July 25, 2014

International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala 2014: Closing Day

22nd July. The closing day of the festival. Some more short films - fiction and non-fiction. Experienced the amazing cinematic piece - 'Megacities' (1998) by Michael Glawogger. It is one of the best movies I've seen in my life.

The Closing Ceremony was held in the evening. 'Tamaash' won the Best Short Fiction award in National Competition that had 33 other films. This is the tenth award for 'Tamaash' and this win made this trip a little more fulfilling. Another good thing was the screening of award winning films in the end. This time the hall was packed. So 'Tamaash' got a very good response.

Spent the entire night at SP Grand Days - one of the five hotels where the guests were staying. In one of our fellow film-maker's room, we partied all night. It was a party where the room was stuffed with people, all drinking, and singing in turns. Was an unforgettable night.

Went to bed at 4.30 in the morning. Left the city at 6 am (23rd July) with a couple of friends. Bye bye Kerala Film Festival. You were a great experience. And we head to Allepey!

July 22, 2014

International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala 2014: Days 3 and 4

This has already been a special festival, and mainly because of the kind of fun I've had with friends, new and old. To be honest, until a couple of days ago I had not expected it could be so amazing to be here, and the reasons for that are not all directly related with the festival but what we are doing here with our time.

So, I did watch some more short fiction and non-fiction films. Also watched 'Non-Fiction Diary' (2013), a South Korean documentary by Yoon Suk-jung on the Jijon clan murders of 1994 and the Sampoong Department Store collapse of 1995.

The best film that I watched in these two days was Shabnam Sukhdev's 'The Last Adieu' (2013). Deeply personal and moving, this wonderful film about a daughter's reconstruction of her father's image for herself, a father with whom she had had a troubled relationship before he passed away when she was fourteen, left me touched and teary-eyed. And apart from this strong personal story, it also introduced me to life and the work of Sukhdev, one of the most path-breaking documentary film-makers India has produced.

And apart from watching these films, the trip five of us made to Kanyakumari and back will remain unforgettable for all of us. We hired a car and left Thiruvananthapuram around four in the morning, reaching Kanyakumari by six, minutes before the sunrise. Now that I think of it, it surely was magical and unbelievable that we were sitting at the southern most tip of the Indian mainland, where the three great seas - Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Sea met. Also, visiting the Vivekananda Memorial was very special for me personally. He was around 29 when he had reached this spot and had meditated here. To be there was homecoming of sorts. And then we returned to the capital of Kerala by one in the afternoon, around when Devanshu informed me about our win at Stuttgart. 'Tamaash' was one of the nineteen Indian short films there in competition and it won the award. This little film has given us so much, including this wonderful trip to the southern most tip of our vast nation. That it is a Kashmiri film seems romantically so apt as I enjoy my days and nights here in Kerala!

July 20, 2014

International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala 2014: Day 2

The day started with the screening of 'Tamaash'. It was a good screening with respect to the projection and sound, but since it was morning the audience was thin and thus I was a little disappointed. We have increasingly realized that this film is best experienced with hundreds of people watching it together and that, unfortunately, could not happen here.

However, my day was made when I watched 'Katiyabaaz' (2013). Also known as 'Powerless', it is an engaging and entertaining investigative documentary on the power crisis of the city of Kanpur. It is directed by Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa who were sitting one seat away from Devanshu and me at the National Awards. I wish I had seen the movie back then so that I could tell them in person how amazing it was. And one thing that this film reaffirms is that good film, fiction or non-fiction, are made of great, unforgettable characters.

Also watched a couple of other short films, including my friend Hardik Mehta's 'Skin Deep', which I think was very well-crafted. Some of us filmmakers were also called to speak to the audience in a 'Face to Face' session. Looking forward to watching some more movies tomorrow and continue hanging out with some new friends I've made here. This festival has been fun! 

July 19, 2014

International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala 2014: Day 1

Highlights of the day:

  • Screenings started in the morning, much before the official Inaugural Function, and I completely loved this. All other festivals I've attended have nothing but the Opening Ceremony on the first day.
  • Watched a couple of short documentaries made by up and coming Indian film-makers. Met some of them and made new acquaintances.
  • It was great to be joined by Hardik Mehta, a friend and film-maker from Mumbai who is here with his short film 'Skin Deep'. Also, a friend from AFMC visited me. 
  • The projection and sound is really good, as is the seating. Nothing is too fancy here, not much of show, but the real business - screening of films, is being done really well.
  • Watched Kamal Swaroop's 'Rangbhoomi' (2013), an entertaining and stylish documentary on Dada Saheb Phalke's days in Varanasi in the 1920s. It made my day!
  • The Inaugural Function was in the evening followed by dinner. It was great to meet Mr. Gauhar Raza, father of Sahir (our DOP from 'Tamaash'). He is here to talk at a conference on science in films.
Looking forward to the screening of 'Tamaash' next morning!

Must Watch Before You Die #41: The Piano (1993)

I'm in Thiruvananthapuram, attending the Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala and it is late in the night. In a few hours, 'Tamaash' will be screened here. And I'm tired and need to go to sleep. However, I cannot have a peaceful sleep unless I do this thing I have to - recommend this beautiful and moving film I watched on the train, as a must watch. I will keep the post brief for obvious reasons.

What makes a successful film? I think the only essential ingredient for a powerful and popular film is 'characters'. If you have cinematic characters the audience can relate to and care for and who inspire the audience and earn their admiration, you may succeed as a film-maker. Most great films also have a very strong story weaved around these characters played wonderfully by the actors. Some of these great films also have beautiful camerawork and stunning visual design. But not all great film have all the ingredients fitting so perfectly that they leave you spellbound. What if a film told an unusual, yet relatable story of unforgettable characters and great performances from actors, using a location and setting that was an exotic treat where every frame was lit and composed so well that you wanted to create a million posters out of them, had dialogue rich in flavor and texture, used sound and music so hypnotically that you forgot time and space, and ended up being something that was not just a story, but also a poem, and a novel, and an emotional experience you would not want to end? And what if that film made a strong statement about the human condition, and our desires and their morality, with only the shades of grey to paint each character, big and small, so seamlessly and effortlessly that it left you intellectually and socio-politically shaken?

Well, 'The Piano' is one such film - an absolute triumph in every possible way! Watch it TODAY! And I'm sure you would like to revisit it several times in your lives. I definitely would.

July 13, 2014

#8: Puberty's Pictures

"For me, a normal man is one who turns his head to see a beautiful woman's bottom." - Bernardo Bertolucci's 'The Conformist' (1970)

There comes a moment in a boy’s life when he loses his innocence with his own hands, and quite literally so. Today, as a 30-year old man, I do not feel any hesitation talking about it. But seventeen years ago, when it happened to me, in the summer of ’97, it was confusing and scary, but also thrilling and unprecedentedly pleasurable. Today, that image of guilt-ridden misadventures of my little self, looking for privacy in a big, joint family in the summer heat appears almost endearing to me. I wish I could go back and have a talk of reassurance with the teenaged me and advise about having the most of that colourful period of sexual discovery. Back then I had no one to talk to, and for better or for worse, movies were my only guide, this time into the world of forbidden pleasures.

By now you know that I was in this ashram-hostel with no access to TV, or other means of entertainment. I hope you will not laugh with a sense of mocking if I tell you that the introduction to human reproductive system that was only suggestive and left a lot for imagination in our seventh-grade science text book was a big hit in our hostel. Some of us borrowed those well-illustrated manuals from the library for ‘higher studies’ and then the entire dormitory read the chapter on reproduction with more interest than any other topic from any other subject in our course. And we often took refuge in our own secretive acts of pleasure, taking help from newspaper cuttings, illegal magazines, and memories of what we saw on TV during vacations.

My Dad brought cable TV home exactly one year after the onset of my male menarche and I was suddenly exposed to all kinds of content, including the unending parade on FTV. There was this music channel, I don’t remember its name, that aired a show called ‘Shabab’ at 11 in the night. I had discovered it one night browsing the channels looking for something of ‘interest’. I had the reputation, and rightly so, of being very fond of studying, apart from doing my homework. So I, kind of, earned the right to remain awake until late night. Whenever I felt sleepy, I turned on the TV, and then went back to my studies – was the excuse I gave to my parents. The truth was that I kept watching TV all night, until either my eyes were dead tired, or my Baba caught and lectured me. So when I discovered ‘Shabab’, it was one of the most amazingly fulfilling discoveries of my life. The show was a collection of erotic songs from Hindi cinema. The three songs that always come to my mind when I think of it – and I will only hint at those to test your knowledge – starred the pairs of Pooja Bhatt and Rahul Roy, Madhuri Dixit and Vinod Khanna, and Dimple Kapadia and Anil Kapoor. Today, these songs do nothing to me, and wouldn’t do much to today’s kids either, but back then they were scandalous and inviting and I couldn’t bat an eye-lid as they played on TV, on mute!

We also heard about movies like ‘Fire’ and ‘Kamasutra’ (both 1996) but never really got a chance to watch them. I also remember very well that Dad was disapproving of the stuff we watched on TV because we mostly watched trailers and songs of upcoming movies, some of it being lurid, and suggestive. Today, it is so common that perhaps most parents have taken it for granted. Back then it was not. And he used to voice it out to my Mom, his concern regarding what we watched. Mom always replied to him with supreme confidence in me. “Even when he is watching those dirty songs, he is only focussing on the making, the craft and the choreography and music. So there’s no need to worry!” She barely knew that in the very adjacent room, her good son was actually burning with desire!

Raveena Tandon was one of my sex goddesses. ‘Tip tip barsa paani’ from ‘Mohra’ (1994) has to be one song that turned me insane. And then there was this scene from ‘Aatish’ (also 1994) where she is showing off the scars on her body to Sanjay Dutt. Today it all looks so cheesy and cheap. Back then it was pure gold for me. I also particularly liked Pooja Batra who had obviously zero talent but an amazingly pretty smile and something irresistibly sexy about her. I never found Mamta Kulkarni that appealing, although she was a big hit among my friends. Perhaps it was because I hadn’t seen much of her. The famous Rekha-Akshay Kumar song from ‘Khilaadiyon ka Khilaadi’ (1996) was again something I had heard a lot about but couldn’t really manage to see until very late in my life. Strangely, Madhuri Dixit who had a very clean image was an object of my fancy because of two films she did with Sanjay Kapoor – ‘Raja’ (1995) and ‘Mohabbat’ (1997). The white sari she wore in the latter in a rainy scene with Akshay Khanna remained etched in my memory forever. Urmila Matondkar in ‘Daud’ (1997), Rani Mukherji in ‘Ghulam’ (1998), Karishma Kapoor in ‘Biwi No. 1’ (1999) and Sushmita Sen in ‘Sirf Tum’ (1999) were also maddeningly desirable for the little teenager I was. But the best among all these lovely ladies was, I wish you guessed it right, the inimitable and unsurpassable Sonali Bendre. She stormed into the imagination of that innocent boy I was with her dance moves in ‘Duplicate’ (1998). And then, in 1999, came the song that I undoubtedly consider the sexiest motion picture experience of my life, bigger than Sharon Stone’s ‘Basic Instinct’ – ‘Jo haal dil ka’ from ‘Sarfarosh’. To be honest, all the songs and scenes mentioned above have aged really poorly, but not this. It still gives me the same pleasure, albeit minus the thrill I had while trying to catch it in the hall of my house, the hall with four entrances where anyone could walk in from any direction, as it required a serious and meticulous vigil to keep enjoying these pictures on the TV without being caught and getting my reputation ruined forever. It is still intact, by the way. Guess, now that my Mom reads this blog post she will realise what I was up to way back then growing up under her proud protection.

July 04, 2014

The Protagonist Puzzle II

Recently, I watched Hitchcock's 'Psycho' (1960) for the second time, six years after my first watch. And like with most great movies, the second watch was better than the first. In fact, I could feel the horror so much more this time. And of course, there are certain sequences which are so well shot and edited that you can keep studying them again and again.

However, this post is not on the wonderful cinematic design of the film, about its masterful direction or performances. This post is intended to take forward the discussion I started with a previous post on identifying the protagonist in a movie. And let me tell you, this time I'm fairly confused.


The film starts with Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh), a young not-so-conscientious girl, who runs away with some handsome cash belonging to her employer. Do we relate to her or care for her? I don't know. I think I'd care for her, and that too marginally, only because she is an attractive woman. She is like one of those characters from the classic Film Noir who is immoral but still the central character. So yes, whether we care for her or not, we follow her track and it seems she is the protagonist of the film.

She reaches a motel and decides to spend the night there. It is here, around 28th minute after it started that the title character, Norman Bates, enters the film. For the next twenty minutes, we stay with Marion, but increasingly get aware of Norman's dark and disturbed side. And around the 48th minute, Marion is brutally murdered by Norman's 'mother'. Here, the main character whom we had followed since the film began exits the story. Marion is dead. And one hour of the film is still remaining. So the character who was driving the story for close to one hour was not its protagonist?

For a little over the next ten minutes we stay with Norman and see him getting rid of Marion's body, evidently to save his 'mother' from the crime she has committed in a bout of insanity. It is tough for me to think like this because even before watching the movie for the first time, I knew that Norman is, in fact, the 'mother'. But for a viewer who is not aware of this, does Norman become the protagonist from this point, trying to save her mother? Perhaps. I am not sure.

Three more characters join us after this - Marion's boyfriend, her sister, and a private detective. None of them assumes so much importance as a protagonist should. And a little later, after the 'mother' has killed the detective, and the other two visit the local sheriff to discuss the matter, they get to know that Norman's mother has been dead for quite a while. Twenty-five minutes of the film is still remaining and I can imagine how this revelation must have affected the first audiences of 'Psycho'. Even today, I could feel a chill down my spine at this point, mainly because we have 'seen' the 'mother' and cannot believe that she does not exist.

In the final act of the film, Marion's sister and boyfriend go to the Bates Motel with the intention to talk to Norman and his mother and figure things out. Around this time, these two appear as the protagonists - we care for them, they are driving the story, and Norman, by now, clearly appears to be the 'antagonist'. The climax finally reveals the dead 'mother' and Norman dressed up like her, trying to attack Marion's sister, only to be overpowered in time by the boyfriend.

The last seven minutes of the film, and perhaps the weakest, is an explanation about Norman's condition. It is done in a way to evoke empathy for him, although we are still horrified by him. Then we see him, in a wonderfully composed frame, with his mother's voice over. He is there - the central character, the culprit as well as the victim. But is he or was he our protagonist? I just don't feel he was.

A few days have passed since this re-watch of 'Psycho' and I still don't know the answer. Perhaps this is one film where the classic structure of a 'protagonist's journey' or 'journeys of multiple protagonists' is simply not applicable. And this is an extremely rare case. Perhaps 'Psycho' is the story of the antagonist, the villain. Perhaps Norman Bates is like Shakespeare's Macbeth or Othello, and it is his story that we were told through this film. Only, the first half an hour does everything to make us feel otherwise.