Sunday, October 29, 2006

Leunig | A Tribute To Michael Leunig

Leunig A Tribute To Michael Leunig

Friday, October 13, 2006

Yun Hota to Kya Hota

What if Hindi cinema…?

Things really seem to be happening and moving in Hindi cinema. In the post-liberalisation era, after being mired for a while with terrorist-links and horror stories of extortion etc, Hindi cinema has really bounced back, both as an industry and in terms of the quality and diversity of the films being produced.

An array of new talents has entered the field, with the likes of Ram Gopal Varma giving the lead. Hs production company The Factory went all out to realise the dreams of many an upcoming filmmaker. Many newcomers and 'upstarts'have made their mark and their only strength has been their passion and the strength of their scripts and vision. This resurgence has had its ripple effect even on the commercial mainstream, with the mammoth waking up to the new opportunities and talents around. Hence a flurry of films like Munnabhai, the 'Factory' films and those of Priyadarsan. Star presence, exotic locations, and spices are not the only things that matter here.

Nasrudeen Shah's debut film Yun Hota to Kya Hota (What if..?) rides this wave to create a film with a global theme and appeal. It is a film that takes 9/11 as the climactic moment to look into what it actually did to human lives and dreams. Totally non-judgmental in approach, it weaves together the otherwise run-of-the-mill stories of four people from diverse backgrounds and different ambitions, who desperately manage to make it to that 'land of opportunities'.

Tilottama (Konkana Sen) is a runaway bride, who wants to get back to her newly wed husband in US daring her in laws. Salim (Irfan Khan) is also a sort of stockbroker on the run, who accidentally gets involved in a murder, a stock market scam and to top it all an intense love affair with an elderly dancer (Suhasini Mulay). Rahul is a poor but promising student whom destiny forces to the US. What looked impossible to him suddenly turns into reality when his dependent father dies and his girl friend makes a generous 'grant' to send him off. Rajubhai (played by the inimitable Paresh Rawal) is a cultural organizer-cum conduit to take people to the dreamland. But this time, it is not an ordinary journey for him, for he has with him Payal, the daughter of his old flame Tara (Ratna Pathak), whom he wants to present a bright future and life. All these people with diverse dreams and a whole life ahead of them find themselves together in that fateful flight from Boston that crashed into the World Trade Centre on September 11. Interestingly, out of these four 'desperados', only Tilottama the properly married wife, survive. She misses her flight and joins her husband. All the rest, who have 'fuzzy' relationships perish. Salim's affair is marked by her promiscuity and later, betrayal, while for Rajubhai, it is the revival of a love affair, but now, in the form of an extra marital affair. The young Rahul's relationship with Khushboo is a very ambiguous one. Is it yet another accident or coincidence? Randomness and chance being central to the story, is fate and the narrative spinning a different yarn for each?

In the global context of 9/11, the film places the blind and unitary world of terrorism against the explosive diversity of dreams of the ones they killed while executing their macabre plan. It is this stark contrast between the forces of dark closure that looms large over the world (invisible, violent sudden and faceless in the film) and the exuberance and yearning that characterizes the life on the other that animates the film. Is it just a bitter irony that both these forces find themselves in the same 'flight' and are bound for the same destination?

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Carry on, Munnabhai!

Lage Raho Munnabhai, the sequel to Munnabhai MBBS, directed by Raj Kumar Hirani, has turned into one of the most successful films in recent years. Responses indicate that, apart from the box office, it has awakened the Gandhians from their slumber, with different groups taking sides as to whether the film is for Gandhism (giving it another lease of life, this time through commercial Bollywood) or only makes a travesty of it for commercial gains thereby trivializing the whole thing. Running as an undercurrent of all these discussions is the dread or total perplexity about such a film becoming phenomenally popular with the masses. This immense popularity, in a way, seems to bring upon the intellectuals a self-imposed responsibility to 'explain' and explicate it. But like Gandhi himself such exercises prove futile from the beginning. They invariably end up either as puerile moralism or mindless indignation. Such ideological or moralistic tools invariably fail to 'explain away' the fuzzy logic of films like this.

For one, the film works at various levels, it is not only about Gandhi or Gandhism. Being a sequel, it has a set of already established characters who have a free take on the System once again. If in the earlier edition, they made fun of the medical and educational institution, (thus also making a bitter comment upon the 'merit' issue and the crass commercialization of the sector), this time they taken on contemporary politics and power structures. For this, they have two aids; one is the figure of Gandhi, who appears to Munna. Gandhi functions as the figure of the past, one that invokes nostalgic idealism and grit, commitment and sacrifice. The other is the radio, the tribal drum as McLuhan would call it, taking Munna's voice to the urban public. While the former functions as the inner voice the latter is its amplification into the external world. (It is Gandhi speaking through Munna, whose voice is in turn spoken by Radio) Woven into this dual discourses are the narratives of love and longing, that of the hero and heroine, that of the aged cronies, of male bonding between Munna and his sidekick Circuit (a striking performance by Arshad Warsi), and of the various people who get into the radio broadcast network of Munna's Gandhiana. Running through all this and animating them are the concerns about corruption, greed, indifference to everything public, duplicity, etc. It is all about the 'inner' and the 'outer'. While Munnabhai is all goodness outside and goondagiri is only the surface, his 'other' Lucky is the reverse. The latter played by Boman Irani, that of the avaricious real estate agent, summarizes it all – though, in the outer, social world, he is a cut throat who wouldn't hesitate to break or bend any rules to get things done, at home he is an angel, dutiful husband and a darling father to his only daughter. His is a character that starkly embodies the total split between private/familial and public/social morality. It is not a coincidence that it is his daughter who ultimately brings about the climax, when she confesses to her father-in-law-to-be about her father manipulating the kundali to 'fix' her marriage. This confession also brings the private and the hidden 'out' into the open. This 'solution' within the domain of the family, in turn results in solving the larger issue – that of giving back the ancestral house that belongs to Jhanvi (Munna's love), which again, is also a move parallel to that of the hero, one from 'goonda-giri' to 'Gandhi-giri'.

The film ends hilariously with Lucky himself ending up as a devotee of Gandhi and gaining his darshan, and making earnest attempts to take his photograph along with him! Kudos to the film, for it indeed needs a lot of grit to make the hero coolly rubbishing kundalini by holding a gun to the pundit's head and asking him to predict his future!

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

GIRISH is not a painter or artist in the conventional sense. Art or painting is a form of life for him, a way of grappling with life and making it bearable or another means to exorcise the pain and darkness within.

Looking through the series of recent paintings of Girish, one gets a feeling of loneliness and desolation emanating from them. These paintings, dark and brooding, seem to be struggling and suffering to reach out – to the brightness without, beyond or hereafter. They are like the colour patterns that constantly unfold behind our closed eyes; sharp lines and crowding brush strokes proliferate in these little spaces, throbbing together or moving past to create patterns and moods. Akin to certain feelings or obsessions that refuse to leave us; they obstinately multiply feeding upon each other, always returning to haunt us, or like palimpsests, insistently working their way over and over into the caverns that we are, to communicate a certain yearning, hurt, guilt or a certain density of feelings, as it were.

Always shunning figuration of any kind, Girish's paintings work on moods, hence the series is aptly named 'mindscapes'. Naturally, these paintings breathe easily in darker hues, always hastening to thicken towards darker shades of blues, greens and blacks. Very rarely do lighter colours find a space here, if at all they appear, they always doodle themselves into complex and intricate patterns.

In their own way these ever-darkening and muted colours speak about the very impossibility of communication. Working through moods, they stumble upon moods and forebodings and constantly create different yet repetitive patterns. But they have a certain inviting density to them that takes us into dark, ponderous spaces.

Not having to prove any point, live up to manifestoes or make any 'breaks', Girish brushes his way through the maze of colours, in his own way, finding rather than seeking. Naturally, his works are erratic and uneven, within and without. It doesn't make any claims, nor assert any. May be it is this deep tentativeness and non-assertion that easily opens them up to us and transports us into its worlds.

Free of any kind of luggage, aesthetic or ideological, these paintings are like coded suicide notes; painful but irrepressible notes about oneself that seeks no redressal from the world. Their self-cancellations are not negative, but instead warning signals for us to look in and out. It needs a lot of freedom, energy and courage to express life as it comes, 'as is where is'. Girish takes this risk and in the gamble, pulls out several things, sometimes patterns and moods, sometimes boredom and repetition, but in any case, it is a risk that makes us transcend what and how we are…………

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celebrating a kathakali actor

MINUKKU – Celebrating The Actor
When one thinks of documentaries, one thinks of issues and problems,or of eulogistic narration and information packages. Issue orpersonality-driven, it has seldom been explored as an art in itself inKerala. Mostly, it is considered as a stop-over between or before onemoves to one's real calling and destination in cinema - full lengthfeature films. As a result, documentaries have not been approached asa medium of self expression or as an art form in its own right. But MR Rajan is a rare exception in Indian cinema. In his career spanningtwo decades, he has been exploring this medium to bring to life manyfacets of our life, art, culture and history.
His new film 'Minukku'is on the legendary Kathakali actor Kottakkal Sivaraman who hasenthralled generations of kathakali viewers. Known for his alluringenactment of female characters, it was he who gave the female roles inkathakali the charm and depth that it has now. Minukku is Rajan'slatest film in his series on actors and artists. His earlier filmswere on Ammanur Madhava Chakyar, Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair, Premji, MRBhattathiripad, and T P Gopalan.At one level, this film is an interface between the kathakali actor onthe one hand, and a film actor (Nedumudi Venu) and an artist (E PUnni) on the other. Nedumudi, an ardent admirer of Sivaraman, followsthe latter's life and experiences in the film, while Unni's sketchescaptures the sculptural beauty of Sivaraman's face, gestures andexpressions. This interface is also one between different art forms.Art forms like drawing and cinema, in a way, are very much unlike aperforming art like Kathakali, which is a temporal art, one that comesalive and illuminates our imagination only while it is beingperformed. On the other hand, both cinema and drawing, resist thisevanescence, remaining behind, recorded, for generations to come to appreciate and enjoy it. While the documentary itself is an attempt atdocumenting Sivaraman, the actor par excellence, the same process isunderlined by the presence of or dialogue with the other two artforms.This hour-long documentary weaves together the first person account ofSivaraman, who reminisces about his childhood, gurus, early life, andwaxes eloquent about his 'star hero' Kalamandalam Gopi, along withexcerpts from his performances in various roles, as Damayanti,Poothana, Panchali, etc. Interspersed with these are the sketches ofUnni and the exchanged between the film actor and kathakali actor.The film is done on cinemascope (impressive camera work by Venu) whichevocatively captures the epic scale of kathakali performances and thelandscape of the art, at the same time liberating the documentaryformat from its conventional association with poverty in productionqualities. The impact of this format is evident in the brilliantopening and final shots of the film.
The film opens with a long shotof a hill, against the background of the blue expanse of the sky, uponwhich the kombu-artists make their clarion-call as it were. This shotis followed by that of the kathakali scene, the court of Duryodhana,where the Kauravas and Pandavas are arrayed across the screen withPanchali in the middle pleading with them. Similarly in the final shotwe find Sivaraman in the form of Rambha, the enchantress, against thebluish landscape of Valluvanad..Minukku thus liberates documentary from its narrow visions andcanvases. It is both an ode to one of the all time greats ofKathakali, as well as a tribute of one art form (cinema) to another(kathakali).

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