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Aligarh-hindi movie by Hansal Mehta


I’m glad I went to see  the hindi film “Aligarh” this afternoon. I almost missed it . My daughter had booked my ticket online , but at the counter I was told that it had been booked for yesterday . I rechecked the message delivered on the mobile and realised that it was sadly true. Fortunately, lots of tickets were still available for the current show and so apart from the money  she lost, all was well.

 

One vaguely remembered reading about the newspaper reports that spoke of a professor of  Aligarh Muslim University, in North India ,  being caught on video in a compromising position with a young rikshaw-puller  and his subsequent suspension from his post , at a time when a High Court had revoked Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code  which made homosexuality a criminal offence.  Some journalists had broken in into his house, barged into his bedroom and filmed them. Almost immediately, four of the faculty members had turned up at the place and from that point onwards, life had become a nightmare beset with persecution and humiliation for the sixty four year old professor who had spent over two decades , teaching Marathi in that University.  Two days after the petition filed by him in the High Court was decided in his favour for revoking his suspension , he was found dead  in his rented house. The post-mortem  had revealed that there were traces of poison in his blood.

professor siras

 

Hansal Mehta’s cinematic version of this true-life incident is remarkably well executed.  Manoj Bajpai ,  enacting the role of Professor Srinivas Ramachandra Siras is superb. As the soft-spoken, unobtrusive, almost nondescript professor whose lonely evenings were spent with a glass of spirits and old hindi songs of Lata Mangeshkar,  his portrayal etched the character indelibly in the viewer’s mind, I felt.

 

Raj Kumar Rao, in the role of the young  Delhi based journalist  Deepu Sebastian Edmond, then working with the newspaper Indian Express, who had followed this case along with his photographer colleague Tashi Tobgyal, is also very impressive.

deepu sebastian.jpg

 

It was Deepu  who had  highlighted the culpability of the persons who had intruded upon the right of an individual to his  privacy and against whom no action had been taken.  In actuality, Deepu and Professor Siras, had never met and there had been only one conversation on the phone after the judgement was delivered. In the film,  they are shown to have met several times and the mutual understanding , respect and affections that developed between them have been very   touchingly depicted.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JezwsQKpXuU

 

“I don’t like the word gay”, the professor objects in the film.” To me it is like poetry, an indescribable urge”

And how can that be a crime if that relationship is  between two consenting individuals , if it doesn’t  impose or intervene or disrupt another’s space or rights or well-being?  That it is  unnatural , is the reason provided by  almost all religions and the law. How can an individual help the way he feels about love or it’s expression if that is how his nature is ? Isn’t Nature itself a testimony to the fact that homogenity is against the very nature of Nature itself , with it’s myriad forms, colours, contours , climates, niches and nurturing ,  food cycles and courtship and reproduction.

 

In this age of taking sides , of information and counter-information and misinformation,  of strident voices dominating  every aspect of human existence , of confusions and helplessness, how does one sift through the incoherence and arrive at any conclusion? How does one know for sure that what one is standing up for is indeed the Truth in the shifting sands of morality , patriotism, religious beliefs, definitions of propriety, social norms, traditions , culture   and so on?

The truth is perhaps that one may never know . May be the only way we can justify our perceptions is by gauging the truth of  our own feelings . For me, the touchstone would be whether  my alignments are motivated by love or animosity for my fellow human beings. Which side I am on is not perhaps of  any significance .

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2016 in Community, Movies, Uncategorized

 

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“Human”-film by Yann Arthus Bertrand


The film opens with a remarkable aerial view of a line of ant-like figures moving slowly along an incline in a desert, the men and beasts casting shadows that bears no semblance to their shapes or sizes. “Human”, a documentary by Yann-Arthus Bertrand, has many such breath-taking frames. Not surprisingly perhaps, as he is reportedly one of the best in the field of aerial photography. But “Human’ is not about that. It is a peek into one’s own soul, the myriad emotions that have been in play since the beginning of time as we know it, that have driven and depressed us, tweaked our heart-strings and made it sing, flung us into fires and kept us in fetters, darkened our desires , made us love and hate , made us scared and insecure, strong and resilient, weak and vulnerable , ripped us asunder with guilt and made whole again with love. In short, it is precisely about what the title says ; it is about what it means to be human.

The canvas is stretched across continents and the painting encompasses all colours and contours of the human race. Faces that beckon you compellingly to look at them , their eyes staring unblinkingly at you from the screen in silent monologues and faces that speak to you making you revel at times in the uniqueness of being alive and the vastness of our potential for goodness and joy and at other times squirm at the degree of defilement that we are capable of.

What brought me to this film was an excerpt posted on the Facebook wall of one of my friends. It was an interview of Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015. This is what he said, “ I am Jose Mujica. I worked in the fields as a farmer to make a living in the first part of my life. Then I dedicated myself to the struggle for change, to improve life in my society and now I am the President and tomorrow , like everyone else, I’ll be just a pile of worms and disappear.” He goes on to tell us what his churnings in life, ten years of which had been spent in solitary confinement (seven years without reading a single book) had led him to conclude. “ This is what I discovered”, he says, “Either you are happy with very little, free of all that extra luggage because you have happiness inside or you don’t get anywhere……we have invented a mountain of superfluous needs, shopping for new, discarding the old. That’s a waste of our lives. When you buy something you’re not paying money for it, you’re paying with the hours of life you had to spend earning that money. The difference is that life is the one thing that money can’t buy”. This and everything else he said made so much sense to me that I just had to find out more about the film from which this excerpt was taken.

I was pleasantly surprised to find all three volumes of this documentary, each stretching on for over an hour, was available for public viewing on the You Tube. And reading more about this film here: http://www.human-themovie.org/#home
only made me more impressed about this project.

As those interviewed speak, looking into the camera and so straight at us, sharing their experiences about love, loss, death, poverty, war, guilt and redemption , as they pause to control their emotions and check their tears, as they grow silent with the weight of the feelings that overwhelm them , as their eyes light up with joy and the calm of wisdom gained through trauma and tribulations tone their words with gentleness, we experience all of it too…. the proximity that is generated is such.

When Leonard from U.S.A talks about how he finally understood what love means from the woman who was the mother and grandmother of the woman and child he had killed, the tears that start streaming down his cheeks haunt you for a very long time.
When Sylver from Ruanda rakes up his tormented memories of his family members being hacked to death with a matchette, the shudder that runs through your spine doesn’t ease your guilt.
When Crepin from the Central African Republic tells us that he took to arms to avenge his brother’s death and that killing now gives him a sense of calm, you shudder again.
Zoher from Israel , “ One evening, while in the reserves, my unit had to stop a suicide attack by capturing a terrorist in a village near Nablus. I deployed our forces. To flush him out, we shot at the walls as a demonstration of our strength. A woman came out of the house carrying a girl and holding another by the hand. It was 3 A.M. The girl panicked and ran towards us. I was afrais she would blow herself up. I yelled at her in Arabic to stop. She kept on coming. I fired above her head. She stopped. At that moment time stood still. It was the shortest and longest moment of my life. The girl remained alive. So did I. At the same time, something died in us both. When a child is shot at, it kills something inside. I don’t know what. When an adult shoots at a child, it kills something inside. Something dies and something else has to come to life. I was ashamed of shooting at her. A painful shame. And above all this sensation of my finger pressing the trigger and shooting at the girl..from this finger pressing the trigger something had to come to life” and he turns his head away from the camera saying a lot with what he left unsaid.

These are not scripted conversations..they are raw and unrehearsed …naked slices of truth cut out from real experiences . Everything that may have seemed distant and disconnected is brought uncomfortably close to confront and unsettle you . You can no longer delineate yourselves from the other. You become the other and for a short time at least, you are forced to look beyond the shadows and focus your vision on the reality of human existence plodding through the sands of time.

Please watch and share.

Here’s a link of the trailer : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-Retnj3TsA

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2015 in Movies

 

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The fabric of our reality is extremely fragile


I remain pretty indolent on days when my grandson is not around . I love his chatter , but the quiet is not entirely unwelcome either.

I walk around the house, staring long out of doors and windows, have tete-a-tetes with my plants and long distance communions with the trees in the neighbourhood, listen to sounds of everyday life that get carried in from the next door houses, do some cleaning and no cooking, making do with left-overs in the fridge or fruits etc. I spend lots of time surfing the internet and some reading.

Sometimes, I go back to read or listen to links that I’d earlier shared on Facebook which had held my attention. This interview of Richard Gere was one of those.

http://video.pbs.org/video/2365567973/

In his new film “Time out of mind” , Richard Gere plays the role of a homeless man in New York City.

In the interview, he talks about the very first shot of the film , in which he hangs around at a corner, in character,near the Cube in Astor Place, New York City, with the cameras placed at a distance for almost forty five minutes. None , who walked by in that busy section , paid any attention, he says.

And this is Richard Gere!

Very few cues worked towards that judgement of the people who passed by, of him being not worthy of a second glance , he observed.

May be it was the dishevelled clothes, the indistinctive hair-cut or may the body-language of a homeless guy, which Richard Gere being such a wonderful actor would surely have carried off to perfection.

“Nobody can imagine being homeless”, the interviewer remarks.

This was Gere’s reply, “No, you can. I think that’s really it. People sub-consciously know how close they are to having all of it taken away. I don’t think anyone is that secure, especially in these times. They lose their jobs..the violence..”

“Do you feel that…that it could be that close?’

“I feel that mentally I could go and I could feel that, playing this guy in the street. I could feel how easy it would be to lose integration, that mentally I could come apart, physically, spiritually…..
The fabric of our reality is extremely fragile….in all ways”.

From the kitchen door, I can watch a building being constructed in a plot near by. The basic structure is being put into shape . The labourers are seen busy building up the walls of the third level, laying brick by brick, throughout the day and the sun is pretty hot at this time of the day.

I think guilt is gnawing at me for having the comforts I have , of knowing peace and tranquillity in a nice house, having all the time in the world to put to use as my mood beckons, although I keep trying to convince myself that may be I deserve it .

But why I went back to watching that interview again was because of that one line uttered by that actor I hugely adore kept coming back….
“The fabric of our reality is extremely fragile …in all ways.”

This is a clip from the movie.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Movies, Reflections

 

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Manjhi, the Mountain Man-hindi film


The_Man

“Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
’Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain ”

Nobody could have portrayed the madness of Dasarath Manjhi better than Nawazuddin Siddiqui. That’s what one felt as the film directed by Ketan Mehta ended.

To single-handedly break through a mountain with only a hammer and a long chisel and flatten it out to carve a 360 feet long road to remove the impasse that the villagers in Gehlour (near Gaya, Bihar) countered and to do it through a kind of insane obsession urged by the love he had for his wife who met with an accident while trying to manouvre herself through a narrow gap between the rocks , while carrying food and water to her husband working on the other side of the mountain… all that seems to be the kind of stuff myths are made up of. But this Alpha male was for real!!

He had laboured on for 22 long years and had died at the age of 73, his entire youth and energy having been dedicated to the road , now named after him. Nothing much has actually changed in that hamlet despite Manjhi’s story having found it’s way to mainstream media and in spite of it having caught the attention of the Government. The moosahari (so called because they ate rats) tribe stands somewhere quite low in the social heirarchy in Bihar and what is shown to have been meted out to them for generations cannot be too much of an exaggerated depiction. Reports say that there is a hospital there now on the land that was donated to Manjhi by the government. But the family of Dasarath Manjhi and his community is still in indigent conditions. And that is a shame!!

The film is powerful, the camera catching the terrain in all it’s formidability and it may yet be the best tribute to Manjhi’s spirit.

In the film, the character playing the journalist Alok Jha , who was responsible for breaking Manjhi’s story to the world outside Gehlour, asks Manjhi about what he felt after having achieved his goal . Manjhi replies that one should not always depend on something being done by God, for who knows God may be depending on you to do that something.

For sure Manjhi left no stone unturned.

Watch the film .

Watch this documentary to catch a glimpse of the real Manjhi

 
 

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“Ivide”- a film by Director Shyamaprasad Rajagopal


My son had done the online booking for me, so there was no need to rush. Leisurley gardening  in the morning , leisurely  lunch  at noon  which I hadn’t cooked and leisurely lolling around listening to some old hindi songs later, I realised I had just about half  an hour to get to the Multiplex  and be seated and ready to watch “Ivide”, the latest film by Shyamaprasad  who is my favourite malyalam movie director.

So I didn’t get to wear  the intended  sari, a habit I’m almost losing touch with after leaving my job, as the underskirt had no string and there was no time to pull out one from another and string it through this one using a safety pin .Nor was there time to iron a pair of salwar-kameez …so I just got into one which didn’t need ironing , snatched a duppatta, which, once out of the house ,  I realised was a dark navy blue one instead of  the black , which was to match my salwar. But I really didn’t care as my spirits were high as is always the case with a Shyamaprasad film.

The skies were sombre and trees along the road were trembling and shedding their leaves….the ambience provided by the weather was a perfect prelude  for the crime thriller that “Ivide” was reported to be.

And I’m a die-hard crime-thriller fan.  I love watching TV serials which involve crime investigation, current addictions being “Monk” and “ Mentalist” on Star World.

I love watching them for the reason that the better scripted ones  exposes us to the darker shades lurking inside people  who are perceived most of the time as normal and harmless  . When the story unfolds  in ways that allows for a peek into the mental state of the crime-doer and his  or her  circumstances , or the reason for the crime ,  one does wonder  if we can be so damn sure that we would have behaved differently if we were in his or her shoes.

I’m not so sure that viewers who will go to see this film because it has been labelled a crime thriller , will be entirely satisfied.But  a fan like me  who would have gone to see it with or without any tags, because of past experiences of watching this Director’s  films , will not be disappointed.

The story, scripted by Ajayan Venugopal, who had also done the scripting for Shyamaprasad’s earlier film “English”, is set in Atlanta  and revolves around three main characters. Varun Blake, a police officer played by Prithviraj;  Krish Hebbal (played by Nivin Pauly), a self- made IT professional who has helped build up the company he works for  during the eight year span since his arrival in America as a software programmer and is  an aspirant for the position of CEO, which he thinks he deserves ,  and  Varun’s ex-wife ,Roshni Mathews, who has newly joined Krish’s firm enacted by Bhavna.  It also turned out that Krish and  were old schoolmates.

There are quite a few undercurrents  to the story which moves forward even as Varun tries to investigate the murder of another  IT guy whose relevance to the story is that he is an Indian immigrant in the land of dreams.  Varun’s broken relationship with Roshni  whom he still loves, his discomfort at the growing closeness between her and Krish, the manipulative tendencies winning over Krish’s integrity when he sees his future  being threatened  and Roshni’s  anguish when this aspect of his personality  becomes apparent  all play out during the course of the film.

This surely is the most well emoted role by  Prithviraj. He has slipped into the role of  the young man with his personal demons,  who as  a six year old orphan in India  had been  adopted by an American couple and who  grew up in that country , with the same  ease with which he carries off the body language and  diction  of a police officer adept in his job. One was left wondering at the cause of his explosive anger, which estranged his wife and left him to maintain  a physical distance away from her after the divorce came through , because of a restraining order , till it was explained in an exchange he had with his adoptive mother , some time after the interval. One may hold a view that his contained animosity towards his adoptive parents   may have been a matter of his perception and hence not justified. In fact, there is a hint that he himself may have questioned the validity of his angst , when the background narrative in his own voice, which acts as a thread to the story right from the beginning, wonders where in life he would have been , had they pointed to another child in the orphanage as their choice .

How many of us wonder about the pyschological confusions that such adoptions may possibly generate when a poor / orphaned  dark-skinned child has to grow up in a white-skinned dominated society  ?  How much do those societies  reflect on it?  I wouldn’t know , but the reverse is hardly the case , isn’t it….a white skinned foreigner being adopted and growing up in India? Would we have made it easier for them?

And what about the mindset of those who look upon the society they migrate to  as inferior  in morals or cultural values  and deserving of disdain as individuals , even as they partake of the opportunities of that land  to further their prospects in life?

And yet, in such and all other cases of human interactions, we do hold on to grudges , sometimes merely on the premise of our perceptions, don’t we?

Nivin Pauly’s role as the upwardly mobile IT immigrant from South India  ( the fact that his virtual conversations with his mother was always in  malayalam  from his side , while she spoke in Kannada, was slightly incongruent  or may be I missed the explanation) was performed well enough, but definitley did not match Prithviraj’s prowess. I guess youngsters sailing towards greener pastures that they perceive the developed world to be, can relate to the uncertainties that plagued a career like his , once they start trying to and succeed in getting a foothold there.

Scratch any scar of tension between two communities anywhere in the world and  at any time in history  and one will perhaps find the fear of being overpowered and being  left bereft , in either or both.  It is the same fear, which many a time plays out into reality,  that feeds the underlying and often overtly expressed animosity between an immigrant community  and the local  population. Why Indians fear the Bangladeshi  influx or why  the UP  “bhaiyyas” are resented in Maharashtra  or why the Bihari  and Bengali labourers are not open-heartedly welcomed in Keral a or elsewhere isn’t really different from why an American who has returned from the warfield in Iraq  is likely to feel when he finds that the job he takes up after returning to his civilian life in his homeland is lost because of outsourcing, is it?

These nuances of human relationships  are the forte of Shyamaprasad’s films  and “ivide” does  full justice to that genre.

The background score  was excellently merged into the scenes, softly and unobtrusively. I liked the two songs too.

Loved the way the camera took us along.

I also liked the way the film ended. Have always suspected the veracity of the quote ascribed to Buddha though , notwithstanding the fact that tis a beautiful one, “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2015 in Movies

 

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“Artist”-a malayalam film by Shyamprasad Rajagopal


“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it. Remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “Its not where you take things from, its where you take them to” – Jim Jarmusch”

This was the status update that Shyamaprasad Rajagopal, well known Malayalam film director put up some months ago on his Facebook page. And most certainly, he is one of those who celebrates that “thievery” with a great deal of authenticity. Most of his films take off from works of literature and he has always acknowledges the fact with a great deal of comfort that I guess comes from the confidence that he can present it convincingly in his own style. His latest film , “Artist” too, is based on the book “Dreams in Prussian Blue “ by Paritosh Uttam. .

Creative people do indeed spark off a strange chemistry in others who appreciate the finer things of life. There is a certain awe that they inspire because they are able to evoke something in us that allows us to rise above the mundane , even if fleetingly. There is something remarkable about sentences strung together that help you forget the dreariness of one’s own routine and help you get into the skins of other people and places. There is something magical about the way composers can translate your emotions with accentuated emphasis , into melodies and about singers who can make you feel that their voices come straight from the chords of your own heart. Strokes of the paintbrush across the canvas depicting varied aspects of our lives, both external and internal, makes the artist too a charismatic person. Somewhere , somehow, we begin to believe that our lives would be richer, our existences would be more interesting, our personalities and our emotions would be better understood by such differently endowed people, that their sensibilities and empathy would be greater than the “normal” man or woman , you meet on the street.

People do talk of and assess art and writing and the individuals who create them in “objective” terms. May be that IS the right and sensible approach. And yet…and yet…..and yet….I’ve never admired Picasso. “Geurnica” doesn’t move me , not since I read about his life and the self-centred way he dispensed with the relationships in his life. Does genius absolve a person with skewed sensibilities? Can abstract ideas put forward by someone still move you, when you come to know that there is a dichotomy in the way that person has lived his life and the philosophy he professed. It doesn’t work for me .

“Artist” is a very sensitively made film. All of Shyam Sir’s films explore the light and shadows of relationships. His canvasses never depict images only in black or white , but are always splashed with all the hues in between. That “authenticity “ which he quoted is clearly evident in all of his characters. They are never “larger than life”. They come to you with all their flaws and weaknesses and their vulnerabilities and endearing qualities , so that you can decide whether you can relate to them or not , like them or not.

I did not like Fahad Faasil’s character in this film.( Oh how it breaks my heart to say this) and yet, if I was really, really honest, I would have been just the kind of young girl at seventeen or eighteen that Anne Augustine was in the film , playing the character Gayatri and I would have gladly perhaps been bewitched by Michael, the crazy,handsome, utterly confident artist . Rebels who dare to break away from the beaten track are strangely exciting , one must admit. Even their self centredness appeals to your senses. One is made to feel that it is the self -awareness of their potential that makes them shy away from false modesty and indeed that if they did not indulge in self appreciation, then that would be dishonesty. But then may be it is just as well that one doesn’t have to live with them, not the Michael kinds.

Fahad is an excellent actor. One has to say that again and again. I had watched some of his interviews. The guy admits very humbly many times that he trusts his directors implicitly and just goes about doing what he is asked to do. That may be so…and Shyamaprasad Sir has taken care not to let the scenes become melodramatic or garrulous; but it takes a really good actor too to understand what the director intends to convey and how to convey it, to internalize the emotions involved in the situation being captured on the screen and carry the spectator along with it. Fahad does it beautifully and most remarkably in the scenes immediately after his accident when he is slipping into total darkness. The stillness on his face spoke volumes. He carries off the negative shades with such aplomb and make the characters come alive…you know they are real…22 female kottayam, chaappa kurishu, anju sundarikal…loved all those roles. I can’t put my finger on how he does it…but those glimpses that he allows into the tender, lovable part of all those characters keeps the female hearts palpitating , I guess

And there was this scene , where one teeny-weeny teardrop, peeps out from under the closed eyelids of Michael, as he lies down in complete stillness on the hospital bed. My heart missed many beats there.

Ann Augustine too is very promising. In the opening scene , when she is waiting for Michael in the cafeteria , for the meeting she had arranged for him with the curator of the Arts Museum, her impatience and nervousness did appear a trifle too overt. I still can’t get used to verbalizations of ones’ thoughts on the screen and when she mutters to herself quite loudly, Michael..pick up the phone and the way she kept fidgeting …I thought …oh no!! But I was wrong. She went on improving on herself. Not many actors can cry convincingly on screen. Ann Augustine can do that just as heartwarmingly as she can smile. Her helplessness , torn as she is between he love and admiration for Michael and the growing realization that she and her dreams would always have to play second fiddle , the frustration that she occasionally allows herself to reveal, all are well emoted.
I was awfully glad that Gayatri could walk away , her head high on her shoulders and with calm acceptance of the fact that some relationships do run out their course and that even the deepest and strongest of them are better given up when they become debilitating nightmares instead of being the dream that was supposed to be dreamt and lived together. Success may have knocked on Michael’s door of blindness , with splashes of Prussian blue.. One tiny part of you feels happy for him , but the empathy disappears when he answers the only question he agrees to respond to. Why Prussian blue? , asks a reporter at the exhibition held of the paintings he had done after he became blind.”Because, it is the colour of betrayal and that is what you see all around you” , says he.
The way Michael and Gayatri’s friend, Abhi gradually transforms his character from an apparently trustworthy ,well-meaning guy to an almost cruel manipulator as the circumstances change, rubs in the fact that the potential for treachery and betrayal is there in all of us and that there all kinds of betrayal. You come out of theatre asking yourself….who betrayed who ? Are dreams the monopoly of a chosen few? Do dreams have to have the same textures and hues? Can one dream be allowed to accord itself higher priority because its fulfillment will have greater visibility and greater reach? Isn’t happiness the right of every human being? Can a person’s selfishness be justified on the basis of his or her talent? What is the purpose of art? Is all art and are all artists worthy of admiration just because it is art and they are artists?
The background scores were really nice too and were not patchworked on to the scenes and the two songs were quite melodious .
I was so glad to see my friend Sakhi Elsa on the screen in that concluding scene. She is the one who has done the costume designing for the film. Costumes shouldn’t intrude on the scene. Unfortunately, in our films, instances where the colours and designs of the dresses impinge quite disadvantageously, are galore. Elsa’s dresses mould itself into the scenes and sits on the characters with unobtrusive comfort.
A film you can spend your money on . Watch it.

artist

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2013 in Movies

 

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Celluloid- a tribute to the pioneer of malayalam cinema


Watching the malayalam film ”Celluloid” directed by Kamal , was somewhat like repaying a long outstanding debt , one which I wasn’t aware I owed. It’s most certainly one which every malayalam movie lover must watch, both for a peep into the beginnings of malayalam cinema , as well as for the finesse with which that phase has been depicted in the film. I regret the fact that I couldn’t see this film on the big screen when it was released and have had to depend on a rented DVD to catch it.

I was shamefully ignorant of the name of j.C. Daniel and of his relevance to the film industry as ,I’m sure, must’ve been the case with many others, till I heard of “Celluloid” . Now that I’ve seen it, the sense of remorse is overwhelming.

j.c.daniel

Back in those days , when the film making in India, was beginning to take a foothold in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, it was J.C.Daniel who got bit by the bug of film-making in the Taluk of Agasteeswaram of the then Travancore Principality. Independence from the British rule was still a long way off and the fences of casteism were deeply grounded in Kerala’s social scenario. Acting was not a profession espoused by women and Daniel’s dilemma of finding a suitable heroine for his film , “Vigathakumaran” (The lost child) , which he embarked upon after selling off most of his landed property, could be resolved only when a dalit girl, Rosamma, agreed to play the role. Her family had just recently converted to Chrisitianity and they had their hut in a corner of a feudal landlord’s holdings. Her father had worked as a cook for the priest of the local church and she and her mother worked in the fields from morn till dusk. The beautiful landscape has been beautifully captured.

“Celluloid” is a period film and Kamal has been able to recreate the ambience of the 1920s for the present day audience. The eagerness of the nascent film-maker , Daniel, , who is the producer, director and the male lead of his film, as he goes about arranging for the funds, procuring the equipment, setting up the studio and getting together a crew , is palpable and infectious. One realizes how much more courage, hope, determination and imagination goes into any kind of pioneering work and how much more the costs of failure impinges on one’s life , when everything one had was invested into the attempts to fulfill a dream .

Daniel’s film, the first motion picture made in malayalam (well not in malayalam , really, as sound had not then yet been introduced ), was doomed from the beginning , not because of any flaw that could’ve been ascribed to any of the aspects of the film itself, but because some upper caste representatives of society deemed it blasphemous that the heroine was from a lower caste. Daniel is forced to sell off his house and remaining property and leave for Madras with his family, where he manages to pick up his life and even prosper as a dentist. That is, till the bug bites him again and he plunges himself into a disastrous second attempt at making a film. From there on, it was a steady downslide, left alone to linger slowly into old-age and blindness , with just his wife , who continued to be his support , despite all the adversities and traumas that had plagued them.

Daniel’s story would’ve been left undiscovered had it not been for the tenacious diligence with which a film journalist tracked him down and traced out the story from the conversations he had with Janet, Daniel’s wife and later engaged in with Daniel with a lot of initial resigned reluctance from the latter’s side . Chelangat Gopalakrishnan’s role (played by Srinivasan) @ in restoring Daniel’s rightful place as the path-breaker of malayalam cinema is indeed praiseworthy as is Kamal’s effort through “Celluloid”.

The film is beautifully made. Prithviraj as C.J. Daniel and Mamta Mohandas as his wife, Janet, have done remarkably well. Even the songs were in tune with the music of those times . The make-up , particularly in the matter of Daniel’s and Janet’s aging countenances , is subtly executed and doesn’t stick out , except for the aberration l of Janet’s smooth hands, which did not show the same ravages of time that was depicted on her face and hair. If that’s nit-picking , well, these are the small nuances that either dilute or enhance otherwise perfectly made movies.

I’d say that the proof of a well-made film is that the emotions of the audience run parallel and yet in the same groove as that of the characters in it and this “Celluloid” did achieve as far as I was concerned. One felt the same impatience and frustration at the snootiness of the Bombay heroine whom Daniel had initially chosen for his film, as he himself is shown to have experienced. The sense of elation after the filming of the first scene and the rush of pride and contained thrill when he looks at the first ribbon of celluloid with the visible fruits of his maiden efforts could be instantly transferred. When Rosy , the lower caste heroine is found squatting in a corner of the verandah outside, having her humble gruel from a small carrier, instead of joining the others at the dining table, one feels a twinge of that collective guilt. It was heart-rending to watch Rosy being pushed aside on the screening day, because the dignitaries, so to speak were scandalized to learn that they would have to watch the film in her vicinity. Chandni, who performed the role of Rosamma(Rosy) in the film, does steal our empathies and when she gulps down her emotions , standing outside the theatre , hearing her name being announced , but unable to watch herself on screen, one begins to choke as well. And one was ripped by anguish when she had to flee away from the hostile group who had burned down the hut they lived in and was bent on killing her. As a viewer , one felt horrified too at the kind of exclusiveness that had marred the social fabric of those days ..

p.k.rosy

There are many such touching moments in the movie, like when Daniel places some money in the hands of the projector operator, as a token of his happiness, just before the film starts rolling and the abject look on Rosy’s face when she is told that all her scenes had been completed. One could gauge her sense of loss , not just because the joy of acting had come to an end, but also for the fact that during the brief spell when she enacted the life of an upper caste heroine , the reality of her real life drudgery had been sublimated. One’s heart was heavy too, as she slowly removed the jewellery that she had been wearing for the role and the make-up artist smeared oil on her face to remove the pancake that had transformed her dark-skinned complexion to match that of the role she was playing .

Daniel’s story is also that of the not so common marriage in which a spouse totally shared the dreams of the partner, even when the outcome was shrouded in uncertainity and of unconditional moral support even when those dreams hit the dust. Often the loneliness brought about by failure is accentuated when the one closest to you becomes your most vociferous critic. At least he was fortunate that way.

j.c.daniel old

Malayalam cinema indeed owed this tribute to J.C.Daniel.
This post is my tribute to Kamal who went about doing it with this beautiful film on our behalf. I’d even say that if “cinema Paradiso” earned international acclaim, why this film surely deserves it no less.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Movies

 

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