Tag Archives: me

“Lend me your claws.”

Friends, audiences, countrymen: watch me play the fool.

We trade places this Friday, cinema and I.

The arrangement has long been a simple one. Movies unfold themselves before me, while I sit back — one hand eager to applaud with thigh-slapping glee, the other resting by a freshly sharpened scimitar — and watch, then write. This weekend I do neither, as a film where I am but a celluloid passenger hits screens. I am now in your hands, you turner of pages, you complainer of my words, you disagreeing deity. And it is to your chopping block I offer my throat, ready for garrote, guillotine or gaali.

In Sudhish Kamath’s ridiculously independent film Good Night Good Morning — releasing across the country this Friday — I am, as conceded above, a passenger. (Literally. I sit in a car surrounded by real actors, as one of them talks to a pretty actress.) It is an unconventional and peculiar romance, an all-night phone conversation brought to the audience via black and white visuals mostly split halfway down the middle, and while I have absolutely no idea how good the film is, I suspect the conversation may be quite disconcertingly close to reality. Or at least that’s what incessantly-texted conversations I’m currently having in the off-screen world seem to indicate.

And that, in a nutshell, is the whole problem, and the point of this column: I just don’t know how good it is. I can’t. I’ve watched the film four times over various festival screenings and finally now — with prints scrubbed up digitally and the sound mixed to multiplex standards — it does indeed feel like a ‘real’ film, and yet I, too busy cringing every time I see myself on screen to drum up any objective viewpoint, have no idea how the film actually is. I’m ‘told’ it’s quite good. Occasionally “intense,” even. But you know how critics are.

Which is why I’m asking you to go see it, and then let me have the full earful. (And yes, like I said last week, if you don’t like it halfway through, walk right out. And do tell me you did.) But giving it a shot would be both nice and a personal favour, since I, flummoxed and exasperated by not being able to have an opinion, would really like you to do what I usually do and tell me how terrific or trashy it all is.

Several online haters, infuriated by my less-than-devout attitude toward their favourite superstars, have been hammering this poor little film all over online forums, calling me names and even calling it a knockoff of George Clooney’s fantastic Good Night And Good Luck, merely because both films are black-and-white-and-titled-politely. Sigh. Murder the film by all means, but get it in your sights before you squeeze that trigger, yes?

So impale it or embrace it, high-five me or hang me, all I say is watch the film and smack me between the eyes with your opinion. Because it’s killing me to not have my own.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, January 18, 2012.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Column

Life’s too short to watch bad movies

If a film isn’t working for you, go ahead and do what I can’t.

 

If you don’t like a film, turn it off. Or change channels. Or walk out.

It’s something I can’t do, shackled to a seat despite absolutely no possibility of things getting better. It’s like The Ludovico Technique, except with Vishal-Shekhar playing instead of good ol’ Ludvig Von. I am, however, paid to bite that bullet, and because I have made a career out of giving movies of questionable quality a fighting chance, I steadfastly refuse to offer similar generosity to books or music. No unheard of indie band playing in Juhu for me, thankyouverymuch, and no debutant novelist’s scribbles about a sprawling clan. But movies? I’m around right till the end credits. And you don’t need to be.

Nope, you aren't Alex.

It begins in school, this conditioning that we must not abandon a book midway. That we must see it through despite the first few chapters being dense, or boring or just not specifically interesting to each of us. We’re told it’ll only really reward us in it’s entirety, a strategic truism partly to expand our horizons beyond what we already like, and partly to serve as training grounds to help us master the rote, the ratta that gets us through other subjects, even lowlier ones that do not involve the reading of novels.

As a result, we finish bad novels (‘what’s another 180 pages?’) and bad movies (‘only 40 more minutes to go, surely Philip Seymour Hoffman will do something?’) but these questions are more submissively masochistic than they are rhetorical. 180 pages is a helluva lot of your time, and if he hasn’t dazzled in the first two hours, Hoffman’s waiting for the end even more impatiently than you are. And he, like me, is paid to stick around.

There are hundreds of thousands of better films –masterpieces and sideshow attractions, little gems and wild cinematic carnival rides, classics and underrated indies — and the more time you devote to a film that isn’t satisfying you, the more you’re missing out on something that could. Screenwriters are told to engage the reader in the first few pages of a script, else it’s curtains as the producer snoozes. And yet we, the audience, are much kinder to films that fail to grab us after twenty listless opening minutes.

But if a film, the most sensory offering in all of popular art, fails to arrest you 40 minutes into the proceedings — through neither narrative nor character nor backdrop nor music nor performance nor light and shadow — then you are decidedly better off walking out. Do it guiltlessly and with head held high, because the truly great films will always have, at the very least, some little thing that’ll reel you in and make you want to keep watching. And what if the climax is spectacular and, as some say, ‘worth the price of admission?’ Well then, watch that bit on YouTube. So scram, and celebrate your moment of justified truancy, as if you got to skip a midday meeting or a drab lecture.

Go ahead, make me jealous.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, January 11, 2012

11 Comments

Filed under Column

What I love about Mumbai…

The meritocracy. The mania. The home-delivered alcohol. The hours. The fact that we call it Bombay, come what may. The delusion. The complete lack of perspective. The palpable fanaticism about film. The seaface. The honest auto-rickshaws. The dives. The impossibility. The DVD bootleggers. The fanboys. The fact that nobody really cares unless you beseech them to. The self-love. The brick-red powder that accompanies vada pao. The fact that the city moves as if cut to a soundtrack. WTF, Versova. The freaks. The frankies. The dreamers. The old and gorgeous South Bombay buildings. The new friends. The fact that the city sinks fangs into you and tries to make you its own. The sleeplessness.

But, if I were to pick one: the Bombay girl. Epic.

~

Originally published in MumbaiBoss, January 2, 2012

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Will Priyanka be the next Batgirl?

And are comic books turning too sexy for their own good?

 

The first two panels of Catwoman #1.

The latest issue of Catwoman takes a while to show us her face. First we meet her breasts, nearly tumbling out of a lacy scarlet bra as she yanks on her tight leather suit. As she dons said costume, she’s in no rush to zip up the front. A trio of thugs breaks into her home and as she fights back, we see her butt, in painted-on leather. It’s not until page three of DC Comics’ new Catwoman #1 that we actually see her face, smirking upside down as she flings herself through a high window. The catsuit is inexplicably still unzipped, half her bosom braving cold Gotham air and bullets.

That issue — which ends in a startlingly explicit spread featuring comic-book sex at its most gratuitous and tasteless — is one of several new DC Comics releases sparking off impassioned debate about the hypersexualisation of mainstream comic-books, superhero comics ostensibly written for all-ages. The Internet is abuzz — as those of you going to Mumbai’s upcoming comic-convention are surely well aware — with comics writers explaining how characters need to be written gender-neutrally, how it’s embarrassing when a character is made to ‘pose’ for the seduction of the reader rather then for her fellow page-inmates, how some female characters are meant to be overt in their sexuality and some aren’t — except everyone looks Power-Girl pneumatic nowadays — and how far too many female characters are being turned into mere totty.

(Sigh. My kingdom for the strikingly cool girl: like Neil Gaiman’s Death. Or Ramona Flowers.)

And while I agree with most of the points being made, here’s what I think: women in comics are being turned cartoonishly sexy simply because a lot of mainstream comic characters are now being written with big-screen feasibility in mind.

And if the character is caricaturedly sexy to begin with, as part of the source material, then Hollywood is not whipped by the fanboys when they cast some massively bosomed bimbette in a fishnet costume looking like her primary superpower is Mega Cleavage, because all they’re doing is staying l-o-y-a-l: to comics that start out wanting to be movies.

I’m a hardcore fanboy, and I love superhero movies, but comics being written a certain way merely so they’ll make for more commercially bankable movies? Man, that sounds positively LexLuthorian in both cunning and shamelessness.

And it isn’t just the girls. Nick Fury, leader of superhero-employing world-saving organisation SHIELD (so Caucasian he was once played laughably by David Hasselhoff) started looking exactly like Samuel L Jackson when Marvel rebooted him in its Ultimates line, and who plays him in the movies these days? Voila, that man with the expletives on his wallet.

The new Barbara Gordon looks very, very familiar

The other way you can tell comics are being written keeping the screen in mind is in the overt need for diverse ethnicities. The overcompensation is the kind we see in revolving-ensemble TV shows like Law & Order and CSI. Everyone’s in the audience, and they all need to be represented. So we have Bruce Wayne hit on by some girl whose mother was a Bollywood actress, a half-Black half-Hispanic teenager getting spider-powers, and, in the panel above, the new Barbara Gordon looking quite uncannily like Priyanka Chopra, which could bode quite well for the actress’s future if the look catches on.

Piggy Chops as Batgirl? Way to make Ra One jealous, babe.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, October 19, 2011

4 Comments

Filed under Column

How to ‘fix’ The Tree Of Life

Art-rock for art’s sake

The best way to watch 1939 gem The Wizard Of Oz, as many of you are doubtless aware, has nothing whatsoever to do with the film’s director, Victor Fleming. The original is a perfectly great film, a superlative piece of vintage movie magic that hits all the right chords in one delicious yellowbrick strum. And yet, classic and immaculate as the film is, it surreally transcends the cinematic experience when watched on mute, with Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon providing the audio.

When sync’d just right, the art rock masterpiece occasionally resonates so jawdroppingly with the film’s visuals —  that iconic Money cash register cha-chings as soon as Dorothy opens the door, for example, stepping from sepiatoned Kansas into technicolor Oz — that it feels like those architects of psychedelia consciously constructed the album around the film. That, of course, is merely shroom-fueled romanticism, with absolutely no basis in fact. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with that. How far could our legends possibly soar without their apocryphal capes?

And while I’d love to go on about how uncannily the “Black…” exclamation from Us & Them lines up alongside the visual of the Wicked Witch Of The West turning to face our naive heroine, (and do throw a “Whoa, dude” into my imagined voice in your head) the fact remains that this wonderful marriage of movie and music owes lesser to the creators of either work than it does to some ambitious dorm-room twist of fate, where some young feller decided to try and combine two different kinds of genius together and see what happens. In an alchemical explosion — the sort seen when a precursor of this lad slathered jam onto bread after exhausting the last of his peanut butter on slice one — the universe nodded its approval and something stellar came, coincidentally, to be.

Coincidences like that, it may cogently be argued, are in themselves proof that the atheists are wrong.

Speaking of Whom, no recent film believes in the almighty with quite the card-carrying, near-Missionary urgency of Terrence Malick’s latest, The Tree Of Life. It is a spectacular, humbling, overwhelming, emotionally naked film, more to be experienced than watched. It is a staggering work of art, one that works as prayer and parable, and yet, because it happens to be as catatonic as it is cathartic, works significantly lesser as a film. It must be admitted that it is, indeed, a bit of a drag. To speak with the National Geographic symbolism the film pours on indiscriminately and overzealously, The Tree Of Life is a cinematic black hole: so self-seriously heavy that it eventually collapses in unto itself. But what a lovely boom, huzzah.

However, true believers, I believe I might have hit upon the solution of solutions, one that makes up in impact what it lacks in out-and-out originality. An answer so fiendishly simple, in fact, that it pretty much presents itself: Like the man who came up with The Dark Side Of The Rainbow, just add Waters. First name, Roger. Majestic pretension cancels out majestic pretension, or at least so we hope.

The film opens with a quotation from the Book Of Job. Immediately after this is when you mute the film’s audio, while clicking play to kickstart one of Floyd’s maddest, most ambitious albums, Atom Heart Mother. As we see fluid scenes of 50s Americana via a family sired by granite-chinned Brad Pitt, the 23-minute opening track jars violently, dashing us rockily against the gorgeous images. And what unbelievably apt names the 6 sections of the titular composition have: Father’s Shout, Breast Milky, Mother Fore, Funky Dung, Mind Your Throats Please and Remergence. After this comes that simplistically haunting song, If, which ought to work as a punch right between the eyes, pretty much at the moment when Malick starts to show the trippy beginnings of life itself, mesmeric cosmic burps, jellyfish and dinosaurs. Skip the next track, Summer 68, play David Gilmour’s 14-minute concert version of Fat Old Sun instead of the one on the studio album, and top it off with Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast.

There we go. Already your Tree Of Life experience has been a decidedly more visceral one than Malick provided. Know why? No ponderous voiceovers to go with those gobstopping visuals. No “Mother, make me good, brave”, no “How did she bear it?”, no “I will give him to you; I give you my son.” My lord, I cannot stress how much more Pink Floyd have already improved on the film by killing those preposterous voiceovers, and, since your munchies ought be kicking in this long into the film, let me tell you it just gets better.

The second Floyd album for the film is Meddle, a cornucopia of aural imagery spread across bleak and beautiful soundscapes. Start with Echoes, the 23-minute masterpiece Kubrick rumouredly rejected for his 2001: A Space Odyssey, and play it twice, back to back. (Whoa.) Now the rest of the album, straight-up: One Of These Days, A Pillow Of Winds, Fearless, San Tropez, and Seamus. If there is a God and he wants us to get high on Malick, we’ll see the cluelessly contrite Sean Penn stumbling around exactly while Fearless plays, and blow our collective minds.

Those of you who have watched The Tree Of Life and have liked it might find this obsessive piece of Floyd-geekery excessive, and it certainly is. I hadn’t heard the band in ages, but the film — its unerringly note-perfect craftsmanship; its undeniable artistry; its magnificent, dazzling, overbaked visuals; its layers and layers of liberally applied symbolism; its bluster; its occasional genius; its frequent sexlessness and its hubris — instantly made me crave and hunt them out. Those who haven’t might be curious about the film’s ‘story,’ about which all I can merely say is that it is more of a meditation.

Like Wesley Morris wrote in the film’s finest review (one you should go look up if keen to know more about the film than the bits I’ve told you) “the movie is church via the planetarium.” And who better than Floyd to underscore such a killer sound and light show?

~

First published Kindle magazine, September 2011

2 Comments

Filed under Column

Rest In Peace, Peter Parker.

Sunday night, a man made me cry. I, like many others, knew Brian Michael Bendis was going to kill Peter Parker, but wasn’t aware how acutely it would ache to see the webslinger lying lifelessly in Mary Jane’s arms. Spider-Man is dead. Sob. Only, he kinda isn’t.

So here’s the skinny, true believers: Peter is alive and kicking and firing quips faster than his webshooter in Marvel’s mainline comic book, The Amazing Spider-Man. This is the series that’s been around since 1963. In 2000, however, Marvel launched another imprint, a fresh magazine called Ultimate Spider-Man, aimed at reintroducing Stan Lee’s Spidey mythos to new generations. With Bendis as head writer, this retelling — with a young teenaged Spidey working at the Daily Bugle website — was fresh, original and devastatingly true to the spirit of the classic character. A younger, more clueless Spider-Man, finding his own way even as, over at ASM, the war-hardened hero battles newer, darker, more intense demons and dares to brave yet another date.

And now the boy — all of sixteen and very recently reunited with Mary Jane Watson, the redheaded love of his confused highschool life — is dead, and it bloody well hurts. It hurts because of just how good a job Bendis and his colleagues did with the character, winning over Spidey purists with skill and sincerity. It hurts because a great kid just bit the dust, killed by naïveté and nobility. It hurts because we were just getting used to watching him grow.

Lamenting the death of a fictional character might seem like folly to many, but we’ve all felt it happen: teenage girls around the world sobbed when Goose died in Top Gun, or when Shah Rukh did in Darr; their mothers — and mine — took to their kerchiefs when Mihir Virani of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi kicked the bucket. Innumerable great works of literary genius revolve around the death of central characters, and so besieged was the Strand Magazine in 1893 by readers outraged by the death of Sherlock Holmes that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to resurrect that most iconic of detectives, even if he didn’t want to.

Bendis wept while writing out Peter’s death, he admitted. His wife, overwhelmed by the sight of a grown man bawling, wondered aloud how come he hadn’t felt such grief when people in their family passed away. Yet it is an understandable emotion, for as we watch a character live and grow — especially in serialised form — his or her glories and foibles help us really get under the character’s skin, to know what makes him or her tick. Truly considered, it is this serialised form that breathes authenticity into the characters, making a sitcom death potentially far more profound than one in a film. We have seen the character grow, we have run into the character over and over again, establishing a reliable familiarity akin more to genuine friendship than anything else. When a character we have come to count on dies, even in purely dramatic fiction — when Colonel Blake died in M.A.S.H, or when that fellow who said ‘I say, chaps’ died in Fauji, or when JK Rowling kills off a lovable primary character — we feel the ache of loss, loss of a familiar comfort, the sort we think we’ll always have.

Today, comicbooks may be the best examples of serialised narrative. Characters die all the time, to be honest. They also bounce miraculously back to life, ever since Superman came back from the great beyond. It’s hard to place much stock in a superhero death story these days, with both stables Marvel and DC having massive near-annual events which completely shake up their respective universes only to usually settle down later with exasperating convenience.

But this feels different, simply because of how immaculately it was handled. We saw it coming loud and clear — Death Of Spider-Man was splashed all over the press long before Peter stopped breathing — but it felt like a trainwreck anyway. Bendis assures us some new kid, galvanised by Parker’s death, will pick up where he left off and be the new Spider-Man, and — now that we’ve seen this gutwrenching tragedy — that seems easy enough to believe. I know I’d pull on the costume in a trice.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, June 29, 2011

1 Comment

Filed under Column

A salute to Sidney Lumet

Why I think Sidney Lumet is the finest American filmmaker of all time. And also why he couldn’t have been the best poker player.

“His last film, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, a crime drama made when he was 82, opens with doggystyle sex and zigzags through linearity with insouciant vigor. His first film, 12 Angry Men, made nearly 50 years before that, takes place almost entirely in one room, its only perceptible action being a lot of conversation. Lumet did it all, working the genres with indiscriminate thrill, questing only that the style served the subject and not the other way around. And so the stories, too, loved him right back.”

PDF of full article

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, April 13, 2011

1 Comment

Filed under Column