Friday, August 29, 2008

Remembrance of Things Past- Duvidha

Duvidha.( The Dilemma)
Mani Kaul

I sat across the street and observed a man in his early 60s standing outside the main entrance of the Osian Film Festival(2008) - perhaps lost in his thought; but somewhat, oblivious to the cacophony around him. People of all generations walked past; sometimes someone from the older lot smiled and nodded their head in reverence, but for most, he stood, just like any other man, no different from others. If, and only if, I could use even the basic layer of dissolves and freeze from his film that I saw the night before, then only, most of us, could understand the sheer greatness of the man. Mani Kaul, like his contemporary Kumar Shahaini are two of the most important filmmakers alive in today in India, and who were relegated to oblivion from film production for their sheer avant- gardism, nothing esoteric, but more of, exploring the depth of mise-en-scene in cinema, and what price they had to pay. How sad it is for a medium like ‘Cinema in India’, where one has to pay a price for understanding the form better and, sadly, this is true for large part of the world.

Duvidha is based on a short story written by the Vijay Dan Detha who moved to his native land of Rajasthan and wrote more than 800 short stories. His short stories reflected the lives, dialect, problems and materialism of the people. He made the Rajasthani folklore the base of his short stories and storytelling. It is fundamentally this very aspect of the folklore with the emphasis on “narration” and “attention” that forms an important function in Mani Kaul’s adaptation of the story and mise-en-scene. The story is about a merchant’s son who returns with his new bride, only to leave her and go in search to earn money, and his place is taken by a ghost who was hiding in a tree. The ghost lives with his wife and they bore a child. When the husband hears about the news, he returns home, only to find the ghost there in full flesh and blood in his place. Finally with help of a shepherd, the ghost is lured in a leather bag. The wife in this case from the beginning till the end has a very limited objective presence or voice. She is thoroughly represented in her basic social standing of the “woman” in the “male” dominated home. Since her presence is a bare skeleton of absence throughout the film. As Mani Kaul at no point gives the viewer a chance to step into the shoes of the protagonist and observe the situation, since he is more concerned with the “head” and not “heart”. This stationary function of the mise-en-scene does take away the bare fundamental human element which Satyajit Ray talks about in his essay “Four and a Quarter”; but at no point does it makes it placid; since the emotion even when not projected, does seep in through the degrees of formal experimentation- whether its narration over the freeze frame or voice over to move narrative forward.

In a country with a rich heritage and culture, the tradition of learning from the masters of Indian cinema is completely lost. We took the basic foundation of American Cinema and made them our own- littered with kitsch and, hence, created Bollywood. While film students look up to European aeuteurs to understand cinema and formed an intelligentsia based on pure bourgeois egoism - no different from Bollywood fan boys. The latter is filled more with hypocrites talking half-truth and “literary agents” who could talk everything under the sun, but not cinema. Somewhere, somewhat the middle path of preservation and understanding our own tradition, our own fathers, uncles, and grandfathers- our own history is lost. Just like the scratchy print which was projected at the film festival- revealing the sad truth about most of us sitting there in the hall, sitting behind the festival desk, and even organizing the festival. How long can we just sit there as poseurs: sipping wine, wearing fab-india, talking art and neglecting the preservation and promotion of Indian Cinema. It echoes to the images of the bride in Mani Kaul’s Duvidha who is more of a stoic figure seen in fragments, freezes, and actions in dissolves. Even when the film begins we see her in a fixed tableau broken down into shots of her: feet, hand, and face - a clear abstraction of space and time. When the tableau of such expression shifts to her veil and finally to her face which is represented in very demurely manner, as if, all her emotions from the beginning till the end are buried- first under her veils and when exposed, under her blank expression.

In other words, her presence does not guarantee her path to self-expression or freedom, even if, the illusion of freedom actually exist- symbolized more in the film through the presence of the ghost with whom she shares a physical relationship. A similarity to the diegesis base which the film fundamentally explores, where the basic foundation of the narrative is build on the idea of “ narration” of the ongoing action(plot) of the film- usually shifting in into three actions of plane- the husband, ghost, and wife. Each of these elements especially the usage of sound and time affects the space, and such experiments within the mise-en-scene structure is unheard, even today, in Indian Cinema. Where most Indian new films come out with loud proclamation, but have the same clichéd mise-en-scene, the only new idea is a different story, but stories don’t make cinema.

Duvidha is an interplay between classic and folk both elements growing in its temporal aspect, which in turn, gives rise to a visual language, but the film is built primarily on the manipulation of time over space- temporal dimensions over spatial boundaries. This is evident in the wide use of dissolves in almost all aspects of the actors movements, gestures and even expression, these elements are again condensed and fixated with the pulsating usage of the freeze. Interestingly such formal experimentation gives rise to interplay between its elements of folk (content) which the film is built upon, and at the same, grows in aspects of time and space. Furthermore, the repetition of dissolves, freezes, overlapping sounds, dissociation of images and sound actually gives the film its narrative drive- as it forms the basic force of absence. It is this very absence in the narrative, present due to the repetitive resonance of the forms of cinema over the content that makes this film remarkable. Because even by limiting it to its bare minimalist core, it achieves its stationary function of fulfilling its narrative cycle. It is like when you walk out of the theatre after seeing the film it is the images in the film which will create that tension within you, and hence - last, and create an everlasting human bonding, which most film cannot achieve even when conveying a linear story and this movie does on the fringes of plot device.

Similarly sound too plays an important function in the mise-en-scene and equally important aspect in helping form the “image which we carry”. The sound in the film is usually narrated: spoken through overlapping dialogues, presence in the form of music or exaggerated depth of synchronous sound- like the juggling of coins, or the shuffling of people’s feet. Then within this structure there are gaps, absence, or abrupt cutting of sound, this too gives this film its integral energy and drive. Like the image of the bride simply looking at a fixed gaze in total silence is absolutely haunting. The silence here works in reflecting varying degrees of emotions without a single exchange of dialogue or facial expression. Mani Kaul’s camera observes the ongoing action but it’s the editing(rigid) which gives the film its varying rough textures and feelings, the smoothness is cut off due to the rigidness in the film editing techniques. And this works in unison with the overall aspects of the mise-en-scene, and gives this film its detached Brechtian outlook.

Mani Kaul had maintained a decree of formal experiment within the mise-en-scene even from his first film (Uski Roti) where he used the “lens” effectively in conveying subjective terrain and perspective of the wife usually shifting between “wide” to “tele” to communicate the passage of such action or movement. In Duvidha, the mise-en-scene when deconstructed; forms an axis of space, image and sound into three different realms and explores each one of them on their fulcrum of condensed time (freezes) and movement in time (dissolves) with the latter shortening the dissociation of different spaces. Each of this element form an important function within the mise-en-scene to give the film its rigid structure, and narrative framework, which painted with a beautiful color schema- representing the large ethic color of the region, with its saturated hues of yellow, reds and whites. It is this schematic usage of the mise-en-scene that gives the film its verisimilitude of a folktale. Interestingly Satyajit Ray in his essay titled “Four and a Quarter” denounced such formal experimentation in favor of representing the “human element” going a step ahead in condemning the color schema as a mere advertising gimmick and breaking down the gestures and expression as mere blokes. This, to me, is not quite true if one looks at the film at its current juncture or even when it was released. It is the dissociation of sound and image in construction of the mise-en-scene that gives the film its coherence and the basic “human element” – due the absence of expression and gestures .As it’s due to the “absence” of emoting that allows one to look “into” without being manipulated to empathize and create a certain connection between the audience and characters or the characters and their own filmic interaction in space. Perhaps it was because of their different approach to cinema that made Ray condemn such formal experimentation in favor of completing disowning the narrative.

To see the screening of Duvidha was like witnessing the Concorde touching the Heathrow airport for one last time. One does not need exemplary cinematic, literary or philosophical baggage to see the film. All one needs is to be in touch with life, and watch the film with “ free” mind and “ spirit” then only the “ absence” could be felt, else the film would just seem to strange, rigid and boring to lot of people even now. This is one film which deserves to be seen, deserves to be understood, and implemented within our cinematic idiom and, explored, to further build our own syntax of Indian Cinema. It took almost 600 years for literature to develop from Chaucer to Joyce, it took Cinema close to 60 to do so from Griffith to Godard and it has taken almost less than 110 years for Indian Cinema from its first short film in 1907 till 2008 to keep using the same popular convention in the name of masses, money and entertainment and ignore all the important exploration of the cinematic juncture- Sad but true.

Read more articles/reviews I write for Cinema Without Borders.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Maan Gaye Mughall-E-Azam

First things first, Maan Gaye Mughall-E-Azam is a film with a difference. It has a boring first half, extremely dull song sequences, and basic narrative meltdowns. However, irrespective of all mishaps, just like the incoherent structures and repetition of the plays performed by the theatre group in the movie, the film manages to wind up and become quite watchable by the time it ends. The film belongs first to Paresh Rawal, second to Paresh Rawal and third to Paresh Rawal.

The movie opens with a montage which helps us understand the basic plot, place and narrative structure of the film. Although what precedes the montage makes the whole sequence a misnomer. Since everything what the montage set out to establish is purely laughable from the narrative and plot development point of view. The setting (St Louise), the year (1993) and the basic foundation of the gags (the underworld) has been a staple diet in Bollywood for churning out mindless comedies and it is precisely here the film becomes just a routine comedy. The film is set in a coast town St Louise near Goa which is known for their underworld activity and links to Dubai. A sinister plan is uncovered to transport RDX to carry out a series of bomb blast throughout the country and to overturn this catastrophe, an undercover RAW agent Arjun (Rahul Bose) visits St Louise to break into the system. Here he falls in love with Shabnam (Mallika Sherawat), a theatre actress married to Majumdar (Paresh Rawal), the two of them working in a theatre company.

The success of Pyar Ke Side Effects (2006) seems to have made Pritish Nandy foolishly believe that anything with light-hearted comedy and Mallika Sherawat (who as usual emotes more with her skimpy dress and body rather than her facial expressions and gestures) could bring the public to the theatre, but sadly this wasn’t the case in his last venture - Ugly Aur Pagli and neither does it appear so for this film. The first half is spend trying to build chemistry and a connection between Shabnam and Arjun but every single inch of their antiques are filled with dry humor since their dialogue does not even carry the basic necessity of a comedy - the need to make people laugh. Besides, neither does it offer any sort of insight into the milieu and year that the film set out to establish. Rahul Bose who plays Arjun appears stiff and out of place a number of times and while his comic timing in terms of dialogues delivery can be good, his body, expression and gestures are so stiff that he does not fit into the whole genre per se.

It is precisely the presence of Paresh Rawal and his characterization that binds the whole film from the beginning to the end. He has now become a veteran of this sort of comedy, which is based on well-laid out characters whose materialistic and realistic gestures, expression and outlook are properly established, but who move about in a world of clichéd plot development. Hera Pheri (2000) brought in some sort of freshness in the genre years back but today the market has become moribund for such forms of expression, since the same narrative style and development has become a clichéd norm for the industry. That is the main reason why there are very few developments in the forms of cinema in our industry. A similar tactics can be seen in the music too. For example, the basic success of incorporating a hip-hop track or beats in a song started with Bluffmaster (2005) and ever since the trend has followed suit. The genesis of such trends can be felt even in this film.

Let’s face it; it often seems we don’t need directors in Bollywood since most of them never bring any sort of individuality to their film direction. They could be working hard, sweating there hearts out, but when it comes down to making films, the mise-en-scene is repeated over and over most of the times. Sanjay Chhel similarly does not bring anything in terms of formal development in cinema that a director has the ability to address and bring forth. Even after the formal and commercial failure of his last two ventures (Khoobsurat (1999) and Kyaa Dil Ne Kahaa(2002)) he has not grown at all as a director. Admittedly, as a scriptwriter he has certainly tried to incorporate an unique set-up of having different planes of action building up through the medium of theatre. But sadly, the idea certainly does not materialize onscreen. Perhaps, the comic setups had some sort of an allusion to the classic black comedy Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), but sadly, the only thing similar between this great film and this movie is the theatre (where major portion of the film unfolds) and that it takes its inspiration from the classic ending of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, beside Sanjay Chhel was noble enough to plagiarize from Ernst Lubitsch’s classic To Be Or Not to Be (1942). But, Man Gaye Mughall-E-Azam Has neither the flair of Lubitsch nor the narrative of Kundan Shah, so the whole framework of well-coated 'inspiration' falls flat on the surface. A good satire could be made on our very own industry people who always are looking for the ‘ right’ script to make a film, but every year the right script does not land up, and its absence haunts us.

The film definitely does not bring out anything new from what we have seen in Bollywood except trying to incorporate a set-up of theatrical version of Mughall-E-Azam being enacted on screen, which concurrently moves with the overall plot. But such a unique set-up becomes lost when the film picks the trucks of Bollywood clichés and stereotypes and bombards it on the same stage. No wonder the mere absence of Paresh Rawal in the scenes brings down the film. It’s he who controls the chords of pace, rhythm, and entertainment factor in the film and Maan Gaye Mughall-E-Azam is definitely his film and he is the only reason to stick through if you have made the choice of watching this film.

The review is republished here from my article on Upperstall.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Art for Activism- Cinema in India.

Jean Luc Godard the French cineaste abandoned commercial filmmaking, in pure Godardian terms to become an active participant in formulating a direct passage between the essence of art and its reactionary functions- to create a base for political cinema. In the span of few years Godard’s activism dried up. This raises an important question of, the role of art in our lives today. A question which we all should ask ourselves; especially for cinema which is ubiquitous as a commercial form of art, but has the power to touch the masses unlike any other form of art. Hence the possibility of capturing, reflecting and storing through the medium of images is the most important tool for activism unlike any other form of art, with photography coming as its close second.

"A Prophet Has Died In His Homeland," read a headline in the popular Komsomolskaya Pravda daily on the death of the Russian writer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn who took an active interest in using his art form to express the state of the people he lived, such an activism had a damaging consequences for him. Closer home Ajay TG was only recently bailed, and even when, art actually talks about issues and structure against the norms of society, it’s the people among us who actually lock away such form of activism behind cellars. An artist expresses through the medium of fiction (lies) to talk about the truth, and on the contrary most people talk about the truth to hide the lies.

Ever since the discovery of various forms of artistic expression; the human nature has able been to express, through the medium, our own social conscience; but the role of the artist and his form takes shape only when he stands and represents the ideas, the pains, the anguish, the fear and every absence of emotions through his work. This absence could be due to several reasons politically or economically. In short, exemplifying the idea of social standing through his medium- it could be used as a subtext or be daring in its overall conviction. But does the role of art actually call for such activism? Since the role of an artist is not typically representing of such socio or political causes, but when the artist like the case of Solzhenitsyn in Russia, Ajay TG in India, Godard in France go about picking up the roots causes to highlight the plight or try building a voice, their strength in the case of cinema- money, and other forms of artistic expression is brought down.

The role of Art in our lives is similar to any other means and modes of our everyday materialism. Perhaps, one does not consciously notice the presence of everyday realities through various medium of art, because of our insane nature of shifting and living in hyper reality- a simulacrum state, where our own being is what we care. A mere reason why any sort of active discourse in art form, such as cinema, meets with sheer displeasure from the crowd. Since a medium like Cinema has the power to transform and touch the chords of masses; it can actually work as mass psychoanalysis and help bring out a change, at the same, highlight and uncover the truth. But the medium is so deeply indebted to the most corrupting equation in the nomenclature of life that it is prostituted most of the time in name of showing something new, fresh and talking about our everyday object of reality and social problems like an empty vessel- hollow.

In a country like India, the role of art is even more important- to highlight the roots causes and social aspects of our region. In using the pen, the camera, and the brush as an active tool to talk about issues which are important for our well being. But how much of this “gaze” “text” “painted colors” talk to all of us. When what we see on television, what we see in cinema or what we even read in most cases is something that represents a false illusion to the realities surrounding us. No wonder, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard believed that the Gulf War never took place. So what we’ve seen as an activism of the press, what we see as a reality of cinema, and what we read as a truth of the written text is all a façade woven under the bells of art or projected truth.

Even when one agrees with the notions of art representing the ideas of utopian truth, how much of it actually reaches the common person, who are to be guided in this structured, simulated world we live- where democracy and freedom are just two abstract terms of everyday existence- else people like Dr Binayak Sen would still not be sitting and rotting in Indian prison. Could an activism lead by any modes of art save him? Could turning of the camera gaze towards Godhra justify the victims? It does not. Today the stationary function of “Art” has been relegated and subjected to merely “touch” and when it actually moves away from the mould and goes about professing the tools of revolution and activism – it is then never seen or becomes a mere prop in the hands of the snobbish bourgeoisies of our very own lot- the social intelligentsia, whose textbook knowledge, and fabindia actually block an important path in helping the forms of reality and activism reach the masses. When one sees a documentary on the horrors of Godhra, our mind registers to the image, which in turn propels one to think intelligently unlike the Bollywood film which are grossly fed to us, and day- by -day its creating an atmosphere as suffocating as North Korea. In one case when the art is used for modes of expression of truth it is subjected to a sheer censorship to hide the truth- so that we live in a simulated state of happiness, oblivious to the world around us, until and unless something happens to our own mother, father, daughters, sisters and it is then and then only the idea of using “art” to talk about the “truth” would be derived.

Every work of art is borne out of an ideal of frustration, which in turn impels the ideology to talk about the truth around us, hence, use the tool to activate a cause, but what happens when the world is woven in such a state that most, if not, everything appears great. What is the role of art then? Here the art especially the case in India becomes a doll- a mere prop of beauty, mainly used to active the sexual senses and be prostituted through its own idioms of text, image, sound and color. Exception exist in every nomenclature, but it is the idea of society to bring down the exception, who move and use the tools of trade to talk about things, other than the one the society intends it for, and this is seen with a severe backlash in all aspects of our society. The concern of art and its necessary function is to be build on a social foundation of realism. To represent the nuclei of the problem that could be witnessed around the social organism, but whenever the idea is taken up by the artist, the voice actually manifests into a tool which could decipher the truth- but in most cases calamity strikes – in forms of censorship. Why should one put a ban on smoking, violence or the representation of sex in art? When most of us actually commit such felony or indulge in the activity at all forms of our lives. Why have the veils of hypocrisy barbarizing the boundaries of art in the name of truth.

When does Art actually stand for Activism? This happens when the gaze, the text, and the sonata, the brush turns inward, and its is during this passage of looking inside- that one discovers the seeds of pure truth and honesty that gives rise to the artist call for using his tools to talk about things higher than himself and his own naturalistic pleasures. It is then and only then that the aesthetic of art achieves any sort of relevance to the mimesis on life. This is achieved when the artist actually understands his own modes of expression and above all- himself, and it is precisely then can art manifest closer to establishing a foundation for activism. Else most, if not all, forms of activism are built on façade, lies and hypocrisy. For example, the cases of thousand NGOs in India who use the name of art and its causes for activism, to deviate funds into their own pocket. When the question of honesty disappears, all other modes of expression, gestures and voice becomes a deceptive maneuver to hide the truth. Each time a news channel displays a “ Breaking News” in all its goodliness of emoting the mere presence of the gaze to activate a cause, their own motives- usually profit(TRP) takes away any form of social, docu-fcition realism- the reportage that it could have been. All planes and axis of sound and images which reaches us today are corrupted in the name of art and activism.

Art in all form will continue to flourish for those few who know how to struggle to achieve the balance between saying something with conviction, and having the balls to stand for it, and continuing to struggle for the cause, since at no point the root causes picked up by any artist on the foundation of an activism will yield immediate results. It is a constant struggle between truth and deceit, the boundaries are so thin that one can easily slip into the other territory, that is the reason giants of the art form are slowly becoming a rare species, since the “ struggle” to pull together each day of our own existence breaks most people with such dreams down, especially in a country like India, where a guy with hopes of taking up the cause of his society is broken down when he sees that the road is not so sweet as it seemed. Art in all mannerism is everywhere around us, we have tons of painters, singers, filmmakers but true “ artist” who are concerned with “ creation” are slowly disappearing, and artist who use the art form to actually build an activist lingua is harder to find each day.

Read more articles/reviews I write for

Friday, August 15, 2008

God Tussi Great Ho( God You'r Great)

God is definitely great, because without the support and blessing of the Almighty, such films could never have seen the light of day. God Tussi Great Ho is a film which epitomizes everything what is wrong with Bollywood today - a weak screenplay, sloppy direction, overacting and gratifying inflated egos in the name of ‘satisfying the audience.' There is nothing in this film (creation) to talk about, because even a look at its cardboard cut out in the theatre could give you signs about what to expect - but one didn’t know that things would turn out to be so ugly.

God Tussi Great Ho belongs to the special group of Bollywood films, which are mainly running on the faces of their stars, in this case Salman Khan to be precise, but the circus around the ‘star’ has been running around for such a long time that the relation with the art form is lost, and there is almost no relation with the content either - hence the dialogues, set-pieces and gags, which are an integral part in building the blocks of narrative rhythm, do not exist, due to which there is no building of characterization, emotions or development of pace. This is a trajectory which has become a norm of the film industry today. Usually a comic setup would be thrown in at various junctures in films to cover the loop-holes in other aspects. However, today the audience is getting hungry for good film in all genres per se, and God Tussi Great Ho is definitely not one of them.

How long can Salman Khan continue being himself irrespective of the genre; whether, comedy, tragedy, drama anything he won't move an inch without having similar expression, gestures and his ‘terminator’ style of walking - which not only makes us alienated from a Bollywood film which is supposed to ‘immerse’ us in the emotions and characters, rather empathize. This film is no different, he plays a television journalist in search for success in general- life, love, career, but nothing at all seems to go his way. One day, God himself decides to grant him his personal wish of fulfilling whatever he pleases for ten days, and he goes about satisfying his personal angst and also pleasing others. Everything which happens in terms of ‘plot development’ in between those lines is best not to have seen, especially if one has seen the original English version (Bruce Almighty). There are side characters of the mother, father, an ugly sister, a house maid, a beggar and a lottery ticket seller thrown in to fill the gaps in the narrative, but each one of the above characters brings down any form of development and also adds to the pain of slowing down the film and making it completely trashy.

Rumy Jafrey believed in the fact that it’s a crime to bore his audience, and he believed in the ideology of completely entertaining the audience. But, sadly, this film does not entertain in any departments of filmmaking: sound, camera, narrative, direction, acting. Everything is actually redundant. The film on the narrative level completely believes in plagiarism of the sweetest kind- taking the basic plot of Bruce Almighty and filling in with Indian kitsch and humor, that too is so stale that one is unable to comprehend why the film even got made. Rumy Jafrey, who has penned down films such as Hero No. 1, Bade Miyan Chhote Miyan, Dulhan Hum Le Jaayenge, Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, should go back to writing films than directing. After all, what does he actually bring to the platter - absolutely nothing? His writing is plagiarized, the entire mise-en-scene does not work to bring out anything fresh - like the shot of Salman Khan entering his room in a high angle shot - that has become a ‘cliché’ of the film industry, and speaks volume regarding the development of any form of director’s syntax. The individuality of the director is nonexistent, even as a writer it does not bring out any form of humour which we could associate with his other works. Interestingly, the art direction is done by one of the finest Art Director in the country, Nitin Chandrakant Desai whose sheer brilliance in bringing out details in his craft can be seen in some of the music sequences, but the décor does not hold any form of attachment to the characters. This is a major reason why most Bollywood films of any genre feels like just existing on a studio stage, and do not translate into any reflection to our everyday association and desires.

The film is supposed be seen as a complete entertainer - in simple ‘Bollywood’ logic where one has to sit and enjoy and not use their heads. But even entertainers follow certain flow of logic, that in turn, gives the film its cohesiveness and makes an entertainer purely enjoyable fan fare. Sadly, this is not the case for this film, even the ‘music’ which springs in oddly is so banal and placid that it makes you wonder regarding its sheer presence. Moreover, the film could have existed without the presence of the songs as it adds absolutely nothing to the film. Similarly the ‘clichéd’ use of editing technique used in the dream sequences of Salman Khan highlights the sad plight not only of the director but the overall industry that has taken the task of corrupting any forms of development in the aesthetics of cinema and taking the easy route. I mean just having a new Panavision camera, some DI effects, VFX, and a new Smoke system does not bring about development in any form of visual language.

A movie, which seems so discrete on all planes of the cinematic code and grammar, will not translate anything when perceived by the audience, except perhaps a chuckle or two. But should one invest so much money for such sheer trash. Where the mise-en-scene works like that of a factory where goals are to produce mass products with similar design and aesthetics. No matter who is handling the machine or what new recipe comes up, things would just be the same, but the fundamental choice is still in our hands of choosing the product, and in this case, it should be avoided at all cost.

Rating- *

- The review is republished here from my article on Upperstall.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Abbas Kiarostami : “My feelings don’t lie, I will go on trusting them.”

Abbas Kiarostami : “Sometimes I can’t understand what the word realism means. I don’t think reality deserves any credit in itself.... When you record reality, you interfere with it. If I shoot 18 hours of film, and edit it down to 45 or 50 minutes, this means interfering with reality. If I wanted to be faithful to reality, I’d show an 18-hour film.”

Abbas Kiarostami : “If a character has to feel fear, I’ll scare him, if he has to he happy, I’ll make him happy, Everything has to be real. I can’t stand artificial sentiments.”

Akira Kurosawa : “I believe the films of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami are extraordinary. Words cannot relate my feelings. I suggest you see his films, and then you will see what I mean”.

Alexander Sokurov : “I am nothing but a worker whom the destiny has thrown in the realm of cinema. Neither my upbringing nor my psychology prepared myself for it. Even genetically, I was not made for culture. “

Amos Gitai : “There was a lot of anger in me, coming out of Yom Kippur war. It was also political. People of that generation were really furious with our political leadership’s lack of responsibility. I distilled that anger into cinema.“

Andre Dussollier : “I was a kid when I saw The Cranes are flying, the Russian film by Mikhail Kalatozov. I was greatly moved by the death of the Fiance on the front, the rise of the stairs, the overwhelming farewells of the lovers. I would perhaps find all this rather melodramatic today, but at that time I was carried away by the romanticism of the story.”

Andre Techine : “I am perhaps not paranoid enough and still .... but I don’t see which Titanic will ever prevent the existence of Kiarostami”.

Andrei Tarkovski : “My films are my life and my life is my films. “

Andrzej Wajda : “My fervent hope is that the only flames people will encounter will be the great passions of the heart — love, gratitude and solidarity.”

Barbet Schroeder : “The Taste of Cherry brings an optimist response to all the questions which we have tackled.”

Bille August : “One day, I got a call from a man, and he said, “This is Ingmar Bergman and I’ re written a piece about my parents and I’ve decided at this point in my life I don ‘t want to direct anymore and I would like you to do it if you are interested, “ Of course, I was extremely honored and thrilled. At the same time, when I started to think about it, I started to get scared because at that time, I was pretty established and therefore, 1 couldn’t really be his assistant or “do a Bergman film.” The only way I could do it was to work as I had always done. Anyway, I went to see him and the first thing he said to me was, “I’ve done more than 50 films myself and I know how important it is for a director to keep his integrity. I am the screen-writer on this one, yon are the director, and YOU make the decisions.” So that answered all my questions and I was really very relieved. He only had one demand.” He said, Pernilla - I wrote it for her and I want her to play my mother.” And that was fine with me because she is a wonderful actress. Then I spent almost 3 months with him, four hours every afternoon. We sat and went through the whole script. To be honest, most of the time we talked about life and other different things. It was really a wonderful time.”

Claude Chabrol : “When I saw the first reel of Das Testament des Dr Mabuse by Fritz Lang, I felt myself in a state of extreme excitement. It was at the university film club just after the war. I came from La Creuse where my family and myself were refugees during the German occupation. At the end of this screening, I had found my vocation. I would be the director of Cinema.”

Claude Lelouch : “In my films, the actors are the only people who count. The technology can’t clone even a single moment of emotion.”

Eliseo Subiela : “I went with my old man to see the Russian film, Ballad of a Soldier, three times, I think. Neither of us admitted that we shed tears shamelessly seeing that film. Actually, I never saw him crying and I never let him see me cry. But both of us knew that we went to the film to cry. Some of my neighbourhood friends / pals would never forgive me for that. Wajda, Kawalerowicz, the Nouvelle Vague, my love affair with Godard and Truffaut. And then I knew. Although I could walk away from the movie theatre, I could never walk away from cinema. Love began. And everybody knows the difficulties that brings on.”

Emir Kusturica : “I have turned towards the past. I feel myself as somebody who finishes a chapter of the History of Cinema.”

Enno Patalas : “Abschied von Gestern is the best German film since 1933.”

Francesco Rosi : “The first three places I visit in any city are the port, the market and the cemetery. The first allows me to understand how the city relates to the wider world, the second how it lives in the present and the third how it sees its past.”

Fritz Lang : “So many things have been written about M, it has become so to speak THE MOTION PICTURE. I made it in 1931, and it plays constantly in Switzerland, France and even the States if a film survives so long then there may be a right to call it a piece of art. The story came out of the fact that I originally wanted to make a story about a very, very nasty crime. I was married in these days and my wife, Thea von Harbou, was the writer. We talked about the most hideous crime and decided that it would be writing anonymous letters and then one day I had an idea and I came home and said ‘how would it be if I made a picture about a child murderer?’ and so we switched. At the same time in Dusseldorf a series of murders of young and old people happened, but as much as I remember the script was ready and finished before they caught that murderer. I had Peter Loire in mind when I was writing the script. He was an upcoming actor and, he had played in two or three things in the theatre in Berlin, but never before on the screen. I did not give him a screen test, I was just absolutely convinced that he was right for the pan. It was very hard to know how to direct him; I think a good director is not the one who puts his personality on top of the personality of the actor, I think a good director is one who gets the best out of his actor.”

Francois Truffat : “Was I a good critic? I don’t know. But one thing I am sure is that I was always on the side of those who were hissed and against those who were hissing; and that my enjoyment often began where that of others had left off: Renoir’s changes of lone, Orson Welles’ excesses, Pagnol’s or Guitry’s carelessness, Bresson’s nakedness. 1 think there was no trace of snobbery in my tastes.”

Gerard Darmon : “The 21st century of cinema would be more or less identical to the one which has just ended. There would always be a man and a woman to say to each other: I love you.”

Gina Lollobrigida : “My most beautiful souvenir as a spectator is a most recent one. It was a Bulgarian film, The Goat Horn by Nikolai Volev. This a remarkably dramatic and actual story, full of reality and poetry. Unfortunately, the film did not receive the sort of reception which it deserved on behalf of the worldwide distribution. Personally, I would be happy to work with this director. I don’t know him but I had a chance to appreciate his wonderful sensibility.”

Giuseppe de Santis : “I want to shout to everyone that they should hurry to sec Mark Donskoi’s “The Rainbow“... It is a genuinely poetic work of art, a rare masterpiece ....”

Goran Paskaljevic : “Some years ago, I was proud and rather embarrassed to hear from a Russian student, who had studied film direction in a course taught by Andrei Tarkovsky, that his professor used the opening scene from my Beach Guard in Winter as an example for effective opening and good presentation of characters in a film.”

Goran Paskaljevic : “To this day I still believe that Vittorio Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948), a film full of emotions and simplicity, tells more about Italy than any documentary. Thus, simplicity became my credo. I always tried to portray simple, true people. That is, people full of real emotions and not wraped in the dialectics of a political pamphlet.”

Goran Paskaljevic : “In my student days Sergei Paradjanov had the strongest influence on me. Together with Andrei Tarkovsky, Paradjanov should be numbered among the great cineaste directors in the world and of all time. As for Tarkovsky, he had the greatest spiritual influence on me and my work. But I must add that I have managed to avoid his spiritual depth as much as possible in my own work. Tarkovsky’s world is too autochthonous, too indigenous, and his cinematic thought and concepts too advanced for our time.”

Henri Georges Clouzot : “The cinema is a permanent invention. The day of its definite inven­tion would be the day of its death.”

Ingmar Bergman : “To me, Iosif Heift’s The Lady with a Lapdog is like a purifying glass of water from a crystal-clear spring. I greatly admire the film’s total lack of sentimentality often attributed to Chekhov abroad. I can watch this film endlessly.”

Istvan Szabo : “There are of course, wonderful European films around today. The most recent Euro­pean film I sail’ was MOVIE DAYS, a beautiful Icelandic film by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson. Watching children singing together in a cinema of the fifties I started to cry, because this was also my childhood. It touched me very, very deeply. Fridriksson’s film is so simple, but it is full of poetry, full of philosophy, full of experience and full of love.”

Jean Jacques Annaud : “I like to scare myself a little bit when I make films as, I believe that the big danger when yon are a director, is to have confidence.”

Jean Luc Godard : ‘A film is ‘the truth 24 times a second.’ Hollywood has buried cinema’s search for truth beneath the search for marketable concepts. Most American directors are like orphans, they have no parents, no history. There’s no story, so they have to invent one. I was always accused of doing pictures will no plot. But a picture is first a story, second a story and third a story. The Americans just spread their story all over the world, hoping that a majority of the audience will buy them the history they don’t have.”

Jean Pierre Cassel : “The shooting of Caporal Epingle by Renoir is engraved in my heart. I share the bill with Clande Brassem, Claude Rich, Guy Bedos. We were a group of youngsters. We started our career with a lot of enthusiasm and freshness, I had already worked with Philippe de Broca. But having been chosen by Renoir for a monumental role was a consecration. Renoir’s name galvanized us and I return our enthusiasm was such that Renoir tired dud worn out, pursued the shooting. In spite of his exhaustion he had continued for us. Renoir knew how to listen. There is no better director of an actor that a cineaste who knows to listen. Listening gives confidence to an actor as an actor with confidence has talent.

Konstantin Lopushanski : “We are not famous because of the film “Moscow does not believe tears”. We are famous because of cineastes like Tarkovski and Paradjanov.”

Krzysztof Kieslowski : “I don’t like the word ‘success’, and I always fiercely defend myself again it, because I don’t know what the word means at all. For me, success means attaining something I’d real like. Thai’s success. And what I really like is probably unattainable, so I don’t look at things in the terms. My recognition has got nothing to do with success. That’s very far from success.”

Lars Von Trier : “I wanted to be a filmmaker ever since I was 12 years old. My Uncle made documentaries, so the cinema was little bit in my family’s genes. As a Kid, I made 8 mm Films, it u great. What really interested me in Cinema was its technical aspect, nothing else. With a Camera, I u able to amuse myself, I had enormous possibilities.”

Leos Carax : “The cinema of Sarunas Bartas has always existed ever since the world is world. But i where have we been?”

Marta Meszaros : “Unfortunately, it is hard to raise money for films in Europe. European film making is not in very good shape. There is little money available, and generally the American film indus has swallowed European cinema.”

Marthe Keller : “My most strong and the biggest souvenir of cinema, I believe, is the Russian film Dark Eyes. It was a small role but I had a great emotion of shooting with Mikhalkov in Russia as Chekhov is my god. “

Michelangelo Alltonioni : “I am not a theoretician of the cinema. If you ask me what directing is, the first answer that comes into my head is: I don’t know. The second: All my opinions on the subject are in my films. “

Mohsen Makhmalbaf : “The art of motion picture is a dynamic and evolving enterprise, and no one can claim to have arrived at an absolute definition of cinema which could he true for till times. “

Mohsen Makhmalbaf : “The truth is a mirror that falls from the hand of God and shatters into pieces. Everyone picks up a piece and believes that that piece contains the whole truth, even though the truth is left sown about in each fragment.“

Nikita Mikhalkov : “I can adapt Flaubert in a professional manner and may be reasonably well, but it would still be a Russian interpretation of Flaubert. Even if everyone speaks French, it will really not be a French film. It is like Kurosaiva who has adapted “The Idiot” and “King Lear”: It is a Japanese interpretation of these works.”

Pier Paolo Pasolini : “It is said about me that I have three idols: Christ, Marx and Freud. These are nothing but formulae. As a matter of fact, my only idol is reality. If I have chosen to be a cineaste at the same time as a writer, it is rather to express this reality with, symbols, which are words, I have preferred the means of expression that is cinema in order to express reality with the help of reality.”

Rainer Werner Fassbinder : “Someday, films must stop being films, must stop being stories and begin to become alive, so that one asks how does this relate to me and my life.”

Reinhard Haujf : “The films of neorealism — the early Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini,

Francesco Rosi: the early Pier Paolo Pasolini. Also the American “Film Noir”. Directors who confront social prob­lems by means of a realistic style have influenced me — Wolfgang Staudte and Konrad Wolf, for example. In order to make realistic films, you have to have a stance, a social standpoint, a political vision. If you don’t have a vision of a different society, of more justice, you don’t have a criterion for approaching reality and establishing priorities. “

Sacha Guitry : “A comedy that ends in a ivedding, that’s a tragedy that is beginning.‘’

Sergei Bodrov : “DON’T TRUST, DON’T BE AFRAID, DON’T ASK are the three main rules of a prisoner. These rules are well known to my film Svoboda Eta Rai’s (Freedom is Paradise) 14 year old hero. Nevertheless, he makes attempts after attempts to escape from the school for juvenile delin­quents. He sets out alone on a long and perilous journey. He will make it. He will see his father serving a prison sentence in the far North. When the little prisoner embraces his father and consoles him and rekindles his hopes, I, too, begin to hope for something in this life. “

Sergei Paradjanov : “Once, when I was invited to see Andrei Rublev, Tarkovski introduced the screening by saying that he was nervous ‘because Paradjanov is in (he room’—now I’m the one to be nervous, for Kira Muratova is here with us.”

Shohei Imamura : “In Japan, the cinema isn’t a part of culture.”

Takeshi Kitano : “No film seems a threat or inspiration to me under the pretext that it was shot in USA.”

Tetlghiz Abuladze : “A director needs like-minded assistants. The whole crew must understand what it is filming and what is behind it. I do not require blind obedience. That is why I use the word like-minded. During the shooting it is the crew and after the film is released it is the audience.”

Theo Angelopoulos : “I create audiences for my films, not films for audiences.”

Vittorio De Sica : “Why should we filmmakers go in search of extraordinary adventures when we are confronted in our daily lives with facts that cause genuine anguish?”

E Thangraj

Monday, August 11, 2008

North Indian Light Classical Music

Every culture has its own aesthetic temperament. So the Western concept of harmony is alien to classical Indian music, which uses melody alone. The Western method of teaching music is through written notation while Indian music has an oral tradition of learning. A Western classical musician interprets a composition while an Indian classical musician improvises, developing upon a particular composition. Also, Western rhythm is linear whereas Indian rhythm is cyclic, having a precise beginning which is both a point of arrival and departure in every time-cycle.

Classical music differs even in North and South India. From common roots, entrenched in ancient scriptures, grew the Raga system of music that later split into two distinct styles, the hybrid style of North India, culturally impacted by foreign invasions, and the unalloyed style of South India. Dhrupad arose from meter-oriented chants in North India and was originally sung in temples. Then music from temples entered palaces and another form of vocal classical music emerged, called Khayal. Its offspring is Thumri, a genre that fuses urban and rural traditions by giving classical treatment to folk songs. Classified as light classical music, Thumri and its allied forms are engendered by romantic love, one of the nine emotions governing human lives which are named in a 400 B.C. treatise on music, dance and drama. Thumri dominated the culturally vibrant 19th century royal court of Lucknow, a city renowned for both art and etiquette.

The popular belief is that the then ruler, a supreme aesthete, created this form, though academicians believe it existed much earlier. The role of the courtesan in the development of this genre was considerable. Renowned singer-courtesans contributed to classical music by giving light classical forms greater classical gravity, so even male classical stalwarts included Thumri in their repertoire. During my first lesson, my teacher, a legend in her lifetime, told me to sing a word within three notes in as many ways as possible while expressing the emotional content of the word. This was a rudimentary lesson in musical phrasing. To musically elaborate a word or phrase is the idiom that defines this genre. To continuously change note-patterns while repeatedly singing a word or phrase, arousing emotion while deftly weaving musical variations, displays the singer’s range of imagination. These musical phrases are rendered in accordance with mainly two schools. One school can be described as a simple but beautiful village girl and the other as a sophisticated, bejewelled woman. These schools follow the Raga system of Indian classical music. In the vast Raga galaxy, each raga is a melodic form with a precise structure, its specific ascending and descending scale stressing certain notes and phrases. A raga is associated with a particular time of day or night and sometimes with a season. Classical and light classical singers handle Raga differently. While classical singers adhere rigidly to a raga’s format, light classical singers judiciously use forbidden notes or enter other ragas. Raga unfolds within the rhythmic structure of Tala. Each variety of Tala is a framework of fixed beats measuring a unit of time. All talas emphasize the first beat, a moment arrived at with mathematical exactitude, when the singer meets the percussionist after every passage of improvisation, in both classical and light classical music.

The allied forms of Thumri

Thumri is linked to Dadra. The word dadra is derived from dadur meaning frog, as the form’s sprightly rhythmic movement resembles frog-leaps. Faster paced, sometimes with more literary content, this classical version of folk music is more earthy than Thumri. Along with rhythm and tempo, the stylistic difference between Thumri and Dadra lies in the musical phrasing. The musical phrases in Dadra, tightly entwined with the rhythm, maintain its lilt throughout the melody while the leisurely phrasing of Thumri is languid as the tempo is slow.
Sung either in the style of Dadra or Thumri are seasonal songs associated with the Indian calendar. One of these forms, Kajri, usually laments separation from one’s beloved amid lush foliage and dancing peacocks. Also capturing the lyricism of the rainy season is Jhoola, meaning swing, which evokes the joy of rain-drenched earth after sweltering heat, when girls in rural areas sit swinging on wooden planks tied with ropes to trees. Jhoola’s musical phrases should convey the swaying movement of a swing.

Ghazal as related to Thumri

In linguistic contrast to these rustic lyrics is urbane Ghazal, a literary form which matured in Persia around the 10th century and later came to India. Adapting to the Indian ethos, its poetry is written in Urdu. Having Hindi, Turkish, Persian and Arabic words with an Indic base, Urdu germinated in military camps but later entered royal courts and acquired exquisite elegance by the 18th century. The Urdu Ghazal is traditionally sung as the offspring of Thumri. My teacher once told me that the poetry in Ghazal is like a painting and its musical presentation is the picture-frame, which must enhance but not dwarf the poetry. Ghazal consists of couplets. A couplet contains the full development of an idea in just two lines. It is a complete poem in itself. All the couplets in Ghazal share a common meter and rhyme scheme but are thematically independent. They need not have continuity of thought. This is Ghazal’s distinction. Ghazal originated as love poetry. The plaintive tone heard in Ghazal is ascribed to the anguish of love. Major poets extended the boundaries of Ghazal beyond love to include philosophical utterances.

Sufi poetry in North Indian light classical music

Some romantic songs have mystical undertones, in which the themes of yearning for the beloved and yearning for God co-exist like two sides of a coin. This concept suggests that love is sacred. In this context many ancient Hindu temples are adorned with erotic sculpture. Like early Hindu thought, Sufism has no dichotomy between the physical and the metaphysical, between sensuousness and spirituality. With this blurred boundary, some Sufis like the 13th century mystic-poet Amir Khusro portray the Hindu deity Krishna as the embodiment of love.
Sufism believes that the Creator lies in His creations, so one can realize divinity within by expanding one’s capacity for love and compassion. The Upanishads assert “ Aham Brahma asmi” meaning “I am the Creator” like the evolved Sufi Mansoor, beheaded for his cries of “Anal Haq” meaning “I am God”. Hinduism and Sufism both urge self-cleansing as a means to ultimately merge with Universal Consciousness. This union is referred to in poetic metaphor as the union of man and woman.

No longer viewed only as a branch of Islam, within which Sufism has divisions, today Sufism has a wider appeal, transcending religious differences. It upholds humanism, the essence of all religions. A nonconformist counter tradition, it insistently peels off the outer layers of religion, emphasizing the core truth of formal religion- Rekha Surya.

Rekha Surya is the youngest disciple of Begum Akhtar, she had also trained under Girja Devi and carved a niche for herself in the world of Hindustani Light Classical Music.

She will be singing at Anibhav Auditorium on 28th Oct, in New York at Yale University on 8th November
and at Teachers College, Columbia University on 19th November.