Road to the Oscars?

Road to the Oscars?

The official entries for the Academy Award have been made and as many as 67 countries are vying for the coveted award this year. Among the leading contenders for the nominations are Germany’s The Baader Meinhof Complex, Italy’s Gomorra, France’s Palm D’Or winner The Class, Iran’s The Song of Sparrows directed by Majid Majidi and Israel’s Waltz with Bashir. And the Italian entry is already making waves and being termed as one of the best crime dramas from the country.

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Goodfellas (1990)
Martin Scorsese

Goodfellas (1990) is one Scorsese film that made it big with both the audience and the critics. Its worm’s eye view of the underworld places it apart from all the films in the genre that still cling to the top level of the hierarchy.

Check this sequence in the film that takes place at a party club called Copacabana. The scene just shows Henry reaching his table with his girlfriend starting from the entrance. Though it’s a scene that is quite light on the minds and introduces us to the vital characters of the plot, the execution of the scene is so solemn and so thought over. The whole scene is captured in a single uninterrupted shot. The camera snakes in and out of thin paths, narrowly avoids collisions and tries to squeeze out into the destination. The way to the table is also too serpentine and access to it seems like a Herculean task, very much like the underworld that the film depicts.

Take a look:

Michael Ballhaus employs the camera like his eyes. Instead of using it as a tool for documentation, he gives it life and makes it an invisible character in the film. He makes it look at events, he makes it empathize and he transfers it onto the viewers. This effect is more pronounced in his earlier collaborations with German wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose setups not only imposed physical restrictions on the movement of the camera, but also evoked a sense of claustrophobia that often reflected the characters’ own. The same period gave rise to his characteristic Ballhaus shot (or the 360 degree shot), again, testifying his opinion on the medium.

Though a lot of films off late have used the long snaky shot to gain unwarranted appreciation, none of them gels with the film as effectively as the Copacabana shot.

P.S: Sorry for another Scorsese scene. But what to do, he is one of the best scene composers alive!

While watching Polladhavan, I realized that almost every other Tamil movie that releases today is based on underworld and organised crime. Gangwars, Hooligans in love, Rise to power of a henchman, common man pulled into violence and what not. We may even see a Dada learning bharatnatyam or a Gunda turning into a priest very soon. I then traced back to the movie that perhaps started it all, Mani Rathnam’s Nayakan. Released way back in 1986, the movie has inspired a whole new generation of filmmakers in the state.

Heavily inspired by the Coppola classic The Godfather (1972), no doubt, Nayakan still has the power to sweep you off the ground. This may not be Kamal Haasan‘s best performance or Mani Rathnam’s best venture, but Nayakan has provided something Tamil cinema has longed for – a milestone. Organized crime has never been shown before with such authority and vitality in Tamil cinema. A commoner who has the guts to stand up against the tyranny of the police, a boy-next-door growing to become the biggest don, a godfather you can rely upon for help – what more could the audience ask for? Velu standing against the water spray, Nayakar defending Selva after his daughter witnesses murder, the scene at the hospital where a child is to be treated, the death of Surya, the now-classic climax – these images will linger in minds of everyone who wants good Tamil movies.

No other “don movie” has even thrilled audience like Nayakan (excepting Basha, credits fully to Superstar), leave alone making an impact. This shows how stale the state of the Tamil cinema industry is. Why do the filmmakers go in search of another Nayakan? Why don’t they try reforming the present state? The answer, some may say, lies in the “Critical Vs Commercial” debate. But haven’t many other films been both critical and commercial success? So why are we stuck up with these gangstas? Are we lacking talent? Are we devoid of new ideas? I think not.

The present state of the industry may be attributed to the producers who want to play safe. The small ones want to use the time tested formulas (2 rooba pottu 3 rooba sambathikardhu) and are afraid to produce new ideas. The big players, on the other hand need stars who in turn do not want their image to be hurt by new ideas. So what is the solution? It is up to the veteran directors and actors who want to provide good cinema to persuade their producers to take a bold step forward. Shankar’s S-pictures, for one, is doing that. Also, if the small-timers can collaborate or if the senior directors can contribute for more such production houses, Tamil cinema can proudly give birth to new Nayakans.