unique sound aesthetic right from the beginning, the audio dynamics is quite striking with its ability in itself to build a relationship of the protagonist Harry Caul (played by Gene Hackman) and the other characters in the film.

There is a noticeable discord in the various sound elements that has a stereophonic quality, which subsequently builds a certain auditory disconnect from the visuals in the film. The scene that struck me the most is the one from where Harry leaves the office after collecting his money. As he leaves down the elevator and asks Martin Stett (Harrison Ford) about what they will do to the two young people whose conversation he had recorded, there is a slow and steady drumbeat that starts and increases momentum as he walks out in the open and is frustrated with himself for the kind of work that he does and his guilt that something might happen to the couple. The African drumbeat exudes a feeling of building action, of an impending climax. Then there enters a voice that plays in his head that acts as both non-diagetic (as the source is not from location) as well as diagetic since the voice is from the character’s mind who is in the narrative sphere. The drumbeats subside as soon as he hears in his head the repeated line “He’d kill us if he got the chance”. At this point the drumbeats fade to be taken over by the sound of the wind in the background. As he hears the voice of the girl singing “red red robin”, we hear the sound of the wind overpowering the tense atmosphere. It is at its most heightened volume when the recorded voices of the couple say the time, day and venue of their next meeting. Also there is a discreet screech of the electronic recording as we hear these voices, distinguishing it as the same recorded voice that is playing in Harry’s mind. There is a certain expansiveness that is created with this sound design of the wind, the voices and the sounds of the recording.

Following this, we only feel silence of the interiors of the hotel room and the occasional sounds of the city outside as Harry inspects the room. Once he enters the bathroom, the atmospheric sound quietens and the sounds of his equipment as he sets up the path to listen to the voices of the other room progresses. We hear his slow breathing, the flush, the cement that gets cut into, the shuffle of his body as he settles and the vibration of the volume control box of his audio device. At a distance, we hear far away voices from the other side of the room that slowly gain in volume to become clearer and closer. As the conversation gets heated up there is suddenly a screeching rewind sound that brings the voices to an end. Harry gets up in anger and we can hear his heavy breathing. Then all that is audible are the hollow voices that resonate from the other room. As they continue to argue, Harry shuffles around restlessly and we hear the sound of the balcony open. In an instant there is a loud, jarring and disturbing scream along with a loud bell sound, as Harry hallucinates and sees a murder. This has a powerful impact on the viewers as much as it does on Harry. The scream continues on a higher but softer pitch along with the bells chiming as the sound of the television that Harry puts on overlaps it. The sound of the bells continues as the scream transforms into an ambulance like a wail in Harry’s head. This I believe is one of the most powerfully simulated auditory hallucinations.

The clever overlaps in sound and the closeness that it brought me to what Harry was feeling is what I greatly admire. It brings the theme of invasion of privacy quite intensely. Harry lived hearing the voices he recorded, feeling what the voices were feeling, traumatized by the emotional implications, and most of all, his lonely existence.

Walter Murch’s seminal creativity with the sound effects has given the movie its personality and its purpose. The embedded conversation recordings, the innovative use of diagetic and non-diagetic sounds, the intense background mix, and the deafening silences are what makes it an absolute must to study the artistic value of sound with the film’s storytelling.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Peepli [LIVE]

This Independence Day comes a film directed by Anusha Rizvi, with a flavor that will tickle your humor buds and unassumingly heighten your awareness about the plight of farmers in our country.

A camera pokes right into the face of a poor farmer, who looks as innocent as a child who has just seen a toy gun. He is bewildered and doesn’t know how to handle all the sudden adulation. Why are all these people Peeping inside his house? Because he wants to, I mean wanted to commit suicide. To let his family live comfortably with the compensation that will be paid by the government. Until the media decided to make a sensational story out of it.

Natha (played by Omkar Das Manikpuri) and his brother Budhia (played by Raghuvir Yadhav) are farmers who run the risk of losing their land if they fail to pay back their bank loan. They are thrown into a helpless situation where they get no support to help repay their debt. The idea of committing suicide forms in their head as the only and last resort to save their family. As word gets around, television channels vie to make it a breaking news story; politicians try to make peace with the villagers because the elections are nearing and to top it, the agriculture secretary acts indifferent to all the developing mayhem.

I felt a certain inner happiness in watching this film, because more than anything else, I was blessing Anusha Rizvi for finally making a sensible film, bringing out a strong theme in a screenplay dripping with satire. What better way to show the deepest dirt and farcical nature of our so-called national system? I love the sarcasm in the visual language, for example how the Minster goes and gifts Natha a bright blue hand pump that is of no use to him or gifts him a television and garlands him in order to appease the threat he’s causing to the power play.

The role of the media is stark and shown in all its brutality. How far away are we from the truth? No too much, I believe. While all our news channels are bothered about TRP’s and being the “top news channel” with this “exclusive story” or that “special report”, how many of our journalists really care for the people or the stories they are reporting for? How many of us understand the real issue that these farmers are facing? How many Natha’s do we know about? I don’t know. Everything seems like such a drama. News has become theatrical. A live drama unfolding before us, with all the mise-en-scenes planned, and executed with perfection. With the perfect characters, and dialogues. For the perfect story. Why? To grab our eye-balls. So that we tune into the same news channel again to satisfy our thirst for dramatic realism.

While I write this at this very moment, I know that there are farmers dying, their suicides adding to numbers, and I feel restless now, because after watching the movie, I started to feel concerned. Although the film made me laugh, it also led me to a low when through the dark humour, I saw the real, cruel face of our power systems. The media, the politicians, the bureaucrats. Natha personifies the face of millions of peasants who face pressure and trauma to repay debts that is a matter of a life and death situation. When all the noise making elements left his village after his supposed death, we see how less anyone really cared about his fate.

Opportunistic. That’s what we all are. The world has become so competitive, that we seem to have lost that sense of humanity, that sense of not wanting to mindlessly think of how we can gain. Sometimes, it’s better to lose, in the eyes of the ruling power. Because, in our hearts, we have won. We may believe that everything needs to have a reason, but there’s no reason to play games with the lives of others to create that supposed reason. In the end, we are solely responsible for our actions, and if haven’t made that little difference in helping a Natha or a Budhia, then that action is not worth committing.

In a nutshell, Peepli [LIVE] shows us the voyeuristic nature of the media, how a story is not lived, but only thrust in front of the camera. Who cares about the old farmer who has been digging for days to sell the sand, and dies in that same mud trench he had been working his life for? Why couldn’t they show that story instead, voiced a more sensitive journalist Rakesh (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Because, according to Nandita Mallik (played by Malaika Shenoy) “Natha is the big story.” Rakesh’s questioning attitude only invited a more curt answer, “ We are journalists, and this is what we do. If you can’t handle this, then you are in the wrong profession.” So my question is, is it worth sacrificing the real cause in the name of “profession”? How can a profession demand belittling our moral standards?

It will enlighten you. It might empower you. It can disturb you. Peepli [LIVE] is a wake up call to notice our distracting tools of public broadcasting. Watch it for its satire, its clever manipulation of story elements, its necessary exaggerations and most of all for its endearing and innocent characters who are the victims of our mad rush for attention. An Independence Day special, most certainly.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The word is dicey. It exhumes a beat of novelty. True to its meaning, Inception by Christopher Nolan is the beginning of a new cult. The creation of something that is so mind-boggling that it's too good to be true. I worship his genius.

Dominic Cobb (Leonardp Di Caprio) is an expert at stealing. Stealing people's ideas from their dreams while they are sleeping. Yes, our world could come to that. But the bigger challenge comes to him when he is asked to plant an idea in someone's mind instead. Saito (Ken Watanabe), a rich man, wants Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), heir to his father's empire, to break it up in order to avoid a threat to his own business.

Cobb hires a young aspiring architect Ariadne (Ellen page) to construct dreams that Fischer would enter when dreaming. She has to create a maze that would allow enough time for the team to manipulate the subject's mind, luring him into thinking what they want him to think. They want him to destroy his father's empire. Not violently and forcibly in real life, but by injecting in him an idea using emotional play. A business decision needs to be communicated by hitting what's most sensitive to us - our emotions.

Going down three layers deep into Fischer’s subconscious, Cobb and his team control and navigate through the dreams facing numerous challenges on the way. They discover that Fischer has been trained to ward off dream infiltrators, and so has developed security, which will only hamper their mission. But the game must go on.

This film got me thinking of many issues. One most prominent being how the entire concept of breaking into someone’s mind is in fact a reality today. How? Simple. Through the innumerous information we are being fed day in and day out, with the bombardment of the media. We may not be wholly aware of it (a dream state?) because it works seemingly discreetly, injecting our minds with what it wants us to believe. We forget what’s real and what’s not. Like how Cobb heavily sedates Fischer, we too are sedated – on postmodern paraphernalia.

The second thing I’d like to mention is the power of the mind. The power to invade directly, in contrast to the powerlessness of surrender. While we all think we have complete control of our lives once we get our degrees and pass out of prestigious institutions, we are equally vulnerable to the evils of the real world. But like in the film, what seems real for the victim is in fact a dream, although what happens in the dream is real because he is brainwashed enough to believe that the decisions he takes are his own. Brainwash. The word seems more interesting to me now. It makes complete sense. Brainwash can almost be used as a synonym to inception. After all, doesn’t it do the same thing? Systematically frame a person’s mind and manipulate it enough to convince him to believe that what he thinks is right and true of his own accord.

Nolan’s concept of limbo I find quite fascinating. When you are heavily sedated in a dream, you may never wake up even if you kill yourself and you’ll fall into what he calls “unconstructed dream space”, where you only find “raw infinite subconscious”. And what’s worse, you’ll grow old in this indefinite world. I wonder if many of us have already fallen in this limbo, living our world in an infinite subconscious simply because we have been heavily sedated by powerful market forces. I find an uncanny resemblance to today’s brand culture being part of sedating us into limbo. Unconstructed brand space. Until we give ourselves an appropriate “kick”, we may never get out of it.

If, however, we are aware of these forces of propaganda, then we can develop a resistance towards it, just like how Fischer developed security against invaders who entered his subconscious. But if propaganda can reach levels where we are convinced that we are not being manipulated, then what else is left?

How we perceive is how we understand what we see. How I see someone may be different from what you may. So like in the film where one sees someone else in a dream as a “projection” which defines his perception of that person in real life, in a sense translates to the fact that how we really see people in real life is what they are in our dreams.

Waking Life by Richard Linklater is another film that explores the blurring lines between dreams and reality. A rotoscoped film, it traces the dream adventures of a young man who cannot get himself out of a dream. Lucid dreaming keeps us aware that we are dreaming, but what if we get stuck and simply can’t get out? The dream becomes a reality that we live in, floating in its surreal geography. Like how the young man gets lessons from philosophers about life, existentialism, reality and free will, Inception is an application of some of these ideas in action. What is free will? Does it really exist? Who controls what we think? Can an idea ever be original? Even if it’s planted in one’s head, can we be fooled to think that it’s “our” idea? According to one of Cobb’s associates, “the subject’s mind always traces the genesis of an idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.” So who gets the real credit of an idea?

I know one thing for sure. Nolan’s genius is impossible to fake. With his execution of the most complicated mind games, it is a breathtaking experience to watch this film. Not once, not twice, but for as long as the totem spins. Lost in your dreams? You could be in danger. Because your mind is the seed of the crime.

Monday, July 19, 2010


A 1960 Italian film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, L’Avventura at first sighting might seem to come across as a movie that one does not find very impressive.

The story is simple, that of a girl who disappears, and a search that yields nothing. The process of the search, however, results in another love story. The characters do not engage in anything very eventful at any given point of time. The purpose by which the film sets out to develop as, is lost when the character who has disappeared, and the search to find her yields no results. I wondered if we are too used to being fed with a resolution to every conflict in a film. Now what is it about this film that has made it reach iconic status?

The movie poses a challenge to its viewers by not giving an answer to the absence of the apparent central character, who was expected to be Anna. Every developing scene or conversation is linked to finding Anna and in our minds that is what the film needs to resolve in the end. The romance that develops between Claudia and Sandro is not only slightly shocking, but also secondary to the search to find Anna. However, Antonioni cleverly pushes us off balance by making it the film’s story itself. So does that make the film a love story?

We are not sure whether Sandro is really in love with Claudia. He is unable to say that he loves her with ease when she demands it. At a point of humor, he even says he doesn’t love her. That, I found as a subtle clue to his confused feeling. Does Claudia love him? This is highly doubtful too because she seemed to have simply gotten drawn to Sandro’s advances and was vulnerable to his strong persistence.

Sandro’s character is typical of the male ego. He is not only unaffected by Anna’s disappearance, but is also arrogant in his failure of becoming an architect. He intentionally spills ink over a young architect’s drawing. He doesn’t show interest in volunteering to seek Anna when they wanted to look for her at the other island. Yet, in the end, Sandro breaks down. That is his breaking point. Perhaps he too has a soft side to him, where he feels guilty of his actions. And also, maybe his way of dealing with Anna’s loss was by distracting himself with other thoughts. He immediately fancies Claudia, and claims his love for her, but somewhere I think he wanted to get close to her because she was Anna’s best friend and so mostly might be like her.

Claudia, I believe is the central character in the film, where the whole plot revolves around her. While she remains an observer sometimes, she also is the participant at other times. She, in a sense is the catalyst of all the unfolding events. For instance, it’s Claudia’s resistance to Sandro initially that makes him come onto her more forcefully. He follows her in the train to plead to her. It is she who is visibly affected by Anna’s disappearance prompting Sandro to continue the search for her. Claudia’s constant looking out of the window could be an indicator to her restlessness, her hope to find something. Yet she’s not sure of what she’s looking for. Perhaps for an answer to the complicated situation she was in? The window is quite metaphoric. It accounts for a mise-en-scene.

It is evident that the characters are lonely, and most scenes have a certain emptiness that is overwhelming. When the search for Anna is on, there is usually one character in a frame at a time, who are mostly looking or moving away from the camera. The conversations are disjointed and the vast expanse of land and rocks alienates the characters from each other and from the viewer.

I found the sound of the seashore important in many respects. During the search for Anna at the island, the waves hitting the rocks sounded harsh and foreboding. Towards the end of the film, we hear the sound of gentle waves of the sea as background, when Claudia and Sandro are at the open terrace together in a moment of uncertainty. The expanse of the sea conjures up in our mind, which evokes a sense of calm, yet haunting uneasiness.

The final scene is very crucial to the analysis of the film. The weight of her hand spoke what was to be communicated. Also, her hesitation to touch him was a moment of conflict, followed by a sure and steady touch of understanding. But how do we know that that touch meant so? She was not only consoling him, but herself, for everything that had happened till then, and in seeing Sandro break down, may have realized that the only way they could get through the pain was by forgiving and being there for each other.

I also found the last scene important for another reason. The fact that Sandro was sitting lumped down on the bench crying and Claudia standing next to him stamps a strong message. That of the power of the woman. The film not only carried women as the prime characters, with Anna, Claudia, Gloria, Patricia and Guilia who seemed to have men in their desirable arena, but also ended with Claudia having the say in the final act of redemption by Sandro.

It is to be said that Antonioni did experiment with the formula of a traditional plot and narrative structure, to create a new venture in cinematic expectations.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shutter Island

Shutter Island comes as a mind numbing experience in the first viewing. It numbs you more, but with greater understanding, in the second. Directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese, it takes the viewers on a thrilling psychological roller coaster where suspense and drama loom large in its cinematic components. The film is based on Dennis Lehane’s 2003 book by the same name.

The music with which the film begins itself sets the tone of what’s to come. Ominous, dark and haunting. Three simple, yet shuddering beats. Shutter Island houses a mental institution where Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo Di Caprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient Rachel Solando. The only way to reach the island is by taking a ferry.

The investigators take on their job with full flurry, inspecting the room from where Rachel disappeared, talking to the nurse, and the other patients. A small note that she left gives scope for a puzzle to be solved, until Teddy is told by Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) that she is back and safe in her room. How strange. Why hadn’t they told him before? Kingsley delivers his actions flawlessly with forbidding charm.

Teddy (a very unlikely name in a such a forboding setting) has a past that haunts him and constantly disturbs his mental state. He starts getting headaches, tremors and hallucinations. He sees his dead wife in his dreams and gets nightmares of the war. Teddy doesn’t seem to have any idea of what he is getting into. There is a constant sense of an eerie mystery that engulfs the gothic setting. No one can escape the island. And Teddy is starting to feel like the victim.

The film is a mind game with intelligent character development. It introduces us to the characters at the beginning of the film, with the most normal format of a story. Each person’s role is defined systematically and their purpose on Shutter Island is laid out clearly. But with Teddy’s growing discomfort and isolation, we see a complex layering of plot advancement.

Teddy’s traumatic past feeds the undercurrent of the film, epitomizing the genre of film noir. It’s dark, it’s disturbing and it’s menacing. Kingsley exudes fear and intimidation. There is a sense of impending danger when he is around, a feeling of uneasiness. Teddy feels that the disappeared woman might be somewhere in a cave on the cliff. The terrain is tough and hazardous, with waves hitting on the rocks. How will they look for her? The challenging landscape with the mysterious occurrings lend to a fascinating watch.

The cinematography is stunning, with some astounding visuals. It’s not just a visual treat but a stimulation of the intellect as well. The questions that loom in our head are hard to fathom. I thought about how insanity is treated in our time and age. The references of how the patients are used for experiments cringed me. Are people really insane on their own terms? Isn’t every mental disturbance caused by an exterior source that may not necessarily be our fault? Are people forced into madness? Or more strongly, are we rendered insane by the world around us?

Continuing the thought about insanity, I am reminded of the film “ One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” where Jack Nicolson’s character is that of a rebel who wants to defy all power. He does not enter insane, but is made so by institutional propaganda. While Shutter Island may not as blatantly put across the power politics in the institution, Dr. John Cawley is not too far from Nurse Ratched’s unrelenting domination. The tyrant that she is, she defines the oppressive system under whose mercy are the patients. In Shutter Island, the rant by Dr. Rachel Solando, who Teddy finds in the cave is nothing but an enlightened talk about unimaginable brainwashing to create a world that in itself is delusional.

The connection between insanity and crime is brought out to educate us about how all our actions and resultant mental states are consequences of the life situations we need to deal with. Criminals are not born, but made. Made because of injustice. The patients at Shutter Island may be “dangerous” and most “violent” but in all their stories, we see how they only wanted justice. It’s a vicious cycle. The thin line that divides sanity and insanity almost doesn’t exist. Who defines sanity, if we all are criminals by propagating injustice? Does non-violence define stability of mind? These are the questions that Scorsese asks. It’s upto us to take away his suggestions. Or at least think about it.

Shutter Island is the work of a mastermind. It leaves you shaken and in wonderment at the end. Watch it for its compelling story, engaging plot, extraordinary visuals and ofcourse for Leonardo Di Caprio.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Bicycle Thief

Bringing the spirit of Italian Neorealism alive, Vittorio De Sica created a masterpiece in 1948 that stands historic even today. The Bicycle thief starrs Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiolo as his son.

Unemployed, and desperately in need of work, Antonio is extremely happy when he is offered a job of pasting posters on the walls of the streets. The only condition is that he needs to have a bicycle. With his wife’s support, they sell their bedsheets to redeem their bicycle from the pawnbroker. Here we see how a man takes the bundle of bedsheets and goes up a towering wall of shelves to stack it with other bundles. So many bundles. So many people’s futures.

Unfortunately, Antonio’s bicycle gets stolen and we are taken on a journey with him across the streets and sounds of Rome, to find his bicycle. Here we see how the movie is structured episodically. Antonio goes to a theatre rehearsal to meet a trusted friend, who in his part time, works as an actor. He also sees the proceedings of a meeting where a communist leader is comforting the unemployed and gives them hope of finding jobs.

The father, son and their trusted friend head out to a bicycle market where all the bicycle parts are gathered and sold. The market is so vast and there are so many options that it’s impossible to locate their bicycle. The father and son team don’t give up hope. The father miraculously spots the thief in a distance and runs behind him to a brothel, and a fight ensues at the end of the chase. The father, in desperation, ends up stealing a bicycle himself. A very powerful ending.

De Sica’s use of non-actors worked wonders for the film. The character of Antonio, played by Lamberto who was a factory worker, brought out the realistic makeup of his character- one who is faced with life’s most difficult times. Post war, Italy was in shatters – economically and morally. We see the real conditions of the people who lived then, in poverty and desperation. When Antonio goes into the house of the accused, we are exposed to the living condition of the working class at that time. A bare minimal existence.

The father and son relationship is critical in the characterization of the two. They are two men on a mission. The child has clearly lost his childhood, and he is a little man, who needs to be able to meet life’s situations. There are several instances where we see the son is left to fend for himself while the father expects him to follow suit or simply be his equal partner. The little boy, however, is a child after all and we see this side of him come out in vulnerable situations, like when he cries when his father slaps him.

Vittorio shows religion in a matter-of-fact way. He seems to be non judgmental, but I find layers in his portrayal of it. He shows the Church having an overbearing control over the poor, who come for mass to get one square meal at the end of the sermon. The old man says “I sat through the service. I’m entitled to the soup.” So what happens to faith in God and the purpose of attending a sermon? Marx was right in saying “Religion is the opium of the masses”. How I see this statement come true in the film is, in two ways. One where the poor accept their miserable state and go to church for comfort and consolation. The other where people follow a faith unofficially – that of the fortuneteller. Their faith in her is blind, in spite of knowing what the outcome of meeting her might be.

It’s all a question of being a part of the system. A system of institutional control. Be it the Church, the police, the fortuneteller or the brothel. The brothel acts as the extreme opposite of the Church, yet ironically similar in its institutional functioning. Here, the services provided may not be considered “moral” but upholds its own standard of systemmatic control. The police again, will help you only if your problem is worth considering. A poor man’s bicycle falls as the least important. Antonio is sent away to look for it himself.

Antonio is a troublemaker in these settings because his behaviour is erratic. He is not “normal” because he broke the “peace” of the Church. They immediately want him out. But what crossed my mind is - who is more righteous? A man fighting to find his stolen bicycle or someone trying to exert power over the other for no miserable cause? Living in harmony with each other is only tolerated. These institutions contribute in creating an altruistic society.

The last scene, with its long takes, gives us a 360º view with a sweeping range of wide angles from different points of views. With the musical structure building, and the spatial design transforming to create a tense atmosphere with a conclusive theme music, the finale is no doubt, the most captivating scene in the film. The wide frame into which the father and son walk with the rest of the crowd is the most symbolic where we see the Director’s way of telling us that what we just witnessed is one story out of so many that happen everyday in the city of Rome.

The film beautifully depicts how desperation for a living can mean so much to someone in a particularly miserable state that it can push even the purest of men into crime. But who is left with a choice when living conditions are so hard, that one must not only fight to find a job, but also fight against all the unsocial elements that are out there to rob you of your happiness?

The movie reminded me of the Pursuit of Happyness, directed by Gabriele Muccino where Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith), questions the word Happiness. Why do we need to “pursue” it? Like it’s a constant battle to get it, the process which is the pursuit - a running after. Running after a thief who stole your most valuable possessions, or running the streets to reach a place on time. The film resembles The Bicycle thief in narrating the story of a father and a son, who are united in their mission of finding happiness. Like Antonio explains to his son, how happy they would be if they had the cycle and they could earn enough to eat and live well. Chris is in a similar battle against odds to prove himself and get through the route (the Pursuit) to find happiness.

The Bicycle Thief, more correctly The Bicycle Thieves is a narration of pushing the limits to find what matters most and how poverty leads to crime which only breeds more crime.

Watch it to understand the story of common man after the War, and his battle to come to terms with economic, social, political and moral systems of society.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Samson and Delilah

Samson and Delilah is an Australian film about two teenagers, who fall in love, and struggle together for survival. It stars Rowan Mc Namara and Marissa Gibson.

Two 14-year-old Aboriginal teenagers, Samson and Delilah live in a remote village, leading simple lives. Samson eyes Delilah, and constantly follows her. Although Delilah at first doesn’t fancy him, she finds herself staring at him when she sees him dance one night. With absolutely no verbal communication, he manages to get close to her once her grandmother dies, as he’s the only other person she knows around. They run away together in a stolen car. They never talk to each other.

The city is harsh. They find it difficult to survive, carrying nothing with them - no house to live in, no food to eat. They rely on a homeless man to give them food sometimes. We see instances where they care for each other. They work as a team when they need to steal from a supermarket. Delilah kisses him on the cheek to say thankyou out of affection. They only have each other.

The movie moves at almost zero talk between the two main characters. They look at each other, understand and live. Samson is addicted to the habit of sniffing petrol. It’s his only means of relaxation, a way to escape from what’s happening around him. Once they flee to the city, he gets so addicted that he can’t hear anything around him. He loses sense of sounds and actions. This detachment from the world happens to such an extent that he fails to notice when Delilah gets hit by a vehicle while she is walking behind him, or she gets picked up by three men in a car only to be raped later. The silence at those moments is deafening. It hits you like a thunderbolt.

What struck me the most about the movie is the haunting honesty with which the Director has shown the lives of the aborigines. With a lack of education, and a crude upbringing, we see how the two struggle to get food, and overcome day-to-day challenges of survival which is at its most difficult level for them in the city. They are looked as aliens from another planet, with great suspicion. What saddened me is that Australia with its rich culture from the Aboriginal community is used only to promote the country in terms of its arts and heritage. When Delilah buys chart paper and paints designs taught by her grandmother to sell it, she is completely ignored. When she steps into one of the stores that sell Aboriginal art, she is rudely sent back. Why do we “civilized” people live in such a farce? We open shops trying to use the works of the tribals to paint a pretty picture of the country and attract prospective buyers, but how many of us really care about them?

The film also brings out the traditions followed by the aborigines. Delilah cuts her hair after she discovers her grandmother dead. Samson does the same after he thinks he’s lost Delilah when she disappears.

Violence is part of their lives. Delilah is beaten up and accused for not taking care of her grandmother. She has no voice against her elders. Samson is beaten up by his own brother in retaliation to his assault of one of the band members who play outside his house. They get beaten up, get hurt and continue living. The film puts it simply. They accept it as a part of their lives.

When Samson and Delilah go to the city, they are treated no differently either. There may be no overt violence, but very open hostility from the city bred residents when they see them. Ironic, how the director has managed to show two sides of human hatred. On one side it’s brutal and physical, almost animal-like where emotions are laid bare with minimal verbal communication. On the other hand we see well-dressed, well-off people who may talk more and be more “literate”, nevertheless equally less inviting with hateful gestures and inconsiderate behaviour.

The music is rustic, and mostly in the background of what is playing in the village. The film is unhurried with its pace and takes us through brilliant visuals. The cinematography deserves special mention. The characters of Samson and Delilah steal the film’s thunder with perfect performances.

The name of the film, although seems to be disconnected to the Biblical characters, to me has a connection. In the film, Samson, unlike what legend has it, has no magical power or strength, but his strength lies in his desire for Delilah and how he goes about attaining her. She is a strong young women who knows how to go about life and follows Samson cautiously in the beginning, and then trusts him completely.

Love is a subject of debate. Because the two young people get entangled in the struggle for survival, sometimes we are not sure if they are capable of the emotions. They stick together, but some scenes with its stark brutality left me wondering. Do they have an option? They ended up together in the city, but their end once they reach there is to fend for themselves. Samson is devoid of feeling, especially when he gets lost in his world of sniffing. Delilah too, she returns everytime she disappears, but that’s because where else and who else will she go to? It’s more like a situation of wanting someone and also not having a better option to settle for something else. Hence, calling it a “love story” needs to be strongly contended.

Watch it for its numbing scenes, visual treat, honesty, innocence and hope. Hope to live and beat all the odds.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


From the Director of Finding Nemo, comes another heart-warming animated film Wall-E, the story of a robot and a dying earth. Director Andrew Stanton did complete justice to his concept with mind-blowing computer animation. Despite the robots not having actual human voices, but communicating only with body language and robotic sounds, the film has managed to convery its message quite strongly.

Wall-E is designed to clean up waste covered Earth far in the future. He is a small machine with wheels who scoops up garbage, shoves it in his belly to compress it into a cube and piles it up neatly in stacks. Year 2105 has bore the brunt of the rule of Buy and Large (BnL) Megacorporation which caused mass consumerism, covering the Earth with trash, leaving no clean space for humans to live. To resolve the problem, BnL created an army of trash compactor robots Wall-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class) and evacuated all humans into space in a luxury star liner, “The Axiom”. Since the plan largely failed, humans had to live in space indefinitely, leaving a lone robot Wall-E cleaning all the trash. In the Axiom, the humans live with the help of machines - only.

Wall-E the lone robot, collects interesting things he finds in the trash and keeps himself alive by re-using the spare parts of other robots long gone. He has his own charming place to live, with all his treasures, and a TV that plays songs. He understands primate feelings such as love watching the gestures on TV. He is lonely, and keeps himself busy with his “work” and his close friend - a cockroach who he tames as his loyal assistant. Wall-E is almost human. Especially when he falls in love.

Eve is a delightful beauty Wall-E is enamoured by. She comes in a spaceship to Earth and Wall-E is simply smitten. The visuals are stunning. They introduce themselves with their names and nothing else and throughout the movie, they communicate only with the sounds of their names and expressions. There is no spoken dialogue between them. This makes the film so universal, especially with its planetary theme.

Lovelorn Wall-E follows Eve all the way back to space and enters a whole new world. We see people cruising on luxury seats, eating, talking and making merry. They are all fat and ugly and don’t walk. The machines do all the work for them, right from getting ready in the morning to transporting them around the “ship” for various other chores. They sip on a soft drink and are paralyzed on their chairs, completely dependent on their robots.

I recently watched the documentary “Super Size Me”, and simply cannot deny a similarity. While in Wall-E the director has gone a step ahead and shown us beautifully what could possibly happen to our world in the future, Super Size Me does not stay too far from the perception of the people shown in the Axiom. Supersizing everything around us, starting from ourselves, with supersized burgers, and cars and houses and buildings and machines to rule our lives, we simply become fat, lazy gluttons. Not to exaggerate it, but America is the fattest country in the world, and also incidentally one of the most developed. So what could be the deduction? Development is directly proportional to destruction? Possibly so.

The people living in the Axiom are excessively dependent on machines for their existence, with an air tv, air palm trees, an artificial beach, an umbrella shade that walks and opens when needed, with robots doing them up with make up and spa treatment, and with machines that help them brush their teeth and get dressed. Ironically, with the kind of lifestyles we have, we too are getting increasingly dependent on machines to live comfortably. It's interesting to note how our thoughts have evolved to deliberate visually and animatedly about the big debate - Man v/s Machines. Who will win the battle? Does the Captain of the spaceship have the power to rule over the machine who rules his life? We see this starkly when the captain struggles to overpower his robots who prevent him from going back to Earth. He has to learn how to walk! His only hope is the little green plant that Wall-E brings to space, which will allow them to live on Earth again.

Andrew Stanton, in his attempt to create a visual masterpiece, has succeeded in also teaching us an important lesson. If we don’t buckle up and try and save our planet by reducing wastes and avoiding products that are harmful to our environment, we are in for big trouble. We may find the consequences of our deeds too far away from our generation, but someday we need to take a step and give our trees a chance to let us live in dignity. Consumerism is taking away our right to live responsibly. The spaceship will rule us soon. That little speck of green will save our lives.

Watch it for its meaningful story, its lesson, its animation and most of all for Wall-E, for his adoring eyes and most human gestures, who in the end is our savior. He is our metaphor for change.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Man Push Cart

Directed by Raman Bahrani in 2005, Man Push Cart depicts the story of a former Pakistani rockstar who now earns a living by selling coffee and donuts from his pushcart on the streets of Manhattan.

The protagonist Ahmad, is a young man who seems numbed from the joys of life, because he has stopped living. He now only exists. He fends a way of living by rolling his push-cart during the early hours of dawn and arranging his mobile boulangerie to serve his customers with a fresh cup of coffee and donuts while they rush through the streets to get to their jobs. The bustling city around him is contrasted with Ahmad’s morose life with little else happening other than finding menial jobs to make ends meet.

His meeting a fellow Pakistani who recognizes him as the once famous Pakistani singer allows him the company of someone who not only understands his plight, but also is willing to help him. His possible romance with a Spanish girl at the magazine stand does not develop because Ahmad’s past does not let him. His love for his dead wife and longing to see his son who is in the care of his in-laws are verdict to his want to belong and his attachment to family. Ahmad also finds a kitten and takes it home to care for it. His very own little friend.

The story reflects the life of those in the streets of big cities who are often ignored, yet play a vital role in many peoples’ lives. Hunger pangs are satiated by a quick donut, or some bread that is easily available at the pushcart. Who would bother to ask the name of a vendor? Or care to know about his past? Why would anyone want to pause to think about their lives, their struggles for livelihood and their families? The stark contrast between the very well off and the not so well off is brought out with the selection of the theme. But for me, it ends there.

My first reaction to Ahmad’s character was that of a lack of life. There was a certain listlessness in his appearance, a lag in his thoughts and actions. For some reason, I felt a certain disconnect. Although I’m sure that the director only intended the bleakness in his character to embody his true inner struggle, the actor failed to communicate it in a believable performance. The emotions simply fell limp. Maybe he’s devoid of feeling any emotion, but that didn’t materialize in effect either.

The inability of the actor to translate the essence of his lonely being disappointed me immensely. Since the entire story revolves around creating sympathy for this character and people who may be leading lives like him, but more so for this particular character because of his past stardom, a weak presence only deteriorates the threads that hold the story together. The vacant eyes of Ahmad were not a vacant that conveyed a void, but a shallow dissonance of expression.

Ahmad’s desperation in the end when he loses his pushcart falls flat. The only part in the film when emotions rise and his frustration reaches a height, Ahmad’s acting does not convince me. Still. How he goes back to being the man with a new pushcart remains unexplained. Forgivable, as this is not an area of concern since it only underlines the fact of how someone when pushed beyond his boundaries and on the edge of living on a shoestring would go to any extent to retain a job they hold valuable.

The film has a good story, with an intention of exposing the lives of the people who live unrecognized, with little money and no real hopes, except to fend for themselves and their families. Watch it for its portrayal of the fight for survival at the most basic level, its attempt at expressing how a man’s past can be a closed chapter once the leaves of happiness fade.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Revolutionary Road

A British-American drama directed by Sam Mendes in 2008, Revolutionary Road starrs Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The screenplay is based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Richard Yates.

Revolutionary Road takes us through the lives of a couple, the Wheelers, living in suburban Connecticut in the 1950’s. Frank and April meet at a party and get married. They create a life of their own with a house and two children, Frank with a stable job and April playing the housewife. They have a home that is perfect, well looked after, a manicured lawn and “modern” furniture. Cigarettes and martinis are a dominant part of their routine lives. As the days and months pass by, there sets a certain uneasiness in April about their regular existence.

April wanted to be an actor, but gave it up because she wasn’t good enough for it. Frank tried to be supportive but asked her to get over the dream simply because it would be better for both of them. The argument the two have over it gets nasty, and we see the buildup of the stress between them in having to prove themselves. The scene ends with a haunting silence as the couple sits in the car, heaving, exhausted, disconnected. It sets the theme of the film beautifully.

The Wheelers were a young couple who seemed like the unconventional sort, young and fresh and different. The lady who sold them the house, Mrs. Helen Givings, visits April one day and tells her that the first time she saw them, they seemed “special”. We see a certain sadness on April’s face when she hears these words, like as though, knowing they were special, they still led regular lives, like regular people. Her expression conveyed a yearning to be what people believed them to be. Taking a house on Revolutionary Road seemed ironic with them leading a life that is no different from the people around them.

April remembers how during the early days of their romance, Frank had told her how he always wanted to go back to Paris, because “people are really alive there, not like here”. He tells her how all he knew is he wants to really “feel” things. April’s memory of that conversation motivates her to start thinking of a change in their lives, of going to Paris! Frank can quit his meaningless job, while she can work to support him. This would give him time to think about what he really wants.

Convinced by this idea, they go about telling their friends, who feel that the plan might be immature. Frank is offered a promotion, and April gets pregnant. She goes to the extent of wanting to abort the baby, lest it affect their decision of moving out. Frank reconsiders the whole plan as he gets an offer of good money at his job. In the end, the whole unrealistic aspect of the plan comes to surface and Frank convinces April out of it. She gives up too, and continues her daily dreaded life, looking after the house while Frank joins the morning march of men in suits and hats.

This movie got me thinking of several things. How many of us exist like the Wheelers? Resigning ourselves to the daily grind because one needs to “settle down”? When April tries to convince Frank about the idea, she tells him, “We’ve bought into the same ridiculous delusion - this idea that you have to resign from life, and settle down, the moment you have children. And we’ve been punishing each other for it.” We see in her a desperate urge to get out of the rut and lead “interesting lives” believing that she would be happier. She knows that Frank is more content, married to her, with two kids and a home. The real struggle is within April. The plan is largely motivated by April’s own needs. We see the loneliness of the woman who spends all day at home tending it, knowing she wants something different, something that she longs for outside the small world of the home and husband. The desperation with which April goes about in wanting the plan to happen suggests her frantic urge to salvage her one chance. Her one chance to be free from the delusional world they are living in.

John, Mrs. Givings’ son, is believed to be “unwell” and was at the mental institute.
We see that his real problem was in telling the truth. He is the only person who understands what the Wheelers want, to get away from the emptiness and hopelessness of their lives.
He observes, “Plenty of people are on to the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.” He sees the frustration that a couple like April and Frank are going through and understands why they want to run away from their current existence.

A character like John is interesting to understand what people think of insanity. His ability to see the truth, tear away the façade in which the couple was living in, and strip away their denials is astounding. So what is truth? And what is insanity? Like Frank said, “Insanity is the inability to relate to another human being. It’s the inability to love”. But then isn’t what John sees the actual truth? In the real sense, it is John who sees life stripped from its plastic existence. He sees reality in all its bareness. The truth is hence, the reverse. It is the people who live in a façade that are insane. Love becomes a compulsion to allow for the smooth order of things. Love becomes an “ability” that is developed. Life becomes predictable; everyone becomes carbon copies of each other. The façade becomes the accepted norm and people are conditioned to believe in its rightfulness, in the process denying themselves their true spirit. So who is really insane?

The Wheelers are defeated in their attempt to be different. April is crushed under her fate. The last scene where April stands looking out of the window with the bloodstain on her skirt is powerfully symbolic. It’s like a permanent stain on their lives, on their neat carpet and clean house. A mark of irreversible devastation.

The film takes the American Dream to tragic levels, as the dream turns into a nightmare. The choice that one needs to make between wanting to just survive or “live” is stark in its honesty. Although many of us continue existing, how many of us really have the drive to see that spark in us and chase our imagination? The plan that April had might seem a tad bit unrealistic, but the fact that she wanted a way out shows how a person with potential can still be stifled under the norms of “living”.

In Frank also we see a need to be free and want to explore real things and “feel” things, but at the cost of what and whom? What about the children who need to be taken care of? How do we live the life that we always want to, yet manage to fulfill the roles we are meant to? More importantly, how do we really know what we want? These are questions that the film raises.

Powerful dialogues, with equally powerful acting and music, this film takes the concept of “living” to a completely different level. The phenomenal performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet engrosses us to live their experience.

We know no bounds to our fantasies, but how much of it can definitely be real? Watch it for its ability to move you to a point where you evaluate your own existence.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Zoo, an eleven-minute documentary directed by Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra in 1962 is an amusing, touching and humorous look at the way people and animals behave. It is a montage of people’s expressions when they visit a zoo, and the animals’ expressions in return when they see people watching them. The shots are all cut-to cut put together by associational editing.

It is obvious that Haanstra has not filmed the documentary with the knowledge of the people or the animals. It is footage from a hidden camera, which captures a two-way relationship that the human beings and animals share without realizing it.

Zoo uses the associational form of editing to show relational continuity for narration, with music that contributes greatly to the feel and pace of the emotions at play. Haanstra masterfully mixes zoo footage of the people who gawk at animals and parallely shows footage of the animals’ reaction to the same humans who gawk at them. The animals are seen to gawk back at the people, thus creating meaning in the shots, a certain sarcasm, giving a feeling of continuity through editing.

An example of this relation can be seen evidently when we see school kids entering the zoo to see the animals, and Haanstra cuts to close ups of a giraffe and the ostrich and they also take a look at the humans who have come to see them, which throws open the question of who’s watching who in the zoo. We see the style of walking of kids, old ladies, a young couple, an elderly couple and then its cut to the walk/march of the penguins drawing a similarity. Hence although the animals and the people in the zoo have been shot at a different space and time, the relational continuity helps us to forget the difference.

The establishing shot is very strong too. Haanstra starts by showing the rails of the cage with a lion in it and then a shot of people walking into the zoo followed by an old man standing behind the bars, drawing a relational parallel between the lion and the man. The editing bringing out these specific shots in continuation to give a brilliant introduction to the purpose of the documentary - to show that animals watch people too and in many ways how people’s actions are similar to those of the animals. For instance, there’s a shot of a father carrying his young son on his shoulders followed by a shot of a baby monkey sitting on the shoulder of its parent.

The music is what really drives the story. Pim Jacob’s jazz music gives the images a punch and creates the pace and feel of the developing montage. The meaning of the shots is punctuated with variations in the flow of music that runs parallel with the action on the screen. The inclusion of animal sounds in between gives an impression of the characters crucial in making the film. The best example is that of the parrot’s voice that comes in between the jazz music.

Zoo’s specialty is the frequent use of "rhyming images" and of images blending into each other. The film is perfectly able to catch the peculiarities of human behavior when they watch animals in a zoo. It is a tribute to the animals who we mock, emote and laugh at, as the film shows us their point of view and how they equally mock and laugh at us. Zoo is a delightful mix of humor, emotion and genuine expressions.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sita Sings the Blues

An animation movie directed by American artist Nina Paley in 2008, Sita Sings the Blues tells us the story of Ramayana, interspersed with episodes of the author’s own life. A delightful watch, the film has simple yet charming animation that easily strikes a chord with the viewer.

The film begins with the narration of the story of Ramayana, shifting focus to the story of Sita’s state of unequal treatment. The brave Sita is betrayed by her husband in the end because he suspects her of being impure, for no fault of her own. Interlacing the historic Sita to her modern day jazz self, we see a Sita who sings dreamily to the tunes of the legendary jazz singer, Annette Hanshaw. The narration of the story of Ramayana is done by three Indian shadow puppets played by Aseem Chhabra, Bhavana Nagulapally, and Manish Acharya. They link the episodes of the Ramayana with natural and lively discussions of their personal knowledge and impressions of the epic. The sarcasm in many areas is blaring and gives the viewers a non-chalant yet serious observational analysis of the unfolding story.

The jazzy Sita is a symbolic satire to how she conveys messages through her songs, singing very relevant tunes to the condition of Sita in the Ramayana. Slow and steady we see a saddening state of affairs as Sita is made to suffer despite her being a faithful and courageous wife.

The film parallely shows the contemporary story of a young American couple Dave and Nina, and their cat Lexi. The couple are young and in love. Dave takes a temporary job in India and flies to the country leaving Nina and Lexi back home. Nina misses him so much that she goes to visit him in India, only to find him cold and unresponsive. She returns back home to find a cruel message from him “Don’t come back. Love, Dave.” Nina stares at the message and her heart breaks. The film so literally shows her heart break into pieces. The silence before the sound of breaking glass is haunting and hits with a poignance.

The uncanny resemblance of Sita and Nina’s life brings us to a converging point of understanding their similar stories although each is based in different time, culture and generation. Both betrayed by their lovers and separated by long journeys, brings across a universal grief shared by women who are unfairly treated by their so-called lovers. The two characters rediscover themselves and are reborn in different forms. Sita is reborn as a lotus and Nina symbolically as she finds rage and solace in the Ramayana, inspiring her to make this film.

The film is remarkable for its versatility. The lively and colorful animation in Sita’s story brings across strongly the personalities of the characters. The two stories are brought out in two completely different forms of animation. While Sita’a story is narrated in a song and dialogue sequence with vibrant colors where episodes of the Ramayana resemble Rajput paintings, Nina’s story is portrayed in a completely different animation style. The modern, more personal element of the story is narrated using the rough, energetic squigglevision technique of animation. The drawings convey the restlessness inherent in the story, at the same time bringing across certain light-heartedness, universal in its tone, with its simple, highly stylized renderings of characters and environment.

What struck me the most was the power of the visual and narrative form that blended so perfectly. For instance, the song and dance sequence after Nina gets the cruel message from Dave is overwhelmingly heartening with its montage of images, music and color. The woman dancing to Indian music in a saree, amidst fire, then becoming a mere dancing skeleton has such powerful symbolism. Nina intelligently weaves the message in the underlying humor using exuberant drawings and bright colors. The message is serious.

In April 2009, there was a petition demanding for the complete ban on the movie by a conservative Hindu group who were offended by the film. They believed the film to be a derogatory act against the entire Hindu community. Some west-wing academics accused her film of being neocolonialistic. Yet, the film has won numerous awards including awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, Athens International Film Festival and Crystal Grand Prix, to name a few.

Sita Sings the Blues is fresh, delightful, original, and disturbingly stark with its juxtaposed narrative style of music, dialogues, monologues and one-of-a-kind animation. Watch it to be amused, enchanted, moved and empowered. It is a work of sheer brilliance and inspiration.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gimme Shelter

"It is far from simple to show the truth, yet the truth is simple."
- Dziga Vertov

Capturing this truth is what the Maysles brothers set out to do when they decided to film the story of Rolling Stones in the Documentary Gimme Shelter. This masterpiece can be considered their seminal work in the field of Direct cinema.

Gimme Shelter is a 1970 Documentary film directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, tracing the Rolling Stones 1969 US tour The Rolling Stones, which culminated in the disastrous Altamont free Concert.

The documentary adopts the Observational form of Reactive Filming, which involves minimal intervention, a 'fly on the wall' method where the camera crew works as unobtrusively as possible viewing events candidly as a fly on the wall might see them.
In Gimme Shelter we see this distinctly throughout our viewing experience. Gimme Shelter brings raw footage that is unadultered and unfiltered. There is no tampering whatsoever with the flow of events. All the characters are real and there is no element of fiction involved.

The documentary has many close-ups which brings forth the real size and impact of the individual on the screen. Throughout the concerts, the focus on Mick Jagger for instance, keeps us well aware of his over-bearing presence. The focus lies in the drama of specific individuals. Mick Jagger being the lead band member of Rolling Stones, steals the limelight even on camera, as his real life importance gets translated into the screen with visuals of his experience as a singer.

The camera has captured real emotions and expressions of the individuals. The actors are caught unaware, giving originality in responses and expression of feelings. This is most seen during the concert when the camera tracks through the audience and captures their responses during the show. There is spontaneity in the way the camera is handled. The camera captures visuals in such a way that a person’s eyes may react in the same situation. The camera movements don’t seem planned and are on the spur-of-the-moment. Capturing is most natural and goes with the flow of unfolding events.

Another interesting aspect of the camera handling is the pace at which the visuals are shot at. We notice how the pace at which the visuals are captured are in sync with the mood of the events unfolding. For example, when the band starts performing a slow jazz number, the camera moves across the performers and the audience in a way to bring about the swooning mood. Slow movements capturing the feeling of enjoyment and bliss by the listeners is brilliantly brought out on the basis of how the camera takes us across the scene. In contrast to this mood, the camera has jerky movements when it shoots the crowd going ballistic and out of control. Unsteady camera takes us through the action within the crowd. This brings in the element of reality as we experience it the way a person would see it.

Sound is also left as it is recorded on the field. The music is that which is played by the band during a concert, and the dialogues are those which are spoken in conversation. Also, showing the footage of the concerts to the band members prove to be an eye-opener to them in knowing what actually happens in the crowd.

All these elements of Direct Cinema has disregarded the beauty and grandeur of non-direct cinema. True to the spirit of Kino Pravda, Gimme Shelter puts together fragments of actuality, which have a deeper truth unveiling itself through the eyes of the camera.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

3 Idiots

            Directed by Rajkumar Hirani of Munna Bhai MBBS fame, 3 Idiots is a 2009 Bollywood film with screenplay by Abhijat Joshi. Based on Chetan Bhagat's novel 5 Point Someone, 3 Idiots stars Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, Kareena Kapoor,Omi Vaidya, Parikshit Sahni, and Boman Irani.

         The film is a story of three friends and their experience as students in an engineering college. Farhan Qureshi (R. Madhavan), Raju Rastogi (Sharman Joshi), and Rancchoddas "Rancho" Shyamaldas Chanchad (Aamir Khan) are three engineering students who share a room in a hostel at the fictional Imperial College of Engineering, one of the best colleges in India. Farhan and Raju are average students whose goal in life is to study, get marks to pass and support their families after obtaining an engineering degree. Rancho comes across as this genius who is unconventional and studies for the sheer joy of learning. He is unorthodox in his views and always stands out with his creative answers and smart replies.

         The plot moves on to show their developing friendship, and their struggles in coping with the course. With Rancho's free spirit and undeniable talent, the professor, who they call Virus, is threatened, labeling him an idiot and trying to destroy his friendship with Farhan and Raju. However, their friendship holds good till the end. Mean while Rancho falls in love with professor's daughter Pia (Kareena Kapoor) who he rescues from a potential disastrous marriage to a man who is extremely materialistic and seems to want to marry Pia only to up his social ladder.

          Exam results reveal Rancho as the top ranker and his friends in the last two positions. Rancho's coming in first place agitates Chatur ("Silencer") who the professor sees as the ideal student. Chatur is one who is behind high scores, which he believes is the ladder to success and that this can be achieved by rote learning. The three friends ultimately find their dreams and follow their heart in doing what they want.

           I found the film interesting for two reasons. One, is the courage of the director in bringing out the alarmingly flawed Indian Education System and secondly for the portrayal of life as a web of relationships that is so endearing and admirable. The film celebrates the challenger, the innovator, the one who breaks all barriers to overcome hurdles that come in the way in realizing one's dream, and the passion with which one must live life. Rancho's character stands out greatly in achieving this. He is the one who inspires and leads. Although a bit overdone at a few places, the film overall does well for it's theme and message that it gives out.

          It brings out the complete uselessness of rote learning. The Indian Education System has, for long been following a regimented pattern of learning where students are taught from the books, with hardly any practical knowledge. Parents dream of their child being either an engineer or a doctor. This trend has been ingrained for so many years, that it has turned out to be the "norm" for many children, where they simply have no choice. Under the pressure of fulfilling their parents' dream, they struggle to get through the course, some giving up in the attempt. The suicide by Joy Lobo in the film encapsulates the mental trauma faced by many students in the country. Not given an extension for the submission of his project on humanitarian grounds, he is driven to the extreme step, as his life depended on his completion of the degree.

          Echoing the experience of many students, I as a student felt empathetic towards the characters. I being an Arts student, consider myself very lucky to be given the freedom to choose what I wanted to do. Yet I find the conflict also lies in choosing what one really wants. When one is confused, you'd rather do what everyone is doing than taking the risk of delving into shaky grounds. A passion can remain a hobby, and is not seen as a career in itself in many cases. In today's material driven world, 3 Idiots brings out the vanity with which people live, surviving in a lie, blinded from one's true desires. The film teaches abandonment of exterior signs of success that seem to determine your "status" in society.

           The friendship between the three characters is very heartwarming. In college, one makes friends for life, who stand by you at all times. With the sea of people one meets in college, why is it that most of us end up being with a few? Either we are roommates, or have common interests, or simply enjoy each other's company. In the process of spending time with each other, certain bonds are shared and trust develops. Director Rajkumar Hirani has brought out this bond between the three friends beautifully.

          The film falters at places and gets a bit unrealistic at times, but these scenes are forgivable for the larger good it does to the viewers.

      Watch it for its delectable characters, spirited story and heartening message.