February 29, 2012

1st Anniversary in Four Years!

Being able to select, with precise clarity, the best day of one’s life must be a difficult thing for most. Not for me, and I thank God for that. I know exactly which day in almost 28 years of my life has been the most special. It was four years ago on this rare date. It was a Friday. And it was the day when I had screened my first feature-length movie for a very special audience.

It started with me failing in the Gynaecology paper, when almost all my batch-mates had cleared the Final MBBS, officially earning the title of ‘Doctors’, somewhere around the end of January 2008. Most of them were to be commissioned into the Armed Forces and leave the college by the first week of March. I was supposed to clear this one paper in the next exams to be held in June. Technically, I was stuck six months behind the rest of my batch. And thank God for that.

Because as the rest of them were busy practicing for their Passing Out Parade, and attending Internship, and getting volumes of documents ready, I was sitting in my room, working on what was to be my first full-length film – an 85-minute experimental surreal-documentary on them. It was a huge undertaking and some were critical of it at first, but what kept me motivated was the realization that not many among students of Medicine can make a film on their friends and college, and so if I can, it is my responsibility to gift them with something unique and unforgettable. I was also fortunate to have an amazing crew, all medicine students, conducting close to 130 interviews, shooting in and around college, even creating the set of a cave in one of the hostel rooms (please take a look at the attached picture). I doubt if I will ever work with a crew more intelligent than them. They inspired a shamelessly lazy person like me to work more untiringly and dedicatedly than ever before or after. In the last sixty-six hours before the screening, poring over my editing software, I had slept for only six!

When the entire batch assembled at the lecture hall, around 8 pm on 29th February, I was still editing the film. I kept them waiting for more than two hours, and they were impatient only out of curiosity. What followed was the most fulfilling experience of my life – watching the film with them and watching them laugh and cry. I was scared during the screening, about how they would receive it, and more importantly out of fear of some technical glitches. After all, even I had not watched the completed film until then. And I still crave for that moment to be recreated – when after the film, they all came to me and personally thanked me, and whispered into my ears some of the most unforgettable words.

‘The F Word’ (2008) means a lot for my batch-mates at AFMC, for its obvious nostalgia value, and with every passing year, it will only get more and more special. But for me, that film was the beginning of a new journey. For me it was important to see whether I can create something that can keep the audience glued for one and half hours, whether I can make them laugh when I want, think when I want, and cry when I want, and cheer and clap at the right moments. It was my personal test as a storyteller, and though the perfectly personal content for that audience and the timing of release had made my job easier, it was still something I wanted to test myself with. My friends were gone within the next seven days, but so many of them told me before leaving – “You have to leave medicine and the Armed Forced now, and go to Mumbai. You have to try it out.” A few months later, these friends were to pool in lakhs of rupees to help me break free of my Service Liability of seven years in the Army, putting their unflinching faith on me, something that even my family and relatives could not do. And a couple of years later, sitting in the hills and jungles of Kashmir and the North-East, they were to take more pride than me on the poems I wrote for ‘Udaan’. After all, the line and the poem – “Bhool gaye hain joote kahan utare the”, that many now identify me with, had first featured in the climax of ‘The F Word’ – the film made by and for my batch-mates. That the film talked about ‘friendship’, which was to come to my rescue during the toughest phase of my life, now seems both just and prophetic.

February 17, 2012

Must Watch Before You Die #25: 'Cannibal Holocaust' (1980)

Ruggero Deodato's 'Cannibal Holocaust' is the most disturbing film I have watched. It is several times more disgusting than 'Caligula', 'Irreversible', 'Baise Moi', 'Dogtooth', 'The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover', 'I Stand Alone', the Saw series or the disturbing bests of David Lynch, David Cronenberg, or Lars Von Trier, including 'Antichrist'. And I know that recommending this movie as a must-watch might become a little controversial. But there are several reasons for me to do so. Please click here to understand my motive behind starting the 'Must Watch' section on this blog and you might get an idea of why I'm recommending this film over several other great ones.

I am not in a state-of-mind to coherently communicate everything I have in my head. So let me just jot them down, point-wise:

  • This is widely considered as the most controversial film ever made. The filmmaker was imprisoned and the film was banned in several countries.
  • This film started the 'Found Footage' genre, way back in 1980, though the genre became popular only with 'The Blair Witch Project' by the end of the 90s. From '[Rec]', to 'LSD' and 'Ragini MMS' - now several movies are using this concept.
  • I loved the structure of the film. I really wish I could make something like this, as far as the structure and style is concerned.
  • The blood and gore in this film is genuinely nauseating and I would have definitely puked if the scenes were longer. I also realized that as long as it is a part of our logical or emotional perception - and integral to the story or the moment, we are not necessarily nauseated. But when the scene is purely a sensory perception - stretching beyond the need of the story, it incites the feeling of nausea, as it happened to me on my first day in an Operation Theater. I believe this insight itself was an interesting learning from this film!
  • There are simulated but realistic scenes of brutal murders, cannibalism, and slashing of male and female genitalia. But the more controversial elements are the obviously real scenes of animal torture. So all animal lovers are going to hate me for recommending this movie. 
  • I deliberately chose this very repulsive poster for this blog post as I want to warn you at the same time as I recommend watching this movie. Do NOT watch it if you think this poster is too disgusting for you.
  • And if you decide to watch it, please go for the UNCUT version. Otherwise, the point is lost.
  • Bring on the moral brigade. I'm ready for their wrath.

February 14, 2012

Not Bad At All!

I had no reason to believe that 'Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu' could be a good film. I hated the promos and the lead pair was hardly exciting for me. I wasn't surprised when Taran Adarsh praised this film, but was when I read favourable reviews from other critics as well. Add to this that rare occasion when a friend from college is visiting you and you are tired after roaming about the city all night and do not have the energy to do anything else in the next four hours before his train takes him back. So we decided to indulge in this gamble, and watched this film with low expectations and a little hope.

I was largely unaffected during the first hour of the film, despite some cool treatment by the director. I just felt that it was not as funny as the makers thought it was. But I liked the performance of the leading lady. However, post-interval, I suddenly got a feeling that things are going to improve remarkably and kind-of prophetically told my friend that the director is now going to tighten his grasp on us. We were soon involved in the film, and liked some of the scenes a lot.

The masterstroke was the end. [SPOILER AHEAD] The ambiguity with which the film ended was something I truly appreciated, and ironically it gave me a feeling of contentment unlike some of my fellow audience. I overheard one of them saying, as we exited the theater - "Ye kya baat huyi? Na idhar hi rahe, na udhar hi!" But thanks to the ending, a competent direction, and Kapoor's effortless performance, I was pleasantly surprised. The only thing that remains forgettable about this film, in my opinion, is its title. I don't think I'll remember it by its title in future, but I'll recall it as "the first film by Shakun Batra".

February 11, 2012

Movie-time at Macondo

I’m the happiest person on earth these days. And I’m the saddest. The reason for both is a wonderful experience I’m having, and for a change, it has nothing to do with cinema. The name of that experience is “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, one of the most amazingly original piece of fiction, more infectious and influential than anything I have read. The author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is my latest God.

I have wanted to talk about him and this novel on this blog ever since I started reading it. But since I had restricted myself from discussing anything except cinema on this space, I could not. Then Marquez himself came to my rescue. The twelfth chapter of the book began with following lines and I instantly got the ‘excuse’ to share it here.

[The eleventh chapter ends with the first locomotive arriving in the isolated town of Macondo: “…the innocent yellow train that was to bring so many ambiguities and certainties, so many pleasant and unpleasant moments, so many changes, calamities, and feelings of nostalgia to Macondo.” Following is the opening passage of the twelfth chapter]

Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo did not know where their amazement began. They stayed up all night looking at the pale electric bulbs fed by the plant that Aureliano Triste had brought back when the train made its second trip, and it took time and effort for them to grow accustomed to its obsessive toom-toom. They became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears of affliction had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many felt that they had been the victims of some new and showy gypsy business and they decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortune of imaginary beings.

So cinema flopped, failed to impress the people of this magical land. I didn’t mind, just thanked Marques sa’ab for weaving it in his work about which book-reviewer William Kennedy writes: “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race… Mr. Garcia Marquez has done nothing less than to create in the reader a sense of all that is profound, meaningful, and meaningless in life.

So after completing seventy per cent of it, I’m sad. Some of the most endearing characters are dying in solitude, and the novel is about to end. But I find myself agreeing entirely with the above-mentioned book-reviewer, and want my Mom to read this urgently, and am looking for a Hindi translation of the book for her. This is the funniest and the saddest story I have ever read. And I believe, anyone who ends up reading this book will find his way of looking at the world change forever – by being magically aware of its beauty and sordidness, merits and futility, all at the same time.

P.S. By the way, cinema did not perish from Macondo. Later in the novel there is mention of people spending time at the movie theatre. “Then she got dressed, went to the movie theater, and in the darkness of the seats she recognized her daughter. The upsetting feeling of certainty stopped her from seeing the man she was kissing, but she managed to hear his tremulous voice in the midst of the deafening shouts and laughter from the audience.

February 02, 2012

'The Descendants' (2011)

Days are extremely hectic, so I don't get to write on this space too often. Even my 'movie-count' has gone down - only a dozen movies in 2012 so far.

But I managed to watch Alexander Payne's 'The Descendants' (2011) at PVR Juhu this morning. I was kind-of surprised to see the fairer sex outnumbering the males in the audience, though it completely makes sense now. This is a film to watch with your loved ones (except kids for its "inappropriate language"). Please go for it.

And watch it on big screen. Good American Dramas rarely come to our cinemas.