November 30, 2012

Inner Demons

Spoiler Warning: Please do NOT read this post if you have not watched ‘Talaash’ and plan to.

Intuition is a funny thing. It often surprises you with its precision, and effectiveness. Several times while watching a film the very first few minutes can make you feel that there is ‘something wrong’ with it. On the other hand, it may even leave you pre-maturely impressed. Here, I’m not talking about the obviously impressive or unimpressive design of a movie that might help the rational mind form an opinion. No. It’s not an opinion, it’s intuition. And often there is no rationale involved. I remember a few scenes into ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ and I was getting restless – something was not right. By the mid-point of the film, I was convinced that my intuition had worked well. Today morning, by 9.30 am, it had worked again. A few minutes into ‘Talaash’ and I could ‘feel’ what a film it was going to be.

‘Talaash’ works at so many different levels that it leaves you surprised. Beyond being a hard-core suspense-thriller, with elements from the supernatural, it goes beyond and works powerfully as an emotional, well-made drama. It’s not an easy screenplay to write – and despite more than a couple of important characters, a lot of dramatic developments occurring simultaneously, and an intricate and intelligent design of exposition, and fulfilling and reversing expectations, it manages to remain taut as a rope, up there on a dangerously high cliff, and does not let you lay back as the protagonist goes through a journey that would redeem him and rid him of his inner demons. Perhaps just one song, in which the protagonist is seen chasing the character of ‘Rosie’, is where you feel the editing could have been better. Removing that song does not affect the movie at all, and makes it tighter. Apart from that, I don’t recall a single scene in the film that can be deleted without affecting the narrative. Even scenes that did not make much sense while being played did so by the end when the powerful and incredible climax changes the entire film, from its genre to its impact, and gives it the catharsis it truly deserves. ‘Talaash’ is not the story of a police inspector trying to solve a mysterious death case. It is the story of a father who is troubled by an obsessive guilt complex born after the unfortunate demise of his only son. The protagonist’s journey, externally, is on the streets of Mumbai, more in the dark alleys than under the bright sun, chasing culprits and witnesses and informers, but the film is mainly an inner struggle that the leading man goes through, within the twisted realms of his mind, until something inexplicable and equally unfortunate drags him out of the unending ordeal he had imposed upon himself.

Past week has not been easy for me. If you read my post on ‘Life of Pi’ you will understand why. Now as I look back, I realize, I never underwent a sentimental catharsis, despite a long and stressful emotional experience during my Kashmir trip. Perhaps that was the reason why I couldn’t feel free after my return. I knew that time will heal me, but had surprisingly forgotten that cinema can bypass that time for me. Reading Aamir Khan’s interview where he said that he had cried after the script was narrated to him, I couldn’t take him seriously. He says so before all his movies, I found myself arguing. But watching the first show this morning, as I saw Aamir, the actor, weeping inconsolably at the denouement, I had joined him. Tears went down my face as the film devastated me. I had gone for some thrills and mind-games, I came out an emotionally redeemed man, having experienced a surrogate sentimental cleansing experience good cinema can magically offer. I only wish the ‘twist-ending’ of the film is not revealed through social networking sites, spoiling the film for those who’d watch it later than others.

P.S. I was especially pleased to see Rani Mukerjee play the part with the warmth and sensitivity she naturally possesses. Feels good to find her play a good role after a long time; her contribution to the impact of the film goes beyond her screen time.

An Unforgettable Trip

I had heard a lot about the post-pregnancy blues a woman goes through, but hardly understood the reason behind it. The obstetrics I learnt did not tell me why it happens; the question within me was never answered. Recently, I had a great conversation with a friend, a new mother, who told me what it actually was.

As the baby grows within the womb of the mother, it’s a long, gradual process, occurring over months, and the idea of impending motherhood is sustained in her head. Labor, or the act of child-birth, is a matter of less than a couple of hours, within which the woman undergoes a drastic physical transformation, apart from giving birth to a new life in flesh and blood. The physical ‘loss’ and exertion is phenomenal for the woman, but something she can cope up with, given proper care and time. It is the mental exhaustion and anxiety that keeps her troubled for a longer time. One, she does not feel very sure if she is prepared to and capable of bearing this enormous responsibility, especially if it is a first child. This insecurity and doubt may give rise to guilt – that a little being’s life now rests in unsure hands. Two, the responsibility in itself is not very pleasant, and requires extreme and sincere effort, patience, and dedication. Add to this, some subconscious factors like the following. Throughout the gestation period, the child was intimately and exclusively associated with the mother. As soon as it is born, it is out there for people, all of them, and the mother would obviously feel possessive for it. Some of people around them start judging the child immediately, commenting on its looks and features, the rest of the world would judge it as he grows up. She is not sure how the world will receive the child, and since her identity is now irreversibly attached to it, she knows she will be judged by the way her child shapes up. To top it all, she also knows that all the attention that she had been receiving all this while will soon wane out, and this is a big personal loss. There must be several other factors that can not be discussed, shared, or written. But thanks to this conversation with that friend of mine, I had understood something about this experience. For me, post-partum depression was no more an over-hyped myth of the urban, educated woman.

This month, and this will explain my prolonged absence from this blog, I made perhaps the most unforgettable and hopefully the most significant trip of my life. My brother and I wrote, produced, and directed a short-film in Kashmir. It was an 8-day shoot fighting freezing temperature, ill-health, depleting resources, sleep deprivation, and fluctuating motivation of the cast and crew. The budget doubled, worse problems kept cropping up and it was truly stressful. But it got over fairly well. Thanks to the dozens of people who helped without any expectations, including some very dear friends, and thanks to the wonderful hormone called Adrenaline, we managed to finish the shoot, almost matching our expectations with the film and ourselves, and at times even exceeding those. It was a few hectic weeks and then we were back to Mumbai last Saturday, on the 24th.

The physical exhaustion was soon over, with some sleep, and the state of ‘not doing anything’ for hours. But before I knew, the mental exhaustion started over-powering me. Since the second last day of shoot, for the next ten days, I had this very disturbing dream about the shoot being continued, with more problems cropping up. Imagine, having the same stressful dream for several days every time you sleep, including during afternoon naps. And whenever I was conscious, all those thoughts, discussed above experienced by a new mother troubled me. Have we shot sufficiently? Is the coverage exhaustive? Is the footage visually good enough? Have the performance beats of the actors been registered? What all has been lost invisibly? And then as we assembled the shots on the editing table, more insecurities and anxieties stepped in. Is this good enough? Have we done a good job? What will the world say when they look at it? Should I ever share this film with the world? And so on. It was the time when I didn’t feel like doing anything, not even watching a movie. There was actually one afternoon when I felt miserable and helpless. And I wanted this nightmare of a depression to end.

That evening I watched Ang Lee’s latest spectacle – ‘Life of Pi’. I will not write anything about what an experience it was as the entire world is talking about it. But I thank the cinema Gods for sending this movie to me at this point in my life. Nothing could have been as inspiring and uplifting as it was. The incredible journey of Pi has now become the inseparable epilogue to the unforgettable trip I just had, where I, in my limited understanding of the medium, practiced cinema in the lap of what is deservedly called the heaven on earth. Life is beautiful, despite those freezing temperatures and stressful situations that occasionally test us out.