Tuesday, May 27, 2008

obits: the victorious, the saint and the financier

The world lost Vijay Tendulkar on Monday, May 19, 2008. There are notes of tribute from Santosh Ayachit (director of the documentary Aankahi Tendulkar), Amol Palekar and Ramu Ramanathan over at PFC.

Sydney Pollack succumbed to cancer on Monday, May 27, 2008. David Hudson's page at GreenCine Daily collects the notes and tributes.

Producer/financier Jhamu Sughand passed away on Monday, May 27, 2008. The name that accompanied movies as diverse as Rangeela, Lagaan, 1947/Earth, Kalpurush and Black Friday was also associated with Johnny Gaddaar (which was eventually taken up by Adlabs), Tanvir Ahmed's forthcoming Ada, Abbas Tyrewala's forthcoming directorial début Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na (now taken up under Aamir Khan's producing umbrella) and Anurag Kashyap's soon-to-be-finished Gulaal. Anurag Kashyap pays eloquent tribute as do Abbas Tyrewala, the Big B, Sriram Raghavan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Monday, May 26, 2008

O Guru where is thy point?

raahii huu.N mai.n kahaa.N merii ma.nzil (Bappi Lahiri, Wanted, 1984)

This should probably be the theme for Mani Ratnam after the confused cinematic mess that is Guru. Or perhaps for the film as it seems to search for a reason for its existence. This disguised take on the life of is a horrifyingly bad film. Beautiful frames laid out in trains do not a good film make (Black was the colour of Death By Picture Postcards). Trying to stay optimistic about the effort out of sheer respect for the filmmaker's ouevre is Sisyphean ordeal when your confronted with footage that boasts sheen and gloss and neither the beating of a heart nor the drive of a narrative.

The descent begins with a pointless item number (another first for Mani saar) in Turkey. We then swing to a village in India, where Mani Ratnam begins to recycle samples from his past. Roja's chinna chinna aasai gets the remix treatment and is transformed into a vigorous aerobics routine featuring Bollywood's emaciated answer to Jane Fonda, Ms. Aishwarya Rai-now-Bachchan (does one dare to hazard a guess that her presence here harks back to Iruvar?). The fingers are already itching to hit the FF button. One's patience, however, gets no rewards. When tere binaa shows up, it does with an anachronistic incongruous, rude jolt that puts paid to most of the respect you had for the director. Does one need to mention that it owes a lot to kaNNaalane in Bombay? Bappi Lahiri's ek lo ek muft works well as long as you don't see it on screen. It was strange enough when he sang for Daddy B in Geraftaar, but it's surreal to see his warbling come from Sonny B (apparently, Sonny was the original choice to sing this song; go figure).

Sub-plots (the Shyam/Meenakshi tale) and interesting characters (Mithun's Manik Dasgupta) get short shrift as Bollywood's leading couple get to hog the frame and flail about; she flubs her accent (who even bothers to notice such silly details as accent and being in character anyway?) and relies on those sad looks (the late Mukesh would've been pleased to find such visual representation for his sadly happy and happily sad songs); he channels his father (the confrontation with Shyam Saxena just before he realises that Shyam has married Meenakshi is straight out of Agneepath) and even gets to filch from Kamal Haasan's performance and looks in Nayagan.

Perhaps the intent was be from the point of view of the protagonist and thus cast all crusaders and do-gooders in a bad light. This still doesn't explain the motivation and angst of Manik Dasgupta, despite all the effort that Mithun puts in. It's a shame to see the actor get a part to sink his teeth in, only to have quite a few of scenes land up on the cutting floor, leaving him with a part that makes his B-movie work look more rewarding. The climactic court room goings-on not only find Mani Ratnam unable to define the intent of his narrative but also find him paying his respects to the numerous bad court room scenes that litter the Bollywood canon.

I thought of Citizen Kane quite a few times as I endured this revolting reelfest and that doesn't bode well at all for this film. Cinematic greatness aside, had Mani Ratnam even attempted to imbue his narrative with half the substance of the Orson Welles classic, he'd have ended up with a more bearable film. He's lost almost all the footing he'd gained with Yuva.

paagal paagal tuune mujhe kar diyaa as Bappi sang in that other Guru, which starred Mithun in the title role and had more to offer in its own space than this shuffle of a dyspeptic deck does in its slot. I wish I could scream Show me the Mani, but Baradwaj already snagged that for the title of his kinder more eloquent take on the film.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

notes on State and Main

Everybody makes their own fun. If you don't make it yourself, it isn't fun. It's entertainment

State and Main is loaded with Mamet-speak and populated with familiars from the Mamet gang (William H. Macy, Ricky Jay, Rebecca Pidgeon). Banished from New Hampshire, a filmmaking crew ends up in Waterford, Vermont and has to come to terms with its own as well as the residents of this small town. Offering perfect irony to all this is the fact that not one bit of this film was made in Waterford, Vermont. I was reminded of Truffaut's classic exposé on and ode to filmmaking La Nuit Américaine; Truffaut's take was affectionate and enlightening, while Mamet's first comedy is laced with his smart, lethal, clipped dialogue embellished with his poetic blend of profanity (English and Yiddish). SCRPC Truffaut's film was loaded with detail on the filmmaking process; aside from the opening credits (intercut with footage from film reel transition) bounding away in tandem with Theodore Shapiro's score, Mamet's film chooses to focus on the people and what they say and do. We see the pains of the crew and hear about the mechanics of their work, but, it's only in the closing scene that we get down to the business of making the film (The Old Mill).

If we stripped the film of its set pieces and stayed just with the people, we'd end up with something like Noises Off. But then Mamet's a playright, so this isn't very surprising.

There's an occasional shard of uncanny prescience in Mamet's work: Wag The Dog, which he co-wrote, prefigured the Clinton sex scandal. In State and Main, there's an exchange between Joe White (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Ann Black (Rebecca Pidgeon):

Joseph Turner White: You believe that?
Ann Black: I do if you do.
Joseph Turner White: But it's absurd.
Ann Black: So is our electoral process. But we still vote.

The film was released in 2000 (filming was completed in 1999), the year when the electoral college system floundered.

There's a crucial detail in the film that seems like a gaffe. Walt Price (William H. Macy) receives an invitation to a dinner at the Mayor's residence on Tuesday the 12th. He jots this down on his calendar on the whiteboard on his office using a red marker. His assistant accidentally wipes off most of the appointment and Walt asks her to restore it. She cleans out the leftover scribble and writes the appointment in the same cell using a green marker. Given the way this sequence is shot (the camera draws our attention to this appointment), we can expect that Walt will miss his appointment, because the date is wrong. Yet, so far, the date is correct. Later in the film, as the moment draws nigh, we see that the appointment in green has shifted into the cell for Wednesday the 13th and -- lo and behold! -- we find a shadow of the original appointment in the cell for Tuesday the 13th in red. It's conceivable that the assistant was prone to accidentally erase the appointment frequently and ended up eventually writing it in the wrong cell. Since the handwriting in the two cells in the final shot look alike (and neither looks like Walt's handwriting), this explanation holds water.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

strange things to say and genesis

Sagar Ballary's been riding the carpet of success ever since Bheja Fry became a hit at the box office. The niggling detail that it's based quite generously on and without attribution to Francis Veber's play keeps coming up in interviews and the answers aren't always pleasant.

Why was Bheja Fry the scene by scene copy of a French film?

It was not. There are minor changes that a common man will not notice.

This is the common man who had no small part to play in the success of the film.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, thanks to a pointer from Aditya, we find out more about the birth of the Nose.

Friday, May 23, 2008

old notes on Grindhouse

It's been over a year since the special experience of a double bill that Rodriguez/Tarantino served up to a mainstream audience while paying their dues to a genre that was anything but mainstream. The risk is laudable, but the Weinsteins have been funding QT's fanboy obsession with counter-cultural pop trash with abandon. There's a lot to savour, but the final product is not without elements that challenge one's patience.
The first film is the work of a craftsman and the second that of an artist; with a craftsman you get a quality product, but little to nothing of the texture of the incomplete or the unfinished or the rough that you can get from an artist; QT's the critical darling and it didn't take much to predict that Death Proof would get more attention and mileage than Planet Terror (among friends, I've found few that even remembered the title of Rodriguez's film -- some even -- shudder!! -- transferred the name of the package to it). Saying that Death Proof is packed with a lot of interesting dialogue, characters, a wonderful mix-tape of a soundtrack and a clever reworking of genre elements (a slasher flick with a car as the weapon) is tantamount to saying that QT delivers his bag of familiar tropes. Although there's a sense of Jackie Brown in the flourishes of dialogue, Death Proof serves as a showcase of the excess a filmmaker can wallow in as he indulges in his gift -- QT has a ear and pen for dialogue; the racist cussing that peppered True Romance and Pulp Fiction is superseded by a rich swathe of pop cultural references and tributes to genre pieces. The problem seems to have germinated in the second Kill Bill film. The comical blood baths and violence that fuelled the roller coaster of the first edition were replaced in a film that spent its time cooling down to a talky finale. photo courtesy mondonuclear.blogspot.com The shadow of the first may have saved the series, but there's nothing to cushion the drop here. All the glee in his imitations and homages takes a severe beating when we are presented with the ladies riffing around the table in a single revolving shot lasting over 8 minutes. That breathtaking flourish of bravura damages the intent of the package.

While Rodriguez came out tops with a faithful reworking of splatter and zombie flicks, QT cheated and took off from his assignment on a creative flight that sought another kind of audience. Although Miramax denied home theatre viewers the chance to experience the 191 minute monster by issuing them separately on DVD, the brothers Weinstein may have offered each film its own space. One hopes that it does not diminish the power and success of Planet Terror, however -- with that lovely motif (Rodriguez echoes John Carpenter as he does his own score yet again), the ingenious machine-gun-leg device, the delcious bloody exploding goop, Naveen Andrews lending glee and British relish to his lines, the artificial aging of the film and the cameos truly deserve their due.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

another vishal flick in the works: kamine

Is it Kamine or is it Kaminay? Shahid Kapur has reportedly been signed on by Vishal B for this film to play a double role. Priyanka Chopra's been roped in for this "romantic musical," that she describes as "being more of a romantic-comedy [that] also has lots of action." Shooting begins in August 2008. As the days go by, one awaits more tidbits on what might well be Vishal's first film that has nothing to do either with children or the Bard.

[Cross-posted on the Vishal Bhardwaj blog]

Saturday, May 10, 2008

telugu movie name templates

{thanks to S for the seed that this post sprouted from}

It all started with Rowdy Alludu. The title stuck in my head from the moment I heard about the film boasting a cast of Chiranjeevi (in a double role!), Shobhana and the late Divya Bharati and the tunes of Bappi Lahiri (oh yeah; he's got his paws in Telugu cinema). I then noticed a pattern -- there were other movies that had these words in their titles; mischief and sons-in-law are apparently a big deal in Tollywood; just as love is in Kollywood -- all those kaadal movies. After the holy union of these two words, we now had some more templates: Rowdy W, X Rowdy, Y Alludu and Alluda Z (the conjugation breaks the symmetry). W has taken values like Jamindar, Inspector and MLA; X has been more lucrative with values like State, Veedhi, Political and Assembly; Y's been a cash cow too with values like Naa, Allari, Chinna, America and Mechanic; Z's got just one hit, apparently with Majaka (a controversial situational comedy featuring a man, his wife, his sister-in-law and his mother-in-law). It's time we shuffled the options and got some interesting titles (W and Y, for example).

The kaadal counterpart is Prema, which yields its own rich pot.

Victory Venkatesh had special preference for titles that beckoned you; his knapsack contained Prematho Raa, Jayam Manade Raa, Kalisundam Raa and Preminchukondam Raa.

For our coda, we must risk offending some of you, dear readers, as well also note a variant of the welcoming title that uses a word that in Telugu means "please come in," but is unfortunately a homophone of a coarse piece of Hindi slang; the English synonym has been exploited for humour both in film and in puns. Such unfortunate coincidences can also make things tricky for this gentleman. It might also be an interesting addition to the options for W.

rises and correlations

The US economy is sagging and the price of gasoline has nudged the $4-for-a-gallon mark (and even passed it by in some cases). A rise in the use of public transit (link courtesy: Amogh) is the kind of thing you'd read about. Paramnesia is justified -- when the prices had nudged the $3 mark in an economy that wasn't doing so badly, similar articles had made their way to readers. You have to discount transit-friendly places like New York City and Boston and think of sprawls like Atlanta, where the commute still sucks, where MARTA has failed to be the saviour to consolidate transit initiatives across counties (and CCT continues to have no service on Sundays) and doesn't look like it doesn't want to shake off the "goes from nowhere to nowhere" label. The Atlanta regional transit plan didn't get much of a boost when SR 845 failed to find support for funding. The crusaders have moved on. Yet another survey indicates that residents were warm to the idea of the 1 percent tax. But the man who had boarded the train to solicit votes opposed the idea, arguing that a new sales tax would be unwise in a slowing economy and would unfairly burden rural residents who shop in urban areas. In addition, he said it would be a mistake to pump more money into a state Department of Transportation in need of a major overhaul.

Meanwhile, a ranting rider on the train isn't helping MARTA's image at all [uncensored video here].

update [May 18, 2008]: Soulja Girl has been arrested.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Bollycool: Bollywood's new weapon

Of late, a strange phenomenon has been steadily creeping into the Bollysphere and it threatens to define a new genre (or sub-genre, if you will) of Bollywood filmmaking. It's a composite of genres (the multi-starrer, for one) and familiar tropes blended with post-modernism (or post-post-modernism, if you will) -- song and dance routines become self-conscious and auto-referential, emotional sequences get their gravitas from decades of dross, napkin fodder and cheap dense vacuous blather. What we have now is an army of roustabouts (some seasoned, others green) rustling up recrement (some call it a script others call it vapourware) fuelled by an imagination tempered by a stack of foreign DVDs and a creative imagination as dead as the object of a necromaniac's amorous attentions. The recipe, when broken down into the essentials is simple: take a few several stars (with reasonably high guarantees of box office draw, competent to deadly sigh and oomph factors boosted by luscious vital statistics and Bowflex blandishments), convince the gents to gambol in muscular glee, convince one or more of the ladies to experiment with a state of undress that challenges the line between PG and PG-13, elicit the services of one of the many successful plagiarising paladins of song and swing to conjure booty-friendly poetic overtures to familiar objects of attention as well as to a canon of song and dance numbers over the ages and capture all the goings-on on film. What we get as a result of all this, are reels of "entertainment" laced with eye candy (PG-13 only, we are Indians saar) promising more (yeah right! when the GDP hits the ceiling and pigs truly fly) and reels and reels of mind-numbing buffoonery.

Not-so-recent "classics" in this mould include Dhoom (in which Esha Deol stepped out of the gym and into a swimsuit) and its sequel Dhoom 2 (featuring basketball, cricket references, the missing link named Aditya Chopra, Bipasha Basu in a double role -- playing semi-clad lassies in different states of undress to titillate different areas of the male imagination and Aishwarya Rai attempting to go down the road of ephemeral epidermal embellishments while trying to look like a character out of Masters Of The Universe).

A fresh piping hot sample is Abbas-Mustan's Race that features combinatorial coitus, multi-layered betrayal, eye candy (duh!) -- 3 women (all three known for being the cynosure of drooling gents than for making Lee Strasberg proud). Only a patient viewing will reveal more gems therein.

Vijay Krishna Acharya, the pensmith behind the two D-busters described above, made his directorial début with Tashan, a potential candidate for selection, although there is but one lassie and she has gone to great lengths to be able to shimmy into a two-piece and cavort about hoping that no one notices that she could do naught to fix the unyielding horror of her visage. Moreover, there seem to be hints that this film might have been more of a failed attempt at cinemeta-cinema (something that Shaad Ali pulled off well with Jhoom Barabar Jhoom) than at Bollycool. As always, only a screening will offer more insight. Meanwhile, one awaits the next blitz of the muscular and the mammiferous, the strong and the steatomammate, the brawn and the booty. Long live Bollycool.

Woo hoo! This post got a nod at DesiPundit.

return of the verbose movie title

A recent release marking the directorial début of Raj Kumar Santoshi's assistant Rajaatesh Nayar boasts a title that not only presents an example of the Hindi:English Bollywood movie naming scheme but also offers cud for the cow to chew: Sirf: Life Looks Greener On The Other Side. It's a sad moniker to use, if one values one's work of art; it's perfect, if one's taking a shot at the Bollytrash big time. Honestly ... how many people would take titles like Fun ... Can Be Dangerous Sometimes or Haseena: Smart, Sexy, Dangerous or Chetna: The Excitement?

the unchanging times: mv eth0

The Tabloid Of India needs editors and better reporters. Then again, the dulcifluous detritus that the online portal spews out might represent another inevitable stage in the devolution of the once-heralded daily. Case in point: a recent article on the Chinese cyber-war on India. We start with There are three main weapons in use against Indian networks — BOTS, key loggers and mapping of networks. This is all fine and dandy until you stumble at BOTS. What's BOTS? Bovine Occipital Technical Stream? Bellicose Ornamental Triangulation System? Bring On The Shinto? BOTS up Doc? A question of inappropriate punctuation, since the hapless entity is a bot. But it gets worse, dear reader, when the author of this piece decides to define thie BOT:

A BOT is a parasite program embedded in a network, which hijacks the network and makes other computers act according to its wishes, which, in turn, are controlled by "external" forces.

Why does this sound so similar to Newton's First Law of Motion?

Trust people to generalise so egregiously.

The crime of capitalisation rears its ugly head once again with BOTNETS. This is followed by another claim of motion:

Simply put, the danger is that at the appointed time, these "external" controllers of BOTNETS will command the networks, through the zombies, to move them at will.

Network movement through remote control. A fascinating idea. Victor Frankenstein would be proud; George Romero might find this a lucrative idea for another edition in his Dead canon (unless some Italian filmmaker's already beaten him -- and the author of this TOI piece -- to it).

We pause to contemplate of those little things that don't matter much anymore -- editorial lapses:

Key loggers is software that scans computers and their processes and data the moment you hit a key on the keyboard.

The article continues to betray its origins in cut-up theory by refusing to tell us what MEA stands for (not the Museum of European Art, puTTan, but the Ministry of External Affairs) and indulging in another fling of poetic poop: MEA has a three-layered system of computer and network usage — only the most open communication is sent on something called "e-grams". I have no idea what an e-gram is. Electronic weights? A poor cousin to that late distiller? Only MEA and the author of this piece have the answer. Or maybe I should ask the Chinese.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

ehsaan noorani on youtube

Ehsaan Noorani, the man responsible for those delicious riffs adorning the best of the Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy songs, has been extremely generous to the community; he's been posting responses and chords on Indian Guitar Tabs for a while now. He's also been moderating a forum dedicated to interest in the work of this composer trio. As if all this wasn't enough, he's now got a channel on YouTube. There's only a handful of clips up there, but these include riffs from a couple of the trio's songs (bol na halake halake, rock 'n' roll soNiye) but also a few samples of the man showing off his chops (those in attendance for any of their concerts are probably not too surprised).
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