Friday, March 26, 2010

LSD : Watch it only if you have the stomach!

Let the cinegoers looking for feel-good movies be warned at the outset. If all you want to get out of a movie is entertainment, LSD is not for you. After all, feeling something hard-hitting and getting disturbed by getting reminded about the reality we live in is no entertainment.
LSD is instead for those who want to see a alternate way of movie-making, one that is nearer to reality in format and content. One that is gutsy, more honest and imaginative. The picturization is novel and is a reflection of today's urban society, where everyone is on camera, knowingly or unknowingly - The offices, the residence complexes, the cinemas, the malls and what not. The 'story' reflects our times - everything real-time, from politics to swayamvars. As a spirited Journo says in the movie "Desh ko seva nahi, prime time entertainment chahiye!" And as another says about the power of camera "Yeh camera nahi khazane ki chabi hai".
LSD defys conventional cinema in format and content. This is the first digital movie entirely made on handheld digicams and CCTV surveillance cameras. This visual medium with candid cameras with the shakyness and hazyness prepare the audience for the dose of realism the movie portrays. It gives the MTV bakra kind of feeling. It is just that the comedy there is replaced by a sort of black comedy here along with some spoof (of DDLJ) and some satire and some irony. There are 3 stories captured on handy-cam, CCTV and a hidden camera. This format adds to the authenticity of the content that is mired in Dibakar Banerjee's blase outlook. Even when the mood in the first of the three stories transform from a spoof mode to black comedy mode, Banerjee does not turn dramatic or over-emphasise. These subtleties in approach makes the 3 stories all the more brutal and matter-of-fact. Banerjee's take on love, sex (voyeuristic videos, MMSs) and Dhoka (sting operations) in 3 stories bear close resemblances to real-life scandals. The love story of a dreamy-eyed youth in a society of honor killings is too close to the Nitish Katara-Bharti Yadav case. The voyeuristic part resembles the Miss Jammu/Mysore Mallige MMS scandals while the sting part reminds us of the episodes involving Aman Vermas and Shakti Kapoors. In all, there is too much of the realism dose to digest that hits the pit of our stomachs. So unless you want to think about the movie the morning after, an evening with this movie may look pointless. This movie leaves such a bitter aftertaste.
What stands out in the movie are the characters. They are with the minutest of details and hard to forget. They are very very real with their dialogues and there is a good chance you think you know similar people in real-life. They engage us even when we think we know where the stories are heading for. LokiLokal, the punjabi sales girl, the 'Adi sir' fan, the frustrated store supervisor, the watchman, It is the characters that had my attention for the 2nd and 3rd stories although those 2 stories seem to run predictably. In fact they even seemed to be unnecessarily dragged lonegr. The movie is littered with profanities and is aptly rated 'A' although it contains almost no instances of sexual acts on screen. The movie is epoch-making and is a step ahead in Hindi cinema after Dev D last year. This is yet another instance of how suitable western technique is picked to tell Indian tales. Bravo Banerjee.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ye Maaya Chesave (Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya): About the 'unpredictable woman'!

So, K Balachander has written to Gautam Vasudev Menon raving about his latest movie Ye Maaya Chesave (Original 'Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya' in Tamil meaning “Will You Come Down the Sky?”) and told him he is the next icon. It's unfair to compare both the versions as the climax seems to vary. The producers of Telugu version, in line with widely-held belief that Telugu audience would NEVER accept a sad/less-than-shubham card kind of ending, changed the the original 'unhappy' climax. So the very intent of the movie is lost in Telugu version. That is because the movie was implying an unhappy ending all through. There was hardly a scene where the two lovers were uninhibited about their love. In fact, the movie was peppered with dialogues like "she is my one-way ticket to heartbreak city!" from the guy and "let me feel this pain, I like this pain" from the girl. It is the stylised picturization, background score and Music that makes this movie look like a mushy love story and not the content.

And compounding the intent-loss is the fact that as in his previous movie, Menon focuses self-indulgently on his story-telling and not the story. As he himself says "More than falling in love, therefore, the film’s story focuses on “what happens in the next moment.” It is kind of running commentary, day in and day out of a guy who just fell in love. The guy is spontaneous and the Girl so confused. And Love being such a complex emotion, the story shows its two protagonists in behaviours outside the realm of reason or logic. The lady is in a iterative loop of indecision and the guy in a similar loop of hope and frustration, depending on his lady's mood. All love stories dished out in Indian movies more or less revolve around external hurdles like families, villains or external circumstances. Maniratnam's 'Sakhi' (Alaipayuthey in Tamil, Saathiya in Hindi) was the only reasonable exception to dig into the lovers' psyche to create a conflict. But that was a case of love after marriage. But Menon takes the big challenge by creating conflict from the lovers' own complexities. After all, in a world this complex when guys and girls do lot of thinking to decide what they want, accepting someone as love and then life-partner is no simple thing. Menon exposes these predicaments, vulnerabilities and fragility in the romance by relying on the universally celebrated 'women are unpredictable' stereotype. Even in Telugu we have this famous line 'Adavaarimaatalaku ardhaleverule' (Women speak something but mean something else). So here, Jessi, the lady's characteristics manifest in all complexities this love cycle goes through. This is a very unconventional characterization by Menon as this is the first time, I saw, a complete movie is dedicated to the 'unpredicatble woman'.
AR Rahman's BG score and Music captures the mood just right. The movie is stylishly made as is Menon's wont. The Alleppey shots are breath-taking and Rajeev Menon got a credit for the location. Samantha, the lady in Telugu version is perfectly cast. Her costumes are perfect and her acting elegant. I did not quite get Nagachaitanya's line of acting. He was just being himself all through the movie and could not present his character well. Even the earnestness seen in his debut movie is missing. Gautam Vasudev Menon continues his Surya S/O Krishnan (Vaaranam Aayiram) kind of musings in Ye Maaya Chesave.

Well, the 80 year old living legend of Tamil cinema Balachander wrote the viewers are wise and they got it, the viewers who liked the movie point to us Balachander is a legend and those who didn't say, rather uncharitably, that KB is now 80 and lost sense of judgement!

The reactions are so drastically different. Some rave about it and others completely trash it. One of my friends' mom supposedly said she always wondered why viewers would throw stones at a screen until she saw this one! Others with their brush with cupid can't stop raving about how the complexities of a crush are beautifully portrayed on screen. Ye Maaya Chesave is like poetry. Those who can relate to it appreciate it. Those who can't get bored like hell. It is an intensely personal experience, like Menon's earlier Surya starrer. It is a genuinely honest movie, well-made. The only mistake, I thought, was changing the climax for Telugu. The original climax would have avoided the confusion that now set in about the 'story' of the movie. Changing the climax killed the spirit of the movie and made the viewers wonder about the whole point of the movie.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

MF Hussain II: India's values on trial, not Qatar's!

"MF Hussain should have painted the prophet. Would Qatar have allowed him in? They would have instead declared a reward for his head"

That is the crux of the major comments I got in my previous post. One of the major arguments that comes when discussing MF Hussain's alleged blasphemous paintings is about how he never attempted to take the liberties in relation to revered figures in Islam or Christianity. The argument stems from a belief that Hindu culture is tolerant and hence Hussain is taking too much liberty (some right-wing elements go to the extent of saying that Hussain has a 'secret agenda' and hence he is 'insulting' Hinduism and embarrassing Hindus).

The irony here is that even as those arguing declare that Hinduism is inclusive and liberal, they will end up comparing with other religions and almost express a wish of being 'less liberal' like them! On one hand, they argue how Hinduism is the oldest of world religions and how far its philosophy and teachings went through voluntary disciples and on the other they almost express a wish of how it should learn a thing or two from other organized religions like Islam and Christianity!

A second major argument against Hussain is that if at all he took those liberties with other religions, no other country would have hosted him. On one hand, we trumpet how we are the world's largest democracy and how fast we are 'developing'. On the other hand, we want to compare and compete with the Afghanistans, Libyas and Qatars and agonise how 'too democratic or too secular' we have become. Even as we argue for a chair at the high table of UN security council, we are in a self-doubt over our own power to withstand the missiles of artists. We fear our culture is insulted by few paintings, our nation's democracy is hijacked by some one's 'secret agenda'. And yet we argue we are tomorrow's superpower.

The question we need to ask is whether we are poised to stride ahead with the self-assurance with which we started as a free nation 6 decades ago. We have embraced the democratic, secular values and we have to stick to those values. If need be, we should even fight for them in our spheres of influence. No point comparing ourselves with the worst in the world and conveniently excusing our hypocrisies unless we are ready to declare ours as a third-class country for the next century. Robert Kennedy said "Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence..". We Indians should ask ourselves if we have the will and moral courage to follow the values we embraced, in letter and spirit? Do we seriously believe what we claim ourselves to be - secular, democratic, big power? If so, we should realise that values on trial in Hussain's case are those of India and not Qatar's.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

MF Hussain I: Controversy, in all its nakedness

"Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art." — Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso and MF Hussain were the 2 artists specially invited for the famous Sao Paulo Biennial art exhibition in Brazil way back in 1971. Picasso's above quote fits just right in the present context when a stupid controversy (and a few physical attacks) over Hussain's paintings forced the esteemed and gifted artist into self-exile out of India and to hop around the world - Dubai, London and now into Qatar! Now that he took the citizenship of Qatar, the decade old controversy resurfaced. And the debate is on the lines of Free expression Vs Hurting Hindu sentiments. Arguments in favour of 'respecting Hindu sentiments' say Hussain is 'crossing the limits'. Some even go to the extent of accusing him 'sexually depraved'! Those who support Hussain argue that Hindu culture has a rich tradition of nudity and refer Khajurahos and Kumarasambhavas. Before debating, let us have a look at what the issue is in the first place.

What are the 'nudes' we are talking about and what is so 'depraving' about them? Here are some paintings being interpreted.

All the paintings depict Saraswati, Durga and Sita in only contours, not with detailed physical features. The intent seem to be to convey an idea through the outlines rather than to be sexually explicit with physical details. If the intent were to do sexual paintings of Hindu goddesses (which the Hussian critics argue as blasphemous - this is a different debate altogether), there would have been far more distinguishing features rather than dark outlines. You don't need to be an art expert to know that.

Let us briefly examine the contribution of these outlines to the
content here. The painting depicting Sita and Hanuman, we are told is blasphemy as it implies a sexual relation between the two. The painting, if seen for what it is, instead conveys Vayuputra Hanuman's loyalty and tremendous strength through his flight across the skies and over the seas (see how his feet disappear into Vayu). The painting of Durga similarly conveys an idea of shakti (ferocity) and roudram (wrath) by using the image of tiger which is incidentally her vahana. The painting of Saraswati illustrates the goddess of arts and consciousness in the aura she exudes - the veena, the peacock, the fish, the lotus and her flowing hair. Where is 'nudity' here and what is 'depraving'? In each of these paintings, MF Hussain is conveying the very essence of these deities because he is an artist and not a lithographer or printer who reproduces old photographs!

Coming back to the discussion of nudity, I wouldn't get into the discussion of how Hindu deities themselves are represented in our temples and historic places or if there is this concept of nudity in ancient Hindu culture. This would be a diversionary and unrelated discussion and is a huge injustice to MF Hussain's own contribution to representing Hindu iconography with such a deep understanding and affection. Far from being obscene, I see MF Hussain as the vital connect in transferring the Hindu iconography from a traditional, unimaginative one dimensional form to an abstract and stylistic expression, fully tapping into the mythology. So the big debate in MF Hussain issue is not about freedom of expression but about the truth in the accusations that he 'insulted' the Hindu culture. Did he indeed insult Hindu culture or at least have an intent to do so? We can only answer that if we follow Picasso by being neither innocent nor ignorant.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Telangana VII: Grossly discriminated against: Mungekar

Even as the spin doctors are out to prove how Telangana developed 'much more' than other parts of AP and are asking for 'outside experts' to evaluate the 'manufactured backwardness' of Telangana, scholar, economist and a former member of the Planning Commission Prof Bhalchandra Mungekar has nailed their lies by reeling stats about how Telangana is grossly discriminated against. How could there be equitable growth when out of 433 decision-making departmental heads in the Secretariat, hardly 7-8 from Telangana find a place, wondered Prof Mungekar, who in 2004, was handpicked by the Prime Minister to look after education, labour and employment, social justice, and tribal affairs for the 11th Five year plan. Mungekar is also one of the chief architects of NREGA.

Delivering the 14th Prof G Ram Reddy Memorial Lecture at the Centre for Economics and Social Studies (CESS) on `Regional dimensions of new economic paradigm: The case for Telangana’ in Hyderabad on 6 March, Prof Mungekar went on to say that attaining separate statehood is the only way out for Telangana now that all agreements/accords to safeguard its interests have been violated. This statement is all the more significant, coming as it is from Prof Mungekar. He was heading a committee overlooking development in Naxal-prone areas, with other members of the committee being the PM's then internal security adviser M.K. Narayanan and the union home secretary.

Mungekar made the following observations in his hour long lecture:
  1. Even SCs of a region, who do not believe in caste, would be forced to demand a state 10 years from now, if they are pushed against the wall by ignoring their just aspirations for bettering their lives. That is how social and economical aspirations manifest in a democracy.

  2. For those who turns up phobia and propaganda on 'viability, sustainability' of new states, it would serve well to see whether India satisfied those very parameters while it was demanding independence! It is people's aspirations and resolutions that matter.

  3. The Prof. reminded that SRC clearly mentioned that 'One language, One state' rule is neither justifiable nor practicable.

  4. Regional disparities arise from lack of secular process of economic development. Leon Trotsky's 'Uneven and combined development' was frequently referred to.

  5. How prophetic Fazal Ali sounded 5 decades before as those very reasons for which he recommended Telangana remain a separate state have now become the foundation for the demand for demerger!

  6. Fazal Ali's usage of word 'Colony' in the SRC report while reporting Telanganites fears about merger was considered a little over-the-top considering the decade the report was written in, but looking at what Telangana turned out to be, the word now looks prophetic and very apt! The Prof. further extended analogies of Telangana, Andhra with the situation in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Examples of 'internal colonies'.

  7. The professor ended his lecture quoting Marx about how those in power in society would never voluntarily relinquish power and so the Telangana peoples' movement hence should persevere and stick to the present non-violent way it is moving in. He advised caution with the anti-Telangana forces which would look at every opportunity to impose violence on the movement and suppress it then with brute force.

  8. More importantly, Prof Bhalchandra Mungekar stressed Telangana movement is more about attaining justice than statehood and that once the statehood is attained, no sections within it should replicate the same discrimination now Telanganites on the whole are complaining about. If that indeed happens, the Prof said in no equivocal terms that he would be back in the same spirit for fighting on behalf of those fighting for justice.

The Professor said his lecture copy would be submitted to the Shree Krishna Committee in support of the cause of Telangana.

My posts on Telangana:

TELANGANA VIII: My letter to Sri Krishna Committee (SKC) - A case for demerger of Telangana

TELANGANA VII: Grossly discriminated against: Prof Bhalchandra Mungekar

TELANGANA VI: Why Telugu news channels bar coverage?

TELANGANA V: Plutocrats unleash terror over OU students

TELANGANA IV: Shri Krishna committee a crude joke

TELANGANA III: A case of Tyranny of Majority

TELANGANA II: Statehood at Midnight

TELANGANA I: Telangana Movement and the Plutocracy: The Gathering Storm