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.