October 10, 2015

High Hopes

Last weekend I screened Alexander Payne's 'Sideways' (2004) for my current screenwriting batch. I had watched this beautiful film twice before, and had also studied its screenplay very recently. So I, obviously, very clearly remembered every detail, all the plot-points, all the big and small characters and at times even the dialogue. But still, watching it with the entire batch added to my own pleasure. I laughed harder and choked easily, and in our collective admiration I saw the film in a new light. Most of the students in the batch are not that well-exposed to anything beyond mainstream Hindi and American cinema and it satisfied me to see how much they enjoyed the film. 

I had a similar fulfilling experience while watching Meghna Gulzar's 'Talvar' (2015) this week. Brilliantly written and filled with terrific performances, it works, as Anupama Chopra contests, like a horror film, stunning the audience and disturbing them unlike anything they have seen before. Unlike anything, because it is very rare in India for a film to be based on true events and to be crafted so well that it does what good movies do - move the audience. And when 'Talvar' played, the audience watched. It is as simple as that. I very clearly remember that during that screening we had very few of the usual disturbances that annoy me - people talking among themselves or on phone, or texting with their phone-light shining in the dark hall. Mostly, the film did not allow its audience to do anything but pay attention to its enthralling narrative. And we did exactly that. We. The audience as a whole.

Both these experiences reminded me all over again of the refreshingly optimistic view that Christopher Nolan had expressed a little over a year ago in this article called 'Films of the Future Will Still Draw People to the Theaters'. In this article Nolan dismisses the widespread notion that movies as we have known them, motion picture projected on a white screen in a dark room full of hundreds of people, and movie-theaters are heading toward their inevitable death because as the world becomes more and more compartmentalized, thanks to technology that pretends to 'connect' people, and home-theaters give you a more fulfilling experience, going to a movie theater to sit with annoying strangers would be the last thing one would prefer. Nolan does not believe in this and defends his views with a clear phrase - "the shared experience of these narrative". I firmly believe that we will always be aware of how our movie-exeprience gets enhanced with hundreds of people reacting simultaenously to the images on screen and that will bring us back to the cinema halls. In fact, I believe, as the world gets more and more segmented, and humans lose physical touch with each other by immersing themselves to virtual reality, cinema halls will be the only place where man, essentially a social animal that loves to laugh and cry together, will reconnect with a collective emotional experience and for that reason alone, cinema will survive, in its classical form. My hopes are high. And filmmakers who know their job will ensure that it lives on.

I had a very similar feeling by the time I finished watching 'The Walk', the latest film by Robert Zemeckis. It has its flaws and the often annoying voice-over narration proves once again why screenwriting gurus hate this tool. But all the patient wait of the first hour or so was paid-off during the last forty-five minutes of the film. The film is definitely nowhere close to 'Gravity' or other 3D adventures we have watched recently. But it is perhaps as universally effective as them, because of its simplicity. There is no theories of astrophysics or esoteric images of a dystopian future in play here. The film does not play on your logical mind, it plays on your survival instinct, and it plays on a most widely-experienced fear - of heights. It is also a film that you must experience on big screen, with audience, because only then you will be able to fully enjoy the breathtaking spectacle that it is. As it ended, I smiled within. It is films like these that will make sure that the big screen stays alive. And I thanked Sony Pictures in my heart for inviting me for the special preview at this IMAX screen. It was the same screen where I had watched, roughly a year ago, Zemeckis' 'Forrest Gump' for the first time, twenty years after its release. Doesn't it seem like I was trying to make up for that by watching 'The Walk' by the same director ten days before it released worldwide?

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