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…