Sunday, February 24, 2013

SITA SINGS THE BLUES (2008)


Funny, witty, sarcastic, creative, musical and above original! A few animation films bear all these adjectives together. Compared to all those grand extravaganzas backed by Hollywood animation giant studios and loads of creative credit, Nina Paley’s ‘Sita sings the Blues’ is all independent graphic venture and a brilliant example of creative auteurism in multiple departments from direction to design.

The plot of the film bifurcates in two tales. One belongs to grand Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’. It focused on character of Sita who despite of her absolute and unconditional love for Rama is repaid with suspicion, banishment in her pregnancy, humiliating trial by fire till finally time and again she proved her purity by settling in Mother earth. Along with this epic tale runs the parallel the contemporary personal account of director’s own life. A modern day break up story shifting from San Francisco to Trivandrum. Both of them are loaded with feminist discourse that raised many questions. The three narrative voices clad in shadow puppet keep pointing their interpretations in playful and contradictory voices that are both thoughtful and skeptical re-interpreting the glorious epic. ‘Don’t challenge these stories’, stated one of them. And that’s what makes the film entertaining. The jazz score and soundtrack is pure delight for anyone.

Perhaps in the history of cinema I’ve noticed a wonderful and most creative ever ‘Intermission’ in this film where the characters of epic tale moves out of closed curtain and went out to washroom and back with cola and popcorn while we hear the audio of audience chattering. Paley made this film for free audience and decided to made it freely available to audience. Checkout the site of the film to know her brave and gutsy effort which is quite welcomed and well received by the audience all over the world. In Paley’s own voice, the film is ‘a tale of truth, justice and woman’s cry for equal treatment.’

Highly recommended to all. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

PARTY (1984)


Based on Marathi playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar’s play, ‘Party’ is both a political and social argument on role and commitment of an artist and contemplation about the shallow and snobbish world of elite creative talents. Govind Nihalani’s films reflect political tones in most of his films and even this film is not an exception. Perhaps his voice is impersonified and emphasized by the character of Om Puri, Nihalani's personal favorite. Towards the climactic tragic news the growing debate of the elite party people shifts its stand towards late entry of Avinash, a concerning journalist seeking the truth from reality. He supports Amrit, a poet turned social activist helping tribal to protect their land against state. Throughout the party he was most wanted and most stimulant fellow in all sorts of debate but never appear on screen till the end as nightmarish shock to all creative pipe dreamers. Perhaps the voice of Amrit is intensified by Avinash who believe that Creative art in any form is a tool or rather a weapon to fight injustice and it is political & social commitment of any artist in general. The debate touches many pertinent questions about the motive and tone of art ranging from pulp vs. literary, romanticist vs. realist, committed writer vs. aestheticism of artist, individual choice Vs politically charged. 

This film could be made better if Nihalani avoided few clich├ęs and repetition of scenes enhancing the shadows of multiple characters. He used abundance of mirror shots here where most of characters at least once face his/her reflections in mirror. Too much! What irritate me in the film is unnecessary self indulgent,  certain irreverent scenes and theatrical drama enacted by few characters. Yes, the directorial idea lies in showing us the shallow and pretended reality of all those escapist social elites and creative men of various fields living illusory existence of their own emptiness. But it becomes too drag and discursive. The most overacted or rather over-reacted act of the entire film belongs to Rohini Hattangadi. Is this the performance for which she won National award! Hers is the most itching part to see in Nihalani film, which seems clearly lifted one from typified Mahesh Bhatt character. It would be better if instead of her, we would have seen more of other talented actors like Shafi Inamdar & Benjamin Gilani. Thanks Manohar Singh who just like always performed his act with utter conviction.

Party is indeed well effort, the only regret is it could be made better and more provocative one. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

BOMBAY OUR CITY (Documentary) (1985)


‘The reality punch harder to conscience if you have closed your eyes and ears for long and suddenly you face it close to close as it is…uncovered in its striking and shocking side of life questioning itself.’

No, this is not some quote but exactly my state of mind after watching this documentary. The documentary hit me so hard that all those Italian Neorealist tearjerkers that I’ve watched till day seem too mild. The reason is quite genuine- it’s authentic, direct, striking and features the everyday survival reality of underprivileged citizens of enigma named India. The film was made on India’s business metro- Bombay, where behind all those rising modern skyline & archives of Victorian gothic buildings of the city, almost half of its population survives under striking reality and plight of being a slum dweller. It shows us the ratlike life pulping in ugliness of those large shanty slums full of squalor and sadness and a story to move your conscience. These are your everyday helpers in form of construction workers, roadside thelawala, domestic servants, industrial laborers and many things more devoid of all sorts of daily utilities from water, sanitation or electricity.   

The film portrays the demolition drive of slums backed by cops and municipal corporation based on SC’s order. The rehabilitation or legitimate shelter of the underprivileged remains an infinite illusion when nexus between politicians, municipal corporation & builder lobby concern only for one another’s interests. With forced eviction drive the dispossessed slum dwellers surviving on pavements and footpath. The footage of interviews with many of this slum dwellers made us realized their everyday horror and tragedy of life. Contrast to slum dwellers, the film also captures the high society’s views about the underprivileged. It also shows Government’s rigid and ridiculous census & population policy for the city that remained the hub of India’s urbanization. Patwardhan’s moving camera captures punching irony and hypocrisy through images juxtaposed with what those glorious officers stating as rule of law. In private air conditioned halls of business class of Indian Merchants Chamber, we witness the felicitation of the members who successfully manage to remove the encroachment of public places. As shanty squalor of slums which from long tarnishing the image of the city to the world, there were two men who became poster boys of media, business houses and progress. Then Police Comiisioner J F Ribeiro and Municipal Comissioner D M Sukthankar’s eviction drive mission that made multiple headlines in its time.

The film managed to capture the humane side of the whole unlikely reality of Bombay’s poverty and slum  dwelling. The images speak volume of irony here on the face of world’s largest democracy where the engraved equality of constitution rocks are just another filthy joke played on injustice and misery of the children of lesser Gods.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

FATHER, SON AND HOLY WAR (Documentary) (1994)


As a follow up to his earlier brilliant documentary ‘In the Name of God’,  perhaps the initial aim of Anand Patwardhan behind making this film was to make its audience aware and think about the ugly, thoughtless face of mass hysteria that spread violence in the name of religion and followed the blind bandwagon of rampage and riots soon after demolition of Babri Masjid. But as they interviewed the mass, checking and counter checking opinions of mass and started gathering the material it also becomes a significant & thought provoking document of prevalent mythical Indian masculine concept (read ‘Mardangi’) ingrained in collective psyche and consciousness of long patriarchal society. It begins with documenting the Mumbai riots as aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition.  Shops were burnt & looted, a shocking captured reality of a burnt dead body lying in the middle of the road where people are commuting while having an indifferent glance at hard reality. But what’s more horrifying is the recorded voices of mass proclaimed that they really enjoyed doing this mad violence. The recorded reaction of one of youth is - “Achcha laga, majaa aa raha hai. Enjoy kiya bas. Wo Karenge to hum bhi karenge naa! Sab ko chance mangta hai iss duniya mein…humne chudiyan nahin pahen rakhkhi hai.”

The film is divided in two parts. The first part titled as ‘Trial by Fire’ is direct reference to Sita’s Agnee Pariksha; a questionable dogma seeded in Hindu epic. This part raised many pertinent questions & key points about how this concept of violent and virile man took the shape of dominance and made the opposite gender servile under their power and dominance. It scratched the history & showed us how the earlier society that worships the feminine gender as divine mother feeling the threat in later years and established patriarch society replaced with various religious symbols and types all over the world including India. In a follow up, it focuses on incident of Roopkunwarji’s Sati case that shook the nation. The camera captures the helpless brother who remained unaware about her sacrifice till it happened but ultimately surrendered to his fellow community members while forcefully joining the bandwagon to call that being Sati her sister transformed as universal mother.The divine Hindu intervention empowered and dominated by patriarch society felt sudden insecure fear that made the stronghold of caste system and gender inequality programmed in the mindsets of people stamped with religious dogma and cultural purity. Behind those dogmas of child marriage, sati sacrifice or veiled woman and many other atrocities against women for long. It also documented another controversial case of Shahnaz bano and portrayed the questionable Muslim law of divorce juxtaposed against constitutional rights of Muslim wife.

The second part satirically titled as ‘Hero Pharmacy’, pointed out how religious warfare driven by Hindu fundamentalist syndicate Shiv Sena and fascist provocateur Bal Thackeray idolized Shivaji to encash vote banks and gain unchallenged power in 90s post Babri demolition. It not only gave Shiv Sena an unchallenged ugly alternate power establishing but also ignite the flame of enmity between two communities. It is quite ridiculous to watch the man who became a known face while playing Duryodhana in India’s hugely admired popular serial ‘Mahabharata’ addressing the crowd with Shiv Sena sloganeering- “Garv se kaho ham hindu hai” and then he added for what he’s called- “if you are Hindu and if you want to live fearlessly, your vote must belong to Shiv Sena.” Similarly we see the voices of Sikhs demanding ‘Khalistan’ and Muslim Imam demanding freedom and sacrifice. This celebrity and stars unawared about their social responsibility poisoning the mindsets that gave rise to an immediate riots. I can’t resist tears watching that shocking and insulting tragedy of a Muslim lady who confessed the horror happened to her facing recording camera or that mill worker old man whose young and bright medical studying daughter was killed by bomb explosion; a successive reply to country’s majority community. The only ray of hope lies in various NGOs working as Ekta Committees to re-establish the faith & humanity between two communities appealing ‘Prem se kaho hum insaan hai’ instead of provocating ‘Garv se kaho ham hindu hai.’

The film also focuses deep rooted psyche and myths of Indian masculine and virile macho man. The film showed us 80’s violent and mindless revenge film posters and its all powerful bollywood heroes, the fascination of WWF wrestling and body building exhibition shows. It is stimulating to catch the intentions of these macho production factories that instigated religious myths and ill doctrinated a generation suffered under insecurity and fake identity crisis.

Hats off to Mr Patwardhan for gifting another though provoking and well balanced document without being preachy or didactic anywhere. Instead of those earlier Government funded boring informative junk documentary cinema which pampered and played ruling government’s tune, this independent and laudable effort is interesting, bold and so direct that shows us the mirror of directionless society shuffling between misleading double face of politics and religion under hoax of cultural crisis.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

IN THE NAME OF GOD (Documentary) (1991)


“One problem with our democracy is that a rigid class and caste hierarchy coupled with gross gender inequality has kept large sections of our population without a voice. But having no voice doesn’t mean having no brain! On the contrary the voiceless have much to say and we can learn so much from their ways of seeing and thinking. Feelings of humanity seem to survive much better amongst the powerless than among the affluent and powerful.”

Kudos to Anand Patwardhan who made this brilliant, insightful & politically charged hard hitting documentary I’ve ever seen. The documentary is one tight slap on the religious fundamentalist face that gained its momentum in of a joint family of VHP, BJP & Bajrang Dal (‘The Monkey Army’ formed by Ram to cross waters of Lanka in Hindu epic and formed by VHP-BJP in 90’s India especially to grab youth activists wing for Ram Janmabhoomi conflict). This un-holy trinity used controversial religious conflict of Babri Mosque-Ram temple issue to cement their political gain and encash financial gain came in form of huge donation amount. It not only gave rise to genocide as its aftermath of mosque’s destruction in December 1992 but also made an unprecedented rise of enmity between two community otherwise living peacefully in the region and country. The film unashamedly records the chronicle of history of the conflict, its manipulation,its campaign and ruling government’s stand, mad hysteria of mass & also registered the opinions & voices of ordinary Indians, both Hindu & Muslims, who kept their sanity and humanity in the midst of communal frenzy. As part of its horror aftermath, the country witnessed communal violence that spread in most of the states and killed thousands of innocent people.

Somehow I feel that religious fundamentalism is more horrific than the terrorism that keep striking our nation time to time. Charging and brainwashing the uneducated mass with religious fanatic poison and then gaining their support to solidify political interest of majority Hindus brought so many ugly repercussions that not only shattered the nation but misled the directionless youth.  These are inside termites of society cheating the mass who surrenders their ideology to them. It’s so ironically sad to see the opinions of that generation of youth who without knowing any history, facts of the conflict or their Hindu scriptures joined the bandwagon of Bajrang Dal activistism clad in saffron cloth and a naked sword in hand. Then ruling V P Singh government’s stand on Mandal commission brought lot of anger of upper class majority. And it was aptly encashed by these so called Hindu torchbearers who wanted to redefine India as ‘Hindu nation’. ‘Hindu’ is the term that touches to all majority mass irrespective of multitudes of castes and community and hence it set up a flame that burned the whole nation. The only grace and hope of the whole issue lied in what the priest of Ram temple of Ayodhya, Pujari Laldas expressed in his noble views in entire documentary but its so sad to know that a year later he was too murdered by some fanatic faggot.

Anand Patwardhan is surely leading filmmaker who’s been making investigative documentaries for thinking men for over three decades. Most of his documentaries won number of prestigious National & International awards in documentary section and covered multiple points touching socio-political-cultural undercurrents about the enigma called India. But what is so sad and ironical is that over the years, most of his films and his reluctant stand either faced censorship and wrath of the ruling elite due to his stand to reflect unabashedly the hard fact hidden inside the veil of soft lies. His many films led him to court action and released much after years when the issue he addressed erased from the mass memory and took turn into another one. Perhaps Kabir’s golden words encapsulated the point that runs in the ending titles of the film; can’t resist quoting them:

Saints, I see
The world is mad
If I tell the truth
They rush to beat me
If I lie they trust me
Hindus claim Ram as the one
Muslims claim Rahim
Then they kill each other
Knowing not
The essence
With prayer beads and caps
And brows of holy paint
They lose themselves
In sacred hymns but
Know not their own souls
Many holy men I’ve seen
Teachers of holy books
Who acquire disciples
Venerate graves
But know not God
The world goes on
Like this and yet
They call me mad
But Kabir says, listen
Who’s the one insane?
Need I have to say the film is an essential watch for all thinking Indians.  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

BRIGHTON ROCK (1947)



Penned and adapted on screen by Graham Greene and produced-directed by The Boulting Brothers, ‘Brighton Rock’ considered as classic British noir ever made. Like many of Greene’s key works, the undercurrent theme of crime juxtaposed with Catholicism, redemption and hope is reflected here too in form of a ruthless teenage gangster and his romance with an innocent girl.   


Richard Attenborough who seems too underage here gave one of sparkling screen presence as a hoodlum Pinkie Brown, the brute who don’t mind killing anybody anywhere and keeps juggling thread between his fingers. It is pointless to compare the cinematography of Greene’s another work adapted on screen by Carol Reed starring magnetic Welles as Harry Lime. ‘The Third Man’ is just outstanding noir Hollywood has ever made. But Greene’s this adaptation too stamped with commendable camerawork. There are number of memorable scenes including Dante’s Inferno train ride sequence in amusement park where Kolley Kibber is murdered which I consider truly a Hitchcockian moment. The climax part was so sudden and short; the only thing I frown upon.

Recommended to noir fans.

Ratings-7.5/10