March 16, 2011

Just Another Obsession…

People collect stamps, coins, and items of artistic importance. I collect movie ticket stubs. I was waiting for a long time to share this on this blog. A few days ago, the 100th stub entered my album (actually a card holder). Thought, this news must be celebrated in this space.

The collection contains remnants of various movies, good and bad, I have watched over a few years, and across cities like Pune, Noida, and Lucknow, but mainly Mumbai. Some are as old as the first-day-first-show of ‘Rang De Basanti’. But most of them date back to only a couple of years. 33 of them are first-day-first-shows. Also, I have watched as many as 36 of these movies alone. The festival passes of French classics ‘Pieerot le fou’, ‘Cleo de 5 a 7’ and ‘Jules et Jim’, and the ticket stub of ‘DDLJ’ at Maratha Mandir on my brother’s birthday are special. Also, there are four premiere/preview passes, including ‘Udaan’. But my proudest possession is ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’. It was the time when Hindi films were not released due to a conflict between producers-distributors-exhibitors. This Sergio Leone film, one of my favourites, was being screened at Sterling. The moment I read about it in the newspaper, I was on my way to the theatre. It was the most urgent decision I have ever taken to go for a movie. Most of the crowd in the theatre was older people, who must have cherished this movie way back in the 60s and 70s. My brother and I were the youngest, and the only ones to clap and whistle and scream as the movie unfolded on the big screen. This little stub in my album will always remind me of the joy I felt that day. Many more to come, hopefully.

March 09, 2011

Favourite Firangi

If I have to choose one international filmmaker I have most closely followed, as I have done with a Vishal Bhardwaj or an Ashutosh Gowariker, it has be Darren Aronofsky. His cinema has always affected me, and several others of my generation, but more than that I’m fascinated by his personal journey as a filmmaker. I have watched all his feature films. And today I watched his latest – my first Aronofsky film on big screen. Here is an account of my discovery of him.

I was not particularly interested in watching ‘Requiem for a Dream’, although it was extremely popular in our hostel. I am generally turned off when a film is popular for its sensational content (it was a drug movie), or for the individual brilliance of its ‘shots’. And this film left everyone talking about both. So, I started watching it reluctantly. When it ended, it had changed my vision as a filmmaker. I remember making notes on the innovations that film brought on screen. But the impact was mainly at a deep psychological level. ‘Requiem’ is not a drug-film. It is a film about love and alienation, about dreams and obsessions, about the fragilities of human mind. And then I realized what the film called itself. Suddenly, it was a profound film before my eyes, and its maker – someone I had to follow.

‘Requiem’ is one of the most popular ‘rare’ films in boys’ hostels around the country. So, there were many fans, and we soon managed to find Aronofsky’s first film, ‘Pi’ (1998). After the film ended, I sat for 45 minutes, making notes on what it was about, and was glad to ‘interpret’ it in my own way. I don’t know how correct I was. But since then I realized the importance of independent cinema. Made on an initial budget of $60,000, with contributions from family and friends, the film became a huge critical success, and grossed 50 times its investment. This was Aronofsky’s first film. If I think of it today, arranging its equivalent of Rs 30 Lakhs does not seem much of a problem, getting an idea like ‘Pi’ does. The success of his first film led him to make the $4.5 million ‘Requiem’ in 2000.

We were waiting anxiously for his next film. Made after Aronofsky declined the offer to direct ‘Batman Begins’, ‘The Fountain’(2006), is a timeless love-story, incredibly shot, and featuring some great performances, but a commercial disaster. It was the most ambitious and indulgent Aronofsky film, $35 million went in its making. It was difficult to comprehend, and did not have the thrilling nature of his first two films. But for his worshippers like us, it was a big thing. He had upheld our trust in him. We thought of him as a cerebral, fearless filmmaker, and he had delivered more than expected.

So, we were disappointed when his next ‘The Wrestler’ (2008) arrived. It was a very good film. But it was not a Darren Aronofsky film, we thought. However, the trade didn’t mind and the film became his biggest commercial success, and was also critically acclaimed. It changed my perception of him. I thought, and perhaps rightly so, the filmmaker now wanted to surprise us, and more importantly, surprise himself. Thus he made a film no one would have thought he would make. And he proved that he can tell a simple story with as much finesse as his cerebral, surreal tales.

Cut to 2010. ‘Black Swan’ was in my list of ‘Dying to watch these fresh and upcoming films’ that you find on the sidebar of this blog for months. The world is already raving about it, so there is hardly anything that I can add. I would just say this – a filmmaker who can manage to blend the best of writing, drama, music, dance, and art into cinema is for me the truly complete filmmaker. After all, this is what cinema is all about, a confluence of the best forms of expressions. I had the downloaded version of ‘Black Swan’ on my laptop for a month but I waited for its theatrical release. And I’m so happy today. To be honest, one reason for that happiness is that the film gave us our original cerebral and psychological master back.