Monthly Archives: July 2013

Ship Of Theseus – deserves a stormy applause!

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[No Spoilers]

Greek Philosophy and Indian Cinema are at best, an unorthodox pair. So when a movie attempts to explain a paradox as complicated as this one, you know it’s bound to leave some questions unanswered, and most people rather confused. But then again, we are never promised answers in the film, but rather an interesting take on the questions, and how they might possibly be portrayed in our day to day lives. The question in consideration is quite simple – “Does an object fundamentally REMAIN THE SAME if all it’s parts are replaced gradually until the point none of the original remain?”

Ship of Theseus uses Bombay as it’s base and explores the lives of 3 characters, in the form of snippets that show them arriving at apparent belief shattering conclusions. A blind photographer, a monk who believes in dualism and a hard working stock broker who’s the apt representative of the average nice guy. These people, played by Aida El-Kashef, Neeraj Kabi and Sohum Shah respectively, were brilliant in their roles, and despite there lacking scope to truly bring out a technically outstanding performance, couldn’t possibly have done better.

Point number one, and I don’t know if any of you thought this as well, but Kiran Rao is not the director. She’s the producer. Yeah it sounds trivial, but most of the posters etc. have her name bigger than anything else, and the real writer and director – Anand Gandhi has taken a backseat in my opinion. Which is a shame considering how good this movie actually is.

Aida El-Kashef, or Aaliya as she’s known in the movie, is a character that defines the niche upper middle class category of people living in Bombay. With the kind of determination and individuality only an artist might possess, she plays a blind photographer struggling to keep her art original. Her battle to keep intentional frames over ‘shots in the dark’ that looked better, keep her at constant loggerheads with her partner, who is also a patient fellow that simply thinks differently. When viewed with regard to her being blind, this seems like an anchor few would wish to be tied down to.

Maitreya the monk, played by Neeraj Kabi is certainly one of the most likeable character in the film. He’s got a sense of sophistication and reasoning that seems absent in most priests of today, and yet conforms to most of the traditional rituals and customs of the order. Simple shots of him waking up before the rest of the priests to fold his sheets and walking phenomenal distances in a Bombay stuck in a heavy downpour over deserted highways, define him more than anything else he says in the film. Vinay Shukla, who plays Charvaka, a law student, was also a very noticeable and boisterous character whose declarations often seemed to supersede Maitreya’s logic and beliefs. Despite many questionable arguments, the relationship between both these characters is something worth looking out for.

Finally the story of the stock broker, Navin, who is played by Sohum Shah, is nothing short of amazingly realistic. His part deals with the age old dilemma of wanting to help someone who does not wan’t it. Most Indian movies have extremely one sided character depictions and a man who loves his money is almost never shown as kind and caring. Navin breaks all stereotypes of this sort and one can see him passing through various stages of ethical choices and decisions, most of which lead to unforeseeable outcomes. There are no good or bad people in his story. Just people trying to live with whatever they can manage.

What comes out the most in the script of the movie is the intentional lack of background character exploration. It’s almost as if the director simply wanted each of the characters to be viewed only and precisely in the time frame shown in the movie. No one knows how it got there, and no one is informed about what happens next. It is what it is, and all else is left to our imagination. This creates a sense of reality that most modern day movies tend to lack.

Screenplay in the Ship of Theseus is also nothing short of mesmerising. It is made up of dull frames that are well thought out and expansive and yet quite different from the likes of vibrant movies like The Life of Pi. The lack of colour may be concerning for a few, but personally I felt it was perfect for the season it was set it. There were plenty of long and drawn out single shots that transitioned so smoothly, that one might miss a change if not looking out for it. Metaphors were strewn across the movie, and an overload of symbolism keeps one intrigued throughout the duration of the film. There is subtle design

One cannot help but be reminded of Will Smith’s 7 Pounds in more than one way, but rest assured, the movie takes a path quite different from anything else I have seen before in Indian Cinema. I thought it was one of the best India has ever produced, worthy of a pedestal when compared with other foreign masterpieces as well. Certainly, there remained room for improvement, but I’m sure this was heading bang in the correct direction.

Some will like it, some will not. One thing’s for certain though. No one will deny it was something truly different.

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Les Misérables – Musical Melancholy

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I’m not a big fan of Musicals. The idea of grown men and women prancing about singing in pristine clear studio voices feels unnatural and uncomfortably closer to Bollywood than I like to keep myself. Which is why, when I heard the kind of acclaim Tom Hooper was getting for Les Misérables, I was curious more than excited. Little did I know that what I was about to see was going to eliminate any shred of negative bias I had towards this genre.

You know the kind of gap people talk about between staged theatre and on-screen movies, the distinct difference between a calculated exaggeration of an actor who performs live and an actor with a camera in his face? The gap that has disproved the age old assertion, that the world of cinema will ultimately eliminate traditional theatre entirely? Les Misérables does the impossible by merging the opponents. It is, in one word – beautiful.

The plot is simple, perhaps even a bit clichéd. But when a movie is delivered like this one was, the happy endings don’t really matter. The director has introduced a sense of profound sadness, and carried on to show how peace and happiness eventually grows out the deepest pits of fear as well. If I were to give it an analogy, I’d say it was like a delicate leaf growing from a gap in a stone wall – an apparent impossibility, but a phenomenon we’ve all witnessed.

Set in 19th-century France, Hugh Jackman plays an ex-prisoner to perfection, vastly dissimilar and far surpassing the likes of a gritty Wolverine. The word ‘hope’, and the lack of it, takes a whole new meaning after accurate portrayals of every variation of it on Jackman’s face. The fear in his defiance, the subtleties in his movements – all played out thoroughly engage a viewer, making one forget it’s actually onscreen and not live.  

Anne Hathaway, despite sharing a minimal on screen duration with Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, outdoes herself in one of her best performances till date. From confusion, to desperation to pleas of mercy, Hathaway goes beyond the ordinary, especially with a voice that just might move one to tears against the backdrop of it’s introduction. Academy award thoroughly deserved I’d say.  

Coming from the success of ‘The King’s Speech’, Tom Hooper pulled off a rather dangerous stunt, by allowing the actors to become the singers themselves, and ACTUALLY sing live while recording the scenes. This gives the movie a sense of realism and accuracy absent in musicals like Sweeney Todd and Mamma Mia. Usually, dedicated singers record in studios, and actors do what their title suggest – act. But when you have a person who’s singing while recording, the scope for impromptu additions and minor modifications made to suit the situation result in it sounding lesser rehearsed and better in every way.

Special mention must be made here for the effortless performance of 10 year old Isabelle Allen, who plays Cosette in the beginning of the movie. Her part was rather short-lived, but her acting coupled with stunningly accurate make up, culminated in extremely moving and beautifully crafted scenes. 

Finally – Russell Crowe, as expected, plays Inspector Javert to perfection. Ruthless, yet soft in a way that can’t be expressed, Crowe chases Jackman, in scene after scene with unshakable faith in his sense of justice – all expressed in the form of a deep vocal prowess that counters Jackman’s firm deflections. 

If you love theatre – you must watch this. If you love cinema – you must watch this. If you love music – you must watch this. 

For it is truly – Musical Melancholy – at it’s best.

 

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Movies – and why they just might educate more than college…

Frankly – I never hated college. I mean if you define it as ‘an institution’ or a place of ‘education’ I think it pretty much fits the title. But then again, if you spend that much time interacting with people anywhere else as well, you would be educated as well.

Bringing us to – EDUCATION. “The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction”. That’s what Oxford defines it as. Now I’m no expert in linguistics or deciphering languages, but I do seem to have a slight issue with the word “systematic”. In a world of utter chaos, systems exist only in perception. A man might see design in what another might refer to as abstract, and yet the same man might be deluded into thinking that the flow of water is random. Breaking over rocks, shattering into a million droplets, each held by a force so tiny, that it might not be known, and yet – there stands a section of people who will see design and order in it. A System.

What then does “Systematic Education” mean. Cannot a man learn and be ‘educated’ without comprehensible ‘system’? Can’t a person grow in thought by ploughing a field. Must a person only be seated in front of a board in a classroom?

I pondered over this for many years, time and again, all the while completing pending journals and getting promoted to the next grade, year after year. All the while searching for what it meant to be truly ‘educated’.

Many a beautiful thing did I grasp, and many a silent brilliance went by unnoticed. And then it hit me, a surge destroying pre-notions. And I gave it a shot, my new-found discovery. And I knew it to be true. It had to be. It had been there under my nose all this while, a lighthouse, a guide, a book. And I realised –

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THAT EVEN DICTIONARIES CAN LIE…

We rely on them blindly, ignoring experience and emotion. Putting all in the hands of the ‘experts’ who define language. Who defined the word ‘Education’? Who defined the word  ‘system’? And brilliance came crashing through, a weight so heavy that it never stops crushing you. You begin to realise that there are hundreds and thousands of people who have been around you all their life, who are actually brilliant. There are entire genres of art and expression, of science and logic that have existed and enticed and troubled millions all over the world, and all we did was walk by on our way to fortune and fame.

And among the many things I realised I had overlooked – The World of Cinema stood at par with the best. A world where a man could use every available form of media to put forth an idea, a dream, a concept. A form of expression that only a few dared attempt to master. There are those that seek only to entertain, those that seek only to sell and those that care not about either. It evolved from theatre, an ancient art form that has survived empires, to arrive at a stage where every home can access brilliance owing to the internet. It has evolved from a niche entertainment available only to a few, to an education that can fit in our pocket. Entire books could now be realised, and imagined fantasies now witnessed in striking detail. Welcome…Welcome to ‘The world of Cinema’…

And one may ask why might, and only MIGHT, a movie educate more than college? Because like the dream of education that was once ‘A College’, The World Cinema is prone to corruption as well.