Monday, November 10, 2003

reeling out the hours

Movies peppered my weekend, instead of inundating it. So perhaps there's hope for me.

Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away is a wonderful children's anime. Lots of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz allusions. Surreal sets and flourishes of animation eyecandy. My favourites are the worker sootballs and the twin witches Yubaba and Zeniba.

Diksha: An old NFDC/Doordarshan collaboration featuring a talented cast (Manohar Singh, Nana Patekar) and some humbling strong Hindi (with a lot of literary baggage). Simple, effective.

Swami Vivekananda: G V Iyer's interpretation of the life of Swami Vivekananda is often clumsy and badly put together. This may well be the consequence of a limited budget, and a complete lack of interest from parties that have the moolah but score a big fat goose egg in the cultural sensitivity department. G V Iyer has a rich legacy of spiritual films (including India's first full-length Sanskrit film Adi Shankaracharya). This time the narrative structure is simpler. Iyer manages spatial explorations, but the complexities and textures are rare. Mithun Chakraborty is excellent as Ramakrishna Parmahansa, and his scenes with Naren/Vivekananda are worth the watch. As is the rich dialogue. But the cameos by famous faces (Pradeep Kumar, Tanuja, Mamooty) as well as the ineffectual turn by Sarvadhaman Banerjee as Naren. He lacks the fire of the character he portrays. The wonderful songs (barring Yesudas' often disturbing pronunciation) -- including one in jhap taal -- comprised Salil Chowdhury's swan song. Predictably, HMV politely buried this soundtrack, and afficionadoes will probably have to scout dark and decrepit alcoves of stores to dig up the music.

The title tacks on a "Part I". And this harsh review clears up the mystery (besides explaining why I saw names like Hema Malini and Meenakshi Sheshadri in the end credits but never actually saw these people). The print I saw was an NTSC conversion from a PAL recording of a DD-I screening in 1997. The jumpy nature of the film may be attributed to the fact that either DD-I or someone else down the pipeline decided to produce a shorter version of Iyer's longer opus. This only means that I have to wait to find the original full-length version.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: While the extended edition hits the stands, and reports of Saruman not making it to the final edition in the trilogy pour in, I managed to watch the theatrical-version-DVD. Never long, always consistently engrossing, and gentle -- just like the first installment. And Gollum is a wonderful achievement, merging emotion, life and technology. Note to self: make sure I watch at least the final edition in the theatre.

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