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Let the movies be! Curtailing artistic freedom is not the answer to the world’s ills

Does watching violent movies inspire violence in the real world?

Most of us seem to think that crazy people will find something or the other to inspire them to acts of violence. I chose that option over ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but I don’t really think it is as simple as that.

There is a complex web of cause and effect in this world of ours, so much so that the dog is eating its own tail at times and at others, several dogs are eating several tails, but no one knows which is whose tail! Sounds complicated? Forget it. Let me come to the point.

Films do contain violence. In some cases, it reflects the violence in the real world. At other times, violence is used as a tool to drive home a point important to the film’s plot. It is hard to make a judgement on how much violence is appropriate.

In India, where I live, the depiction of violence in cinema has been an issue of much debate and crime and violence in general are a growing concern. Yet, some recent Indian films have opted to depict violence for specific purposes. For instance, the violence and the matter-of-fact tone in which it was used in the 2-part film ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ by Anurag Kashyap effectively conveyed to the viewer the geographical, social and historical context in which the film was set. This was important because Kashyap envisaged the consumer of the film to be largely urban, whereas the story was set in a specific period of history in a lesser known mofussil town.

As an urban audience, I found the violence justified and appealing in the context of this film, but many I know disagreed profoundly with the constant violence depicted. In a nation of largely young people, they argued, where movies captured the imagination of the youth to the extent that they lead double lives of reality and fantasy via films, films can be used to justify or even enhance the status of violence! This is like saying porn makes people sex hungry, or showing good food in films makes people eat more and become obese, and so on and so forth.

Films have emerged as a rich source of entertainment as well as information in the modern world. In our present culture, we turn to the movies not just to pass our time, but also to understand a situation better or to simply gain a unique insight. We appreciate the quirkiness of certain films and the thoroughness of others. Most of the time, we understand that what we are seeing is an artistic work to be viewed as just that. But not always, argue those who believe in the idea that controlling content is the way forward, and I agree that a nature bunch of consumers would be an ideal situation. Too ideal, perhaps?

Like any other medium of art, cinema will elicit a variety of reactions and indeed, that is the very purpose of its creation. For that matter, many other forms of art- photographs, paintings, drama, dance, music- can express violence too. Would we consider they too incite violent thoughts or behavior? Answering this in the affirmative would only imply a massive curtailment of artistic freedom, with disastrous consequences. Instead, I would say, bring on the variety. Let’s consume more of all types of artistic expression, talk, debate, enjoy and let people self select the wheat from the chaff!

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!

Warming to Craig as Bond, admiring the artistic confluence in ‘Skyfall’

Skyfall. I went to see the latest Bond movie this morning. For a 10AM show on a weekday, the hall was pretty full. So much for the holiday season being over, I thought!

Despite the rather dramatic starting sequence (it was absolutely delightful for me to see Daniel Craig tearing through those very endearing street of Istanbul that I visited this summer and literally fell in love with), Skyfall was rather evenly paced compared to the typical Bond film.

I found myself savoring some of the scenes, actually taking in the confluence of the very apt and clever background score and the brilliant cinematography that captured the essence of London, Shanghai and then Scotland so artistically. Specifically, the fight sequence inside the the Shanghai office building with the bizarre graphics forming the background, ostensibly one of the famous Shanghai neon displays, was a treat to watch. Bond and his opponent were shown in silhouette and their fight was choreographed as you would a contemporary dance sequence. Quite nice!

Towards the climax, the scenes are shot on the dark, stark Scottish moors. The quality of light in these scenes not only reflects the landscape around, but also the mood of the film at this point when hope has dimmed out and death seems imminent. I thought this bit was well done.

Perhaps its my perspective that’s changed, but I saw a distinct departure from gimmicks and antics and a greater focus on emotion in the movie. And, like a friend put it, the emotional and vulnerable side of Bond appealed hugely to me. I wonder if its the same for other emotional people, like me! Daniel Craig’s rugged looks combined with his ability to emote using very minimal and subtle changes in facial expressions and body language make for a powerful commentary on how an orphaned secret agent negotiates his trysts with danger and his allegiance to his country and employer, as well as as how he confront mortality, aging, defeat……

In this movie, I have warmed to Craig as Bond. Its taken me this long and I have been appreciative but ambivalent until now. Today, however, I must acknowledge that Pierce Brosnan (my favorite until now and the only other Bond I have followed, the rest being before my time in a sense) spent most of his time as Bond playing the fool and enjoying the gimmicks. His role as Bond often appeared like an extension of his role in TV drama Remington Steele (those of you saw that would get why this is funny). Craig is entirely different and his impact lies in his minimalist style, his perfectly chiseled, absolutely beautiful body and the values of loyalty, focus and perseverance that his character exhibits. Things do not come to him effortlessly and easily, he struggles and he wins because he does not have the option of losing, his defeat simply costs too much!

Of course, no review of Skyfall can go without mentioning the absolute brillinace of Adele’s rendition of the title number. Her voice captures so beautifully the struggle, the depair and the kindles hope by evoking the idea that humanity can stand together and fight the forces of evil and destruction. Words to remember and repeat to yourself everyday….

This is the end
Hold your breath and count to ten
Feel the earth move and then
Hear my heart burst again

For this is the end
I’ve drowned and dreamt this moment
So overdue I owe them
Swept away, I’m stolen

Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together

At skyfall
Sad skyfall

Skyfall is where we start
A thousand miles and poles apart
Where worlds collide and days are dark
You may have my number, you can take my name
But you’ll never have my heart

Let the sky fall (let the sky fall)
When it crumbles (when it crumbles)
We will stand tall (we will stand tall)
Face it all together
At skyfall

Where you go I go
What you see I see
I know I’d never be me
Without the security
Of your loving arms
Keeping me from harm
Put your hand in my hand
And we’ll stand

Let the sky fall (let the sky fall)
When it crumbles (when it crumbles)
We will stand tall (we will stand tall)
Face it all together
At skyfall

Let the sky fall
We will stand tall
At skyfall

Animation ain’t always for kids: Madagascar 3 day- June 16, 2012

The highlight of today was the ambitious expedition to watch Madagascar 3. Many kids, a few parents and a fair showing of grandparents.
3D effects aside, the film didn’t quite do justice to the endearing characters of Alex, King Julian and the gang. I was disappointed frankly.
Udai was excited but the funny lines dried up in the first half. The second half was flat and mainly showcased special effects. Aadyaa’s gang was completely lost. English is tough on young kids, especially with the heavy accents! Frankly, the dialogues were written by adults for grown ups. Yet another animation film that’s pitched at adults more than for children. Sadly for kids, this is the general trend.
Anyhow, it was a fun outing. Bubble gum flavoured ice cream made up for the trauma of watching cavorting animals through 3D glasses! Here’s the gang ready to head back home. For us, we were only happy to escape Fun City, the noisy mindless madness of rides and shiny video games that unfailingly gives me a headache.



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