December 26, 2013

The Curse of Deficient Perspectives

I have always aspired to not judge people on the basis of conventional morality. I have always tried to let go of even the slightest need to fit into other people's idea of right or wrong. It has not always been easy, especially when deeply personal issues and intimate relationships are concerned. But I have always tried, and often succeeded, and have felt guilty and inadequate all the time I failed. It is almost an obsession, and is born out of one fundamental truth that I very strongly believe in: that it is not important to label things as right or wrong. And the conventional morality and the popular perceptions of correct and incorrect, and righteousness and sin, fail to appeal to me. In this life, it seems, I wouldn't be able to conform with the world around me, the world that is habitually used to classifying people, judging them, forming opinions, and almost imposing their perspectives on to others. However difficult it might be, I would, or at least want to, give the person in question a valid benefit of doubt. And nothing would please me more than finding that my assumptions about his or her wrongdoings were nothing more than acts of misjudgment.

Thomas Vinterberg's unforgettable and heartbreaking drama, 'The Hunt' (2012), is entirely based on a very innocent and unintentional mistake committed by an otherwise very sweet and loveable character. But what it snowballs into is a series of misconceptions, premature and unfair judgments, and devastation of reputations, self-esteems, and lives. The biggest achievement of the film is the way it manages to make you hate the gentlest of humans, because of the way they are hurting the protagonist, and also how it forces you to empathise with the very same people, because you know that what they are doing is only normal from their perspective. It is the kind of film that makes you feel fortunate that you are the audience, and not a part of the film's universe, because being the audience gives you the complete picture, and a rare blessing in the form of objectivity. You do not judge the characters, who are disillusioned by half-truths and rushed opinions, but still desperately wish the truth to come out in the open and everything to get right all over again.

"The world is full of evil. But if we hold on to each other it goes away," says an important character at the beginning of the final act of the film. It is then that you have your first sense of relief, and you start hoping that things will be fine soon. This character then makes the difficult decision to take the first step toward mending the ties, and get rid of the unwanted and unfortunate bitterness that has destroyed the peace of their lives. Also, perhaps that decision is not that difficult at that moment in the film because of the clarity this character has achieved, and he knows that this is the only way to correct the wrongs.

But in our real lives, we often lack clarity, and at times the intent, to set things right all over again. Despite realising the futility of bitterness, especially with people whom we love or loved, we fail to take that first step. And as the closing images of the film show, at times, the delay in that causes an irreparable damage to the soul of the victim, who is often the person with the best intent, almost closing the possibilities of the person's liberation from the unjust and unfair judgement forced upon him. Knowing all this, what do we keep waiting for? Why is it so difficult for us to seek that clarity which would hopefully erase all negativity, to make that effort to fill up the gaps in communication? Are we waiting for someone to take us out of the movie of our life, so that we are no more a character but the audience, with a complete perspective of things, and free of the curse that the characters seem to be bearing - the curse of incomplete understanding, premature judgments, and insufficient communication? Since we cannot be both the characters and the audience of the movie of our life, shouldn't we just act on our own, out of faith, trust, mutual respect and the desire to set everything straight, once and for all?

December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Here is a text exchange I had with one of my former students, now a friend:

Me: What did Santa get for you?

She: Sadly, nothing. But I did eat a lot of cake. What did he get for you?

Me: Nothing. And a lot.

She: And a lot?

Me: I don't want to believe that he brought nothing for me. I think he did. Only I would realise what his gifts were as time passes.

She: Of course. That's how God works. Sometimes, it feels like a Tarantino movie to me. It's hard to keep up, but eventually everything will make sense.

Well, that was quite a compliment for the Almighty, don't you think?

Merry Christmas! :)

December 17, 2013

"Rush" (2013) by Peter Morgan

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead

The most common error in written English among educated people, in my opinion, is the interchangeable use of "it's" and "its". Spotting it in the very second line of a screenplay by Peter Morgan (writer of Oscar-nominated screenplays - "The Queen" and "Frost/Nixon") was definitely disappointing for me. However, the error, and it repeated itself on two-three occasions, perhaps remains the only problem I had with this wonderfully inspiring and involving screenplay.

The writer, in an interview on the film, says - "Sometimes you have the good fortune to stumble upon characters whose voices you just — hear." Most screenwriters would give anything to have such "fortune" and in Morgan's case it was almost destined. Of German origin, he spent the larger part of his life in Britain, finally moving to Austria with his wife. And here he writes about the real-life rivalry of an Englishman and an Austrian F1 racer during the season of 1976. It is almost envious that he was introduced to Niki Lauda, the above-mentioned world-champion from Austria, by his wife over an informal family lunch. All writers are constantly looking for powerful stories and to find one over a family affair is almost divine providence. But then, it is what the writer does with that inspiration and how he shapes up the story that determine whether the story turns into an inspirational tale or a wasted opportunity.

For someone possessing the talent, experience, and success like Morgan, the motivation to write this story must have been naturally powerful - there wasn't really much for him to go wrong. Not having much interest in or knowledge of Formula 1 racing must not have been too much of a deterrent, because as writers we constantly take plunge in unknown territories if we find a universally appealing story in the midst of that world. In the case of the F1 scene in the year 1976, the course of the events were anyway the material of a film, waiting to be discovered and retold by a competent writer. And the proximity with Lauda was a definite advantage. So yes, Morgan was lucky. But the success of the script goes beyond this factor.

It is always tricky to write a film based on real characters and true events, as I wrote a few months ago in this post. The biggest challenge is to create a dramatically powerful script without deviating too much with the truth of events as they took place. The main triumph of "Rush", the screenplay, is achieving that rare balance. Not that there is no scene in the film that appears implausible. I find it difficult to believe that James Hunt would punch a British Journalist to teach him a lesson after he asked Lauda a humiliating question about his marriage, although I completely loved that moment. Also, Hunt coming to know about his wife's affair from the mouth of Lauda on the race track did not seem too convincing to me. But the real Niki Lauda has applauded Morgan for a surprisingly true portrayal of the events and "Rush" does not come across as a script that twists facts too much for the sake of adding more drama.

And I think the biggest reasons that have contributed to Morgan's success are the way he has used spoken lines to create the wonderful characters of the two protagonists (I like to believe it is a film with two protagonists, despite the recently-announced Golden Globes nomination claiming Daniel Bruhl to be a supporting actor), often giving them unforgettable moments and powerful scenes, and also the way he has structured the film. Finding the right structure is important for any story being told on screen, but more so for a real story. Unlike a complete fictional tale you cannot modify details to create your climax out of nowhere. In a true story, the climax, as the set-up, is already there, waiting to be discovered, and it is the most appropriate structure that gives you that. "I imagined the movie as one big grand prix, with Hunt and Lauda taking turns to pass one another. The screenplay is constructed as a series of overtaking maneuvers" says Morgan about the structure of his script, and this marriage of the most appropriate form with the content, in my opinion, has made the screenplay so successful. It is funny because while and after reading the final thing you cannot fathom that the writer would have experimented with other options for the story's structure - so "correctly" structured this screenplay is.

And of course there are little gems that show the kind of research Morgan must have done for his writing. At times it is as on the face and expository as a commentator naming all major F1 drivers who lost their lives in the past five years. And then at other times, it is as beautifully interwoven into the "cinema" of the story as the moment when, before the climactic Japanese Grand Prix, Lauda stares out of the window to notice that Mount Fuji is not visible in the rains. "The locals here believe if you can see the mountain in the morning, it brings good luck", Lauda says, creating not only an ominous foreboding to the dangerous race that has to follow, but also adding effortless emotional value to this very important climactic battle that is to determine the champion of the season.

Morgan decided to write this film as a spec script. Perhaps that explains why there are so many "non-filmable" scene descriptions in it. Or perhaps Morgan always does that, with all his films - I'll have to read his other works to figure this out. Frankly, although I am uncertain I would do that as a writer, I didn't mind that, except may be in the opening page, because I am so emotionally invested in the film that a few such lines as "NIKI screams inside. Wanting to be heard. Wanting to give them a sign." (while describing a comatose Niki Lauda) did not trouble me much. Also noticeable is Morgan's conscious deficient descriptions and dialogue during certain moments, especially during the chaos of too many people talking - commentators, media guys, and so on.

"Rush" succeeds as a screenplay. And, personally, it will remain one of the most powerful tales of ambition, and the drive to succeed. I constantly find myself questioning my academic and method-oriented approach with respect to a more natural and intuitive one that various creative people are blessed with. I could completely relate to Lauda's obsession with little details, his single-minded discipline, his almost boring logical and calculative personality, and his lack of charm despite the impressive and incomparable intelligence. And like Lauda, I did envy the personality and the pleasures that Hunt so effortlessly possessed. Perhaps Lauda took solace in his clinical approach, because deep within he knew he could never be James Hunt. But he knew that being Niki Lauda was good enough, and he just assured that with his way of life. Could anyone turn an insult to a compliment for himself the way he does in these lines?

"Relentlessness is good. Means you're a fighter. That you never give up. Behind my back I know some of you guys call me 'The Rat.' Because I look like one. It's meant as an insult. But I don't mind it. Rats are ugly, sure. And no one likes them. But they're intelligent. With a strong survival instinct."

(You can download the screenplay of "Rush" by clicking here and then clicking on the "screenplay" tab on the page.)

December 11, 2013

A Glimpse into the Dreamscape

I just watched this beautiful video essay on the cinema of the great Swedish master, Ingmar Bergman. I have watched 16 of his films and could completely relate to every second of this eight-minute tribute to him. More than anything, the frames and the philosophies of Bergman's cinema are portrayed so stunningly in this video that I suddenly feel inspired to watch all his films again, apart from those that I am yet to. But even if you are not well-exposed to his cinema, or haven't watched a single of his films, I would recommend this short video to you. Perhaps it is the easiest and the quickest way to have a glimpse into the cinematic genius of Bergman. Perhaps the video will seduce you into discovering his cinema, and then you will agree with the closing line of the video essay:

It's a life's work from which, if we are lucky, the cinematic world will never wake up.

December 04, 2013

Perks, Perspectives

Last month, Devanshu and I enjoyed, perhaps for the first time, the perks of being film-makers, during the first film festival we attended as participants in competition, rather than delegates or film-buffs. The event, International Children's Film Festival, was held in Hyderabad where our film, Tamaash, was competing with 15 others in the International Shorts Competition. To be honest, we had no idea how wonderful the experience could be, until we reached there.

Okay. So, I haven't travelled much by air - only thrice before this. The festival organisers took care of our air fare and hence I got the chance, once again, to feel the excitement of being hundreds of metres above the ground, silently revising the concepts of physics - relative velocity, frame of reference, etc - that we had learnt in school, and marvelling at the achievement of man. On reaching Hyderabad airport, we received a traditional welcome with flower garlands from the festival volunteers that left us amused and awkward at the same time with everyone in the airport looking at us. Then a car took us to the hotel we were supposed to stay in for the next eight days. To add to this, my Mom joined us that evening, and for both her and me it was our first stay at a five-star hotel. Our meals were taken care of, and we were provided with vehicles to travel from the hotel to the festival venue and back. Interacting with film-makers from abroad, with the audience during the screening of our film, and with the media followed. Personally speaking, the biggest highlights of the trip were to make Mom meet Gulzar Sahab and Amol Palekar, visiting Ramoji Film City and other places of interest in Hyderabad, and having a one-hour informal lunch meeting with Raju Hirani. This last meeting was amazing, with Raju wanting to hear from me my poems from 'Udaan' and we talking about his approach towards writing and editing his films. I'm sure Mom will cherish that forever. And then, on the last evening, our film won an award, as I have mentioned in a previous post. The most beautiful thing about it, of course, was that it happened before my mother. As if this was not enough, soon after this trip ended, our film won the Audience Award for Best Short Film at River to River Film Festival, Florence, Italy. The win also secured two more screenings in Italy for the film, one each in Rome and Milan.

Through my brother's FB account, we have shared this news with all. And we have been receiving congratulations from all our well-wishers. And the first thing most of them ask is - you must be partying hard, right?

Well. No. We did celebrate in our own little way, but our degree of celebration would disappoint most of our friends' expectations. The most important thing at this moment is not all the accolades that we won, but the desire to repeat it again, and more importantly, do that with a much better film. The most important thing, in fact, is not a repetition of all the perks and praise, but to ensure that our next film is a better cinematic work - with only the two of us, Devanshu and I, being the judge of the same.

Each film, I believe, results in three different kinds of results that the film-maker should respect and be aware of. The first is the maker's feeling toward what he created. In our case, we are proud of the film, mainly because it taught us more about film-making than anything else, and we know that a lot of things fell in the right place to make this happen. But the merits of the film are equally glaring in comparison with the shortcomings, which we feel are many and need to be taken care of. However, the second result is the way audience reacts to the film. If they love your film, you have to respect their reaction, as much as you have to accept their disapproval for it. And the third result is - how you can use your film for professional gains - from monetizing it, to using it as a PR tool, to anything and everything that may help you as a film-maker. Even if I hate my film, and the audience hates it, I should still try to maximise my returns. I cannot abandon the film, because costs involved in film-making and lack or availability of opportunities are as important as our craft and the specific successes or failures. These three results are and should be mutually exclusive of each other and a wiser film-maker will never try to mix the three and hope for the best in all these fronts.

At times we will click. At times we won't. The only way forward is through this maze of differing perspectives and the hide-and-seek opportunities play with you. And the only real tool you have is the desire to create something new, and hopefully impressive. All the past projects - good or bad - and memories and learnings associated with them are only the building blocks of the next. Celebrations included.

November 29, 2013

Some Wisdom from Wim Wenders

This is an interesting read, where the legendary Wim Wenders shares his 50 golden rules of film-making. I am sharing seven of those here, which I want to remember forever:
  • Respect your actors. Their job is 10 times more dangerous than yours.
  • Don’t look at the monitor. Watch the faces in front of your camera! Stand right next to it! You’ll see infinitely more. You can still check your monitor after the take.
  • Before you say “cut,” wait five more seconds.
  • Rain only shows on the screen when you backlight it.
  • Mistakes never get fixed in post!
  • Having a tight schedule can be difficult. But having too much time is worse.
  • Don’t tell a story that you think somebody else could tell better.

November 23, 2013

The Blog Turns Five

During what can be safely called the most stressful and emotionally challenging period of my life, a little over five years ago, I was struggling with my inability to create something worthwhile. It was the time when I had just shifted to Mumbai, and was trying to arrange a massive sum of money to buy my freedom from the Indian Armed Forces. Giving up the service liability was expensive in more ways than one - not only was I letting go of the job as a Doctor in the army, I was embracing a life of "struggle" - in the conventional sense - as an aspiring writer-director in the Mumbai film industry. Emotionally isolated by all my family, all trying their best and ineffectively so to make me change my mind, I was going through a stubborn, confident, but difficult time. And could hardly do anything productive and fulfilling. Then one evening, I chanced upon a blog by one of my juniors, and thought of starting one of my own, dedicated to cinema. That was how, in November 2008, this blog was born, to celebrate cinema as a film-buff.

However, in the following years, I kept updating almost every cinema-related event of my life in this space. From what I learnt from my self-study of the medium, and my experiences as a teacher, to all professional acts and achievements - articles of all kinds found its way into the film-buff's public display of obsessive affection with the movies. Today, despite any active effort to promote this blog, I have a healthy bunch of dedicated readers, some of them very regular, and the traffic of daily page-views has increased remarkably. With 300 posts in last five years, an average of one post every six days, I do not claim to be an avid blogger, but am happy to have stayed consistent, always trying to present something not too technical or academic, but informative anyway, hoping to share whatever little I know and discover of this amazing and magical art and craft of film-making. During these five years, I have also met people who have known me through this blog, and have even been approached by a studio marketing unit to attend their previews. Today, when I read some of my old posts, I smile at my own innocence and naiveté, closing to embarrassment. I continue to struggle with my English, and it is never easy to write on this space. Every time I attempt to write a post, I feel the insecurity of how it will shape up and how my readers will receive it. One of the biggest struggle has been to keep writing personal accounts without making them sound egotistical, as well as to balance the much-aspired modesty with the desire to share my achievements and successes. Despite all this, the only truth is that the blog continues to evolve, with me, and remains a very important inspiration in my life. I hope this blog remains alive as long as I live. After all, it is the only social medium I am active at.

On the fifth birthday of my blog, I would like to thank all my readers, regular or otherwise, who have constantly motivated me with their kind comments about my writings. And would also like to share some good news, that would also explain my absence from this space for more than three weeks. Well, simply put, my brother and I have just won our first award as film-makers - a Golden Elephant trophy at International Children's Film Festival India 2013, Hyderabad, for our Kashmiri short film "Tamaash". There were 16 films from all over the world competing in the category of International Shorts, and the Children's Jury adjudged our film as the best, over the Oscar-nominated "Buzkashi Boys", the Golden Bear winner at Berlin "The Amber Amulet", and several other beautiful films, many of them, according to me, being better than our film. The Jury thought otherwise and gave us this award that has brought an exceptional joy to all my friends and well-wishers. You, the reader of this blog, are also a part of this moment of celebration. I hope you keep witnessing this fascinating journey, as I continue the unending struggle to create something worthwhile, including the posts on this wall.

October 31, 2013

Mumbai 2013: Epilogue

This was my fifth year at Mumbai Film Festival. And by far, it was the most well-organised. Not that it was free of technical and management glitches, but an intelligent programming, allocating more shows to the "hottest" films and in theatres with larger capacities, and the introduction of the online reservation of seats made it more pleasant than all its previous editions. I, personally, was apprehensive about the online booking system. But it worked! It was simple and much more comfortable than waiting in the queues for long hours. All you had to do was book your seats as soon as the window opened for the respective day, and then be there fifteen minutes before the show began. This ensured two things - every morning, we knew which movies we are going to watch that day, without bothering to run around fighting for entry or seats. And two, since it saved the time we would have otherwise spent on queues, we could grab something to eat, or just take care of other personal matters without the fear of losing the chance to watch those films. Also, if you logged in late and the movie of your choice is booked, you can at least book some other movie and come to peace with the fact, unlike before when we stood in queues for hours and then were told that the show is full and then realised that we cannot even go to another show as it has already started. What I also liked about this system was that it did not allow seats going empty, as I initially feared. Every show had a few dozens seats booked by those who never turned up. Before the show started, those seats were given to people who wanted to watch that movie but could not book online. Overall, it is a welcome move by the organisers, and all it requires from us is to book the seats for our favourite choices well in advance.

So yes. A successful festival. I watched 33 movies, my second highest score, after 34 in 2009. The list included the latest offerings of film-makers like Takashi Miike, Jia Zhangke, Tsai Ming-Liang, Richard Linklater, Francois Ozon, Michel Gondry, Jafar Panahi, Coen Brothers, Philippe Garrel, and Leos Carrax. This time I also watched three documentaries. You must watch "Who is Dayani Crystal" and "The Act of Killing" if non-fiction interests you. The screening of "Sulemani Keeda" made by my friends was fun, especially to see the audience react to something we have been associated for a long time now. Also, for the first time the competition movies selected and watched by me ended as award winners. And the restored print of Yasujiro Ozu's masterpiece - "Tokyo Story" completed the experience.

People generally assume festival films to be intense and difficult to watch. However, I watched at least six superbly entertaining, extremely well-made films that can cheer you up whenever you watch them. Please go for these if you want to have a good time. Click on the names to watch the trailers:
And if you are looking for some fine modern cinema, and are willing to indulge, or are eager to experiment, and are ready for some sincere, patient viewing, you must watch these:
In 2009, I had watched the unforgettable "Los Bastardos". His next feature film, "Heli" brought the director Amat Escalante the Best Director award at Cannes, and is Mexico's official entry for the Oscars next year. Escalante, who is only three films old, has come up strongly as a director to watch, and each of his next works will be eagerly awaited. This is a new pleasure I discovered, of such festivals - discovering new film-makers whom the world is discovering with you and then hope that more of their films will come to your city in the years to come. Having watched more than 150 films in the last five editions of Mumbai Film Festival, the wait for "Mumbai 2014" has already begun...

October 28, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #7: Ending on a High!

It is very important for a festival to end well, or for anything to end well, for that matter. Since you can not predict the qualities of individual movies in such festivals, it is always a risk you take by making your choices. As always, a well-informed choice is generally a better choice. I was expecting the final day to be good, because some of the most high-profile movies were left. But I had no idea it will be such a great day that it will actually conclude my festival on such a high note.

"Vic+Flo Saw a Bear" (Canada/ 2013) by Denis Cote was an impressive "festival" film that started my final day. Of course, same-sex love stories are a very common feature of today's cinema. But this film successfully created a powerful crime drama with such a backdrop, without bothering to answer too many questions.

"Bekas" (Sweden-Finland-Iraq/ 2013) by Karzan Kader is a film I would recommend to anyone. A heart-warming adventure-comedy involving two little brothers from Iraq who set out for "America" completely deserved the tremendous applause it received. Watch it as soon as you can.

This extreme positive reaction from the audience continued all through the day, with "The Rocket" (Australia-Laos-Thailand/ 2013) by Kim Mordaunt and "Ilo Ilo" (Singapore/ 2013) Anthony Chen. Both first films by their respective film-makers, and both official entries at the Oscars by their respective countries (Australia and Singapore) are among the most talked-about films this year. And both were extremely well-made, sensitive films, that very easily inspired an overwhelming applause from the audience.

And then, my final film of the festival. I had watched it last year, and the opportunity to watch it again on big screen was just too tempting. More importantly, it is the perfect closing film for any week-long celebration of cinema. "Holy Motors" (France/ 2012) by Leos Carax is a mad odyssey, an indulgent but grand tribute to the medium of cinema, as well as to the life and work of actors. Last year, I had almost recommended this film as a must-watch-before-you-die, but I didn't, as I wanted to be very sure before I did that. This time, I am sure. If there is one film out of the 33 I watched this festival that I would call a must-watch, it is this. (#39)

P.S. This post is late by a few days, as it talks about the 7th day of the festival, that is 24th October.

October 27, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #6: The 2009 score will remain untouched...

'Picasso's Gang' (Spain/ 2012) by Fernando Colomo did not impress me as much as its first ten minutes had promised to. But, in the end, this stylish period-drama that blended fact and fiction for good humour worked well.

Philippe Garrel's 'Jealousy' (France/ 2013) was undoubtedly very impressive in its 77 minutes of beautiful black and white run-time. Only, it did not try to do something exceptional. And since I have recently discovered Garrel, I was left a little underwhelmed.

Yasujiro Ozu's 'Tokyo Story' (Japan/ 1953) is perhaps the greatest movie playing this festival, going by its reputation. It is also going to be the only classic I'll watch. Watching it for the second time, I was thoroughly interested in trying to decipher the reason behind its stature, and the only reasons that come to mind are the universal story, the true performances, and the pacing that almost takes you to the world of the two elderly leads.

The film of the day was 'Good to Go' (Slovenia-Croatia/ 2013) by the debutant director Matevz Luzar. The story of Ivan, a retired music teacher in his late 70s, is several times more entertaining than what its first few minutes would suggest. The film keeps surprising you with its brilliant writing and performances, and it was fun to cheer for the characters with the audience.

I could watch only four films today as I had to attend a meeting. This means, I won't be able to watch 34 movies this festival and my record of 2009 will remain untouched. It's really incredible how I managed it back then, travelling from Dahisar to Andheri. Sheer madness!

P.S. This post is late by a few days, as it talks about the 6th day of the festival, that is 23rd October.

October 23, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #5: Outlaws and Outcasts

A movie-puzzle is a must at any film festival. And this one blended fact and fiction, including the house-arrest of Jafar Panahi and the 20-year ban on film-making that the director is facing in Iran, into a surrealistic film - 'Closed Curtains' (Iran/ 2013) that also won Best Screenplay at Berlin.

An effective mood-piece, this story about a young boy finding companionship only in his dog, but it left me desiring a lot. Perhaps it was good that I wasn't very involved during this film, as an idea hit me and I got busy developing it into a film story. 'My Dog Killer'' (Slovakia-Czech Republic/ 2013) by Mira Fornayova.

A very shocking shot of graphic violence stunned the audience today in this film. I was not surprised, and was waiting for something like this. Amat Escalante did not disappoint. However, I think the Best Director award that he won at Cannes was because of reasons beyond those violent scenes. 'Heli' (Mexico/ 2013) is definitely one of the most powerful films of this year.

The sixteenth film by the Coen brothers. And since I have watched all their previous films, 'Inside Llewyn Davis' (USA/ 2013) was eagerly awaited. Grand Prix winner at Cannes, this film shows yet again how the Coens have managed to create their unique authorship despite operating in Hollywood, with almost all resources and stars at their disposal. They can make a very mainstream film, but they seem to be happy exploring new dimensions in their own cinema.

However, the highlight of the day was 'La jaula de oro' (Mexico/ 2013) by Diego Quemada-Diez. A Certain Talent Prize for the ensemble at Cannes this year, this film managed to keep us involved throughout its 100-minute run-time, despite most of the audience being exhausted after a long day. A hard-hitting story of illegal immigrants from South America to the US, I was benefited by the documentary on the same topic that I had watched on the second day of the festival. The film received an applause that few films have received this year.

Five days are gone, just two more to go. And tomorrow, I won't be able to watch five movies as I have to go for a meeting. I hope the four that I watch are such that I don't regret anything. Night!

October 22, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #4: All the Beautiful Things in Life

This is the sixth film festival I am attending (Pune 2008 and Mumbai 2009 to 2013). And finally today, I saw my name up there on the screen. Produced and directed by some of my dearest friends, "Sulemani Keeda" (2013/ Amit Masurkar) had a successful packed-house screening. A song written by my brother and me features in the film, hence the credit.

With 'Blue is the Warmest Color' (France/ 2013) by Abdellatif Kechiche, the most eagerly awaited movie of this festival, this day was definitely going to be special. I did love the film, but there were some pleasant surprises beyond it. '3X3D' (France-Portugal/ 2013), an experimental anthology of three short films by Peter Greenaway, Edgar Pera, and Jean-Lud Godard was a pure sensory experience, and especially Greenaway's film was stunning. 'Tonnerre' (France/ 2013) by Guillaume Brac was an involving, well-made debut by the director. However, the biggest surprise was this American film, 'Short Term 12' (2013). It made me laugh. It made me cry. Its characters inspired and amused me. It entertained me in every way, and its writing was something I would like to revisit to learn a thing or two, or more. Possibly, the best film I have watched in the last four days, the best out of 19. If there is any other film that can beat this one, I would be overwhelmed by this festival. Really hope it happens!

October 21, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #3: Death Stories

'The Act of Killing' (2012) by Joshua Oppenheimer: I had absolutely no clue about the massacre of "communists" in Indonesia and that until now the people who committed those crimes are not punished and take pride, and openly so, in having sone that. This documentary was unforgettable.

'Layla Fourie' (2013) by Pia Marais: A woman who never lies, and has just taken the job of a lie detector, runs down a man and then struggles to save herself and her little son by, obviously, concealing the truth.

'Young and Beautiful' (2013) by Francois Ozon: Not a single French film in the first eleven! Of course, French Cinema had to be back with vengeance. And when it comes to a subject like this - a 17-year old girl loses virginity at a beach party, and then very soon starts living the secret life of a call girl - no one can do it better than the French, and especially, Ozon.

'Mood Indigo' (2013) by Michel Gondry: French again. And Gondry takes you to an unparalleled, unprecedented journey of imaginative story-telling. Not too much of story, but lots and lots of imagination - original, unforgettable.

'The Major' (2013) by Yury Bykov: This Russian film had a thrilling premise. Rashly driving to meet her wife in labour, a Major from the police force runs over a seven-year old kid, in front of his mother. The entire force - his seniors and juniors - are more than eager to twist facts and save him, but will his conscience allow this? And how far will he go to walk the difficult path of righteousness?

Three days. 14 movies. Good going.

October 20, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #2: Masters Take Charge

I have to write this real quick and then go to sleep. So, I'll try to keep it short.

Perhaps it is the effect of the non-fiction reading I've been doing for the last few weeks that I find myself keen on watching documentaries this festival, something I always avoided in its previous editions. And the two that I saw today, both winners at Sundance 2013, did impact me strongly. 'A River Changes Course' takes us into the lives of the people in a village in Cambodia, and 'Who is Dayani Cristal' narrates a moving story of the death of an illegal immigrant from Honduras to the US, and eventually asks more general and significant questions. The revelation in the end, about the title, is so touching that I was left with tears in my eyes.

But mainly, it was the day that completely fulfilled my cinephile craving. Five movies and all good ones. Three of them were the latest movies by some of the most acclaimed film-makers of our time, who have already acquired the status of legends.

Jia Zhangke's Cannes Best Screenplay winner 'A Touch of Sin' (China/ 2013) was an anthology of four stories and each provided pleasures of high degree. The bullets fired in this film were so impactful that I shrieked when one of those cracked open the head of one. Loved those moments.

Richard Linklater's third part of what I call the best romantic film-trilogy ever, 'Before Midnight' (USA/ 2013) had all that I was expecting, and more. More than the cinematic pleasures, it gave me a lot of insight about humans and relationships, and also the belief that being able to engage in meaningful and sensible conversation with your partner is perhaps the most efficient way of handling your relationship. Hearing out your partner with respectful and sincere keenness, and talking sensibly and sensitively is more powerful than the usual "virtues" of love, trust, and the ability to "give".

However, the movie of the day, for me, was Tsai Ming-Liang's difficult, compelling, and unforgettable - 'Stray Dogs' (Taiwan/ 2013). It reminded me of 'The Turin Horse' and, in a way, 'Eraserhead', apart from the maker's earlier classic 'Vive l'amour'. Some of the shots in this film were among the most testing I have experienced as a film-buff. There was in fact a 14-minute shot where two characters were simply staring at a wall. And then can one ever forget the brilliant cabbage-eating scene? A festival experience remains incomplete unless you have at least one film like this.

The warming up is over. It's time to indulge completely now!

October 19, 2013

Mumbai 2013 Day #1: Deja vu

The return of the annual festival. Same known faces, and the number keeps increasing every year. Cinemax Versova being a venue for the third consecutive year. Same old technical problems, which are truly a trademark of our festival. And a first day that leaves you guessing about the next six days to follow. Despite the introduction of, and what is an effective step, I must say, the online reservation of shows, Mumbai Film Festival's first day was very much a deja vu for me.

'In the Name of' (Poland/ 2013) by Malgoska Szumowska was the opening movie for me. I must mention that all the new learnings of the year give you some enhanced perspective of cinema during this annual festival. For example, I was very curious to know what camera must have been used to shoot this film, and how the sets have been lit, and what is the general lensing and camera equipment being used. Hence, this film, with excellent cinematography and sound design (except for a couple of instance of background score that didn't go well with me), rose above its content and writing.

'Matterhorn' (Netherlands/ 2013) by Diederik Ebbinge followed. When the first two movies are from Poland and Netherlands, you do feel good. And this dramedy was a certain success among the audience. Also, it is incredible to see the first-time film-makers from abroad doing so well. The competition out there is really tough.

The third film was interrupted due to problems with the projection and when it was played in an adjacent screen, I had to leave it to attend the next film.

'All is Lost' (USA/ 2013) by JC Chandor proved yet again that movies are often provide surrogate emotional experiences that you don't have every day. Survival and fear of death was so closely felt in this single-character, almost dialogue-less film that I could hardly focus on the craft. And the film, despite the terrifying journey it showed, did inspire me to undertake one lonely voyage of my own. Some day, may be...

Takashi Miike's 'Shield of Straw' (Japan/ 2013) was the perfect movie to close the day. A mainstream crime thriller, with a riveting situational and ethical conflict, kept me on the edge of my seat. The final act was a little underwhelming, but I won't complain, as I was thoroughly entertained by then.

The bad news is that I won't be able to score 35 this year too, as I am already one movie behind (thanks to the technical problem). Also, the overall quality of the movies today was not the best you get to see at such festivals. The good news is that tomorrow might just be an unforgettable day in my life as a cinephile, thanks to the brilliant line-up. Going to bed now, to take some rest and gear up for the second day. Ciao!

October 11, 2013

Columbia Calling

It has been close to five years since I started this blog. And yesterday, for the first time, I enjoyed a somewhat "tangible" benefit out of all these years of sincere blogging. Before I write about that, let us go back 95 years, the year 1918...

Columbia Pictures - most of us recognize it by its logo of a woman holding a torch - one of the major film studios of all time, was founded in 1918. It was not before 1930 that it emerged as a prolific studio. But soon, with its association with director Frank Capra - 'It Happened One Night' (1934) and 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939), among others - it rose to the stature of the "Little Three", behind only the "Big Five", thus being one of the top eight studios during the Golden Age of Hollywood. It also distributed major films like 'His Girl Firday' (1940), and the Orson Welles-directed 'The Lady from Shanghai' (1948). In the late 1940s, when new laws in the US forced the major studios to end "Vertical Integration", Columbia's status rose, as it did not own any theatres, and it soon replaced RKO as one of the major players. During the 50s, Columbia was producing around 40 films every year, and the list included three Best Picture Oscar winners - 'From Here to Enternity' (1953), 'On the Waterfront' (1954), and 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' (1957), apart from Lang's 'The Big Heat' (1953). The US distribution right of Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai' (1954) was also acquired by this studio - a film that went on to influence American and world cinema like none other.

In the decades that followed, the studio was behind remarkable films from all genres, like 'A Man for All Seasons' (1966), 'Oliver!' (1968), 'Easy Rider' (1969), 'The Last Picture Show' (1971), 'Taxi Driver' (1976), 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977), 'Kramer vs. Kramer' (1979), 'Gandhi' (1982), 'The Big Chill' (1983), and 'Ghostbusters' (1984).

In the year 1989, the Japanese electronics giant Sony bought Columbia Pictures. Today, if you look at the Columbia logo, you will find the mention of Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) at the bottom of it. With successful franchises like the James Bond and Spider Man movies, Columbia Pictures remains a vital and important part of our cinema consciousness. The first few years of the new millennium have been especially profitable for the studio. In 2007, 'Saawariya' became the first Hindi film to be backed by the studio. The commercial failure of the film, obviously, was a blow to all possibilities that had arose after this first collaboration. Today, Columbia Pictures is one of the six biggest studios in the world of cinema, along with Warner Bros., Fox, Disney, Paramount, and Universal.

But what has this got to do with my benefit as a blogger? Well, a couple of weeks ago I was approached by the marketing team of Sony Pictures India and I was excited to know that they wished to include me in their list of Press and Bloggers for whom they conduct preview screenings to spread word about the upcoming releases. Yesterday, I got to watch the latest Tom Hanks starrer, 'Captain Philips' (2013). Directed by Paul Greengrass ('Bourne Supremacy', 'Bourne Ultimatum', 'United 93'), this superbly involving marine thriller releasing worldwide today is your absolute weekend entertainer. Watch it for the engaging and clever writing by Billy Ray (of the 'The Hunger Games' fame). And once the film is about to end and you feel it was worth all the money, keep watching for the touching finale where Tom Hanks reaffirms why he is what he is known for. Scenes like these are generally the difference between a regular thriller, and those that stay with you for a longer time.

September 19, 2013

Toronto in Andheri 2013

As mentioned in a previous post, I did organise my own "Toronto in Andheri Film Festival" and ended up watching 10 films in the last few days. The greatest pleasure of such an exercise is to watch some films you wouldn't otherwise, and discover new film-makers. This time, I also watched a couple of films that I had been waiting to watch for a long, long time.

As before, I am embedding the online links of the movies to their titles below. Here are the movies that made my last few days very special:

Opening Film: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (People's Choice Award 2000/Taiwan-Hong Kong-US-China/ Ang Lee) This famous martial-arts fable was a film I had been waiting to watch forever. For many, this was the film that led them to discover Ang Lee. Since I was late, it was my fifth film by him. And the perfect to kickstart start my festival.

Nobody Waved Good-Bye (1964/ Canada/ Don Owen) Since 1984, TIFF has been conducting a poll of the Best Canadian Films of All Time every decade. In its first poll, this coming-of-age film was voted at #9, a film that has rekindled in me the love for long lenses.

Wavelength (1967/ Canada/ Michael Snow) This is one of the most famous short films in cinema history. In what appears to be a single forty-five minute shot, all we get to see is a slow zoom-in from one edge of a room to a photograph on the opposite wall. The film requires some serious patience, but is compulsory viewing for anyone looking for experimental cinema.

Exotica (Best Canadian Feature Film 1994/ Canada/ Atom Egoyan) Today considered one of the best Canadian films of all time, it will remain unforgettable for me, especially because of the mood it builds with the use of Indian-fusion music, and generous nudity. Truly mesmerising.

Incendies (Best Canadian Feature Film 2010/ Canada/ Denis Villeneuve) The twin children of a just-died woman receive in her will some instructions that she wanted them to follow. The two embark on a journey that reveal some ugly truths about their mother and themselves. Mysterious and involving, and with a shocker of an ending, this French-Arabic film went on to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.

Mon oncle Antoine (1971/ Canada/ Claude Jutra) Widely considered the Greatest Canadian Film of All Time, including the three once-a-decade polls by TIFF, it is funny and it is sad. The film taught me something I'll never forget - to include sufficient well-thought POV shots in the coverage, especially if the film involves a strong "point-of-view character".

Whale Rider (People's Choice Award 2002/ New Zealand/ Niki Caro) This is what I love so much about world cinema. This film tells us the story of a Maori community and turns out to be an unforgettable fable. Before this, I knew nothing about this community and their culture, something I read about as soon as the film ended. And suddenly my life felt richer. The fourteen-year old Keisha Castle-Hughes became the youngest actress to earn an Oscar nomination, a record that she held until this year.

Jesus of Montreal (International Critics' Award 1989/ Canada/Denys Arcand) The similarities with 'Rang De Basanti' (2006) are glaring. But it would be wrong to call the Indian film a copy of this very famous Canadian film, placed at #2 twice by TIFF's last two polls (1993 and 2004). The film was nominated for Foreign Film Oscar, but lost to 'Cinema Paradiso'.

Veronika Voss (International Critics' Award 1982/ Germany/ Rainer Werner Fassbinder) It is always a treat to watch a film by a master at a festival. And 'Veronika Voss' is a stunningly beautiful film, that makes B&W look more powerful than all colours put together. For its immaculate compositions and gutsy lighting, I will keep revisiting this film.

Closing Film: Antonia's Line (People's Choice Award 1995/ Netherlands/ Marleen Gorris) Rightly called a "feminist fairy tale", this Dutch film does what films seldom do. Breaking the rules of conventional film-writing, with a narrative reminiscent of a Marquez novel, and the words flowing like some of the great poems you have read, this Oscar-winner is not only the perfect closing film for this beautiful experience of a festival, but I also name it as a Must-watch-before-you-die. (#38)

This year's "real" TIFF brought another good news for Indian cinema, as Anup Singh's Punjabi film "Qissa" won the NETPAC award for the Best Asian Film from a first/second-time director. Watch its trailer here.

September 13, 2013

#2: Her Right to Kill

Three women. Three pairs of lives. And one common, relevant socio-political and ethical dilemma connecting them all. Based on true incidents, "Her Right to Kill" is an Irish film that successfully and powerfully questions a woman's right to abort her unborn child, for her own survival. The film tells three interconnected stories, each having a woman protagonist:

The first story is set in 1992. A 14-year old girl is raped by her neighbour and gets pregnant. She starts suffering from severe depression and suicidal tendencies and the family decides to travel to Britain to have an abortion (as abortion is illegal in Ireland). However, they get involved in a traumatic legal battle demanding the girl's right to abort the baby, who is clearly unwanted, in more ways than one.

The second story is set in 2002. A 20-year old girl lives with her boyfriend in a garage where he works. The couple are not well-educated, and whatever little the boy earns they spend on drugs and adrenaline trips. Their life comes to a standstill when they realise that the girl is pregnant. The only way out is to illegally travel out of the country to get the abortion done. With neither the money, nor any kind of support, they decide to take this trip and manage to move out of the country.

The third story is in 2012. A 31-year old Indian woman, working in Ireland as a dentist is happily married and expecting a child. In the fourth month of pregnancy she has a miscarriage. The doctors realise that if the foetus is not removed, it might pose a fatal risk to the woman. But they can not conduct the abortion as although the foetus is now non-viable, its heart-beats are intact. She, being an educated, modern woman understands the situation and repeatedly requests for abortion, which under the laws of the "Catholic country", is illegal. Seven days later the woman dies.

The first story is a court-room battle, the second almost a road trip for survival, and the third a tragedy inside a well-equipped hospital. The archaic laws of the country have turned these women into worse victims of their respective situations.

As the three stories head toward their intertwined climax, the first girl undergoes a miscarriage under mysterious circumstances. The second girl, with her boyfriend, manages to get the abortion done after lots of struggle. And the death of the Indian woman sparks a nationwide protest against the law, with a strong reaction from the Church, as well as from a large section of the public actually holding demonstrations in support of the law.

The film ends with the titles:

The man who had raped the girl was imprisoned for three years. On being released he sexually assaulted another teenaged girl and was sentenced for another three years...

The young couple separated a few months after the incident and the girl now lives as a wife and a mother of three in a suburb...

The widespread protests against the law after the death of the Indian woman eventually led to a law being passed in Ireland in 2013 allowing abortion in circumstances where the woman's life is at risk, including from suicide...

P.S. "Her Right to Kill" is a film yet-to-be-made and this post is only a suggestion of the possibility of a film like this.

Blog Update

The blog now has an additional domain name. You can reach here by simply typing:

Also, the one-line description of the blog is now changed to "Making Movies. Talking Film. Celebrating Cinema." Almost five years after it was born, the blog officially accepts itself as one of a film-maker as well as that of a film-buff.

Hoping to keep sharing my movie-world with you. Thanks for all your support. Please keep encouraging good cinema...

September 12, 2013

Tamaash: Our First Film for the World

Last November, I had written a post about the post-shoot blues I was suffering from after shooting a short film. Since then, there has been no mention of that film on this blog. Well, here it goes. We started editing in December, and our other commitments did not allow us to come up with a rough cut until March. We then started showing it to others for feedback, and realised this film is being received well. What had started as an exercise to learn film-making had turned into a pleasant surprise. But the bigger news was yet to come, and hence the film was not mentioned on this blog. Not yet.

Our 32-minute film in Kashmiri language, "Tamaash", has just been selected to screen at two international film festivals. It premieres at Seattle South Asian Film Festival on the first week of October. You can click here to have a look at its mention in the festival programme. And between 17th to 26th October, it will be screened up to four times at Heartland Film Festival, Indianapolis. It is a competition category and if the film wins there (it is impossibly tough, but if it does), it would be eligible (only eligible, not nominated) for the Oscar Award for Best Live-Action Short!

Perhaps this is the biggest news of our career, of my brother and mine. We wrote, produced, edited, and directed "Tamaash" that went on to become our first film for the world. (Our previously made not-so-good short films must be feeling so ignored!) However, this could be possible only with the enormous support of close to a hundred people in Mumbai, Kashmir and elsewhere, and several hundreds of best wishers, including you - the reader of this blog. The film was funded by close friends who did not even go through the story and became proud co-producers of it based on their faith in us. I hope we didn't let them down. And thanks to them, and to so many others, five years after moving to this city it's time for one of my very own works to play on big screen in a couple of cities far, far away. Until our debut feature film arrives, and it may take a while, let us offer you some short fiction. The first in the list is ready to be served! :)

P.S. I hope to write a series of posts on the wonderful journey of making the film. That Kashmir trip has all the makings of one of the most significant trips of my life. It would be fun sharing it with you.

September 10, 2013

Studying Composition #1

I just finished studying the chapter "Composition" from Joseph V. Mascelli's celebrated book "The Five C's of Cinematography". For a student of cinema, this book is perhaps one of the richest source of knowledge and film-making wisdom. Within a week, it has completely changed my way of looking at motion picture frames. To consolidate my learning, I have decided to embark on a journey of studying composition from great movies. I will share some of my notes here in this new column, starting today.

Have a good look at the frame below, from "Thelma and Louise" (1991, Directed by Ridley Scott, Cinematography by Adrian Biddle):

     This picture has several compositional gems. It is an Extreme Long Shot capturing a stunning landscape, but the Centre of Interest is the male player – his size just appropriate with respect to the rest of the image, making him just a little more important than the landscape. He has been positioned roughly on the imaginary vertical line dividing the frame into thirds. His light-coloured vest and hat, and his posture capture our interest immediately. The three short vertical poles near him also “frame” him in a way for us, localising our interest in him.

     He is facing towards the right and there is more space in that direction, giving the image a classical balance. This off-centre composition also holds true for the building in the background and all these elements contribute towards our sub-conscious motivation to look toward the right of the frame (which for English-Hindi reading people is more pleasant than looking toward the left of the frame). There is a torrent of wind and dust and a light lump of hay is caught in the wind adding more balance to the picture because the pictorial mass of that matches with the actual mass of structures concentrated more toward the left of the frame than right. The finely composed masses with heavy bases present an immovable, dominant image, well contrasted with the dust and the hay caught in the wind.

     The electric poles toward the right enhance the linear perspective and the feeling of depth. There are several straight lines in the image suggesting masculinity and strength. Long horizontal lines add to the restfulness of the setting, while short verticals break their monotony. There are several L-shaped forms in this image, including the posture of the man, adding to the aesthetic merits.

     Apart from the stunning background, efforts have been taken to enhance it – observe the wonderful contrast visible through the windows on the first floor of the building, thus contributing to the feeling of depth. Despite all these details, simplicity remains a major merit of the composition and there is almost nothing in the frame that needs to be removed to increase its effectiveness.

September 08, 2013

Venice in Andheri 2013

Two years ago I had had my first 'Venice in Andheri Film Festival'. This year I decided to have a second edition and take it more seriously. As the Award Ceremony at the 70th Venice Film Festival was taking place last evening, I was watching the Closing Film of my very own festival, the fourteenth I watched in the last few weeks. These fourteen films have been award winners in different sections in the history of Venice - the oldest film festival globally. What started as a fun exercise, soon became an obsession and the cinema experience I have had in the last few days has truly been something you experience only at festivals, where films from different cultures and times, some by great film-makers you know, and some new discoveries, make your life more beautiful than ever and your faith and belief as a film-buff is rejuvenated, seriously rejuvenated. I do not remember when I last pampered myself this much. In fact, the experience has been so amazing that I am seriously considering indulging in a 'Toronto in Andheri Film Festival' as the actual Toronto film festival is being held as I type these words.

Following are the movies that I watched as part of my personal festival. Almost all of these are available on the YouTube, and I have embedded their respective links with their titles:

Opening Film: Rocco and his Brothers (Special Jury Prize 1960/ Italy/ Luchino Visconti) One of the best dramas you are ever going to watch, this Visconti classic moves you so deeply, and provides you emotional fulfilment at so many levels that, like me, you might just exclaim to a dear friend saying something like: "My life just got richer today! What a movie I watched!!"

The Wind will Carry Us (Special Jury Prize 1999/ Iran/ Abbas Kiarostami) Only Kiarostami can make a film like this. Impossibly real in its performances, milieu, and aesthetic, and deeply profound in its study of human minds and cultures, the film may take time to grow, but by the end you are so convinced of its great merits.

White Nights (Silver Lion for Second Best Film 1957/ Italy/ Luchino Visconti) Based on the story by Fyodor Dostoyevski, this film features the most famous Italian actor I have known - Marcello Mastroianni. The sets of this film are uncannily similar to the Bhansali film on the same story, while the effect is a lot more.

J'entends plus la guitare (Silver Lion for Second Best Film 1991/ France/ Philippe Garrel) The title of this film roughly translates to "I can no longer hear the guitar". The film is not about music, and I don't remember spotting any guitar. Instead it is a semi-autobiographical tale of love and loss and a stuff exclusively of the film festivals.

Still Life (Golden Lion for Best Film 2006/ China/ Jia Zhangke) It is always a delight to watch great films from modern world cinema. And the cinema of China and South-East Asia has suddenly created a reputation in the last two decades. Zhangke for me was a discovery. And the setting of this film unforgettable. It is the kind of film you wish you made.

The Magician (Special Jury Prize 1958/ Sweden/ Ingmar Bergman) The "lesser" films of masters is, at times, a pleasant surprise. This Bergman film was one. Add to this the delight to watch those familiar faces performing once again, faces you associate only with one film culture (Swedish, in this case), and at times, with one film-maker.

Black Cat, White Cat (Silver Lion for Best Director 1998/ Yugoslavia/ Emir Kusturica) Perhaps the most popular film of the list among young film-buffs of today, this is exactly what you would expect from Kusturica. I could have watched it long ago; guess it had to happen now.

They Don't Wear Black Tie (Special Jury Prize 1981/ Brazil/ Leon Hirszman) Unless you have a film from Latin America or Africa, your festival experience can not be complete. The familiar face of Fernanda Montenegro ('Central Station', 1998) was a delight. And the film one of the best relationship-dramas made on a political premise.

Redacted (Silver Lion for Best Director 2007/ USA/ Brian De Palma) A Brian De Palma movie that did not receive widespread release in the US because of its controversial content - is a good enough reason to watch this Iraq War-based film. Watch it on YouTube today.

Vive L'Amour (Golden Lion for Best Film 1994/ Taiwan/ Tsai Ming-liang) Another discovery. And one of the most unforgettable films of the list. Without the use of substantial dialogue, it is remarkable how this film holds your attention and doesn't leave you until it reaches a deeply moving emotional catharsis. The writer-director is the winner of this year's Grand Jury Prize for his latest work - 'Jiaoyou'.

Little Fugitive (Silver Lion for Best Film* 1953/ USA/ Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin) One of the early independent American films, featuring non-actors and a hand-held camera, this film rightly influenced the French New Wave masters. You would want to make a short-film on this story if I told you what it is. Watch it with your family. (* That year no Golden Lion was awarded. Six films were adjudged Best Film and Silver Lion was given to each.)

The Magdalene Sisters (Golden Lion for Best Film 2002/ Ireland/ Peter Mullan) Films which dare to raise voice regarding religious absurdities and malpractices always find their way into any film festival I attend. The topic is such, you can't escape it. And hence this film remains relevant and superbly engaging.

Vagabond (Golden Lion for Best Film 1985/ France/ Agnes Varda) A very interesting film that retraces the last few days of a dead vagabond girl, with characters often speaking to the camera, this strongly feminist film is very much a New Wave work made several years after the revolution was over.

Closing Film: Ordet (Golden Lion for Best Film 1955/ Denmark/ Carl Dreyer) Arguably the greatest film of the list, and a regular feature in several "Great Movies" lists, this modern spiritual fable closed my festival on a high note, especially with its last ten minutes that have become unforgettable in cinema consciousness.

As I watched my closing film, the Breaking News reached me. Indian short film 'Kush' had won the Orrizonti Award for Best Short Film last evening. Watch its trailer here and look out for this film-maker.

September 04, 2013

The Return of the Writer

Writing previews is tricky business. And it is risky business too, especially if the upcoming film is from a production house that has made innumerable high-profile bad films in the past five years. But I was compelled to write this post for one reason alone – and that is the writer of the film. For me, “Shuddh Desi Romance” is the next film by Jaideep Sahni, whom I consider to be the best writer in Hindi cinema (writer, excluding writer-directors) today.

Sahni started his career at the age of 32 with the name that has the credit of introducing the maximum number of fresh talents into the industry – Ram Gopal Verma, when he wrote ‘Jungle’ (2000). Two years later he was to win two Filmfare awards for the screenplay and the dialogue of his second film, ‘Company’ (2002). In the next ten years, he has had only five releases – ‘Bunty aur Babli’ (2005), ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’ (2006, that won him his third Filmfare), ‘Chak De India’ (2007), ‘Aaja Nachle’ (2007), and ‘Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year’ (2009). According to me, he is yet to write a bad film. And according to me, he has already written 3-4 very good films – I would be really proud of them if they were mine. With the looks of a CEO of a corporate firm, Sahni has definitely built a filmography that gives the impression of being an original, intelligent, and passionate writer apart from being extremely talented. All his movies are different from each other; he is constantly seeking different milieu and different genres, and operates in a very mainstream space without selling his soul. To be honest, I have been missing his work for the past four years and am super-excited as his latest film is ready for release this Friday. He is one writer I have followed and admired ever since his arrival, and he is one writer yet to break my heart. This Friday, all I expect of him is this – he may not be able to repeat the success of his best, but this latest film of his must be better than his worst (choose your pick from the films mentioned above). I like to believe that this storyteller has a lot many stories to tell and hope I won’t be disappointed this Friday.

Over to you, Sahni sa’ab! Sunaaiye apni nayi kahaani…

August 28, 2013

Winds of Change?

February 2011: Filmfare Awards declare "Dabangg" the Best Film of the year and Karan Johar the Best Director for "My Name is Khan".

Two years later...

February 2013: None of the top grossers of the year - "Ek Tha Tiger", "Bol Bachchan", "Houseful 2", "Jab Tak Hai Jaan", "Rowdy Rathore", "Agneepath" and "Dabangg 2" could bag even a nomination in the Best Film category. "Barfi" won the award. And the runners-up were "Kahaani", "Vicky Donor", "English Vinglish" and the Wasseypur films - all fairly successful films but none to match the insane commercial triumph of the big ones.

May 2013: An "anthology film" - "Bombay Talkies" gets remarkably wide release and good publicity. The stars of the film, for a change, are directors, two of them being the most well-known auteurs of Hindi cinema today. (Remember it is easier to sell the name of a "genre" director like Rohit Shetty. The case was not the same here.)

July 2013: 'Ship of Theseus' gets a limited release in five cities. Almost all shows go house-full all week in Mumbai. Some of my friends, not from the film industry, watch and love it and do not feel it was too slow! Next week, the number of shows increase, a rare achievement for any film in today's times, and the movie reaches new cities. The trend continues, with the film travelling to cities like Patna, Lucknow, and Bhopal. In Mumbai, the film runs for five weeks. Although, big names were attached to it and we can not hope the same results with other films, the fact that the release model worked is such a good sign. Imagine, if the film had failed in its opening week, forcing the exhibitors to bring it out of theatres after the first week! Perhaps the success is only slightly positive a sign. But the failure would definitely mean doom for more such efforts.

August 2013: Another indie film "BA Pass" is fairly successful. OK. Sex always sells, right? NO. "Nasha", that released only a week ago could not gross half the numbers of "BA Pass".

And soon after, "Madras Cafe" is released. I love it thoroughly despite being slightly underwhelmed with its technical finesse. My brother says - "This is good enough for India!" I agree. We are going in the right direction, after all. Such a film is getting made, and getting successful. Good news. The very next day, I go to watch the Bengali film "Taasher Desh". The most pleasant surprise is not the film, but the fact that the Censor Board passed it without an Adult certificate. The film is U/A. The content is definitely bolder than that, with several intimate love making and homo-erotic scenes. Hope it is not an exceptional case and the CBFC maintains the same standards when it comes to Hindi films.

September 2013: Two big production houses have joined hands to release another small gem "The Lunchbox" that will be released in September. Fingers corssed!

The change will come only if it is holistic in nature. Otherwise one-off exceptions to the rigid rules of the market have always raised their heads and eventually got lost into oblivion. It has to start from the making - content driven, deftly executed films, on varied topics, including some conventionally controversial ones. The release and marketing is more vital than the production. It has to be done smartly and successfully. The critics should do their job - I loved Jeeturaj screaming on Radio Mirchi, urging the audience to go and watch "Ship of Theseus". The audience should respond well, and the word of mouth should be strong. The exhibitors should have continued confidence in such content - and I so admire PVR for actually releasing rare films. And eventually, the popular awards like Filmfare should acknowledge these films when the year ends. I won't go so far to say that the change has begun - the latest mega success of "Chennai Express" is nothing short of a disappointment (as we speak the film is making its way to the throne of the highest grossing Hindi film of all time). But I would like to hope that there are some welcome signs and that one day good cinema will finally dawn upon Hindi films. I will keep hoping this until February 2014 when, in most probability, Filmfare will award "Chennai Express" the Best Film if the year. I dread that day. Hope it never comes.

August 23, 2013

#1: The Endless Wait

A few months ago we were celebrating 100 years of Indian Cinema. A few days ago it was Gulzar sahab's birthday. On both these occasions I had thought of starting this new column. "The Great Hindi Lyrics" will be where I will be sharing great songs from Hindi cinema, great in their poetry, and not necessarily in their tune, choreography, or popularity. In fact, my effort will be to come up with songs which are great but not very popular, not those that play every day on various FM channels. There was a time when I was very proud of Hindi films. I am not anymore. In fact, I feel there is only one aspect of our films where we have been truly world-class. It is not the story, the camerawork, the editing, not even the performances or the music, but the lyrics of hundreds of great songs that we produced over the decades. It is this poetry in the songs of Hindi films that, in my opinion, is one thing we can truly be proud of. Unfortunately, not many, including myself, pay too much attention to the words (for example, I am paying conscious attention to the words of the below-mentioned song only today, after 17 years of hearing it for the first time.) This column will be an effort to compensate for that.

In case any of you do not understand a word or a line, please do ask. We should discuss the poetry for the benefit of all. Also, in each of these posts, I will let the song do the talking and if I feel like adding something, will do it in the comments below. So here it is, the first song of the series, a song on the endless wait for the beloved.....

ऐ हवा कुछ तो बता, जाने वालों का पता
काली घटाओं तुम छू के पहाड़ों को
लौट आना, हाँ तुम, लौट आना.…

जंगल से जाती पगडंडियों पे
देखो तो शायद पाँव पड़े हों,
कोहरे की दूधिया ठंडी गुफ़ाओं में
बादल पहन के शायद खड़े हों,
हौले से कानों में मेरा कहा कहना
लौट आना, हाँ तुम, लौट आना.…

बुझने लगा है झीलों का पानी
घुलने लगा है शाम का सोना,
कहाँ से थामूँ रात की चादर
कहाँ से पकडूँ धूप का कोना,
जाइयो पास उनके मेरा कहा कहना
लौट आना, हाँ तुम, लौट आना.…

ऐ हवा कुछ तो बता, जाने वालों का पता
काली घटाओं तुम छू के पहाड़ों को
लौट आना, हाँ तुम, लौट आना.…
लौट आना, लौट आना, लौट आना.…

Gulzar (Maachis, 1996)