Saturday, 31 March 2012

Move Aside Desperate Housewives, The Nuns Are Here!!

Jainism, arguably one of the most difficult religions to follow by the book, yet probably the only religion where nearly every tenet is deep rooted on some scientific principle, some which are even beyond the current day and age. The Jains are also extremely fanatic, but thank god, they believe in ahimsa, or non-violence, thus limiting the fanaticism to their own selves, else we would surely have had an Indian version of the Crusades æons before the actual ones! Having said so, I am proud to have been born as one, and that too a practising one for the better part of my life, for at least most of the canons are scientific, the temple architecture amazing, the history rich, the stories enthralling, and the ability of the people to fast for days with no food or in some cases even without water, unthinkable! However, thanks to my leaning towards agnosticism bordering on atheism, I now find a lot of practices of all religions and the way people bend them to suit their level of convenience and comfort, utterly hilarious. A few days ago, such an incident happened.

Jain ascetics -  Saadhus and Saadhavis, the male and female versions, have a harsh life to lead. I can make my piece with a life of meditation,  wearing clothes without stitches, eating only food collected as alms among others, but not using means of transport or electricity and not bathing (yuck!!) and the worst, not shaving or waxing, but having to pluck each hair of their bodies! Giving your body so much pain, to what end? To please the gods, oh please! I bet if he/she does exist, he/she is definitely not a ghostly version of Marquis de Sade or Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (for the rather ignorant people, let me clarify and replace the last 17 words with the following - he/she is definitely not a sadist).

In relation to the aforementioned is a small anecdote; something that me and my brother would not have been privy to, for my mother reasoned that it would just push us that much closer to atheism, but then she decided against her better judgment and ended up sharing it with us. So, one day my mother was at the salon, get her hair trimmed on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I never get why salons charge gals ten times more than what they charge blokes, when they nearly harvest our entire crop, while for the girls a snippety snap and its done! Anyway, she was getting her hair done and her view was blocked by the coiffeuse, so she could not see the person who had walked in; she wasn't expecting to run into anyone, given that it was just one of those hours when the only footfalls are those of employees and tiny crawling creatures, for no one wants to brave the heat and venture out (Honestly, I prefer those times, as you can get all your work done in minimal time; heat versus too many people - the people win hands down, so I avoid them, the victors are always haughty!). The lady walked in and occupied the empty chair next to my mother. When the hairdresser stepped away from my mother, she turned just out of curiosity to see who was sitting next to her and saw the saadhavi, and was she surprised!

If you must know, the nun was from a new breed, part of this association called Veerayatan, where they adopt a somewhat normal lifestyle, using electricity, vehicles, cooking for themselves, using toilets and taking showers (thank god!), and so on, while still preaching religion and studying scriptures, which is a great thing, for in the present times, it does not make any sense to shun all these and to connect with today's generations, it is pertinent that they too change. Obviously, going to the beauty-parlour and getting a mani-pedi and her eyebrows done and skin waxed and hair chopped seems perfectly fine.

On seeing her, my mother greeted her, and she dropped just dropped dead! There aren't very many Jains in our locality and she probably did not expect to run into anyone early on a Sunday, but what do you know! She looked like a kid caught with his hand stuck inside a candy-jar when he wasn't supposed to have any. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with her wanting to look good for her  next sermon, but maybe her guilt caught up with her. She was embarrassed beyond belief and responded with a forced smile. As soon as my mother's view was blocked again, she  took off without a single hoot. That was absolutely hilarious. If you're leading a certain lifestyle, why would you hide something as simple as visiting the salon? Having watched Desperate Housewives, it wouldn't have surprised me if she were to shun the path of non-violence and confront my mother to make a desperate plea for keeping it a secret or even buying silence, but I was disappointed.

It is people like these who I would say are responsible for the dwindling masses at religious institutions and places of worship. The new generation does not mind if these leaders do not stick to the books, but they very much mind if these leaders do not practise what they preach and try to do things secretively. Me and my brother could not stop laughing on this incident, much to my mother's chagrin; and we thought that she wanted to laugh heartily, but was just embarrassed to admit it and the fact that she attends discourses by these very people, stifled her laughter. It may be interesting to note, that this particular nun was the very same with which and brother and I had an interesting, somewhat heated, discussion, on some religious topic, and unable to answer it she had then said, "Why don't you come later and we discuss this at length? We are a little pressed for time now." Aren't they always? She just did not want to admit in front of a motley crowd that she did not possess answers to some of our questions, which is also perfectly fine, for some things, are just difficult to explain and it is more a question of faith than fact. But who wants to admit defeat, especially when you are put on a pedestal (then, she actually was seated on a pedestal above us meatball mortals). I just want to say, that if religions want to woo Gen Y in any way, they have to reinvent themselves, be more open and friendly, rather than elitist, and accept the fact that no person knows everything and some things may remain unexplained and that a lot of religious texts may not make much sense in light of the scientific advancements, inventions and discoveries. Only then do religions have some chance of surviving this century. God speed to them!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Kahaani - Finally A Great Bollywood Thriller

[Durga Maa reincarnate?]
Thrillers and Bollywood, there's not much to say there, for they rarely do come. Well actually, very rarely do you get to see good Bollywood film these days, probably just 3 or 4 in a year!! That's dismal, considering that over 100 Bollywood, that is Hindi films, are released each year. Most of them are aren't that different, the same old invincible hero, good triumphing over evil, some amazing songs shot at beautiful locations, probably copied from some Turkish or Iranian ones, and squeezed in anywhere in the film without thought or logic and each film seeming to be more unbearable and crappy than the previous. And special effects and graphics, whew! They are worse than that of the 1956 classic, Ten Commandments. Very rarely do you come across films where everything works - the music, the direction, the acting and the story. The script is generally never given much credit, the brilliant performances or distinguished names take away the credit, but for me, it is always the story that is the foundation on which the film is built.

So when I saw Kahaani 2 weeks ago, I was delighted. The film had everything going for it. The direction was superb! Who would have thought it was from the same guy who had made such hideousness as Home Delivery: Aapko... Ghar Tak [2005] and Aladin [2009]? The story was gripping, it kept you at the edge of your seats. There never seemed a dull moment; it constantly kept you guessing the next part. And the acting, mind blowing! Vidya Balan again delivered a power packed performance for a script that was created with her in mind, as she portrayed the role of Vidya Bagchi, or should I say Biddaa Bagchi like the Bongs. After back to back women-centric films, which were all super hits and well received by the critics like Paa [2009], Ishqiya [2010], No One Killed Jessica [2011] and the Dirty Picture [2011], where she played diverse roles from an iron-willed mother, a seductive widow to a distressed sister and then an actress of erotic films, this time she takes up the role of a heavily pregnant woman in search of a husband who has suddenly gone missing and does not seem to exist. She seems to be ruling the roost in Bollywood right now, with no other actress even close to her and has finally proven that one does not need famous male actors to deliver a hit film. Her acting was phenomenal as a despondent pregnant women wandering through the streets of Kolkata looking for her husband, her insecurity, her strong-headedness, those moments of utter despair and hopelessness and then finally at the end, SPOILER ALERT (although if you still haven't seen it, you're probably never gonna) when she takes off her prosthetic belly and takes a gun out and shoots Milan Damji, that was soooo good! The skill with which she tackles him and the confidence with which she walks away, was perfect! She did turn out to be goddess Durga's incarnation on earth! The story all seemed to make sense, and although that scene may be based on a similar one from the 2004 Jolie flick Taking Lives, it was better than it in every way.

[The eyes say it all.]
There were other actors too, who played their roles to perfection and gave the film a completeness. Parambrata Chatterjee did a good job as the reticent and rather helpful Inspector Satyoki, bhaalo naam Rana, and so did Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the feisty and tenacious Mr. Khan. However, one of the best roles was that of Bob Biswas, insurance agent by day, the contract killer by night, played by Sasawata Chatterjee. His acting was first-class. He looked like a nobody and then suddenly he would be there saying "Nomoshkar. Ami Bob Biswas. Ek minute." (That's "Greeting. I'm Bob Biswas. One minute."), and then bang, a second later he is talking to your corpse! And the scene where he confronts Vidya at the Kolkata Metro Station and nearly pushes her and then - Intermission, had us wondering all through the interval on how she would be saved! Thank god they didn't show that as a dream of hers or even the the climax as her being a schizophrenic! That would have just killed it and rendered the whole film useless.

Apart from these, the other character in the film was the City of Joy, Kolkata. What joy there is in the city, with the laziest people and dirtiest roads, and disgusting buildings that look as if they haven't got a fresh coat of paint in years, I no not. But it still plays a role - in the irritating mispronunciation of V as B and the obsession with Durga Pujo, the warm helping people, the yellow taxis zigzagging through crowded streets and the metro! It is also present in the soundtracks Amhi Shotti Bolchi and Ekla Chalo Re, the former being extremely ironic as the whole movie is based on lies and the latter an inspiring Rabindranath Tagore song, voiced by Amitabh Bachchan. What I also liked was dialogues throughout the film that gave a tiny clue as to what could be expected like when Vidya asks Satyoki his name and then says that it means 'Arjun's charioteer', which later on takes its meaning as she dons the role of Arjun and he ends up helping her, or when he explains the Bengali system of having an official/formal name called Daak Naam and another affectionate/pet name called Bhaalo Naam and she comments on how strange it is that a person has two different names, which was also true as her husband seemed to have two different identities, but ultimately it was her who had assumed those different identities. I like having to think and guess what the end is going to be like, but this time I could not. However, my excitement and thrill trumps my disappointment at not guessing the plot, so who cares?

Of course, the film has a whole bunch of minor flaws, which it could do without, but it is so gripping, that you hardly notice them, for what ultimately matters is an interesting film and all said and done is a fantastic film. Most certainly one that you should not miss, and considering that Bollywood has delivered that one good film, don't expect any more for another six months.

Rating: I'd give it ★★★☆☆.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Silence Doth Speaketh - The Artist, An Arty Masterpiece

[The Artist's poster somehow reminds me of The Phantom of the Opera with the use of black, white and red.]
What would you say if someone told you they are getting rid of their tablet/laptop and switching back to huge mechanical computers that occupy a room? Or that they are going to change back to Victorian fashion, with women wearing dresses that look like they've got a monkey stuffed up their keister and men donning triple-breasted coats with shawls and ascots and so many other layers that they resemble only two things, either a polar bear, or a streetside one-man woolen shop? What if someone told you they are going to dispense with electricity and switch on to oil lamps? Any normal person would go, "Are you out of you bloody mind?" For who would ever want to regress? And rightly so.

When Michael Hazanavicius, a French director lying in a anonymity until very recently, must have come up with the strange proposition, I'm sure he would have been questioned the exact same way. When the world's going gaga over the newest colours, from laser lemon and mantis green to my own nomenclature like Hanuman orange, red butt baboon red, Red Sea blue and Bombay sea brown, not to mention a little over Gaga too, to make a black and white movie? Schindler's List may have done it in 1993, but that clearly was a one-off case. And to add to that, no voices? What was he thinking, was he out of his mind? Are normal people even going to watch the movie?

But they couldn't have been more wrong. For the film he created, The Artist was sensationally stupendous and startlingly spectacular. A positive change in the recent slew of horrible movies. Like those old fashion trends making a come-back when designers run out of what they like to call 'creativity', while others term them as 'redonkulous misfit outfits' that can't be worn even in front of the mirror! The film was really good, nothing like you expect it. I had heard snippets of news that it was a silent film, but dismissed them as shoddy statements, akin to pronouncing Obama dead when in fact it was Osama. However, when I went to purchase the tickets and the guy at the booth informed me that it was indeed a silent film, I did not say much, for the people I was with did not know it was a silent film and I was afraid that they'd refuse to watch it; I really wanted to see it, see what was so special about it. Special it was. I was happy to have my preconceived notions so sharply obliterated (of course, a one-off instance again). 

The Artist was one amongst hundreds of Hollywood films that are released late in India, I don't know why (if they can release The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn 6 weeks before its international release, why not a great film on time?), and so we could only watch it as late as February 24, 2012, a day before the Oscars, well actually 2, thanks to the time difference. So thankfully I did not have my opinions influenced by the Awards. When I was a kid, which doesn't seem so long ago, I used to hate these artsy Oscary movies, or what we liked to call 'Oscar-type movies'. Movies that would be well made, creating a  ravishing rose around a story that is a tiny dull seed. No action, drama, adventure, fighting sequences or crazy out-of-this-world weapons, just great performances and direction. That's what kids want isn't it? I hated some of the movies (which I insanely love now) when I first saw them. I even slept through some of them, especially Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I guess I was too naïve to understand their beauty. However, over the last few years, I seem to understand these movies the way their maker intended, something I still haven't got around with Modern Art or Impressionism (and I wish I never get there); movies like Black Swan, Inception, Oldboy and The Prestige, among others.

The movie is about what an old silent film star, George Valentin, portrayed by Jean Dujardin, goes through on his refusal to switch over to the talkies in his twilight years, and his roller coaster romance with an upcoming actress, Peppy Miller, played by Bérénice Bejo, who is Hazanavicius' wife. The plot may seem like any other movie, but there are a lot of things to like in the movie. Initially, as the movie starts, you feel like you are cheated and want your money back. However, as the film progresses, you are kind of sucked into it and it all starts to make sense. You actually try to read the lips of the actors. When George has the dream where he can suddenly hear voices and noises, you see a glimmer of hope and think, 'Finally, the movie is going to speak', but it does not; therein lies its beauty. The film spoke much more through its silence.

[One of the best and most engrossing tap dance sequences I have ever seen.]
The direction of the movie was great; I particularly liked this one shot when George knocks over a glass of liquor over a glass table. It was a absolutely brilliant. Even the one where Peppy puts her arm through the sleeve of one of George's jackets lying and caresses herself, but is caught in the act by George, is shown well, the air between them thick and their feelings vulnerable and exposed. Another scene that steals your breath away, is the "BANG" towards the very end. It does keep you at the edge of your seat. Uggie, the jack russel terrier was adorable and played his part well, with his antics and pretending to be dead bits. It was really touching when he saves George's life and tries his level best to dissuade George from doing something stupid. James Cromwell did a wonderful job as Clifton, George's butler, who does not desert George despite being unpaid for his services for over a year. He somewhat reminded me of Richie Rich's and Bruce Wayne's butlers, constant and faithful. Peppy's role was played to perfection, right from the first embarrassing kiss to the confident dance at the audition, to moments of insecurity and fleeting romance and then care and compassion for George. Her mole really did add to her beauty. But the star of the movie was of course Dujardin. Not your everyday John from the garden, (well knowing a little bit of French myself, I can tell you his name does indeed mean John From-the-garden!), but what an actor! No one could have done it better it seems, his confidence and vainglory in the start, or those moments when his heart skipped a beat for the vivacious Miss Peppy, to those times of utter despair and frustration with his life and wife, his affection for his pet and constant companion, his dog, to him drowning into his a whirlpool of his fame as he desperately tries to cling on to his former glories and refuses to move on. That smile of his, is extremely charming and beguiling. You cannot feel angry at him ever! And the tap dance at the end of the movie was just marvellous. Right after it come his only two words in the movie, 'With pleasure' and he says it in his sexy French accent like like 'Wizz Plea-zu-re', making it sound even better.

Movies that have some message always get some extra brownie points. The Artist too had some message. It is always good to be determined and headstrong, but it does not bode well to not change with the changing times. One always has to move with the flow. A rolling stone gathers no moss, but a stationary one gathers far too much. And in times of peril and depression, having a helping hand and a shoulder to cry on, not to mention a beautiful body to go with those two, always helps. And the movie does go on to show once again that dog is indeed man's best friend. What I also did not know before seeing the film was that in the silent film era, they would actually have an orchestra playing music in the cinema and there would be title cards with important lines, squeezed in, so that the audience would actually understand what is going on! Now that I come to think of it, it does seem pretty obvious, but I feel dense for not having thought of that earlier.

[The Artist cast and crew, along with the new star Uggie the dog, at the 84th Annual Academy Awards, winning 5 Oscars out of 10 nominations.]
The movie of course did unexpectedly and unbelievably well at all awards functions. It has become the most awarded French film in history, sweeping top awards at the BAFTA, Golden Globes, César Awards the Academy Awards and other award functions. It was the most nominated and won the most awards this year at most of these. It was the first silent film since the 1927 film 'Wings' (coincidentally, The Artist is also based between 1927 and 1932) which won the first Academy Awards for Best Picture in 1929. That was a long wait, but worth every year! The film also became the first film to win Best Picture, which was produced by a non-English speaking country. Dujardin won the Best Actor at most of the Awards where he was nominated and also became the first French actor to win the Oscar. Uggie, the dog, also made an appearance on the stage when Dujardin carried him as he accepted his Best Actor award. Dujardin accidently let slip the word 'putain', meaning 'whore' or 'f#¢k', not the first of the night though, but it was all in good humour, and as long as the Frenchies have their accent on, it matters not.

[Jean Dujardin winning the first Best Actor Academy Awards for France.]
All in all, a captivating film with towering performances, first-rate music and splendid direction. The film is more than worth a watch, it is something you should probably think about getting on Blu-ray and preserving forever, with a watch everytime you're tired or bored or need some cheering up or if you want to learn what great direction is. Although it is not for everyone; some people I recommended this to, called me up the instant it was over and hurled some abuses; some actually clapped in the cinemas when it got over, not because it was a great film, but because the ordeal was over! But if you don't like it, don't curse me. Blame yourself if you could not truly appreciate it or just think of it as something that's not your cup of tea; the world is filled with people with varied tastes and interests. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

Rating: It deserves .