Why a guest-post? On this self-indulgent blog of stuff I write and actually like? Well, because it makes sense. Because it needed a space, and I had a particularly thickskinned one right here. Because it says what needs to be said. Because the anger is real and relevant and relatable. The friend who has written this wanted to be called Mr Orange, hiding behind anonymity because the post is directed towards those anonymous haters filling up our timelines. I, however, can’t help but picture him drying his hands. Over to Orange.

Prologue:

Fuck Internet. Fuck Google. Fuck Wikipedia. Fuck Facebook. Twitter. Youtube
and Torrents.

Everybody gets heard. All you need is an internet connection and you have all the
licence to pretend that your opinion actually makes sense and impose them upon
the world.

The internet has made everybody an expert on everything. From movies to
politics to sport to even medicine. A Superstar falls sick and morons Google
terms they hear to tell the doctors what they ought to be doing. A team keeps
losing matches and everyone on social networks has become a certified coach.
And every Friday, every person with a blog, nay, Facebook account (which is
almost everybody) becomes a movie reviewer because he’s watched Quentin
Tarantino and Guy Ritchie.

Listen up motherfucker. Tarantino has directed five movies. Anyone can watch
them in less than a fucking day. Guy Ritchie has made another six. Most of
their films have a similar structure of parallel narratives coming together for a
common climax. That is not a plot. Or a story. It’s yet another narrative structure,
another way of telling a story.

Tarantino did not invent this structure. Nor did Guy Ritchie. So stop calling every
film with a parallel narrative a rip-off just because you’ve seen Tarantino and/or
Guy Ritchie.

Tarantino wrote Reservoir Dogs as a reworking of Kubrick’s The Killing and
Kubrick wrote The Killing from a novel called The Clean Break. And, Lionel White
who wrote The Clean Break and many other noir novels was a crime reporter
who got his inspiration from his beat.

Every film or story can be traced back to a form of inspiration from life or film.
So here it is, dickhead. Breaking news for you: There are no new stories. Every
story is recycled. From life or from print or film. Postmodern forms of expression
acknowledge that all pop culture is hence, derived. Since you idiots flaunting
your half-baked knowledge of cinema like to Google, here are a few things to look
up.

1. Noir. 1.a. Neo Noir. The more you read up, you will realise how Tarantino
and Ritchie are just two of the most celebrated filmmakers who have
tapped into pulp fiction and stylised them successfully with their distinct
style in the nineties. Since most of you morons grew up in the nineties,
you have obviously seen just their work or were introduced to non
Bollywood films with them. The Coen Brothers do it with a greater degree
of understatement and restraint and quirk. Tarantino says he steals from

every film. Since you like Youtube, do look up a mash-up of all films that
influenced Kill Bill and you’ll see how it is a glorious product of post-
postmodern film kitsch.
2. Monomyth: Anthropologist Joseph Campbell in his book ‘The Hero With
A Thousand Faces’ comes up with an observation through comparitive
mythology that every hero goes through 17 steps before becoming a
hero. Since you like to look up Wikipedia for everything, do read up on
Monomyth before farting about how Avatar is copied from Pocahontas
or how Harry Potter is copied from Star Wars. George Lucas who wrote
Star Wars swears by Campbell’s book and has gone on record to say that
he couldn’t have written Star Wars without ‘The Hero With A Thousand
Faces’. Even the Wachowski Brothers swear by it. The first step to
becoming a movie geek – Go read that book and try to understand it
entirely and then, maybe I may entertain a conversation with you.

Context:

This outburst springs from four isolated incidents:

1. First, an old friend from school who thought Aaranya Kaandam was a rip
off of Snatch. Since he was a friend visiting after long, I politely pointed
out how it’s closer to Inarritu’s or Tarantino’s style than Ritchie’s and
in any case, the story here was different and the similarity ended with
structure.
2. Next, this guy pissing in the loo of the theatre was telling his friend how
it’s a copy of some Guy Ritchie film he saw long ago. Okay, now this I
couldn’t respond. He’s a perfect stranger. But dude, Ritchie has made only
six films and none of them are about how a woman is on top of the food
chain in the survival of the fittest.
3. Three, someone on Twitter eager to pick a fight points out how Aaranya
Kaandam is a rip-off. Out of genuine curiosity, I ask, rip-off of? And the
moron replies saying “broadly of European cinema and Scorsese” and that
auteurs don’t imitate. First of all, Scorsese was inspired from everyone
starting from John Ford to Hitchcock to Kubrick to even Cassavetes. He
does till date continues to refer to their films as a tribute. By now, every
film buff worth his salt knows that The Departed itself was a reworking of
Infernal Affairs.
4. A movie blogger blogs about how Aaranya Kaandam and Shaitan are
similar to Tarantino. Yes, of course, they are. Elementary, dear Watson.
But there’s more to these films than structure. A structure is just a way of
telling a story. Do you compare a film that tells the story from A to Z with
another film with a different story just because of its linear storytelling?
Spotting the genre does not make you a critic, it just means you have
watched some films. Spotting the deviation from the genre is what makes
you a critic.

Reviews:

So here I am, thirsting to vent after listening to four different guys believing
that all stories told with parallel narratives are invented by Ritchie or Tarantino
instead of reviewing Shaitan and Aaranya Kaandam and what about them
worked for me and what didn’t.

Shaitan began with the promise of delivering us to the dark side of mind with
its irreverence and in your face nihilistic attitude. First, Kashyap and Co need
to be told that a girl asking someone about their sex life is not shocking or
cool (Remember Abhay being asked in Dev D, here it is Kalki). It’s just reeks of
wannabe-ness and is outrightly corny. If you’re a girl, try asking that to anyone
you don’t know and be sure to be perceived as behenji-turned-mod. If you’re a
guy, you’ll be called obnoxious, creepy and nosey in real life.

None of it contributes to cool quotient or a nihilistic streak or the rebel without
a pause button. But let’s forgive that given that these things are considered
shocking and irreverent in the context of mainstream Bollywood. Maybe girls are
depicted as modern day rebels only if they pry about your sex life and guys are
rebels if they say stuff like Suck My Dick-ra or make Dildo Paagal Hai jokes. Like
all Bollywood films that wear T-shirts that spell out character, one of them sports
Joker to let us know that these Shaitan log want to unleash chaos by driving
around the city drunk in their Hummer.

But thanks to the catchy score and gorgeous cinematography (Oh look, it’s
raining popcorn – someone knows to use fast shutter speed, how cool – and
similar student film gimmicks done with professional flair), we drive along with
these kids wanting them to wreck havoc and chaos, given the promise of nihilism
spelt out scene after scene for the first 20 minutes.

Sadly, it turns out that all of that anti-social-Fuck-You-World doesn’t amount to
squat as psycho-babble in the form of Kalki’s disturbed past is fed to us in small
doses in an irritatingly stretched out fashion all along the film till the very end
that when the reveal happens, you realise it was much ado about nothing.

What begins as a misadventure of De-Generation Next as a continuation of Dev
D from the accident scene and a reworking of Paanch’s plot of fake-kidnapping
a friend gone wrong gets into safe-Bollywood territory with a sudden change of
heart and a morality shift, afraid of flirting with the “Very Bad Things” sort of a
snowballing bloodthirst. What we get instead is more gimmicks. Yes, it is totally
cool to see a shootout picturised in slow motion to a version of Khoya Khoya
Chand but it is indulgence really.

What begins as “Prison Break” sort of misdirection (If you’ve watched this show,
you’ve probably rolled your eyes at the number of times this technique has been
used in multiple episodes – the cops rush to a location on a tip-off as Scofield
and Co hide in a warehouse, tension builds as the narrative intercuts from the
hunter and the hunted and culminates with the police breaking open a door and
we learn they’ve reached a different warehouse) is stretched out beyond need
because, well, it all looks bloody cool, so what if it is irrelevant to the plot.

Scared to go all out evil, characters who we were told were nihilists, don’t do
everything they do because they hate the system. We are told that they are
in this situation because the system forced them into it. Lame. Suddenly, the
whole film goes weak because the gang of Jokers have become clowns who want
to go back home to their Mummy-Papa Bollywood style and they blame it all
conveniently on a corrupt cop. And a mentally disturbed cocaine addict suddenly
finds closure because she killed someone haunted by the visuals of her mother’s
suicide. Shaitan is what happens when you watch too much Hollywood but need
to make a Hindi film. You are neither there nor here.

Film noir is about the triumph of evil, not about the abrupt recoil into the shell of
the family. Dear wannabe rebels, evil becomes stronger every time it gets away,
it doesn’t undergo a change of heart in a noir film! It does ONLY in a mainstream
Bollywood film. So dear Shaitan, stop pretending you are not one. It’s okay to be
Bollywood, it’s okay to be flawed. At least you are not using slow-motions like
Sanjay Gupta in rehashed versions of Hollywood films. No, wait…

That said, I did enjoy all the gimmicks in Shaitan simply because I haven’t seen
too many Hindi films that are half as stylish, however influenced, but I seriously
hope Bejoy stays true to what he wants to do in his next films.

There were moments when I thought the film is going somewhere. Especially,
when the Shaitan bunch hide under the garb of religion (burkha) and find a
convenient hiding place in places of worship (church) and also manage use a
ritual (Hindu procession on the road) to dodge the cops but it ends with that.
But it all amounts to nothing really as the film shifts the entire blame on to the
failure of the law and order system as if the root of the issue – the baggage of the
dysfunctional Indian family – had absolutely no role to play.

A complex subject like this required a filmmaker with more experience and
understanding of the social fabric. Not just some whizkid with a camera who
found out how to use fast shutter speed and slow motion and splash his name
out in bold typeface against a red backdrop just because it’s cool when Robert
Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie does it.

Bejoy, I believe you when you say you haven’t seen Paanch. I suggest you do it
rightaway. Or the other release of the week.

Aaranya Kaandam is exactly how you must adapt, or as Tarantino would
say, “steal from every film” you see. Because, despite its obvious influences
and derivation, it has an original flavour, plot and a story to tell and a point to
make. And Aaranya Kaandam unfolding at a confident leisurely pace, with just
43 scenes, compared to 140-200 scenes in a typical Tamil film, tells us this story
about the survival of the fittest, chapter by chapter, shifting focus from character
to character, without the maddening hurry Ritchie is in or the bizarre quirks that
Coens bestow their characters with or the pop kitsch Tarantino is addicted to.
Though he does resort to pop culture references in a couple of places, the big
joke (the Rajni-Kamal one) here is to underline the overarching theme of the film
about the sexual politics of gender unlike the randomness and the irrelevance of

the Big Kahuna Burger to Pulp Fiction’s central noir plot.

There’s also a huge hangover of retro Tamil music thrown in in generous doses
along with a curious blend of world music but then, it comes with the genre. Like
most post-postmodern nineties neo-noir films, Aaranya Kaandam too recycles
pop culture and reinterprets it – BUT – to tell a story that belongs essentially to
today’s society.

But instead of blindly following the trinity of the late eighties-nineties neo-noir
filmmakers (QT-Coens-Ritchie) in terms of pop art and pulp fiction, Thiagarajan
Kumararaja is more interested in the philosophy and a deeper understanding of
the mechanics of the modern day jungle. The film begins with a quote: “What is
Dharma? Dharma is what is necessary to survive.”

He’s more influenced by Inarritu’s laid back zen-like approach of the universe’s
inter-connectedness and the primal nature of man to survive in the most hostile
of environments. What then, is the role of the woman?

Spoiler Alert: Do not read ahead if you haven’t watched Aaranya Kaandam

Kumararaja’s femme fatale (also his weakest casting choice that stands in
the way of his film’s greatness) is a masterstroke because she offsets every
chauvinistic joke and archetypal alpha-male dominance in the film. The woman
here is on top of the food chain and she needed to be played with an actress of
substance. She’s smart, educated but knows to play dumb and has the smarts to
manipulate her way out to freedom without needing a Ram to save her from her
captivity. “Men are idiots,” she says and adds: “But luckily, it’s a man’s world.”

Though the “hero” of the film, Pasupathy (Sampath) also needs to save his wife
from captivity, he’s not the smartest guy around as the kid points out: “You
couldn’t save your own wife. How do you expect me to trust you to save my
father?” Every man in the film is deceived in one way or the other except maybe
the kid whose strong innocent belief is that you need to do what you need to do
to survive, even if it means stealing. The child is the father of the man but the
woman, she’s the one calling the shots. What man will not do for sex!

Every line, every scene in the film is just another excuse to get to this point that
men, like their character-names suggest, are like animals who live off each other
and would do anything for food. Yes, even the astrologer who seems irrelevantly
inserted (for the Prabhu-Khushbu joke to diffuse the tension during a scene
when the gangsters are waiting outside the police station) is accosting a dreaded
gangster because it’s a matter of his bread and butter.

Nothing is used as a gimmick (except maybe Jackie Shroff’s literally stylised Lion-
like gait, snarls and flashing of teeth) and everything comes together as a whole
towards the end. And there was Shaitan which was all style and no soul.

I wouldn’t have had a problem even if Shaitan just remained about the
degeneration of youth as it began. The problem is that it does not know what it is
about.

~

Gang, do leave your comments below. May this post not be Mr Orange’s last.

30 thoughts on “Guest post: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

  1. Thank you all for your comments. Was fun reading but I think I’ve made
    my point. Because we can go on and on for the sake of arguing.
    “Anurag, how can you talk of City on Fire without talking about A
    Better Tomorrow?” and so on… ;) More in person if I bump into any of
    you.

    Cheers!
    Mr. Orange

  2. The irony of this post is that for all the wannabe slamming he is doing, Orange himself comes across as a big one.

  3. Mr. Orange – just one tiny point. Slow motion doesn’t come from fast shutter speed. It comes from a higher frame rate. There is a world of difference between the two.

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