Wednesday, March 19, 2003

On November 1st, 1959, the population of New York City was 8,042,753. If you laid all these people end to end, figuring an average height of five feet six and a half inches, they would reach from Times Square to the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan. I know facts like this because I work for an insurance company - Consolidated Life of New York. We are one of the top five companies in the country. Last year we wrote nine point three billion dollars worth of policies. Our home office has 31,259 employees, which is more than the entire population of Natchez, Mississippi, or Gallup, New Mexico. I work on the 19th floor - Ordinary Policy department - Premium Accounting division - Section W - desk number 861

Those are the opening words for Billy Wilder's classic The Apartment, which I rewatched yesterday (this time on DVD). The film showcases the best of the Wilder touches: a tight script with crackling dialogue, Jack Lemmon, Wilder's references to motifs and people from his previous films (exorcising his distaste for Marilyn Monroe with the Monroe-esque character in the film, reusing the name Sheldrake last seen in the wonderful Sunset Boulevard, and that stray reference to a "lost weekend"). Fred MacMurray (best remembered as Walter Neff in another Wilder classic Double Indemnity. I didn't much care for AFI's choice of Wilder's Some Like it Hot, released a year before. This film has more believable people and situations than that drag farce. Ihad forgotten that Ray Walston was in The Apartment. I had typed him based on Judge Henry Bone in Picket Fences, and it was such a pleasure to see him devouring the role of a scheming lech with aplomb.

This set me thinking about directors in Indian cinema who have been cast by the media as counterparts for famous Hollywood directors. For example, Mani Ratnam has been referred to as the Steven Spielberg of India. My pick for the Wilder in Bollywood would be a tie between Hrishikesh Mukherjee (mostly) and Basu Chatterjee (who, incidentally, had adapted Wilder's The Fortune Cookie as Lakhon Ki Baat).

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