October 22, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Day #7: The Best Day Saved for the Last

Five more movies. The last day. The total score goes up to 33. The festival comes to an end. And how amazingly!

Theeb (2014/ UAE-Jordan-Qatar) by Naji Abu Nowar set the perfect tone for the day. What stunning landscape. Great sound and music. Really, really liked the film. It had won Best Director at Venice Horizons this year.

Coming Home (2014/ China) by Yimou Zhang was for me the most moving film. A heart-wrenching story of a domestic family torn by the Cultural Revolution, it proved once again why its director is onr of the most revered Asian filmmakers today.

Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014/ China) by Yi'nan Diao was a glorious tribute to the Noir tradition of Hollywood of the 40s. A fallen cop, a femme fatale, and an ending that remains devastating despite the mystery being solved. Loved its writing - operating within genre space is not easy. And was absolutely stunned by its cinematography. This Golden Bear winner at Berlin this year was a very special film for me, if not so for others. It had also won Best Actor award at Berlin.

Nymphomaniac I and II (2013/ Denmark and others) was my most eagerly awaited movie of this festival. And did it reach upto my expectations? Boy, it surpassed it. Firstly, this was the most personal film I watched this year - only Lars Von Trier could have made this, his authorship is evident in every minute of its five and half hours of run-time. Secondly, I never thought this film could be such an involving and entertaining essay on human society that it was. So playful, apart from being explicit and shocking. And most importantly, especially to someone who has followed the maker and his previous films, it was almost like an open-letter to his detractors about why he is the way he is - an eccentric, unapologetic, shameless genuis. I could not have asked for any other film to end my festival experience.

October 21, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Day #6: Genre Rules

Watched four movies today, taking the six day total score to 28. I really want to end up at 33, equalling my last year's total. Somehow, after the 5th and the 6th days, I am feeling satisfied with this year's experience. Some very special movies have made it happen. And the last day is supposed to be awesome. Also, now the trailers Devanshu and I made for the festival are playing before every screening. You can watch them by clicking here.

The movies that I watched today were:

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014/ Iran) by Ana Lily Amirpour: An Iranian film. Designed in B&W, like a Western, with great music, and a Vampire love story as its text. Can it get more surprising than this? It seems the film decided to change the image of Iranian cinema single-handedly. What style! What fun! I can watch it all over again. On big screen.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970/ Italy) by Elio Petri: A restored classic. I am so glad I decided to watch these classics. Five minutes into the film and you know what you are watching is so much better than most recent movie. Very unusual crime drama. Very interestingly done. Had won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film for that year.

Macondo (2014/ Austria) by Sudabeh Mortezai: Very involving coming-of-age story of an 11 year old Chechnyan refugee living with his Mom and two kid sisters. Wonderful performances.

Schimbare (2014/ Spain) by Alex Sampayo: This is a thriller that grows slowly and steadily before exploding into a devastating climax. However, because of its subject and the violence depicted in it, some in the audience could not react favourably to it. I feel sorry for them. Seriously. Because this indeed was a very, very well-made film.

October 20, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Day #5: Mavericks for Rescue

So, overall I was not very happy with the movies I watched during the first four days of the festival, especially because last year had been so special. And this morning, I hit a new low with Early Spring, Kyoto (Japan/ 2014) by Hiroshi Toda. The film improved by the time it ended, but it remains the weakest movie I have watched in these five days.

I badly needed to rescue myself from this now. I needed an effective and quick redemption. And I decided to watch a classic despite having not booked the ticket for it. The seats were empty and I didn't have any problem entering. So I watched A Few Days from the Life of Oblomov (Soviet Union/ 1980) by Nikita Mikhalkov. What a wonderful dramedy it was? The triumph of a good story, and classical cinematic techniques. This was how the fate of my day turned in my favour.

Because the next movie was supremely engaging, brilliantly written, and wonderfully performed by its players. It was Omar (Palestine/ 2013) by Hany Abu-Assad. What a heartbreaking film about love and betrayal set amidst the Palestinian conflict. There was some technical problem during the screening that first left us disappointed, but then got solved. However, this caused a delay that made me miss my next movie, Goodbye to Language.

And thank God for that. Because, I went in to watch Kim Ki-Duk's latest instead, One on One (South Korea/ 2014). It was such an entertaining film. Watching it with more than 200 people made it even more enjoyable. The day had already been very nice so far. But the best was yet to come.

They say I should not keep in mind the fact that a 25-year old has made this film and judge it despite of that. How can I do that? Especially when every minute of this brilliantly crafted, insanely entertaining, deeply moving film reminds you of the passion and the genius of the man behind it? Mommy (Canada/ 2014) is not only among the very best films of this festival or this year, it will always be remembered for its boldness of craft and content, and an audacity that is endearing and awe-inspiring at the same time. Take a bow, Xavier Dolan. See you at the Oscars this time, representing Canada.

October 19, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Day #4: The French Connection

Had to miss one movie today because of something that came up at the last moment. I was really upset with the thought that I would be not scoring 35 movies this time as well, but then a friend said: "Make room for life" and that brought a smile on my face that erased all doubts. I will never regret missing one movie. And I think I will always remember this one line, when ever in doubt.

So, 19 movies in four days. Not a bad score at all. And the fours movies of today were all in the French language.

Two Days, One Night (Belgium/ 2014) by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne: '12 Angry Men' meets 'The Bicycle Thief' in modern Belgium, with the impeccable Marion Cotillard as the protagonist. How a character apparently good only to evoke pity rises and unfolds into a tremendously admirable human. How a plot that does not have too many options and only one of two possible endings plays with the expectations of the audience. Writing text-book.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (France/ 1964) by Jacques Demy: Classics will be classics. Film will be film. This kind of a musical may not be palatable for many in the audience, but I loved it unconditionally. Had won top prize at Cannes and was nominated for five Oscars.

Party Girl (France/ 2014) by Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq, Claire Burger, and Samuel Theis: Camera d'Or winner at Cannes this year, which is the award for Best Debut film for the director(s). Such well-developed characters, so effectively shot. Generated unanimous praise.

Life of Riley (France/ 2014) by Alain Resnais: Winner of FIPRESCI prize and Alfred Bauer (for opening 'new perspectives in cinematic art') award at Berlin this year. Last film by the legendary Alain Resnais.

Mumbai 2014 Day #3: Cultures and Communities

Stations of the Cross (Germany/ 2014) by Dietrich Bruggemann: A film in only 14 shots. Brilliant performances. Tremendously involving narrative. Won screenplay award at Berlin this year. And yes, a film on religion is an essential ingredient of the festival week.

Difret (Ethiopia/ 2014) by Zeresenay Berhane: There is something about true stories. In the end when the little girl says, "I don't feel like Ive won anything", I could feel a sudden rush of emotions within me. Very important film. And well-made too. Won 'audience awards' at Sundance and Berlin this year.

Broken Hill Blues (Sweden/ 2014) by Sofia Norlin: A loosely-woven mood piece set in a small mining community in North Sweden. The director was present, and very candidly admitted that she wanted to make this 'crochet-like' film without any clear narrative. Also answered my question regarding not opting for a wider scope ratio because there were certain interior scenes where she wanted more intimate compositions.

Barf (Iran/ 2014) by Mehdi Rahmani: One day in the life of a crisis-ridden family as they prepare for the daughter's engagement. Wonderful characters. Lot of humor. Without losing the touch with truth and reality. The similarity with my feature script and this is uncanny.

Blind Massage (China/ 2014) by Lou Ye: Perhaps the most original piece of work I have seen out of all 15 movies in three days. From content to craft, it had so much to offer. Took time to grow, but its hangover has been tremendous. Won 'Outstanding Artistic Contribution' for its cinematography at Berin 2014, and rightly so.

October 17, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Day #2: Perfect Scores, Imperfect Choices

Despite not keeping very well, I've managed to watch ten movies in two days, mainly because of the venue being so close to my place, and this online reservation system that I really, really like. It brings down the stress levels to the minimum and you get so much more time to enjoy the festival, meeting more people, taking breaks to eat, and relax.

The five movies that I watched on the second day were:

Corn Island (Georgia/ 2014) by George Ovashvili: Georgia's official entry to the Oscars, this film with minimal dialogue is a stunning document of an old man inhabiting a little river island to grow corn. It was so well shot, and the sound design was very effective. However, the final few minutes of the film left me unsatisfied.

The Little House (Japan/ 2014) by Yoji Yamada: The only Yamada film I had watched before this was 'The Twilight Samurai' (2002) and I hadn't liked it much. But I absolutely loved 'The Little House'. It was a DVD projection and the first few minutes were off-putting, but as someone has said - the most important thing in a film is the story. As the story took over, it moved me, and pleased me, and left me completely satisfied. The actress Haru Kiroki, who played the young Taki had won Best Actress at Berlin this year for her performance.

The Third Side of the River (Argentina/ 2014) by Celina Murga: Honestly, I think I could have avoided this film. It was well-made and the performances were very real. But the story itself was not very involving. Moreover, we have seen so many films about teenage angst that it didn't have anything new to offer.

Clownwise (Slovakia-Czech Republic/ 2013) by Viktor Taus: This film has emerged as the revelation of the festival so far, generating unanimous response among the audience. And the love it is receiving is very deserving. Great characters, put in an interesting situation, with a stunning and surprising use of camera, edit, music, and sound. A perfect film for big screen. A perfect film for a festival, or otherwise.

Beloved Sisters (Germany/ 2014) by Dominik Graf: Germany's official entry into the Oscars this year, this film is an epic period piece about two sisters unusually and willingly falling in love with the same guy. Some very interesting craft-related decisions, and some extremely well written scenes make this really long film an easier watch. I do not personally like costume dramas much, but if you like those, this is a film for you. The Academy might just love it. I won't be surprise to see it in the top five early next year.

Honestly speaking, I am feeling a little underwhelmed after watching the first ten movies at the festival. I really need some really amazing movies on the third day, some truly memorable ones.

October 16, 2014

Mumbai 2014 Day #1: A New Beginning

After watching more than 150 movies in the first five years of my experience at Mumbai film festival, I think it goes without saying what a heartbreak it was to know a couple of months ago that the festival might just not take place this time due to lack of funds. You know what was the first thing that came to my mind? That I'd take one week off during January and attend the Pune film festival. (Not Goa because that would be a little too expensive for me.) But thanks to all those who supported the festival and soon it became a movement - to save this cities biggest and the country's one of the most important film festival. I am filled with gratitude toward all those who contributed toward the cause, making possible what I believe is the happiest, craziest, most exciting week of the year.

So, it was a new beginning for the festival. And it was a new beginning for my relationship with it. Devanshu and I were contacted by Shakun Batra (the director of 'Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu' and now a very dear friend) to direct a promo for the festival. It was simple. All of us, including the twelve celebrities that feature in that 40-sec promo worked for free, to send out a message that there a lot of people who care for it. It was super fun shooting the promo, and I must thank Anupama Chopra and Shakun for this wonderful opportunity. I must also thank my crew, who worked on it for free, only to support us in what we were doing. This could not have happened without their unconditional help. You can watch the promo by clicking here.

And that's why this year the excitement regarding the festival started a few weeks earlier than ever before. We also felt that this is going to be our little contribution to it, and hence went on to shoot a few more promos, getting up early morning for it, even travelling out of the city, taking more favours from friends, and managing it with all other work of ours that we had to complete before the first day of the festival. Then came the bad news. One day before the festival had to begin, I fell ill. We all know how irritating a common viral ailment can be. In this October heat, it was more irritating than ever. I was scared that it might just ruin all these days of excitement. Missing even a single day at the festival was not acceptable to me. The knowledge that viral illnesses cannot be cured by any medicine and no anti-pyretic, anti-biotic drug you give can ‘cure’ you until the self-limiting ailment completes its cycle – did not help. The knowledge that rest and hydration is the best medicine in such scenario did. I also received a couple of messages from people who know how important the festival is for me – one motivating me to get perfectly well so that I can hit the perfect score of 35. So yes, I decided to miss the opening ceremony, and the party after that and slept. By morning, perhaps I was actually better or it was just an effect of adrenaline, I was fine. And thus I scored a perfect five on the first day of my favourite festival.


Before I head out for my second day, let me quickly tell you what in these movies made them contribute to the festival experience. The five movies I watched on Day 1 are:

Over Your Dead Body (Japan/ 2014) by Takashi Miike: Play within a movie. Excellent set-design and cinematography. Surrealism. Body horror. Glimpses of the Japan of the past. A mix of all this was the perfect opening movie for me. Plus the name of the director!

Refugiado (Argentina/ 2014) by Diego Lerman: The directing in this movie was so impressive – the choice of shots and edit, visual design, use of actors, and for creating moments of genuine thrill among the audience. I would be proud of myself if I could direct like this.

Norjmaa (China/ 2014) by Bayaneruul: A breathtaking landscape is good enough to give you an unforgettable cinematic experience. Add to it some local cultural customs, and a couple of interesting characters. An important anti-war film that also inspires in you the need to get closer to nature and to learn to co-exist with it.

Gett, the Trial of Vivane Amsalem (Israel/ 2014) by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz: Israel’s official entry to the Oscars this year, the entire movie is set in a room and the space outside it. The way it made the audience react proves once again that all you need to move us is well-done characters. This will be one of the most sought-after movies of the year.

Boyhood (USA/ 2014) by Richard Linklater: No words can do justice to this experience. And if I try to say something really big about it, it might just set a wrong expectation for you. But I can tell you with all confidence that ‘Boyhood’ is unlike anything you have seen before. Shot over 12 years, the ageing of its characters creates an incredible impact over you. Some might think it was a bit too long, I personally did not want it to end. The movie is a work of pure passion and persistence, led by the maverick Linklater and supported by a wonderful cast and crew. That moving pictures are the best interpreters of reality – this film is the most glorious example of it. And for what it does without getting too dramatic or spectacular or profound, but by sheer insight into the human condition, apart from being an unforgettable film project, I have to recommend ‘Boyhood’ as a must watch before you die (#42). If you can let yourself be immersed in this unbelievable experience, you might just learn a thing or two about yourself, or might end up being a better son, a better daughter, a better parent. What more can we ask from films?

September 26, 2014

Preserving the Impulse that Brought Us Here...

What a brilliant way to start my day!

I'm sharing with you here one of the most amazingly inspirational speeches by an artist. This 30-minute speech by Martin Scorsese is one of the best things you can do to yourself, if you are a filmmaker, an artist, or a motivated human being striving to do something that is different and that requires courage.

"Every step is a first step. Every brush-stroke is a test. Every scene is a lesson. Every shot is a school. So, let the learning continue."

September 18, 2014

Finally I Gotcha, Gump!

A couple of days ago, I was among those 25-30 people sitting in the magnificent IMAX theater at PVR Phoenix, watching this celebrated picture. It can be assumed that most of them, if not all, had come for a re-watch - there will be very few cinephiles who haven't watched 'Forrest Gump'. And all those who know me have always been utterly surprised to find that I haven't, or hadn't, until that day. So, I was sitting there and more than half of the movie was over. We were back after the forcefully and clumsily done 'intermission' and soon came a scene that was backed by this line in Forrest's voice - "It was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life". I was surprised how unaffected I was when that happened. It was the scene where Forrest is made to speak at an anti-war rally and comes out from nowhere - Jenny, Forrest's love-interest. Cinematically, that scene looked ambitious and made to create a historical moment. Emotionally, it did nothing to me. It did nothing because it felt contrived, and forced. And by that time in the movie this had happened a bit too much - the writing had been manipulative and relying completely on chance events. Every time I was to get lost in the movie, the writer showed up, and did something smart, which for me was only gimmicky. "Is it again one of those mainstream Hollywood movies that will not be able to stand the test of time, that's going to age poorly?" - I thought. And also - "Winning Oscar over 'Pulp Fiction' was surely a fluke."

Some more minutes passed by. And then I realised I was smiling uninhibitedly at the misadventures of the lead character. I really cannot say when, after that over-critical reading of the film, it eventually won over me. I have to admit that my problem with the movie was only its writing. In every other aspects the movie was an absolute triumph, there was no doubt about it. But eventually, even the writing started making sense. The complete reliance on chance events, the unpredictible structure, the exaggerated plot elements, events happening without actually taking us anywhere in a clear, purposeful direction - everything made sense. Today, two days later, I know I can watch the movie all over again. I think I can also accept, now, that the biggest triumph for this picture is its writing. Finally, I got it, it seems.

The screenplay of 'Forrest Gump' bases itself on the pattern of life, especially an extraordinary life of a seemingly ordinary man. It covers emotions of all kinds, it touches people of as many kinds as can be, and does this with a playfulness, a never-ending sense of humour, making it insightful, uplifting, entertaining, and inspiring at the same time. What eventually convinced me of its greatness was Forrest's repetition of what his Mom told him about life, that it is a box of chocolates, and you never know what you'd get. It was consolidated by Lt. Taylor's belief in destiny. The movie, or its screenplay, has been designed purposefully in a melodramatic way - plot events driving the characters rather than the other way round. After all, isn't life very much the same? I can only call this as an extremely ambitious idea, extremely challenging, because such writing can often fail, and extremely well-executed. Watching this great film unfold before my eyes on the giant IMAX screen for the first time was an unforgettable experience. It seems, my wait of all these years was worth it. That I did not watch it for so long, despite people making fun of me, and a copy of it present on my laptop, and then suddenly a re-release making me travel all the way to Lower Parel so that I could experience it on big screen, in itself is an inexplicable chance event. Had I ever imagined that this is how I will meet 'Forrest Gump' for the first time, a film that I would call one of the most successful melodramas of our time. And hence, almost inimitable.

September 17, 2014

Mumbai 2014: A Look at the Line-Up

A few hours ago, MAMI announced its line-up for the Mumbai Film Festival 2014 to be held between 14th to 21st October. You can click here to get the complete line-up. It is close to four weeks before the city's favourite film festival returns, after fighting all odds and after several film enthusiasts came together to save it. I thought of writing a quick blog post to create the buzz. So here it is, very quickly, the highlights of the line-up of films from all over the world.

WINNERS AT RECENT FESTIVALS
  1. Boyhood: Best Director at Berlin apart from several other awards all over. This latest film by Richard Linklater might just be the biggest high-profile film of this year's festival.
  2. Life of Riley: Alfred Bauer Award and FIPRESCI Prize at Berlin. This is the last film by Alain Resnais who passed away this year after a great filmography that includes films like 'Hiroshima mon amour' (1959) and 'Last Year at Marienbad' (1961). The Alfred Bauer Award at Berlin is awarded to a film that "opens new perspectives on cinematic art" and I keenly look forward to the winners of this prize every year.
  3. The Little House: Best Actress at Berlin to Haru Kuroki. This is the 81st film by the 83-year old Japanese master Yoji Yamada (director of, among others, 'The Twilight Samurai (2002)').
  4. Stations of the Cross: Best Screenplay at Berlin
  5. Difret: Audience Awards at Berlin and Sundance. This film is in competition here and I believe it will emerge as a favourite among most.
  6. Party Girl: Camera d'Or Winner at Cannes. This award at Cannes is for the best first film. Mira Nair had won it for 'Salaam Bombay!' (1988). I look forward to this award as well because it brings forth the film-makers to look forward to. Earlier winners of this award include Jim Jarmusch (1984), Jafar Panahi (1995), and Steve McQueen (2008).
  7. Black Coal, Thin Ice: Golden Bear and Best Actor winner at Berlin
  8. Mommy: Jury Prize at Cannes. The fifth feature by the 24-year old Xavier Dolan who is a Cannes favourite.
  9. Goodbye to Language 3D: Jury Prize at Cannes. This is the latest film by the 84-year old French legend Jean-Luc Godard.
  10. Corn Island: Two awards at Karlovy Vary
  11. I Am Not Him: Screenplay Award at Rome. This is supposed to be a celebrated film in its home country, Turkey.
  12. Vessel (Documentary): Audience Award and Special Jury Award at SXSW
  13. Omar: Nominated for Foreign Language Oscar last year, won Special Jury Prize (Un Certain Regard) at Cannes 2013
  14. Love at First Fight: Won four awards at Cannes 2014
  15. Blind Massage: Cinematography award at Berlin 2014
  16. Theeb: Won Venice Horizons Best Director
THE LATEST FILMS BY MASTERS
Apart from the films by Richard Linklater, Alain Resnais, Yoji Yamada, and Jean-Luc Godard, as mentioned above, the festival brings the latest films by Kim ki-Duk, Ken Loach, Zhang Yimou, Lars Von Trier, Atom Egoyan, and Takashi Miike.

OSCAR ENTRIES
Some films which are their countries' official entries to the upcoming Academy Awards are also playing here: Saint Laurent (France), Two Days, One Night (Belgium) by the inimitable Dardenne Brothers, Gett, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Israel), Charlie's Country (Australia), Beloved Sisters (Germany) and Corn Island (Georgia), apart from Mommy (Canada) that I mentioned above.

RESTORED CLASSICS
It Happened One Night (1934/ Frank Capra), Lady from Shanghai (1947/ Orson Welles), On the Waterfront (1954/ Elia Kazan), Bye Bye Birdie (1963/ George Sidney), Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970/ Elio Petri) add so much weight to the line-up. I will not miss these for sure.

RETROSPECTIVE OF RUSSIAN FILMS
This list boasts of the greatest films of this festival. Alexander Nevsky (1938/ Sergei Eisenstein), Ballad of a Soldier (1959/ Grigoriy Chukhray), Andrei Rublev (1966/ Andrei Tarkovsky), Dersu Uzala (1975/ Akira Kurosawa), Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (1979/ Vladimir Menshov), and the seven-hour epic War and Peace (1968/ Sergei Bondarchuk) are the best of the lot.

DIRECTOR'S CHOICE
Anand (1971/ Hrishikesh Mukherjee), Junoon (1979/ Shyam Benegal), Parinda (1989/ Vidhu Vinod Chopra), Bandit Queen (1994/ Shekhar Kapur), Black Friday (2007/ Anurag Kashyap).

LATEST INDIAN FILMS
I will be eagerly waiting for Killa (by Avinash Arun) that won two awards at Berlin and Court (by Chaitanya Tamhane) that won this year's Venice Horizons Award.

AND SOME MORE
I am also looking forward to The Umbrellas of Cherboug by Jacques Demy, Girlhood by Celine Sciamma (the director of 'Tomboy (2011)') and The Search by Michel Hazanavicius (the director of 'The Artist (2011)'.

September 08, 2014

The Truest Love Story

Spoiler Alert: The following post contains several crucial details about 'Vertigo' (1958). Please do not read it if you haven't watched the film yet.

In their first meeting early in the film, when Gavin Elster offers the 'job' to Scottie, Elster talks about the good old days of San Francisco. "The things that spell San Francisco to me are disappearing fast", he says, before adding those 'things' - "color, excitement, power, freedom." Later, Scottie visits an elderly book-shop owner, to enquire about Carlotta Valdes, the woman whose spirit has been supposedly haunting Elster's wife. Apart from other things, it is revealed to us that Carlotta was abandoned by her man, who kept their child and threw her away on the streets. "You know, a man could do that in those days. They had the power and the freedom." Last week, as I watched 'Vertigo' for the fourth time, the repeated use of the words "power and freedom" hit me like never before. Was this, the power and the freedom to dump your woman, that Elster was wistfully referring to in the earlier scene? That I knew the real truth behind Elster's plans definitely helped me read his lines in a new light. And my views got consolidated later, at the climax, when a livid and outraged Scottie is confronting Judy after having figured out how he was framed. Here, in the closing minutes of the film when he talks about her relationship with Elster, the words are repeated again - "...You were his girl, huh? Well, what happened to you? Did he ditch you? With all of his wife's money, and all that freedom and that power, and he ditched you. What a shame."

It is easy to dismiss this Hitchcock masterpiece as just another mainstream Hollywood suspense thriller. But then, I don't think it is too difficult either to figure out how deeply layered and hauntingly profound this story is. The example above is an illustration of what J. Hoberman writes in his 1996 review of the film, which according to him is "a mystery that only improves with knowledge of its solution". As mentioned above, the story can be read as a brutal tale of a man's successful abandoning of his woman - murdering her in this case, and the absolute victory of its demonic and invincible antagonist. This shameful act happens every day in each part of the world, although not all cases are covered with such an incredibly flawless plan. But more remarkably, I believe 'Vertigo' is the ultimate love tragedy, as deeply passionate and devastating as most love stories I encounter in real life. I have a feeling that you relate more with Scottie and the film if you are a man, and especially as you age, and see hints of all kinds of love affairs in this film. Please excuse my almost cynical world-view when it comes to love, and allow me to indulge in this reading of the film.

Look at the still above from the wonderfully crafted chase sequence when Scottie is following 'Madeleine'. Scottie is literally 'in the dark' and the woman he is following is nothing but an image - shiny, colorful, bright, and daringly inviting him to get infatuated with her. Hoberman's one-line description of the film is perhaps the most apt way of defining it. He writes that the movie is concerned with "being hopelessly, obsessively, fetishistically in love with an image" and I think the still above is exactly this definition, in these many words and more. But aren't all love affairs the same? When we fall in love, we are actually attracted to and infatuated with an image of the person we think we're falling in love with. That image is always extremely alluring and we are always taking a risk, and willingly so, when we fall for it. Scottie took a risk - he allowed himself to be drawn to the 'mentally-unstable wife' of his old schoolmate. And when that image crashed, the harsh reality hit him on his face. Haven't all of us experienced the same in our love affairs? I must add that I'm not saying that the person we love 'tricks' us into this by projecting a wrong and superficial image of herself or himself. It's just that this is how love affairs get constructed, and both parties are victims of this trickery that love plays on them. Afterall, isn't Judy as much a victim of this love affair as Scottie?

This brings me to another aspect of this love tragedy - the woman's perspective. Let us think of Judy and her story. She is a young girl from Kansas, somehow surviving in San Francisco City to support her mother back home. One day, a rich man discovers her and realises that she looks like his own wife whom he's been wanting to get rid of. So he proposes to her this plan that would make her rich and her life more comfortable than she can imagine. She agrees and they together start tricking Scottie. Until now, it feels like fiction, the stuff of the movies. But what happens next is something that I've seen happening with so many girls. Judy falls in love with Scottie. If we try to figure out the reason behind this, we'll have to agree that her love had hardly to do with the external appearance of Scottie, or the image he was portraying. Roger Ebert mentioned somewhere what he came up with during a shot-by-shot study of the film - that the turning point for Judy would be the day when Scottie 'fished her out' of the bay and took her home. Remember, here we have a single man, finally taking home the woman he has desired, who is 'unconscious'. He undresses her and makes her sleep in his bed. It is almost evident that his conduct during this entire process muct have been impeccable and Judy, who was hardly unconscious, must have been going through all this with great nervousness and terror. Can it ever be easy for a woman pretending to be unconscious to let a man undress her completely in his own house? And when she is going through this entire thing, scared and not knowing where it will take her, she finds that Scottie treats her with care, does not take advantage of the situation in any way, and then when she wakes up, he behaves like a perfect gentleman. I believe, this is good enough for a woman to be exceedingly drawn toward a man. Soon she realises that this man is strongly attracted to her, this man of values. Not only that. When asked about the details he cooks up answers that definitely make him appear 'innocent', even 'cute' - as the woman knows certain ghastly details that he does not. Her falling for him is definitely justified then, just like most girls I've seen fall for their men, in a way much deeper than the other way round.

Even after the successful execution of the plan, Judy does not leave the city and go into hiding - she cannot, although the mastermind, Elster, has fled to Europe. By deciding to stay in the city, hoping to see Scottie just once, she is being foolish. But this is what we all do when we are in love, right? We do foolish, dangerous things. After being discovered by Scottie, she decides to go with the flow. She allows him to dress her and change her despite finding this unbearably hurtful. Scottie indulges in his perverse attempt to resurrect the image he was in love with, and she lets him do that, bit by bit, with the hope of eventually making him love the real her, until her surrender to his absolute power and control recreates for them that fragile love affair that rests on images that we seek and unwillingly (or willingly) portray. The very next scene, after an obvious time-lapse, that image is shattered again. Scottie gets to discover the real and complete truth and this triggers in him a reaction both calm and violent, and hence so dangerous. In his final confrontation with Judy, atop the church, he cries - "Did he train you? Did he rehearse you? Did he tell you what to do and what to say?" A heart wounded in love always reacts in this way, bitterness and jealousy completely overpowering you, and you act without thinking, until it ends in something that silences you. And if you are as unfortunate as Scottie, it can devastate you forever. The cyclical nature of finding and losing your loved one, often by your own doing and mostly due to matters out of your control, is again a very strong depiction in this timeless tragedy. The loss may not always be the loss of one's life, as in the closing seconds of the film, but isn't it as brutal as that? Isn't the image of a slightly stooped Scottie hanging helplessly over the roof top of the site of the biggest tragedy of his life the image of most of us when we lose our love? And don't we thank our stars when someone we know goes through this and we silently hope to either stay away from love or succeed in it? For me, John 'Scottie' Ferguson has become that dear 'someone' whom I care for since the first scene everytime I watch this film. And mostly, I see myself in his mad pursuit of this woman. If you can see yourself in either Scottie or Judy, you will agree with me about 'Vertigo' being the truest love story ever put up on screen. And I believe, most of you will, someday, if not today.

August 27, 2014

#9: The Moment of Truth

“I've loved you all my life, even before we met. Part of it wasn't even you. It was just a promise of you.” 
– Sydney Pollack's 'The Firm' (1993)

Sometime in early 1998, I proclaimed a movie album to be my favourite of all time. It was Uttam Singh’s ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’ (1997). ‘Are re are ye kya hua’ is still one of those songs that uplifts me unlike most others and the romantic wistfulness of ‘Bholi-si soorat’ has been my inspiration as a poet ever since I turned one. One thing that I particularly loved about the music of this film was the programming, including the beautifully fresh interludes. In 1998, I represented my school at several science seminars and congresses. At the age of fourteen, being the only one from my batch to actually get to travel mid-semester was more than any of the privileges I was aware of. It was also the first time I was travelling, and these first long-distance train journeys had turned me into a complete romantic. I had fallen in love with the writings of Ruskin Bond and my parents had bought me my first portable stereo that I could use only on these trips as it was not allowed in hostel. Pankaj Udhas’ ‘Stolen Moments’ and Shankar Mahadevan’s claim-to-fame ‘Breathless’ were among the few cassettes I had, and soon I had learnt the latter’s title track by heart. The album, however, that was to become my favourite companion on train journeys, and still is, was ‘Dil Se’ (1998). ‘Chhaiyya Chhaiyya’ was perhaps the first song I became truly crazy for.

During the summer vacation that year the trailer of one film caught my attention. It was called ‘Satya’. Perhaps not many know that I am called ‘Anshu’ at my home, and ‘Satya’ by my school friends. So, the trailer of this movie appealed to me, and for this reason alone, because otherwise, it looked dry and Urmila Matondkar disappointed me in her all-clad avatar after her act in 'Rangeela' (1995) and 'Daud' (1997). After the vacations, one day, I heard my warden, the only teacher in our Ashrama who talked about movies, mention ‘Satya’. “I’m dying to watch it,” he said and I was left wondering – even a movie like this has people ‘dying’ to watch it? It was a new perspective for me. From that moment, I was taking this movie seriously. A couple of months later, a very close friend fractured his hand and went home for a few days. On returning he raved about the movie, that he had not seen something as stylish and gritty as this. I really valued the opinion of this friend and thus made up my mind to watch this film during Durga Puja vacations.

That October, my parents took me to Kozhikode, Kerala and ‘Satya’ was playing there. My Dad, as you all know by know, was almost averse to watching movies. But somehow, we convinced him to take us to this one movie. I am so thankful to the cinema owners in our country who never care if the people buying tickets for an adult movie are actually adults. My brother and I were not, and ‘Satya’ was an adult film, mainly because of its realistic violence and cuss words. I also loved the dingy look of the theater – we had to go through what looked like a concrete tunnel to enter it. And when I watched it, this was the first movie that completely impressed me, from its first shot, to the opening voice over, to the unlikely gangster character of Satya, and the infinitely memorable Bhiku Mhatre. I loved the songs – ‘Baadalon se kaat kaat ke’, ‘Geela geela paani’ and ‘Tu mere saath bhi hai’, apart from the obviously entertaining ‘Kallu mama’ and ‘Sapne mein milti hai’. This was also the first film whose technical brilliance affected me like never before. The scene where Satya is being beaten up by some goons at the balcony of an old building, overlooking the street below with oblivious passers-by, with the sound of rain being most prominent – no background score, no added effects for kicking and punching sounds – it was more realistic and stylish than anything I had seen before. I also remember noticing how the sound of a scene preceded its visuals, overlapping with the closing seconds of the preceding scene – something that, I later learnt, was called a ‘J-cut’. And the way the film ended, the climax on the day of Ganpati visarjan – it left me spellbound. Even my dad was deeply impressed by the film – he could not believe a film as good as this could be made in the 90s. The impact of this movie can be guessed from the fact that on my way back home, lying down on my railway berth at night when the rest of the passengers were asleep, I actually revised the entire film, scene by scene, in my head. In the months to follow, I would narrate the film to my friends in school, of course with dialogues and background score. ‘Satya’ was thus the first film that suddenly made me interested in the craft of cinema. Soon I was visualizing the filming of the Ruskin Bond stories I read. In my own world, I was turning from a film buff to a film-maker.

This May, my parents travelled to Delhi to attend the function where our directorial debut ‘Tamaash’ won a National Award. Saurabh Shukla, who played ‘Kallu Mama’ in ‘Satya’ and who was also one of the writers of the film, was also there, having won Best Supporting Actor for ‘Jolly LLB’ (2013). For me, the moment when I introduced my Dad to him and when the two men shook hands will always remain very special. Last month, ‘Tamaash’ took me to Kerala to participate in the Kerala Shorts and Documentary Festival. One evening, at Kovalam beach, I was getting some chocolates from a shop where the title track from ‘Dil Toh Paagal Hai’ was playing. As I emerged out of the shop, I passed by a Belgian couple who were humming the song, smiling with a pleasant surprise. I was so fascinated by their reaction to the song that I decided to talk to them. They told me that back in 1997 they were travelling to India, and had watched this film and this song was one of the very few Hindi songs they would recognize. Their two little daughters, who understood no language but French, watched me talk to their parents with an amused smile. It was a sweet little chat. “Au revoir” – I said, thanks to my limited knowledge of their language from the French cinema, as I rushed to the fellow film-maker friends to tell them about this wonderful little incident. It was late evening. The beach was empty and the sea was at its glorious best. Life had come full circle in the form of this wonderful trip to God’s own country where sixteen years ago I had met the inspiration of my life, a film that changed Hindi cinema of the 90s, and me, for the better.

‘The Autobiography of a Romance’ is a series of post chronicling my love affair with the movies since early childhood. To read more posts under this label, please click here and read from bottom upwards.