March 19, 2010

Light, Sound aur Dibakar

How many times does it happen that during the 8.30 am ‘first-day-first-show’, you also have one of the lead actors watching the film? It happened today. The actor was Raj Kumar Yadav, who plays the lead in the second story of the film, with his bunch of friends, to cheer at the CBFC certificate and clap at the rolling credits. The film was LSD – which is going to be remembered as one of the gutsiest film ever made in this country. And if you ask me, it is one of the better made ones too.

Everyone is talking about the use of digital cameras in the film, that shake, that go out of focus, that even get stained by blood and water. They are talking about how ‘different’ it is in its theme, style and use of unknown actors. But it is not the elements that make this film different and significantly better than most of others, it is how the director uses them - an evidence of how cinema can be created by a basic understanding of the medium, of picture and sound, and storytelling, and how a style can be carved out of the technology you use. And this technology, as Godard et al taught us, need not be expensive or state-of-art.

There are scenes in the film pictured in long single shots – as there is just one evident hidden camera. Unlike other films, here you do not have multiple camera setups, so you can not cut between shots – unless you want to use the obviously jerky jump-cut (which in my opinion often breaks the dramatic build-up of the scene). So, you obviously can not ‘cut time’ and hence the scene occurs in real time, giving you not only dialogue but also the pauses between them – those significant, dramatic moments between the conversations. And to add to that, there is no background music here, only ambient sound. By something as basic as this, the director has managed to create unforgettable cinematic moments and deeply affecting scenes. This is just one of styles adopted by LSD – that makes it truly different, as far as Hindi films are concerned.

You will find so many similar small but brilliant international films in festivals. This time, thanks to the producers, we have one such gem from India, released commercially. I pray for its success – it will help not only independent and digital cinema, but Hindi cinema in general. After Khosla ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, with LSD, Dibakar Banerjee establishes himself as one of those few men in our industry, who know cinema, and who have an expression of their own. And I must congratulate and thank him for proving once again, that to make a good film you hardly need budget and stars. You just need to have a story you are dying to tell, and the cinematic vision, the heart, and a little guts, to do that.

March 11, 2010


“Write simple stories and complex characters.” – Paul Lucey

A frog was sitting by a river swollen by a recent flood, when a scorpion came up to him. “Mr. Frog, the river is much too wide for me to swim across. Could you please take me across on your back?”

“Oh, no,” replied the frog, “when we got to the middle of the river, you would kill me with your sting.”

“Why would I do that?” asked the scorpion. “If I killed you, you would sink to the bottom and I would drown.”

The frog had not thought of that scenario but it made perfectly good sense.

“Okay,” said the frog, “hop on.”

“Thank you so much, Mr. Frog,” said the scorpion as he hopped on the frog’s back.

The frog was a strong swimmer, and in no time at all they reached the middle of the river, but still much too far for the scorpion to get safely to the other side. Nevertheless, the scorpion stung the frog with his stinger. As the frog began to die from the poison, and the scorpion began to drown because he had lost his ride, the frog asked incredulously, “Why? Why did you sting me?”

The scorpion replied, “It’s in my character.”

(The text is taken from Nicholas T. Proferes’ wonderful book Film Directing Fundamentals. It is actually an old fable of unknown author.)

March 03, 2010

The Thin Line

When I watched Eraserhead for the first time, I felt offended. "This is the worst movie I have seen" - was my reaction. Today I realize the importance of that film. And it does not surprise me that it finds mention as one of the must-watch movies ever. After getting introduced to this surreal, abstract genre of films, through the works of Bergman, Lynch, Polanski and lately, Aronofsky, and starting to appreciate such cerebral works, No Smoking happened. I loved that film and still do. I could understand why most of the people were hating it. But there was something I fail to understand. Why did the lovers of surreal films hate it too? I have met so many people who worship David Lynch, but who fail to find a single merit in this Hindi misadventure. Is it because of a bias for foreign filmmakers? Or is there something so intricate that I fail to appreciate?

Who can really tell? There is such a thin line that divides a mature, intellectual, cerebral art with other over-ambitious, psudo-intellectual and pretentious expressions. But who can really tell? If Eraserhead deserves appreciation, why No Smoking should be ridiculed? How can we, the observers, decide or determine the level of intellect of a filmmaker, and rule out that he is merely pretending? And can the artist - the filmmaker - ever tell? Does he or she have the objectivity to critically analyse his/her own piece of work? Is the test of time the only correct way to assess the merit of abstraction?

It is still, at times, easier to judge such cerebral works. I watched Moksh nine years ago in a single screen theatre in my hometown. It was the worst case of hooting I have seen in a movie theatre. But I was impressed by the abstraction - it was my first taste of blood. Still, I could figure out some basic flaws in the film. At times it is not difficult to get over the psychological make-up and realize that the effort is truely mediocre. An example that comes to my mind instantly is Deepa Mehta's Heaven on Earth. It was a bad film. And the random switch from colour to B&W was, in my opinion, purely pretentious. But then, it was a Deepa Mehta film - a filmmaker whom I respect for her aesthetic maturity. So, isn't it possible that I really missed something and failed to appreciate the merit of this film? Something that Mehta could easily explain if I get to chat with her? Something that is beyond my comprehension?

Who can tell?

The only good thing with a bad intellectual film is that it does manage to stimulate you cerebrally. Whether it reaches a compelling resolution or not, it leaves you a bit stirred and you just start perceiving things a bit differently. Pseudo or not, it leaves you thinking. Guess that is an achievement in itself!