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The D is silent! Ruminating about Jolly and Django

My movie fix for the past week were these two strange tales, from contemporary India and 17th century America. Both full of drama, both full of affected male characters. Very masculine films both, the women mere wallflowers in the script. The difference is that I disliked the first and rather loved the second. And no, it’s not about being partial to Hollywood at all!

Let me start by tabling my views on Jolly LLB. Despite its talented cast, brilliant performances by Boman Irani and Saurabh Shukla and a decent show by Arshad Warsi, the film fell flat. The script was too predictable, the first half slow. A few sharp dialogues and colloquialisms were all that it had going for it and a sense of satisfaction, the good old good-over-evil win in the end. Nothing to write home about at all.

What piqued my interest though was the few minutes spent on discussing the plight of the homeless and pavement dwellers in the film. Because I work in the area of shelter and urban poverty, I was happy to see the movie tackle head-on the issue of the tremendous prejudice with which elite society treats the homeless and the downtrodden, how little their lives are valued and how meager our understanding of the conditions that drive them to leave their rural homes and come to work in the big, mostly bad city!

Coming to Tarantino’s Django Unchained, I have to say it was sheer entertainment. Once I got used to the copious amounts of blood and gore that splatters the screen at regular intervals, I sat back and savored the beautifully constructed shots, the oh-so-apt background score and the well-etched characters in the film. The period setting is impeccably done and life on the plush plantations of the Southern States in pre-Civil War America shown in all its splendor. Django, the D silent mind you, is fashioned after our own Rajnikanth (Rajni Sar!), shades and all! The story, haunting in its sadness and poetry, is a parody of itself almost, the emotional angle underplayed to the point of getting a bit lost in all the melodrama. Quite a bit like Gangs of Wasseypur and I believe Tarantino is Anurag Kashyap’s inspiration for his work.

ImageNo comparison is possible and I won’t attempt it! The common thread is only the subtext of the reality of injustice in a world where survival is the only truth and a belief in destiny your only hope. In that sense, the D is silent indeed!

Kids and the absorption of art and culture: Trip to NGMA, Delhi- Sep 8, 2012

For a long time, I’ve had this idea of having bi-monthly outings for family and friends. And the past few years, I’ve steadily worked to bring the idea to fruition, though the frequency has been far lower than desired! These outings are meant to be opportunities to experience our city and what it has to offer from the point of view of culture, open spaces and architecture, especially heritage.

Today, we trekked to the National Gallery of Modern Art to see ‘Project Cinema City’. Of course, going to Jaipur House, where NGMA resides, is a wonderful roller coaster through the best landmarks of Lutyens Delhi. The Rashtrapati Bhavan and the North and South Blocks, then India Gate are always a treat. Bathed the special light of monsoon, they looked particularly inviting.

The exhibition itself was a wonderful kaleidoscope of experiences. My kids have been dragged to exhibitions before and while Udai is a patient child and truly enjoys art, Aadyaa is much more restless and needs a bit more engagement. This time, I needn’t have worried. The display was wonderfully interactive and innovatively done. Sound, light, movement, color were all used to create a wonderful correlation between all the visual arts- cinema, fine art, architecture, sculpture, photography- against the backdrop of the theme, which intended to study the effects of cinema on the city and how we experience it. The children particularly enjoyed being able to turn a wheel and make a film reel of images move, thereby being able to enlarge specific images at will. They also enjoyed the bit where they could sit atop an exer-cycle and view their self-image on a screen in front, with an exciting backdrop that kept transforming as they pedaled! What’s more, they could change camera angles using a switch and it gave them a wonderful feel of how a cinematic projection can be created and how exciting that process can be! Old telephone instruments on which you could hear recordings of dialogue and song specially put together for this project, recordings that conjured specific themes or eras in Indian cinema. Posters that can make you roll with laughter, though a few were too debauched for the kids to grasp, thank God!

The icing on the cake, as usual, is the wonderful green space outside which doubles up as a sculpture garden. While Nupur and Amma did a quick round of the museum’s permanent collection, Rahul and me watched the kids chase birds, watch ants and centipedes and run around the lawns, every now and then stopping to peer at one or the other metal or stone sculpture. Expressions ranged from puzzled to amused, indifferent to amazed.

A wonderful trip and one that the kids will remember and cherish, I am sure. I hope to do many more such trips with more people joining in. I believe the Delhi NCR region has so much to offer, we should sieze that opportunity and enjoy the explorations with our children so that they grow to be culturally sensitized, with a strong sense of identity. To me, that is a critical attribute that really sets a person apart!

Here are some pics I took today. You can see we had fun!

The NGMA is housed in the magnificent Jaipur House. Recent additions and renovations have been sensitively done and the place has magnified its charms!

Searching for caterpillars, ants and dried leaves…remember, the peepal leaves that only have the beautifully fragile skeleton left?

Like father, like son…don’t think they realized they had the exact same pose though!

Always game for a cold drink!

Thoughtful after many up-and-down trips on a ramp! Thank God for disabled access 🙂

The one got gawked at quite a bit!

That one was my favorite!







Wasseypur offered no cathartic moments, but the film will stay with me- July 3, 2012

Gangs of Wasseypur….finally! The film was long overdue, but nothing prepared me for it. My friends who had watched it refrained from offering an opinion, but now I know nothing they said would have really mattered.

An epic saga that unfolds at its own leisurely pace. At no point in the film did I have a cathartic moment, no tears fell, even the extreme violence had a dreamlike unreal quality to it. I know very little about the process of film making, but I do know that every creative endeavor needs to be visualized, in detail. The detail in every frame, every scene of GoW (hate the acronym actually, sounds too much like PoW) astounded me. I could barely take it all in, the foreground, mid ground and background, the accents, the expressions, the costumes, the authenticity reflected in small things…and the scene would roll into the next one. And so it went on, obliterating from my mind everything but the narrative I was watching, experiencing. So much so that in the last scene, when Manoj Bajpai was dying in extreme slow motion, I noticed he was rolling atop a cart with ‘building material’ written on it in Denagri. My mind connected building materials to real estate, and then onto Shanghai, in a bid to remember the last impactful movie I saw…..but I could recall nothing of Shanghai at all, not even Abhay Deol! I simply could not get out of Wasseypur!

A few things struck me particularly about the movie. That the lives of each one of us reflects the story of India’s growth (good, bad and ugly) and the story of urbanization. Wasseypur is initially a hamlet outside Dhanbad, with huts outside which people lounge about in charpais. Slowly, as it gets eaten into the growing city, its look and feel changes. Scraggly brick and concrete structures of uneven height, open drains, every house have the street facing rooms converted into shops, workshops. Walk-up apartments as well as gates opening into courtyards. The typical feel of village galis (streets) that grew into more urban lanes. The changing modes of transport, horse and tangas to cycles and jeeps and Ambassador cars. Today, we see this sort of organic growth everywhere.

In these pockets of urbanized hamlets live communities that still retain their identities and culture, nurture old grouses, exhibit particular behavior. Like Wasseypur is a law unto itself and even the police dare not investigate here, there are many Wasseypurs across India where only the rule of the land applies and governance (and all it entails) is swatted away by the locals.

And in this all, the frightening relationship between money and illegal activity (some form of extortion, smuggling, forgery or exploitative brokerage) and money and power. Frightening because of the reality that these are the only options for ambitious people who aren’t lucky enough to be born to parents well off enough to educate you and give you reasonable opportunities. Gangs of Wasseypur highlights this reality in a very naked way. Times change and the opportunity changes, but the exploitation continues. An entire generation of young men and women are being raised in a climate of crime and violence, taking these for granted as the normal ways of life. In the movie, Sardar Khan’s (Manoj Bajpai) sons react very differently to their difficult life, but in the end they all fall in line and join hands with the father in his nefarious activities. There is no sense of the wrongness of any of what they do. It’s normal.

It makes me wonder about us, who live our cloistered lives in larger cities, who shudder at the thought of encountering a beat constable or traffic policeman, leave alone confronting a thug? We daren’t pass judgement on the rights and wrongs of life in Wasseypur, a parody for the thousands of small Indian towns that are coping as best as they can with the onslaught of development, growth, urbanization, change.

The women in the film struck me particularly, their characters admirably strong. Nagma (Richa Chaddha, brilliant and gorgeous!) buys into the dreams of her man, however unreal they seem.  She tolerates his weaknesses, yet calls his bluff to his face. The ‘other’ woman Durga (Reemma Sen, sensual), the non-wife, wants his love but wants also to live life at her own terms, ultimately betraying him when he scorns her to go back to Nagma. Both manage to shame and profoundly affect Sardar Khan, but he is a slave to his twins passions of lust and revenge.

The dialogues had punch. Having grown up in the outskirts of Lucknow and having done projects in Eastern UP, I could relate to the language and the accents. People really do speak like that. I heard sniggers every time there were expletives used and I felt like turning around to the teetering groups and telling them that those weren’t put in to give you guys cheap thrills, that’s normal lingo for a lot of people!

I liked the film for its honesty, though it has plenty of blank moments when you feel perhaps the script went astray a bit. It all comes together though, and Part 2 is eagerly awaited. Piyush Mishra’s narration, the eccentric musical score, the exquisite cinematography especially sunsets over the water made up for other minor flaws. For those of you who have not yet watched it, go loaded with patience and don’t carry any devices that tell the time!

The movie culture: the moronic feat of watching two in a day May 25, 2012

Going to the movies has been a vital element in urban culture. I lived in Mumbai as a young child and was taken by my parents to watch a few films a year. During summer, my cousins from Goa came to stay and the film outing became a gala event. Once I remember an older child in our apartment building (we called her Shilpa Akka) took us all to watch one of those Sridevi type family dramas in Hindmata, an iconic talkies movie hall in Mumbai.
Things changed drastically when multiplexes started out. As college kids, we stood for hours in a narrow long snake like line behind PVR Anupam in Saket to fight our way and procure tickets for Rs 7. Regular tickets were priced upwards of Rs 70 and were totally unaffordable for us. Before college, back during the Lucknow days, going to the movies was a luxury. We lived far out of town and there were a handful of theatres considered appropriate for girls from ‘good’ families! Sahu, Mayfair, Novelty, Pratibha- only these four. If you didn’t want to be prodded, ogled at, etc.
And then multiplexes mushroomed all over the country. Movie halls came to our doorstep, sometimes literally. And movie going became accepted among the urban middle classes as a more expensive (read upmarket) affair replete with goodies from the confectionary stall. Popcorn and coke combos entered our lives and menus kept expanding to give movie goers the experience of dining and being waited on while plonked on plush seats in front of a large screen with Dolby sound!
I’m a bit soft in the head today from watching two films in a day, do forgive me the wandering narrative! Chhota Bheem, the movie we took a whole kiddie gang to in the daytime was the expected horror. No nuances, no humorous, no variation in the storyline. Ugly unreal creatures and mumbo jumbo with Bheem fist fighting his way to hero hood once again.
The second film, Men in Black 3, was more of the same but far better made. Humour and technology saved that one, but nothing to write home about.
Clearly, the film and animation industry crave moronic kids and adults for whose pleasure they can continue to churn out this formulaic stuff. What we city dwellers wouldn’t do for a spot of entertainment!

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