Favorite Directors and other things.

Slowly, but steadily, I found myself a new favorite Director. Defining what it takes to be my favorite Director is a whacky process. I don’t think I know clearly how I consider any Director as my favorite. I feel that it has got more to do with how I want to be viewed amongst my friends. Declaring Vetrimaran or Anurag Kashyap as my favorite Director has got something to do with the ‘fashion statement’ I am making about myself. Wait a minute – I think I’m being hard on myself. I don’t think what I just said is 100% true. It’s not just a fashion statement; Of course, they are cool enough to be called as my favorites, but it is indeed true that I genuinely like them – the topics they choose to make films on, what their characters in these films speak – their language, their world-view, how these Directors carry themselves offline. What do they say after their film releases – before their film releases? Are they honest; are they classy? I mean, it’s not just about whether I liked the film or not (In fact, I haven’t watched ‘Aadukalam’ the second time. I cannot stand to see Karuppu lose all his money). It’s this whole package.

So, where was I? New favorite Director – It’s Oliver Stone.

It’s not like I like conspiracy theories or I am being anti-establishment or anti-Republican philosophy (In fact, if I were an American, I’d have voted Republican). What attracted me towards his films were his consistent selection of the topics he chooses to make his films on. Needless to say, he likes the docudrama genre, with politics being his predominant area of interest. He has this immense curiosity to go beyond the surface and look deep into the details. In ‘W’ – he doesn’t make ‘W’ look as a plain villain. He tells his back story with complete earnestness. Of course, in the end, you tend to dislike ‘W’ – but at least, he gives you enough information about why you dislike him. Like I always said – films act like mirror to your personality. If you are careful enough to observe, it tells you a lot about you as a person. It unravels your prejudices, your pent up emotions – and if you are earnest enough, makes you come out of these and tries to make you a better person. You will try to be careful not to do what that character in that film.

As I write this, I do find a common thread between Vetrimaran, Anurag Kashyap and Oliver Stone. As much as their chosen topics are at a certain elevated level – about rooster fights or JFK conspiracy or a girl’s kidnapping – deep inside, they all tell stories of imperfect humans – like us. I know that you must be wondering – why am I taking ‘films’, of all things, so seriously? Sadly, I have never known to do otherwise. In one sense, I am the perfect audience for these directors. I believe everything they say – I truly believe them. I am that person whom they dream about telling their story to. I have this 100% suspension of disbelief. I don’t question them. I surrender to their story. And yes, in the end – they don’t tell me what to do. They don’t tell me what is right or wrong. They never attempt that. They give you the puzzle – puzzle defined by their protagonists’ actions and character traits. And it’s up to me as a person to derive what I want to.

In one way, I think their films are a different guide to spirituality. Either you learn from the perfect-true-best philosophies (like Upanishads or Thirukkural) OR you learn from imperfect characters. You can learn as much from imperfection, as you can learn from the truth.

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Mayanadhi

The last time I felt a song present inside my body all day long, constantly singing through the singer’s voice, was ‘Poongatrile..’ from Uyire. ‘Mayanadhi’ from Kabali is the next. The song just doesn’t get out of my mind. You know, the top part of the brain where you feel yourselves ‘thinking’. That still plays the song, even as I type this.

End of the day, I think all that matters is a simple song. A simple song sung as if it’s THE truth. I don’t know who Ananthu is. But the way he does the typical Carnatic thing after singing each line of the main stanza, I can feel him. I can feel how he felt when he was singing that song. No thought in his mind, except the act of singing. Stillness.

I wish, someday, I get to do anything – even driving a car – like he sang this song.

Observe

The air is still. The sky seems unusually high from here. The trees and their leaves look meditative. It feels as if their life’s goal has been achieved and they just stand there; there is nothing else to do. Few birds hop from one branch to another, singing. Even the stillness of the air creates some sort of a vibration on my skin. I can feel the touch of the air. The hair on my forearm gets grazed by it every now and then. The singing of the birds is the only sound I hear. Actually, no. The sound of the water stream nearby has so well blended in, that I don’t distinguish that from my surroundings. Now that I hear it, I can feel that sound flowing through the back of my head. I try looking beyond the trees. Still, more trees. I close my eyes for a few minutes. It feels soothing. I could sense something between my eyebrows. The sensation feels comforting. I could hear the sounds flowing through both my ears. All I do is observe.

Visaaranai

Too much ‘air time’ for a film always paints a broader, yet clearer contour of what the film is going to be. The trailers don’t help either. By the time I was in the theatre, I, pretty much, was bracing myself for the series of torture that the protagonist is going to face. In that sense, ‘Visaaranai’ wasn’t surprising. I already knew what was coming.

What I didn’t expect was the fact that I became Pandi during those two hours. I was shouting in my head to not follow Inspector Sir’s suggestion to stay and clean up the police station. I knew something was wrong. I knew something bad is going to happen. Like those many things that you do even when you don’t, I went inside the station out of trust and loyalty to Inspector Sir. Things were good for the first few days. I cleaned the station, the toilets, had some good food. More than everything, I was glad that I don’t have to go to that dreaded Srinivasa Nagar Police station again. And I thanked Inspector Sir a million times for that. I remembered all my night shows and the number of times Police stopped me for checking my license. I slowly started remembering those vague faces sitting inside the blue color police cars. Were they getting “picked up”? Did my looks as an ‘urbane’ looking good guy saved me from getting into that car? Or the fact that I was able to easily shed many 100 rupee notes when the constable wasn’t convinced that I was really coming back from the night show? What would I have done if I got “picked up”? I, then, saw the decent man who I kidnapped at Guntur, sitting almost naked near the toilet. I shivered. I am not sure why I chose to help him. Am I the good guy who goes around helping weak men? Or am I seeing ‘me’ in that man? Or was I feeling guilty that I helped kidnap this man? I cannot say for sure. Even though my friends said no, I went ahead and helped him. I felt good. I remembered one incident in the Arcot Road signal when one traffic police, after stopping more than ten bikes including mine and was clearly looking drunk, helped a crying mother whose son didn’t return home after being picked up by police several hours back. I remembered the voice of that policeman who promised that he will help her. I shivered again. Was that man similar to the plain-speaking constable who shot Afsal?

Human beings learned how to entertain themselves. We learned to sing, dance, paint and later, re-enacted stories and legends. Then someone invented an instrument that captured what was ‘there’. A few decades later, somebody else invented an instrument that captured things that were ‘moving’. Soon, we started showing what was happening. Things that were real. It was a good, happy departure from old stories and legends.

But Humans never understood the impact of showing things that were ‘real’. If a person, blessed by the god of Art, manages to master the technique of showing ‘real things’, he might drag us deep into that story and will make us forget what is real and what is not. He might pull you in so deep that you don’t see the difference anymore. You see yourself in the character and character thinks what you think. That’s the ultimate mastery of this Art.

Vetri is done with his life now. He can die.

Aboard that ship…

Finally, the exorbitant taxes that we have been paying have started doing something good for us. We discovered that our local library gave us free/subsidized museum passes for almost thirty museums and other interesting places in and around Boston. One of them was the USS Constitution museum.

The last time I was in a ship was in 2001, when we NCC cadets were shown a guided tour for INS Viraat at the Madras Harbor. INS Viraat is an aircraft carrier in the Indian Navy. That tour became THE most inspiring factor for me to apply for a Commissioned Officer position in the Indian Air Force. I still remember the exact sentence a Lieutenant said aboard that ship “You don’t have to lose sleep. We are there to protect you”. I was convinced that no profession could be better than this and there is no better way to live than like this.

And now, a decade later, we were in a ship that is the oldest commissioned warship afloat. But all I felt now was disgust.

Of course, I adored how it looked and the ‘ancientness’ of it. The masts, multi-decks, captain’s cabins, cannons. I mean, everything looked majestic.

But what’s the point of retaining all this? For God’s sake, this ship was used to ‘kill’ people. I understand that this ship was mainly built to ‘defend’ America from the Red coats. And I realize that building this ship was important in that era where war was the only solution to all problems. But haven’t we evolved now? War is now the last resort that nations undertake to solve a problem. So why retain all this? Why do you want a seven year old American kid to see this and fill his heart with false pride and ego?

Isn’t it enough for him to learn that his country was once colonized by British and the Americans had to fight a war to get it back? That’s it. There isn’t any reason to glorify the ‘means’. Wouldn’t he now start viewing England and the English as some sort of an enemy? Of course, he wouldn’t go pick up a fight with his English classmate. But wouldn’t it create a tinge of suspicion or some sort of group alienation? Wouldn’t this also sow a seed in his mind that wars and battles are to be seen as great things?

I see that the core of terrorism also hinges on the same thing. It feeds on ego and pride. I am sure some of the Islamic extremists may have now realized that what they are doing is wrong. But they still do all that because it’s too difficult for them to shed their ego.

It is not something that is applicable to the terrorists or radical minds alone.

It is applicable for you and me as well. And guess what, it applies even for the tiniest of things. Doesn’t our ego fail to come to terms with the fact that CSK might have done something illegal? But, why do we still defend CSK among our friends? It’s one thing to be loyal to something. But it’s a completely different thing to discern what is right and wrong. May be, we defending CSK or LTTE may not result in something grotesque or war-like. But a similar person like us, defending the Islamic law, results in scores and scores of deaths. I know it sounds ludicrous that I am trying to connect two completely different things of incomparable effects of magnitude.

But the common thread between the CSK example and the terrorists is the same. Ego and Pride.

Shouldn’t the next generation at least, get out of this false ego and pride and start seeing the whole world as one country? I see this whole patriotism thing as stupid and unwarranted. How can patriotism to one country be good, if it hurts another? Rabindranath Tagore (who isn’t quoted as much as he should be) said, we all came from one creator and to distinguish them as Indians or Europeans or birds or animals or plants is plain stupidity. I am not saying that we should extend this to species other than the humans (of course, that would be a start). But at least, right now, within the human species first.

Having said all this, I am not in anyway disregarding the contribution of the armed forces. It takes special heart to hold a rifle and stand a post. But the problem arises when you start glorifying the whole concept of war.

Universalism is the thing that should be be taught in schools. And not, how many wars your country has won.

As I write this, I realized that my own view of wars and armies have changed a lot. I feel fortunate that I was rejected by the Indian Air Force. I guess I’d have been a bad war commander.

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Uh Oh.

The first episode started on Saturday morning. And the thirteenth episode was on Monday evening.

I haven’t experienced ‘binge-watching’ before House of Cards. In fact, I didn’t even know what that phrase meant. Honestly, I am not proud of this feat. When the thirteenth episode ended and when we were brought back to Westborough from the White house, I turned back and found a furious Niranjana by my side.

“Frank is so bad. He was the one responsible for making Claire leave”. Arjun didn’t seem to care.

But I did. I gave myself a few seconds, and kind of put Frank’s entire life in a balancing scale to mentally find out if what Niranjana saying is true. She just didn’t say that about Claire alone. She justified Frank’s bad-ass character by pulling down his entire history. Right from Donald Blythe to Zoe Barnes to Peter Russo to that Latino Chief of Staff to President Walker to Jackie Sharp, I mean – everyone!

The exact line was “Frank was bad to everyone”

When I thought about it, I was sure as hell that she was wrong. But, I was also able to understand why people like her say Frank is bad. I believe the judgment comes from the assumption that people surrounding him are good and have noble intentions. That’s not true. Everybody who Frank destroyed, had their own motives. Starting from Claire. They all seemed to initially like Frank and accepted his way. But when the time came, they placed their best interest first. Make a note. It was not US of A’s best interest. It’s their best interest.

Just like Frank.

But people, in tune with the underdogs theory, seem to have developed a soft corner for people who were destroyed by Frank. In that dirty pond of Washington politics, you cannot blame that frog which managed to come out on top.

Uh Oh. This analysis of him seems to tell more about me than Frank.

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Just like that…

One of the best things about watching films is that they reveal so much about yourself.

But only if you are willing to observe yourself closely.

It’s so easy to get distracted by the punch-lines, the artistic beauty of stuff and Hitchcocky surprises. But if you let yourself into the film; into one of its many characters, you will be rewarded with ‘You’. I guess, usually, people associate themselves with the protagonist of the film. Unless of course, you are somebody like Hannibal Lector. The innate desire in ordinary people makes them associate themselves with the protagonist. The protagonist victory is theirs, his defeat is theirs. When Aaru Padayappan became a millionaire in those four and half of minutes of ‘Vetri Kodi Kattu’, every single person in that theatre became one.

However, the beauty of filmmaking lies when the Director makes us feel for both the villain and the hero. That lump in our throats when Chitti 2.0 disassembled itself. When TamizhSelvan (Prakashraj in Iruvar) hears about Anandan’s death at a railway station. When Vinod fell down that cliff in Kadhal Konden. You get to feel that there is nothing right or wrong in what they did. It’s just they did what they deemed right for them. That is when the film ceases to be ‘just a film’ and jumps off the screen and lands in our lap. You start analyzing why someone did something. As if these things happened for real.

‘Badlapur’ is one such film that landed in my lap. At the climax, when Jhimli utters that ‘defining’ line of the film, it was not just Raghu who started introspecting. YOU do that. You go back and see why you thought that way about Liak. What kind of prejudices you have yourself. It’s films like these that make ‘film watching’ such a rewarding experience.

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Anegan

I have always loved listening to KV Anand’s stories. I like the way he ‘childishly’ weaves fact with fiction. Be it the case of ‘Kuruvi’ smugglers in Ayan – Russian Olympics team in Maattrran – Naxals in Ko, he has always told us different stories than his contemporaries. In Anegan too, there is this subtle mention of Aung San Suu Kyi as the female lead’s classmate, the military regime, gaming industry etc.,

 

I hadn’t thought about this earlier, but only after Anegan I started identifying the pattern in KV Anand’s movies. Usually, I need three films from a director to identify a pattern. (Being a Vetrimaran worshipper, it just took me one ‘hospital scene’ to decipher the Director and his talent. Vetrimaran literally bares himself out in Polladhavan. You can literally know his character through Prabhu. That’s a separate discussion altogether).

 

As I was driving back through the chilly winds, something struck me. What would have been the germinating point of Anegan? The film has so many layers and it all was woven quite smoothly. But as writer-director (along with Subha), where would have the film started? I mean, literally.

 

After driving for about an hour, I became convinced that this is it. He learnt something about online gaming, how these games are conceived, and what it takes to conceive them (it really takes a spiteful mind to conceive games like that). He identifies a bad-ass character (like Karthik). And he gave a backstory to Karthik shows how he is really badass. And then, to provide closure at the end, he gave a hero and a heroine who are affected by the Karthik in the past. And then KV Anand and Subha must have thought, “It looks like a simple film, let’s give one more past life to the hero – heroine to make it more complex”. And then KV Anand would have thought “While at it, why just two lives? Let’s have three lives (triple act is the ‘in-thing’ these days)” and then included the inappropriate King costume in a song sequence.

 

All of a sudden, they got a love story + revenge with Past lives as cherry toppings. And to make things real, they chose Burma episodes and 80s North Madras. But the great thing about the story is the screenplay. The way it unfolds before us, it starts off as a love story, becomes fact-like in the second act and in the climax, becomes a revenge story. It’s all over the place, isn’t it?

 

But it definitely didn’t look that way while we watched it. Movies like Anegan are living proofs that in the end of the day, films are all like the stories that we tell to little kids.

 

We never know what we are going to say next.

 

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The One

It’s difficult to act unperturbed to what is happening around you. Even though cricinfo.com is your home page and behindwoods.com is your second home page, the ‘real news’ finds a way to reach you somehow. For the past several weeks, it’s the French newspaper massacre. More than the massacre, what was discussed after that became my point of interest.

 

I saw a picture of Paris Imam paying tributes to the massacred. One article said that a lot of world leaders converged in Paris, expressing solidarity. Yesterday, I heard on NPR that the French President spoke at the Arab World Institute, expressing “why Islam is compatible with Democracy” and stuff.

 

I understand that this is one set of reactions.

 

The other set of reactions started pointing fingers at the victims. Though this was something not unexpected, I was quite taken aback. I saw an article (but didn’t read it) titled “I am not Charlie”. You don’t have to read the article to understand what it is trying to say. It effectively says that “You deserve to be killed if you are not innocent”. Now, the question is what does innocence mean. School girls in Peshawar, random people in a bomb blast – these are innocent people. But, diplomats – world leaders – people who make fun of your religion – they are not innocent. The “I am not Charlie” article did say that it does not condone the massacre. But, I switched off in that line. You may be the kind who would remain quite when you are offended. There may be some who have a different way of responding (in this case, killing) when offended . So, that particular article’s stance is quite irrelevant.
OK. Forget it.

 

What worried me big time was that there wasn’t any discussion on the third set of opinions which I had and which I expected the journalists, civil society etc., to have. Why isn’t anyone talking about solving the root cause of the problem? The discussions were more around ‘Freedom of expression’ and other stuffs. But the violation of the freedom of expression is just a superficial byproduct of the bigger problem.

 

And that bigger problem, I believe, is the absence of ONE religion.

 

Unless you reconcile the different religions in this world, you cannot put an end to this. The solution does not lie in concepts such as ‘tolerance’ or ‘secularism’. Of course these are required, but not the solution. These are just ‘stepping stones’ or ‘Pre-conditions’ or ‘minimum basic requirements’ to solve the ultimate problem.

 

I am appalled that no one (read journalists/civil society/world leaders) is even talking about this. Should we not go deep into this ‘religion’ problem and solve it once for all.

 

If the God is omnipresent, omnipotent – how can there be so many Gods? I come from a school of thought which not only believes there is just one God, it also believes that there is ONLY God. You, me, this laptop – everything you see and do not see is just a manifestation of the almighty that many call ‘God’.

 

This is what the Upanishads have been saying all along. This is what Jesus said. This is what Prophet said. And wait for the icing on the cake, this is what the present day Science is inadvertently trying to say. We are in an extremely gifted situation in the history of this world that we can put an end to this problem once for all, with the help of ‘Science’.

 

Why doesn’t the world community start discussing how we are all ONE, after all. Why am I not seeing any article that reconciles all religions of the world? It is not a difficult thing to do. Do the LCM (Least common multiplier) of all religions and you will slowly understand the truth. This needs just a shedding of ‘ego’ from our part. We just need to use our mind to shred off things that are wrong in our respective religions.

 

I can go on writing about how we do it. But, this article is not about that. What is needed right now is to trigger this particular thought in our minds. The thought of following “One religion”.

Just like that…

The last time I had to wait for three months before stepping in to a cinema theatre was during my twelfth standard (before the public exams from January to March of 2000). I requested my mother for one last film (which was ‘Mudhalvan’, after all) right after the half yearly exams with a promise that I won’t ask any thing till the exams got over. And right on the day the exam got over, me and my friends boarded a 25G bus (on a footboard and my friend lost one of his slippers) and got down at AVM to watch Hey Ram.

As I write this, I am amazed how clearly I remember this. Never ever after that incident I had to wait for anything more than a month before I step in to a theatre. During college, I so much got used to watching a film that it stopped being an ‘event’ for me. But during School, it was different. I must have watched just a handful of films. So, I clearly remember the run-up to every film I ever watched! Let me do a quick check.

‘En Swasa Kaatre’ – Udhayam, with my area/school friend. Watched it on a matinee show. Took a 11H.

‘Kaadhalar Dhinam’ – with my mother at Devi (my first time at Paradise) right after School Sports day. We went there straight from Rajaratnam stadium in an auto which went via Pudhupet and joined Mt Road via Gaiety theatre.

Did I run track on the Sports day? Hmm. I do not remember.

So, you get it right? What films have meant to people like us. Watching a film has a perfect build up like the film itself. The anxiety of getting tickets (long before these online ticketing and carpet-bombing an entire city with 40 screens), the authority with which the ticket collector outside the hall would cut tickets (For so many years, I used to avoid eye contact with him as I was afraid that he might send me off or… I don’t know. I must have been very naïve), the dark hall with a very few lights on the ceiling so high that they look almost next to the stars on the sky, the news reels and finally, the film.

For most times, the film didn’t matter at all. The fact that I was in the theatre watching a film made me feel good. I am trying to understand why is that. As I think on this subject, I feel there is a subtext to all of this. The very reason that my parents have taken me to a theatre meant that I was good in front of their eyes. I must have did something good at school or home or whatever. Taking me to a movie is their way of approving my existence. In fact, when I think of that, I have never gone to a movie without letting my parents know. Even during college, when I used to cut classes, I used to go to a PCO and call my parents’ offices to let them know I am watching a film. It’s a different story that they have always approved.

I think it all means that, ‘film watching’ for me is much more than this ‘appreciating art’ and bullshit. End of the day, it’s about feeling good about yourself. It’s like getting a chocolate after moving a furniture. May be, that’s why I started going to theatres when I felt down or sad. I always came back OK (at least, not worse than before). Sitting in that dark hall had given me so much pleasure in the past that it started to make me feel better whenever I was sad. I watched two back-to-back films when I was asked by Wipro to relocate out of Madras.

But I also have to confess that this deduction isn’t completely true. Things are always gray, you know. When I started to watch films every week and sometimes every two days, ‘film watching’ became a non-event and that’s when the ‘film’ started to matter. “Too lengthy. I have seen that story before. Editing is too rash. Low production value”. Comments like this became more common. But somehow, I should say God’s grace, some of the innocence was still left in me that I was never too harsh on a film. At the bottom of my heart, I remained thankful that I was given a chance to ‘watch’ a film.

But I have known many of my school friends, who started hating films altogether. ‘Let’s go somewhere else’ became a standard reply. Just like having too much sugar numbs your tongue for a good coffee, too many films in a short time frame robs you of the joy the films provide. Sometimes, people get lucky (like Anurag Kashyap who watches two films every day) in a way that Nature blesses them with an ability to experience the joy no matter how many films they watch.

In this day and age, where ‘content’ has become so ubiquitous (take for example, Netflix – thousand movies for eight dollars a month!), we are slowly putting ourselves in a spot where we no longer get to enjoy a film.

So for us, just like the sugar example, the remedy is to give ourselves a few minutes before you can start tasting the coffee.

P.S: I am watching ‘I’ today after three months. And I can’t explain how excited I am! I even wrote a blog!