Kadal (2013) (The Sea)
Mani Ratnam
Tamil

 

KadalThe title of Mani Ratnam’s latest feature, Kadal (“The Sea”, 2013), conjures images of vastness, infinity and extremity. Like the sea monsters of many a folklore, it has a mythic ring to it, which is very apt considering the last half hour of the film takes place entirely in the realm of the abstract, the mythical and the elemental. There is a leap of faith that is to be made on the part of the viewer if one is to take Ratnam’s film for what it is – a leap that corresponds to a risky gambit that the film makes towards its third act. It is a manoeuvre that catapults the film from a temperamentally placid, naturalistic portrait of stunted childhood and sea-side romance to a melodrama of heightened emotions and larger-than-life stakes. The jump is grating, sure, but those willing to hold on would see that Ratnam manages to find a more cogent articulation of the misplaced metaphysical arguments of Raavan (2010), especially because he thankfully divorces his tale from political topicality. At heart, Kadal works upon the classic temptation parable, wherein Thomas (Gautham Karthik) must choose between the ways of the Devil and God, which is tweaked here to posit the tainted nature of an Absolute Good or an Absolute Evil, the impossibility of a foundational morality. When, in the end, Bergmans (Arjun Sarja) laughs at Father Sam (Aravind Swamy) hanging upside down like Nolan’s Joker – a universe cut from the same moral fabric as Ratnam’s – we discover a deconstruction of the Good/Evil binary that is more thorough, pointed and pulsating than anything in Ratnam’s previous film.

Conversations With Mani Ratnam
Baradwaj Rangan
Penguin/Viking, 2012

 

Conversations with Mani RatnamSomewhere near the midpoint of noted Indian film critic Baradwaj Rangan’s Conversations with Mani Ratnam lies a startling, self-referential moment, a moment so out of step with the rest of the book that it becomes a poetic aside in itself. In the middle of a dialogue about one of Ratnam’s movies, Rangan, with his characteristically keen eye for minor details of the mise en scène, makes a comment about the director clutching a bunch of pencils. Ratnam, perhaps as startled as the reader, asks Rangan if he’s found some deeper meaning to this gesture as well. He goes on to note that the problem with critics is that they try to find a hidden meaning when none exists. This confrontational exchange, the only moment in the entire book when the critic and director aren’t separated by the screen that is Ratnam’s body of work, embodies the central dialectic of Conversations, between a critic who sees an authorial presence, a motivation, an intention behind distinctive film elements binding a filmography and a filmmaker who considers them merely the product of logistical necessity or an instinctive thought, at best, between a professional who relies on bringing to surface structures and mechanics of films and another whose job is to conceal them.

Rangan’s book consists of a set of 17 conversations between him and Ratnam that takes us through the latter’s twenty-odd films in chronological order. This conversational format, as opposed to a paraphrased version¸ has the benefit of retaining the director’s voice, with all its conceptual blind spots (this book is perhaps the best source to understand my reservations with late-period Mani Ratnam’s naïve humanism, where personal dramas are planted obliquely on topical issues, almost like an afterthought, essentially making them, despite his refusal, “message movies”) and anecdotal digressions intact, instead of glossing over gaps and presenting a smooth, monolithic view of Ratnam’s oeuvre as a fully-formed, theoretically integral body of work. It also saves the reader a lot of time since he/she can read the simple, pragmatically-worded conversations quickly instead of having to stop regularly to admire the elegance of Rangan’s typically graceful prose. On the other hand, it results in passages where the two participants aren’t on the same page, where Ratnam, neither complementing nor contradicting, unhelpfully goes off on a tangent in response to certain questions.

It doesn’t help when a convincing critic opens his book with a review of his own and Rangan’s introduction to Conversations serves both as a sharp review of the material that follows as well as an autobiographical piece that details the author’s personal journey with Ratnam’s cinema and his motivations for taking up this project. In it, Rangan characterizes Ratnam as being specifically a “Madras” filmmaker – a term with both geographical and historical connotations – who, he believes, captured the sensibilities of a generation of Madras-dwelling urbanites and the rhythms of the city like no other filmmaker of the time. He also goes on to bifurcate Ratnam’s filmography into his Madras films – movies where the city and its inhabitants became the focal point – and his non-Madras films – ones where his concerns diffused and his field of vision widened. Intriguingly, on a lighter note, he points out two personal tendencies that he traces in this project: a desire as a man of science to document the thoughts of a filmmaker he considers very important in the national film scene and as a man of faith to channel the words of an artist who was a veritable god to his generation.

The duality is vital here. In a modest, reverential and otherwise undistinguished foreword, composer and long-time collaborator A. R. Rahman makes a striking contrast between his profound faith and Ratnam’s considered atheism after having elaborated on the symbiosis between him and the director. Dichotomies such as these, besides paralleling the book’s critic-filmmaker split, presage the book’s crystallization of the bipartite structure of Mani Ratnam’s films. The conversations gradually reveal the bed of binaries that the director’s films are founded on and the centrality of the number “2” in them. (Iruvar (“The Duo”, 1997), admittedly the director’s best effort, literalizes the image/text conflict that cinema itself wrestles with). They help trace this preoccupation, though not overtly, to Ratnam’s thought process as a screenwriter, wherein he eschews western scriptwriting models and instead constructs his screenplays around a single conflict involving two persons, geographies, ideologies, time-lines or emotions.

Throughout the conversations, Rangan keeps tracing auteurist strains in Ratnam’s work, deftly pointing out consistencies in plotting, character sketches, filmmaking style and world view across the movies. There appear to be three typical ways in which Ratnam reacts to these critical reflections. At best, Ratnam’s acknowledges these observations with no acknowledgement. Alternately, he would downplay Rangan’s remarks with peripheral comments that replace artistry, voice and authorial intention with accidents, logistical and functional necessities. At worst, like John Ford, he plainly denies the obvious. (Case in point, his denial that Laal Maati (“Red Earth”), the name of the tribal village in Raavan (2010), has no Maoist undertone is so moot that one is tempted to doubt the truthfulness of his other statements).  Ratnam’s modesty here is, in turns, gratingly vehement, as when he extensively uses first person plural or second person for explanation, and gratifying, especially the manner in which he avoids people politics and convenient namedropping.

But the most fascinating and, perhaps, the most important aspect of Conversations with Mani Ratnam is its unequivocal establishment of the director as a mainstream filmmaker. Neither does Rangan picture him as a “middle cinema” auteur straddling arthouse and grindhouse nor is Ratnam apologetic about his status as a popular filmmaker embracing all the conventions of the industry. (The latter uses the word “product” five times in the book to describe finished films). The conversations explore in detail Ratnam’s grafting of personal stories on tried-and-tested screenwriting tropes – familiar character arcs, interpersonal relationships, the mid-movie interval and devices for moral justification – that Rangan characterizes as a flirtation with melodrama and casting tricks (Ratnam’s fine point about casting famous faces for minor parts to do away with the need for building an emotional connection from scratch and to harness their screen legacy warrants further analysis). Most of all, Ratnam’s opinion of songs in Indian cinema as powerful, mood-enhancing trump cards that give the filmmaker the freedom to take to poetry, abstraction, secondary narration and cinematic experimentation makes for a strong counter-argument to the line of thought that advocates abolishing this tradition as the first step towards a better cinema.

Raavan

Men On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown 
(Image courtesy: Raavan Official Site)

Towards the end of Mani Ratnam’s long-awaited Raavan (2010), one of the characters looks at the camera and says “You shouldn’t have turned back”. He might well have been talking to the person behind the camera. Raavan is a visual and narrative mess, with lots going for it and even more going against it. What seems to be a major hammering on a minor flash of brilliance has taken over three years to make. There is nothing much about the plot of Raavan that you already haven’t read in your schoolbooks and seen in your televisions. I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry on Ramayana and plug in the actors’ names beside the characters’ yourself. You wouldn’t be very wrong. There are, however, two major changes to the text that writer-director Mani Ratnam has done. One; the back story of Ram has been removed altogether and a new back story for Raavan has been added which attempts to put things in his perspective and to justify his acts. The second and the more important change is that Raavan has been relegated from a higher caste to a lower one. The second change opens up a number of new possibilities given the setting of the film.

Throughout his career, with a few exceptions, Mani Ratnam has been interested in writing stories in which personal drama plays out along and against national affairs and topical issues. Almost all these ‘issues’ that he deals with could be traced to newspaper articles or cover stories (communal riots in the city of Bombay, cross border terrorism in the far east and north, student protests down south, the LTTE, business scams etc.). It is true that there is seldom any rigor in these analyses, but where Mani really scores is in the other layer of these stories, in which he deals with people who are stuck in (or, less frequently, who help create) these social and political upheavals. He seems to be more interested in the lives of these ‘individuals’, without the trappings of any ideology, and the relationship between them. More often than not, these issues have been a pretext for exploring the fears, apprehensions and hopes of these individuals, who seem to be suddenly thrust into these agitations. As a result, the issues themselves stick out like a sore thumb even when they are handled with solemnity (Compare one of these with a film like Alaipayuthey (2000) where he completely de-politicizes the drama to break down the tale to human levels. The result is a completely bourgeois film, but also arguably the director’s most honest work to date).

Another facet of Mani Ratnam’s writing is his fascination with people working on the wrong side of the law. Right from Velu Nayakar, through Deva, Liaqat, Meghna, Inba/Lallan, Gurukanth Desai and up to Beera, all of Mani Ratnam’s central characters have been exploiting legal loopholes and even defying the legal system. All of them have a moral justification for their deeds and, with the probable exception of Inba (one of the director’s best characters, for he is the product of both an ideology and his free will), all these characters have their own definitions of what is objectively good and what is not. And this moral relativism is what they seem to consider as their redemption and it is what redeems them in the audience’s eyes (What makes the character of Velu Nayakar profound is his inability to morally assess this feature of his). Throughout, Mani’s attempt has always been to, if not construct a holistic and unbiased view of the world, recognize the ‘other’ as human and empathize with their situation. A fan might say that Mani is a silent rebel. But the truth remains that Mani Ratnam has always been an armchair liberal. In nearly every one of the cases above, he leaves the issues unresolved, as if they never existed in his film, and the audience unquestioned. He involves himself deep enough so as to raise questions and make us reflect about the state of the nation temporarily, but keeps himself aloof enough to avoid assuming or giving us responsibility.

But that is not to say that he should be resolving these issues and should propose a direction (which would be too much to ask and which runs the risk of making the films propagandistic – a fatal move for a director who works within the establishment), but the least he could do is test our own moral standings and elicit a complex response from us, as did the last Tarantino movie. Mani is a master of bad endings and even he can’t object to that complaint. Everywhere, he has resorted to either indifference or populist didacticism to restore the film to conventional pop-cinema trajectories. A special note must be made for the ending of Yuva/Aayitha Ezhuthu (2004), despite its crudeness, where, for once, the director throws away the armchair and retains the liberalism. That brings us back to Raavan, which sure does imbibe all these traits above. The villagers in the film are obviously based on the Maoist settlements of central and south-eastern India and their leader Beera is a resistance fighter combating the police and armed forces.  The plot points are heavily inspired by Operation Green Hunt, but the region of interest for the director, predictably, remains the triangle of characters at its heart. Oh, but there’s also something going on in the background of these characters. For the second time, after his reworking of the Mahabharata in Thalapathy (1991), Mani Ratnam resorts to an existing mythological text for a template.

 

[Raavan (2010) Trailer]

Mani Ratnam could have been faithful to the text, playing it out in its entirety and stressing and modulating key sections of it to reveal its inherent sexism and chauvinism and, subsequently, investigate how such a flawed text governs our behaviour. Or he could have stuck, as was his style so far, to the Maoist issue alone and examined the tensions underneath. Instead, Mani relocates the Ramayana into this politically charged narrative, making a few key changes for the sake of authenticity, and compromises both possibilities. Many of the characters in Raavan don’t exist for their own sake, but only to play other characters and to complete an existing narrative framework. Now, this isn’t the film’s biggest problem, but for viewers familiar with the text, it goes on to become monotonous and self-parodying. It is also a bit appalling to see a director like Mani Ratnam going for such banal character mapping. The film’s biggest problem is, however, its viewpoint. Now, the point that the film tries to be making is that there is a Ram and Raavan in every one and that it’s only a matter of context that one becomes the hero and the other the villain. But the whole film shows otherwise. There is not one virtue bestowed upon Dev or one vice assigned to Beera (Being an officer in the police force is the only positive thing about Dev, but Ratnam drains that position of any goodness). It’s all still black and white. The film never moves on to the grey area that it claims it is in. This lack of a moral complexity denies the film any real resonance. It is made clear from the very beginning that Beera is the one the audience needs to root for and Dev is the one to be cursed (The casting only worsens the problem, with Abhishek Bachchan being less easier to hate than the newcomer Vikram). Mani does not balance the sides, as is required, he merely swaps them.

However, the film’s redeeming factor lies in the way it sketches these decidedly good and decidedly bad characters. Dev (Vikram) is the icon of a perfect male god. He is macho, sporting a neatly trimmed moustache, well-built, determined and self-assured. But he also seems to be overconfident of his seemingly infallible masculinity to the point of being sexist. His egocentricity defines the world with respect to himself (the camera gyrates around him quite a few times). He considers his wife and his gun to be fairly interchangeable objects which could be used to demonstrate his power. Mani Ratnam floods the mise en scène with phallic symbols when dealing with Dev. Wielding razors, pistols, sunglasses and cigarettes throughout, Dev is the ultimate patriarch who can control the people around him at will. Or so he thinks. This vanity is his biggest vice. And the disillusionment of that masculine vanity is the cause of his fall. Dev seems to be more interested in killing the man who kidnapped his wife than rescuing her or finishing the mission he is assigned. It is the thought that his wife may have found a better man – that his wife’s fantasies might have outgrown his capacities – that frustrates him more than the fact that she is kidnapped. In that respect, Dev has a lot of counterparts in Hollywood including Dr. Harford of Eyes Wide Shut (1999). What Dev is fighting for is, then, his own potency that has been snatched away by this sociopolitical outcast. He can only do this by killing off any man whom his wife may have considered better. And that is what he sets out to do.

Beera (Abhishek Bachchan), on the other hand, lies exactly at the moral and physical midpoint between Ragini and Dev. He is a man who’s more self-aware and empathetic. He has already realized his own limitations as a ‘man’ the moment his sister was snatched away by the police force some time ago (“It was my fault” he says). Unlike Dev, he is a very progressively thinking person and believes in equality. And unlike that Ram, who can not see anything but lies on Ragini’s face, this Raavan trusts her with his life (and his phallic gun, if you will!). But he is also a man on the verge. He could flip over to the other moral side any time soon. His “jealousy” could turn out to be an obsession. Why, he teeters on the boundary between life and death every day. Each one of his ten imaginary heads might be saying a different thing every time. His temptation of avenging his sister by reciprocally violating Ragini is undone by the fact that both Ragini and his sister are merely variations of each other (This implicit aversion towards “miscegenation” in Raavan is but one of the very many narrative, visual and thematic elements that the film shares with The Searchers (1956), a film that is also set at the native frontier and the film that Raavan wants to emulate). These two people who leapt towards death without fear are the only persons who could stand up to Beera and speak. They are the only ones who prevent him from becoming a Dev. This idea of living on the edge is continually underscored by the film’s visual strategy that employs highly expressionistic landscapes. Beera is usually located on a dark cliff beyond which there are only the white waters of death (and redemption?). He is regularly seen straddling dark geographical structures and the white mist-like atmosphere. Even when he is a mysterious, dark, fearful figure, he is associated with harsh light. Samir Chanda’s production design is noteworthy in this regard. Beera’s idea of redemption is a very subjective one and his vindication seems to be in making Dev realize how morally integral he is, despite his caste, and how unethical Dev is, despite his social and legal standing. Of course, for this he throws his political objective to the wind, as does Mani Ratnam.

Ragini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) is the symbol of moral strength purity in the film. She’s the only character in the film who could safely be called “objectively good” (for one, Aishwarya Rai is significantly fairer than the other two men in the film. Politically incorrect? May be. Cliché? Definitely). In some ways, she is the mirror image of Dev, and surely the better half, and repudiates all that he stands for. She’s the only person in the film who gets to see the full picture. She acts fairly rationally and, unlike the men, knows no class, creed or ideology (Amusingly, she almost exclusively moves vertically within the frame throughout the film – plummeting and ascending, skidding and rising amidst the rocky mountains – as if transcending the rigid ‘horizontal’ notions of class). She knows no fear in front of Beera, for she has nothing to be afraid of, unlike Dev and his entourage. Beera is just an arbitrary terror for her. And this independence of hers is what brings Beera to earth from his demigod status. These are very interesting characters, no doubt, but our response to them remains highly one-dimensional. As a result, the film turns out to be as one-dimensional and biased as the text it wants to deconstruct. And yes, the film that Raavan wants to be has already been made ten years ago. And how!

 

Rating:

There is a very evocative scene in Slumdog Millionaire – one of the two that embody the whole film – Jamal watches a European opera being conducted in front of the Taj Mahal. The protagonist rues the loss of a woman holding her in his arms. Jamal doesn’t know a thing about what is going on there. But it entrances him for some reason. He is able to siphon the emanating emotion irrespective of the language, the setting or the form of the gesture. A completely Indian cast, A British crew and a limited release – there could only be a few more reasons for the film to go down unnoticed in the west. But hey, it happened. And how! With 4 Golden Globes and going strong for the Oscars with 10 nominations, Slumdog Millionaire has become the film that everyone is talking about – in one way or the other. 

 

Rediff)

Slumdog Millionaire: Tender Coconut in Tetra Pak (pic courtesy: Rediff)

The story? Not different from what you have heard before. But definitely different from what you have seen before. As the title completely gives away, it is “about” Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a slum kid who participates in a game show and goes on to win the grand prize at the event. He is also in search of his childhood sweetheart Latika (Freida Pinto) who he meets after religious riots in the city. There are villains who try to stop him and some elements – human and superhuman – that help him achieve his goal. But why is this making waves all over? The answer may be – the right move at the right time towards the right direction. It is a story that could possibly happen to anyone anywhere in the world – one of destiny and fate. So, why Mumbai? Well, Mumbai makes the possible probable. 

 

Here is an excerpt from Mr. Amitabh Bachchan’s blog post on the film: 

“It’s just that the SM idea authored by an Indian and conceived and cinematically put together by a Westerner, gets creative Globe recognition. The other would perhaps not.”

Why is that so?

Look at the characters that Boyle uses. Note their objectives. Could they be more stereotyped? Jamal – A lad who has grown with Hindi cinema and unconsciously imitates that. He is still the young hero who dreams of taking his sweetheart away from the jaws of the dragon. His morals are those defined by traditional Bollywood flicks – love over money, hard work and righteousness at all costs. The 20 million never crosses his mind as does the cherished idea of a “familial” reunion. Salim – brought up with similar Bollywood dreams like Jamal, but with a different set of films! The gangsta flicks (a la Drohkaal , Satya and Company) that make you drool over the wads of money that flow here and there. The sheer romanticism of pulling the trigger with utmost indifference. The jump cuts. The cigarette smoke and the all-hiding ever-cool sunglasses. He dreams of literally bathing in loads of money, till the very end (At this moment of the film, a shiver ran down the spine when he strikingly resembled Private Pyle of the chilling Full Metal Jacket (1987)). Yet, the urge to remain upright and undo his sins. And Latika – the Rapunzel of the story, resigned to her fate, fantasizing that a prince charming will come take her away some day. The arrogant constable Srinivas, the savage Mafioso head Javed, the one dimensional child trafficker Mamen – now, how many times have we seen them before?

See how Boyle employs the typical plot points to find a resolution. The baddie turns good out of remorse and sacrifices himself to aid the damsel in distress to reach the safe-space of the narrative. The quintessentially Bollywood theme of predetermination and destiny makes the lovers meet again. The inevitable train sequence that separates Jamal and Latika in the first place.  Ring a bell? Well, why Not? These are the characteristic sequences of our cinema (“entertaining mass oriented box office block busters” to borrow Mr. Bachchan). And look how fresh and unseen he makes it all! Boyle has provided the kind of new wrapper to the old sweet that the Indian directors seem to have traded with star power some point down the lane. Indians are masters at storytelling by tradition and cinematically too. But what has happened is that the craft of storytelling always played a second fiddle to the story itself.  And Danny Boyle, thoroughly soaked in the Hollywood-type craft of story telling, notes this. In essence, he bridges the best of both worlds – Form and content – to provide something so familiar yet not so much. A stereotype film with stereotype elements celebrating stereotypes with honesty.

There is a lot of talk going on around about the depiction of slums in the film and how the film is essentially a “consolation and titillation” device for the west. Claims are being made that the film is clearly Danny Boyle’s version of the Indian story and not the truth. Of course it is. And the sad thing is that the film is being criticized for that very reason. This is where I sense absurdity. Cinema, art in general, is most definitely an abstraction of the world that the artist sees though a kaleidoscope of his ideologies and idiosyncrasies. And its appreciation is one that involves its decryption and the discovery of what the artist sees, not what the artist should have seen.  Danny Boyle says in an interview to NDTV that when a foreigner attempts to picture something on a land alien to him, he must be extremely honest in his opinion. Indeed. When I started watching the film, I was afraid that Boyle would be quite conscious of what he is doing and would probably try not to breach certain lines. But gladly, he doesn’t do that. He relentlessly attempts to show what he sees. The child beggars, the riots, the guided tours. Once more, I take to Mr. Bachchan’s blog.

“If SM projects India as Third World dirty under belly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky under belly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations.”

Precisely. And that works the other way round too. Take Hollywood for instance. Though plagued with essentially American morals (beautifully parodied in Slumdog Millionaire at one point where the tourists offer consolation to the hurt guide, all in the “American way”), the industry has never flinched from showing the darker side of the nation. One of the most self-criticizing and self-correcting cinemas of the world, Hollywood and its associated branches have regularly treaded to their “dark side”, though unfortunately with considerable romanticism. Now, there is no reason for anyone, leave alone developing nations, to turn away from all the filth going on around. Note that all that Boyle has shown in the film has earlier been shown in Indian cinema numerous times, many times going unnoticed. But when Boyle, the unnamed representative of all foreigners, points this out – to us or the west, immaterial – our pride is hurt as if being frank (note that being frank is not related anyway to being true) is a crime. We argue that a westerner should not make comments about our country without even experiencing it. Now, I don’t understand this newly born possessiveness about our “underbelly” that hitherto was repudiated by “the commercial escapist world of Indian Cinema”.  If what this film is doing is slum porn, the behaviour of ours should be aptly called shameless opportunism.

I have a question. Zana Briski made an Oscar winning documentary about kids in red light areas – Born Into Brothels (2004) – that was hundred times more stomach churning than Slumdog Millionaire. Now, why was no claim made about that film’s portrayal of the slums, though by no means it projects a rosy view of the state of affairs? Was it because it was low-profile? Was it because only Slumdog seriously reminds us of the stale state of our mass entertainment, hence hurting our pride? Or was it because the facts were undisputable there and in that Slumdog, which is a work of fiction, they can be easily disowned? 

Having said these, one must also note that what Boyle has done here is not a consequence of frustration but of brimming hope. True, he does show the most shattering facets of Mumbai’s buzzing life, but he picks up situations that always have an outlet into redemption. Yes, it is typically what a  tourist would see in Mumbai. The contradictions, the happiness in spite of that and “the show must go on” attitude – aspects that residents would naturally be indifferent to. He never condescends on his lead actors. There is no sympathy for them. Boyle always films them from a downward angle.  Yes, he celebrates them during their highs, but does not go for tears during their lows. And amidst all this, he superficially studies the spirit of the city. Jamal’s win is necessarily an escapist entertainment, irrespective of the money, for the people who would go on to live their own lives after the show ends. All they need is a hero, which is a universal desire, who comes up from rags by the moral path (“substitution of their gaze”). Boyle’s film is an escapist fare about escapist fares. Slumdog Millionaire could well be termed as a crash course to Bollywood to the west – only that it celebrates the tradition honestly and in the right way. 

Sorry, but Mr. Bachchan again:

“The commercial escapist world of Indian Cinema had vociferously battled for years, on the attention paid and the adulation given to the legendary Satyajit Ray at all the prestigious Film Festivals of the West, and not a word of appreciation for the entertaining mass oriented box office block busters that were being churned out from Mumbai.”

Now, I’ve read a lot of support for the “Indian mainstream” cinema by people who claim it is purely a manifestation of the workings of the Indian mind and the West can’t possibly judge them using their yardstick. Now, once it has been decided that this type of cinema is clearly democratic (of and for the Indian people), then what is the need to expect admiration and applause from the west? Isn’t it being dishonest trying to entertain locals and requiring admiration world over? Here, in Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle presents escapist entertainment to the west in a form that they would naturally like (incidentally, being liked by the Indian audience too). Thus, it would deserve no more criticism than a mainstream Indian film does. But when it comes to admiration, the craft gains weightage and Boyle scores there. 

Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle does Christopher Doyle all the way. The restlessly blurred events, the dizzyingly deep focus shots and the skewed camera angles are clearly adapted from Doyle’s features with Wong Kar Wai, but definitely suit this film too. Probably one of those oriental good luck charms!  I will not elaborate upon A R Rahman’s soundtrack as I have been deemed as one of his notorious fanboys. But seriously, it is nothing short of triumphant and a sizeable fraction of the film’s success. And the editing is masterful with snazzy and relevant cuts between the past and the present. The final sequence tops it all where we have three visual sequences intertwined and led by a single soundtrack. It is definitely going to be a tough call between The Dark Knight and Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars next month. 

I had mentioned one of the two sequences that typify the spirit of the film. The second sequence obviously being the one where young Jamal, covered in filth, celebrates after getting the autograph from the angry young man and the hero of this review Mr Amitabh Bachchan. Placing the celebrity above himself, despite of his own pathetic state. Celebrating life despite its own wishes. This is what Danny Boyle (or any foreigner who admires India) has seen in the country. And this is what he has honestly unfolded in the film, with significant decoration but no other hidden intentions. Mr. Boyle isn’t teaching us what to show, but how to show. He isn’t telling us how India is, but how he sees it. And positively, he isn’t showing us our darker side, but the brighter and more humanistic one.  

Verdict: 

oscarYes, the nominations are out and we have an interesting line up dominated by The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire with 13 and 10 nominations respectively. The Mozart from Madras A R Rahman gets 3 nominations – two for best original song and one for best original score. He may become just the third Indian after Bhanu Athaiya (Best Costume design , Gandhi (1982)) and Satyajit Ray (Honorary Oscar). Incidentally, another Indian, Resul Pookutty has also been nominated for the award in Best Sound Mixing category. 

 

Here is the complete list of nominees (courtesy: IMDB)

 

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Ceán Chaffin, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall

Frost/Nixon (2008): Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Eric Fellner

Milk (2008): Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks

The Reader (2008): Nominees to be determined

Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Christian Colson

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Richard Jenkins for The Visitor (2007/I)

Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon (2008)

Sean Penn for Milk (2008)

Brad Pitt for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler (2008)

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married (2008)

Angelina Jolie for Changeling (2008)

Melissa Leo for Frozen River (2008)

Meryl Streep for Doubt (2008/I)

Kate Winslet for The Reader (2008)

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Josh Brolin for Milk (2008)

Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder (2008)

Philip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt (2008/I)

Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight (2008)

Michael Shannon for Revolutionary Road (2008)

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams for Doubt (2008/I)

Penélope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Viola Davis for Doubt (2008/I)

Taraji P. Henson for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler (2008)

 

Best Achievement in Directing

Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Stephen Daldry for The Reader (2008)

David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon (2008)

Gus Van Sant for Milk (2008)

 

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Frozen River (2008): Courtney Hunt

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008): Mike Leigh

In Bruges (2008): Martin McDonagh

Milk (2008): Dustin Lance Black

WALL·E (2008): Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Jim Reardon

 

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Eric Roth, Robin Swicord

Doubt (2008/I): John Patrick Shanley

Frost/Nixon (2008): Peter Morgan

The Reader (2008): David Hare

Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Simon Beaufoy

 

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Changeling (2008): Tom Stern

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Claudio Miranda

The Dark Knight (2008): Wally Pfister

The Reader (2008): Roger Deakins, Chris Menges

Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Anthony Dod Mantle

 

Best Achievement in Editing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter

The Dark Knight (2008): Lee Smith

Frost/Nixon (2008): Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill

Milk (2008): Elliot Graham

Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Chris Dickens

 

Best Achievement in Art Direction

Changeling (2008): James J. Murakami, Gary Fettis

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Donald Graham Burt, Victor J. Zolfo

The Dark Knight (2008): Nathan Crowley, Peter Lando

The Duchess (2008): Michael Carlin, Rebecca Alleway

Revolutionary Road (2008): Kristi Zea, Debra Schutt

 

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Australia (2008): Catherine Martin

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Jacqueline West

The Duchess (2008): Michael O’Connor

Milk (2008): Danny Glicker

Revolutionary Road (2008): Albert Wolsky

 

Best Achievement in Makeup

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Greg Cannom

The Dark Knight (2008): John Caglione Jr., Conor O’Sullivan

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008): Mike Elizalde, Thomas Floutz

 

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Alexandre Desplat

Defiance (2008): James Newton Howard

Milk (2008): Danny Elfman

Slumdog Millionaire (2008): A.R. Rahman

WALL·E (2008): Thomas Newman

 

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Slumdog Millionaire (2008): A.R. Rahman, Gulzar(“Jai Ho”)

Slumdog Millionaire (2008): A.R. Rahman, Maya Arulpragasam(“O Saya”)

WALL·E (2008): Peter Gabriel, Thomas Newman(“Down to Earth”)

 

Best Achievement in Sound

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Mark Weingarten

The Dark Knight (2008): Ed Novick, Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo

Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke, Resul Pookutty

WALL·E (2008): Tom Myers, Michael Semanick, Ben Burtt

Wanted (2008): Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño, Petr Forejt

 

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

The Dark Knight (2008): Richard King

Iron Man (2008): Frank E. Eulner, Christopher Boyes

Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Tom Sayers

WALL·E (2008): Ben Burtt, Matthew Wood

Wanted (2008): Wylie Stateman

 

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton, Craig Barron

The Dark Knight (2008): Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Timothy Webber, Paul J. Franklin

Iron Man (2008): John Nelson, Ben Snow, Daniel Sudick, Shane Mahan

 

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Bolt (2008): Chris Williams, Byron Howard

Kung Fu Panda (2008): John Stevenson, Mark Osborne

WALL·E (2008): Andrew Stanton

 

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (2008)(Germany)

Entre les murs (2008)(France)

Revanche (2008)(Austria)

Okuribito (2008)(Japan)

Vals Im Bashir (2008)(Israel)

 

Best Documentary, Features

The Betrayal – Nerakhoon (2008): Ellen Kuras, Thavisouk Phrasavath

Encounters at the End of the World (2007): Werner Herzog, Henry Kaiser

The Garden (2008/I): Scott Hamilton Kennedy

Man on Wire (2008): James Marsh, Simon Chinn

Trouble the Water (2008): Tia Lessin, Carl Deal

 

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

The Conscience of Nhem En: Steven Okazaki

The Final Inch: Irene Taylor Brodsky, Tom Grant

Smile Pinki: Megan Mylan

The Witness from the Balcony of Room 306: Adam Pertofsky, Margaret Hyde

 

Best Short Film, Animated

La Maison en Petits Cubes: Kunio Kato

Ubornaya istoriya – lyubovnaya istoriya (2007): Konstantin Bronzit

Oktapodi (2007): Emud Mokhberi, Thierry Marchand

Presto (2008): Doug Sweetland

This Way Up (2008): Alan Smith, Adam Foulkes

 

Best Short Film, Live Action

Auf der Strecke (2007): Reto Caffi

Manon sur le bitume (2007): Elizabeth Marre, Olivier Pont

New Boy (2007): Steph Green, Tamara Anghie

Grisen (2008): Tivi Magnusson, Dorthe Warnø Høgh

Spielzeugland (2007): Jochen Alexander Freydank

 

 

And as a part of this run up to the Oscars, I would like to present brief opinions on the films that are hogging the limelight this evening.  This will not be an exhaustive series by any chance, but will be trying to cover only the biggies.

Cheers

Jaane Tu Ya Jaane NaNo, this is not a review of Nagesh Kukunoor’s box office bomb Bombay To Bangkok (2007) but of debutant director Abbas Tyrewala’s Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. Even before the film had got completed, the director had called it a typical Bollywood love story complete with its own quota of songs, fights and even the quintessential over-the-top airport climax. With that kind of a statement from a man who has some very successful scripts behind him, you can’t help but expect the film’s USP to be something completely fresh.

(Spoilers Ahead, yeah right!)

Jai (Imran Khan as a peace loving, meek yet mature guy) and Aditi (Genelia D’Souza in a zealous role) are two very close friends and are part of a small gang of youngsters who have their own share of pubbing, partying, cussing and fooling around. After their college gets over, they try to hook each other up with an apt partner. After they manage to find partners that they think are ideal, they slowly understand that this is not what they desired for. It is not soon when they realize that they have been with their best match all this time. As they struggle to reveal their love to each other, Aditi gets ready to leave for the USA. It is up to Jai to stop her at the airport and reveal his true love to her. Sounds familiar?

(End of already known spoilers)

The film’s almost effortless progress reminds us of the deluge of Korean rom-coms and the screwball comedies of the Clark Gable era. But that just shows how the international cultures have seeped into our own. Right from the generous dose of swearwords to the now-hackneyed dance floors, the movie would look totally outlandish for the village and town dwellers. The best part about the screenplay is that you know you have seen it all a thousand times, but are still attracted towards the film for some reason. That is where the director scores.

What separates Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na from its predecessors is its grey treatment of characters, actions and emotions. There are no extraordinary monologues, fights, melodrama or reactions in the film. Unlike the bickering leads of yesteryear, Jai and Aditi realize each others’ persona and are mature enough to not quarrel with them for that. There is not one false note in the characterization of the cast and their relationships, with the possible exception of Sushant, Aditi’s fiancé, who is handled with a pinch of coldness. Parents who have closed in on the so-called generation gap, a brother who is more sensible than he looks, a protagonist who thinks everything has a non-violent solution, the characters ring true and are omnipresent in the cities. Be it the sibling relationship between Aditi and Amit or the miserable one between Meghna’s parents, there is honesty written all over.

Abbas Tyrewala seems to know that his target audience is miniscule and is unperturbed by that. He has deliberately let some things go over the head of the audience outside his reach and does not care about that. He is quite sure that the young metropolitan crowd, at whom the film is aimed at, will find a page out of their own lives in the film. This confidence is, perhaps, the director’s biggest success in the film. Imran Khan manages well with his small set of expressions and is overpowered by the more experienced Genelia who seems tailored for the role. Arbaaz and Sohail Khan steal the show in the few scenes they are in and the same can be said about veterans Paresh Rawal and Nasseeruddin Shah.

So when do you know it’s love? You do not realize the importance of a commonplace object until it becomes not-so-common. The film handles the same issue handled in Mani Ratnam’s successful flick Alaipayuthey (2000), but gives a totally urban look to the concept. What is more interesting than the film itself is the question that what a confident and clear writer and director, such as Abbas Tyrewala, is going to do in the future where not only would he have the funds to experiment, but also the opportunity to reach a universal crowd. Guess only time will tell. As for now, enjoy this fresh lease of energy amidst stale and pretentious multi-starrers while it lasts in theatres.

Verdict:

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