February 12, 2011


While watching Pedro Almodovar's 'All About My Mother' (1999) today, I felt the need to find the definition of 'Melodrama'. Those who are familiar with the popular Hindi film tradition may feel they already know what the word means. But since, Hindi films hardly follow genre conventions, they might find it difficult to define. Hence the need to read what experts say. Following are excerpts from various sources:

The term melodrama refers to a dramatic work which exaggerates plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions. [Wikipedia]

In film, the term 'melodrama' denotes a subgenre of the drama film which generally depends on stereotyped character development, interaction, and highly emotional themes. Melodramatic films tend to use plots that appeal to the heightened emotions of the audience, often dealing with "crises of human emotion, failed romance or friendship, strained familial situations, tragedy, illness, neuroses, or emotional and physical hardship". Film critics sometimes use the term "pejoratively to connote an unrealistic, pathos-filled, campy tale of romance or domestic situations with stereotypical characters (often including a central female character) that would directly appeal to feminine audiences."[Wikipedia, T. Dirks]

My observation is that the script of a melodrama relies mainly on coincidences, twists in the plot affecting the characters. The following statement by Sidney Lumet sums this up: "In a well-written drama, the story comes out of the characters. The characters in a well-written melodrama come out of the story."

'All About My Mother', in my opinion, is the perfect example of a Melodrama Film. And it is a successful one as well. I recommend this to everyone - at least it will easily illustrate what goes wrong when 'lesser' filmmakers try this difficult genre.

P.S. The film ends with a post-script:
"To Bette Davis, Gena Rowlands, Romy Schneider...
To all actresses who have played actresses...
To all women who act...
To men who act and become women...
To all the people who want to be mothers...
To my mother."

Also, you will enjoy the movie more if you have watched the classics 'All About Eve' and 'A Streetcar Named Desire'.

Another Dimension

Some exciting things are happening. I am presently in Vrindavan, shooting a 3D documentary. The project came as a surprise; I wasn’t expecting to get into something like this anytime soon. But now I am enjoying it thoroughly.

It started with a workshop at Lonavla held between 29th January and 1st February. Panasonic is launching a 3D camera – AG-3DA1, and to create a market, and this far-sight is admirable, they decided to introduce this to the students of film schools around India. So teams from seven film schools signed up, and each was given a mentor from Mumbai film industry. I am one of the seven mentors and, I must admit, the least experienced of them all. All of us attended this 3D camera workshop. Our instructor was Barry Braverman from LA, a cinematographer and 3D expert.

It was a wonderful experience. Apart from the luxury of the scenic resort at Lonavla, it was the introduction to a new technology that we truly cherished. 3D opens the doors to an enhanced visual expression in cinema. This is something all of us already knew. What we didn’t know was the limitations of this technology. I won’t go into technical details, but let me just state this for you. You can not shoot close-ups in 3D – a hand counting notes, a gun being loaded, lips kissing – nothing. You can get a medium-close-up of faces, but have to make sure that no part of the face is outside the frame. That is, you can not cut the upper part of the head and the lower face in 3D, something that is often done in 2D cinematography. Also, it is extremely difficult to push in the camera forwards, with objects in the frame moving towards the camera, unless it is done extremely fast.

Apart from these general ‘contraindications’ of the 3D technology, there are more limitations imposed upon us by this user-friendly camera, which is otherwise good enough. It is a digital camera, making things less expensive, but it has all limitations of digital cinematography. It doesn’t have a wide-angle lens. We can not zoom in during the shot, at least not in every situation. And the worst of all – we can not change its FPS (Frames per Second), hence we can not shoot in slow or fast motion. (Please refer to ‘Getting Cinemate’ section of this blog to understand about FPS and Lens, if required).

Understanding the merits and demerits of technology is essential for every level of filmmaking. The writer of a 3D film can NOT write something like: “We look into her eyes, brimming with tears. She blinks, and a tear drop makes its way down her cheek. The drop falls on the dried-up rose petal nestled in the yellowed pages of her old diary.” It will be nearly impossible to visually interpret these lines. Interesting, uh?

I advised my team to make a non-fiction film, more of a visual poetry than a documentary. They, being from Delhi, suggested we capture Vrindavan. I am captivated by this place and hope the film my team makes is a truly beautiful experience, especially with the addition of ‘the new dimension’. By the way, it is tentatively titled: ‘Krishnamaya: God Lives with Them’.