T H E T Y P E W R I T E R. T H E C A M E R A. T H E R I F L E.
In loving memory of
ALEXIS TIOSECO & NIKA BOHINC
Those who view the storm from afar. ...see no difference between Here and there To join in and to become a part of it. This is the call of the times, Here and there - Kaifi Azmi. Despair is the breeding ground for any form of revolution; it makes one do the unthinkable, film the unimaginable and write knowing that this may be one’s last sentence. Nicolas De Stael leaped into the void; MS Sathyu filmed Garam Hawa and Jack Kerouac fired with On the Road…and Indian Auteur is a child of one such despair. In a country that is in a state of transition; where the struggle to live each day is a task; history or critical thinking ceases to exist for most; hence, our relation with our very own roots is slowly and steadily disappearing. Film Archives are selling films as scraps, auteurs works are facing extinction and cinema in the nation begins with the birth of Bollywood in 80s.
contributors MARILYN FERDINAND editor NITESH ROHIT HARRYTUTTLE writers SATYAM BARERA designer ANUJ MALHOTRA SRIKANTH SRINIVASAN ANUJ MALHOTRA GAUTAM VALLURI cover GAUTAM VALLURI SUPRIYA SURI EBRAHIM KABIR design DEBOJIT GHATAK KSHITIZ ANAND publishers NSFI legal KISHORE KUNAL advisor SASHI MATTHEWS
marketing SUPRIYA SURI head
We are failing to see that with each passing day our voices are becoming absent from the world we live in. It can only be heard till our connection leads it to. Communication is no more the order of the day, but it is the benefit(s) of transmission that have become important. Sport is no more sportits marketing, cinema is no more cinema, its advertisement, and life is no more a life, but a product. It’s this illusion that one needs to question, it’s this demand that needs to be examined through the spaces of this magazine and through our own existence. The fundamental task of Indian Auteur lies precisely to suppress this sudden effacing of memory and redefining a connection to the roots. And at the same time, in opening the doors of perception of film criticism from across the world for the Indian readers, helping them understand the critical theory that has shaped the evolution of our cinematic medium. This in turn giving a choice, a window, an opportunity that there is a world beyond Bollywood and the camera can capture the reality of Bazin, the history of Garga, the epic of Ghatak and the cinema of Ray.
marketing team YUSRAH OPRITI EBRAHIM KABIR DEBOJIT GHATAK contact W-104, GK-I , NEW DELHI, 110011 email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
online supervisor TARUN WADHWA DEBARATA NATH Indian Auteur is published monthly. All images have been used for non-commercial purposes only. Content cannot be reproduced without prior permission of Indian Auteur.
IN THIS ISSUE AUTEUR/Pg 5 Five Indian Auteur Team Members gather around the table like a scene from a Melville film to contemplate upon the state of Mumbai cinema : its history,alternatives and television.
WORLD CINEMA/Pg 14 The stale old German cinema could not stand up to the immediate challenge to its tenets, made by a series of young filmmakers, who would change the cinema in their nation forever.
COVER STORY/Pg 16 It was the crowned jewel, our unique contribution to the cinema of world, and the technicians who created it, treated it with the respect it deserved. What happened?
REVIEWS/Pg 57 Opinions, contradictions, and contemplations on some films, which deserve more attention, and some, which donâ€™t.
BANDE DESIGNEE/Pg 67 A mysterious lull lingers over the food joint where Ray sits, consumed in impatient eager -ness for his guest.
CIN EMA The last six months at Indian Auteur, we have said a lot regarding the current trends of Indian cinema and yet at the same time it feels little. This could result in an impression that our concerns are with foreign cinema (French, Italian, and Japanese). Yet, every single day is spend discussing, arguing and thinking on the state of our cinema. This inaugural volume (6th issue) set our first discussion and argument among few of our writers who were caught off guard when we began talking in our office around a tape recorder.
Nitesh: We are here to discuss “The Current Situation of Indian Cinema” that implies its past and present juncture. I would like to open the discussion Anuj: It’s not exactly an opinion, more a way of formulating the subject that the idea of a ‘new wave’ or a ‘band of outsiders’ has assumed a romantic proportion. Everyone wants to be a new wave, and everyone else wants to be a witness to it. It has become fashionable that a group, thus, be placed under the umbrella of a new wave. And rather amusingly, in India, filmmakers pronounce themselves the ‘new wave’, if only to initiate a trend – much like how Anurag Kashyap compared the present situation of Bollywood to the one at the beginning of the New Hollywood of the 1970’s on national media– if only as a cue to the media, who quite predictably, lapped it up. However, each such cinematic movement in the history has never been about bravery, confrontation, or radicalism for the sake of those virtues, but about the re-evaluation of the cinematic form itself. And through the latter, the former is attained. Thus, the cinema they made was the cause of radicalism, and not its product – the way it is in this country. Radicalism, thus, did not exist as a separate entity from cinema. Here, it does. So while the director’s demeanor and his announcements may qualify him as a radical, his cinema does not. The modern director is definitely more aware, but so is the modern viewer. The growth in
quality of cinematic supply, thus, will be met by proportional growth in audience demand. Why not? Satyam: I do feel that the trend that started in the late 40s and 50s is coming back, about mixing art and mainstream. Although, I must add that Indian cinema was clearly divided between art and mainstream with a few exceptions like Gulzar and Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the 60s and 70s. Nowadays, the relation between art and mainstream cinema is blurring. In 50s and 60s, however, there was no demarcation in terms of art and the mainstream. Earlier Satyajit Ray’s movies ran in commercial houses and were successful, so were the films of Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt. Nowadays we are also witnessing a revival in characterization, that there is no clear divide between black and white and you have shades of grey. And currently even stars don’t have a problem playing a negative role, while earlier major stars did not play a villain, though there were exceptions even then in the mainstream cinema. I think, movies like Johnny Gadaar , Manorama Six Feet Under or Ek Hasina These are good examples of the particular trend. Gautam:: I agree with Anuj regarding the nature of current mainstream cinema. And I find it interesting to observe, that the, “The New Wave” is a term that these filmmakers forcefully apply to themselves and media are just lapping up the idea. The French had a new wave, The British had
a new wave, the Germans had a new wave, so there has been a long awaited Indian new wave. In late 90s we did see a Mexican new Wave (it’s a third world country), so then the million dollar question arises- “Why not the biggest third world country (India) have a Wave?” So let’s see, who are these people making cinema that is not traditional: Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banarjee, Imitiaz Ali and Vishal Bhardwaj. They are making films at the cost of half the size of the Bollywood with a tighter script, better editing, and in some cases acting…. and so the media needs new things to write about. So they were more than happy to fill those shoes. Nitesh: First, I disagree with Satyam’s idea that India cinema is moving in any clear cinematic direction or even towards a revival. I think, if there is any movement or evolution in terms of cinematic thought -it could be through the regional centre of filmmaking; perhaps, for instance, the New Marathi Cinema. Not that it’s a complete deviation from its mainstream cousin, yet it still holds more ground than these films. We have only one Johnny Gadaar, but there is no overall idea about moving towards new cinematic aesthetics. Instead of thinking what a Jimmy-Jib or DI (Digital Intermediate) could provide in terms of new way of telling a story, filmmakers are more concerned about reproducing the plastic values of these technological advancements that are replicas of Hollywood films. One can see the evidence in the opening shots of the film New York. The
idea to think about form a priori is dormant, it’s a taboo, the moment you tell someone to ‘ think’ it becomes a talk of intellectuals, theory and hence is deemed harmful, unlawful, and even poisonous to entertainment value. Satyam: I think there is a misunderstanding here, I’m in accord with the idea that mainstream films lack cinematic aesthetics. I maybe slightly going off-topic here but I believe this is equally important to assess the current situation of cinema in India. And that is to talk about the common perception. In India, films and filmmaking is more or less a commercial venture, and this brings us to the basic point, as how cinema is perceived in the mind of general public, also determines the success of a particular film. Perception plays a greater role - perception about a subject also determines its commercial viability. If the common perception about a medium is that, cinema is only for entertainment, then commercially valid aesthetics will be very different from artistically valid statements. Supriya: I agree with Satyam on this, whenever we think about a film people first say “ What is your target audience”, as if it’s some kind of FMCG product- a film should be for everyone. Even the use of technology is a marketing tool. The trend in the mainstream Industry is that it’s moving towards better PR/ Marketing and this perception is the dominant psychological force of bringing in the audience for the so called new cinema. And it’s definitely nothing to do with cinema per se. And we all can notice that these days the trend is to move IA/OCTOBER 2009
towards localization within the industry, whether it’s our television soaps or films are focusing on a local community. Moreover, I think, this is being done by media or the film industry more as a response to the boredom that is prevailing in the audience, who are not tuned to accept the old 70s or 80s fantastical revenge movie genre. Or the Love story in 90s. So I believe it’s not a revival or even closer to the one Satyam believes but more towards remarketing the product ala ‘Les habits neufs du Bollywood”. Nitesh: I agree with Supriya. However, I don’t think film being a commercial format means exploitation of the medium and the audience. The mannerism of Bollywood cinema has affected our television and even our news channels. It’s shocking that the montages in news channel are similar to the ones that we see in cinema and vice versa. So one can see the affect of the Industry, it has corrupted the “way we see”, and has forced us to become blind. So definitely there should a sense of responsibility on the part of the Industry, which I feel is not there. Here actors are hired not on their acting ability but how they appear on surface. They act in cinema believing its theater, the director directs more stage plays than films. And the Producer/Distributor is more than happy playing the game of messiah in the name of the audience. And I firmly believe that these things should be looked into without thinking about how an audience perceives a film or whether cinema is a commercial medium. I’m sure we would not hire a driver, a cook or anyone if he had no ideas about their own profession than
8 why is cinema given such a lease. After all, it’s directly affecting each and every aspect of our lives. Anuj: Here, I’m in agreement with Nitesh, and I think it is a result of an archaic traditional Indian mindset that equates a product’s cost with its aesthetic quality. Therefore, it is compulsory for a branded piece of clothing to look better than an unbranded one, simply because it is costlier, and well, branded. As for the directors of the so-called newwave, I believe they are not united by an aesthetic, or thematically or in cinema, but simply by the budgets they use to make their film. Why do they exclude Vishesh films from the new wave then? Also, most of our modern cinephilia exhibits a pungent distaste for any sort of theory or for film criticism as such. But do we realize that, the instance of any cinematic revival has been accompanied, and even preceded by a critical one. Theory or text has always set the agenda which a film later seeks to fulfill. A more harmful trend emerges though, that of a number of educated film viewers blindly believing in this cinema. A very small minority may scrutinize it in great detail, but overall, it has only given birth to more unquestioning conformists.
full economic independence (after compromise) the sudden economic growth affects the perception not just of an individual but of the society at large too. This is often mistaken by a large section of film going audience that things are changing - especially for our great Indian middle class. And this has nothing to do with the quality, aesthetics of our cinema. It’s more an economic reality. Supriya: Well, I’m in agreement with both the opinions and would like to add to the fact that exposure is coming but there are no right people to help push things forward.
Everything in our films is not the India I know, or I’m sure everyone of us knows about; not even, the colors are represented in the right manner.
Either people are over-informed or they are illiterate to the intricacies of the cinematic medium and hence there is no middle ground, which is a reason why people don’t know how to question and even when there is a sense of questioning it’s usually with the lack of awareness or a general perception and vocabNitesh: I have no clue why the de- ulary of the medium and this is a sire to question is not happening, major reason a confusion regardeven within our own generation. ing criticism to comes into picture. As for people who start believing in this kind of cinema it usually Satyam: : I agree with Supriya happens because of the socio/eco- and I think, education can play an nomic factors. I have seen people important role in changing percepgive up on their ideals and self- tion. Let me site an example, how belief because of economic pres- cinema was perceived in India in sures. So when one leaves the truth 20s and 30s, people thought that and follows this path of gaining only pimps and prostitutes work in
films, and a lot of stigma was attached to the film world. It was a known fact that Dadasaheb Phalke could not find any women to act in his mythological. But change found its way, actors like Durga Khote and Leela Chitnis became part of this film world, both of them came from respectable families and were Bombay University graduates. Over the years, we have witnessed a radical shift and now people from every strata of society feel proud being part of Indian cinema. So if we can do the same in terms of educating people and helping change their perception regarding this medium. (I know we are no experts, and neither have I had the illusion that I’m one ) But the least we could do is educate and add to it and once this is in place a viewer would also ask for an intelligent film. Gautam: There is another factor, and this is something that is predominately missing from mainstream films – “That the real India does not exist in our films”. Everything in our films is not the India I know, or I’m sure everyone of us knows about, not even, the colors are represented in the right manner. One has to still go back to Renoir’s The River to see our India. Second, there is a long standing psychological aspect that still prevails regarding cinema in our culture (not in the metros) but in a smaller town in India that your family is not paying enough attention to film. Cinema is not part of the familial activities; you don’t just sit and watch a film. This trend about watching films as a “familial activity” is not part of rural or non-metros area and they might do so once a month or every six months. And the kinds of films that reach them are not the best of
the films-general masala films- so people have no option but to watch them. Beside, with the lack of exposure and the overall hegemony of mainstream imagery through media, things are already “great”. So people watch them. This is where I feel education would be necessary. This is something that our industry should realize, that there is a world beyond their escapist fantasy and people are not as dumb as they are treated out to be, so there is a definite lack of choice too that persist at the current state. Satyam: I would not say lack of choice was there or is there, I believe it’s the lack of education and marketing of these films, that has lead to this kind of situation. The long standing argument by critics in India that people don’t have a choice is completely wrong. If one closely studies Indian cinema, then he will find that in every decade we had almost all kind of films, some were successful and noticed and others were ignored.
vertisements, or films, and thus, introduction to a completely subversive film would be similar to a cultural shock, and yes, we do need a good regimen of film education in place, but even then, the filmmaking community is attuned to treat them as inferior entities. So much so that ‘masses’ is now a derogatory term. Supriya: That’s quite true. Beside, ninety-nine percent of new developments in our cinema are not based on the fact that our audience is becoming cine-literate or our film fraternity. But, I believe, we’ve had phases/trends in the mainstream industry; hence after a while due to this bombardment of similar images, the audience feels the need for reinvention, and so the new cinema comes not out of the necessity of reinvention of filmmakers or the idea to explore new territories but to reignite recycle audience interest.
Satyam: I probably didn’t express myself clearly enough, but what I meant by choice is that things might not have been marketed well but choice was always there. Like watching a Bimal Roy’s Devdas or watching a complete commercial potboiler. Supriya: Quite frankly, I differ from Satyam’s view-point. Perhaps, options existed because there were directors thinking about India and cinema and its roots- one of making a good Hindi film that is Indian in nature. There are great examples in world cinema where people make films that need not to be a social drama or women oriented film in order to be deemed good, as it’s in the case of India. Like Godard’s A Woman is a Woman or Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express and here directors were conscious and understood their form and roots. Today, in India this does not exist, and hence THE SUBVERTED HUM AAPKE HAI KAUN : MONSOON WEDDING
Anuj: But the lack of choice is a huge problem, since the belief that audiences are not educated enough to acknowledge a good film even when they are faced with it, is not entirely correct. Films like Monsoon Wedding, Khosla Ka Ghosla, or Satya in the recent past, or Ardh Satya, Chashme Baddoor and Bhuvan Shome in the distant, have proven that the audiences are not as inept as we might like to think in their ability to receive films. One cannot, however, also overestimate their abilities, since it remains undeniable that they are constantly bludgeoned with a redundant imagery from Mumbai and Chennai – whether through television, adIA/OCTOBER 2009
THE ‘EXPLOITATION’ OF THE BOLLYWOOD MODEL : SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
there are no good films to even give a choice. Even a small romantic film or comedies could be artistic; one has to look at Wilder or Lubitsch to understand these natures. Anuj: I’m going to clash quite violently with Satyam, but in 1997, when the first multiplex was opened, it promised the establishment of a choice for the viewer. It promised to substitute the competition between a small film and a big film with co-existence, through its allowance of both of them to play in the same space. And yet, 12 years later, the whole notion stands reversed, as it is exactly the same multiplex which looks to kill the small film. Instead of providing the small film with one screen, it has been used by the big film to have two. Satyam: I do agree with Anuj, and I would like to add that there is an interesting marketing tactic that had been used by stars nowadays to promote their films. And this is definitely one of the biggest trend that we witnessing today. For ex-
ample, suddenly one day Aamir Khan would start appearing in every talk show to present himself as a man who understands the concerns of this nation and its people and has strong sociopolitical views, but once the film is successful, you would not see this enlightened avatar of Aamir Khan in any talk show or doing anything constructive to help the masses. And this kind of practice is not restricted to only Aamir Khan, other actors also indulge themselves in this kind of hypocrisy as and when required. I personally have a lot of problem by this word ‘Bollywood’. Why do we always associate ourselves with the American Film Industry aka Hollywood? If we check the history of Indian cinema, we find that not only it had developed its own indigenous style of filmmaking, but it had borrowed from practically every part of the world, whether it is De Sica’s influence on Bimal Roy or Capra’s ‘It Happened One Night’ made in Hindi with Raj Kapoor and Nargis as Chori Chori. We have borrowed from everywhere and
then why we want to associate ourselves only with Hollywood. I think, it is a dishonest statement. Nitesh: For once, I find myself in agreement with Satyam on stars and marketing tactic. However, I feel, It’s good that the Industry in Mumbai is deemed as Bollywood, now. And we must not talk about the auteurs of Hindi film industry from the 50s and 60s (the Golden Period of Indian Cinema) in the same breath as the factory made products of Bollywood. Simply for the fact, that the product produced today has nothing to do with India. It’s not the indigenous reality of India, because everything that they giving me is not part of my India. It’s a larger part of an escapist fantasy that has no roots to the nation but rather it’s a creation of a genre like sci-fi or costume drama that to a larger extent is based on plagiarism and clichés. It’s was finally Danny Boyle who came down to India and showed how to make best use of this genre. No wonder people in India and Bollywood were shell shocked.
Satyam : Nitesh, If we talk of segregation, then there is this danger, for instance, Satyajit Ray writing against Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani. It affects their output. Not to forget that Kumar Shahani had to wait 12 long years to get finance for his next project after Maya Darpan. We should not indulge in defining the boundaries of creativity, like Satyajit Ray did in his article, criticizing Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani and praising M.S.Sathyu and Shyam Benegal brand of cinema. So if a filmmaker like Shyam Benegal is appreciating Anurag Kashyap’s brand of cinema, he is not committing any sin. Everyone should be allowed to make their own statements and let the public decide on their own. Nitesh: I quite don’t subscribe to this form of truth. The problem that we are facing today is that when I tell someone, Bollywood is imposing their ideas on me, he remarks: “Who is stopping you, go ahead and make your film?” But how can I make a film? The moment I talk to someone that I want to make my film and I give them a script. He says this is not commercial, because his ideas of cinema are based on the notions of the mainstream film industry (and I’m not even talking about a producer or distributor here, but a common man). Hence there is an imposition on my dream, so we need to tell them this is bad, because, you see, Bollywood has invaded my house, my family, and even my dog. So criticism is necessary to kill this form of chains on my dreams, and also on reproduction of the same imagery. Satyam: I agree and I assert that
popular notions need to be reexamined especially for stereotypes to be rebuked. I remember when Mani Kaul was asked about Amol Palekar’s Paheli, which was a re-make of Mani Kaul’s Duvidha, he said; “Mine was ‘Duvidha’ and his (Palekar) is a ‘Paheli’ (riddle), which can be solved”. Anuj: We would be fools to believe that we can uproot the mainstream hegemony. Infact, let them make their crores. We wouldn’t bother with them. But we should definitely question those who are aware of the possibilities of cinema, and are cine-literate. Sadly, the brigades of their fanboys have made this filmmaker into a poor man’s replica of Karan Johar. The director, is thus, not defined by his achievements on the screen, but off-it. He is a result, not of accomplishment, but of projection of a certain image – the creation of a certain myth. Even in these bleak circumstances, however, I think we could look forward to the films of someone like Sriram Raghavan, who rarely appears in the popular media, hardly has an endless horde as sycophants kowtowing after him, and yet, can safely claim to have made two of the better films this decade. His commitment to a single genre is immensely gratifying as a film lover. He is the kind of director you would want to read an autobiography of, twenty years from now, since you never knew much about him beyond his films, and his love for films. However, with most of the others, you would not, since nothing about them IA/OCTOBER 2009
11 would be a revelation any more. That concealment, I believe is essential for a director. His films should be an idea of what he is like, rather than vice-versa. Gautam: We also need to find the films of Murali Nair who won the Camera d’ Or at Cannes so that such filmmakers get talked about. What we need is an underground scene in India that bypasses all these mainstream production, and distribution processes. We don’t have an underground scene in any sphere. Anuj: Coming back, I do acknowledge the fact that, our writing has become better, in the context that it is no longer coy and apprehensive of exploring newer ideas about sensitive issues, however shallow this exploration is now. This expansion in its scope is a result of television, however. As a society, our definition of what is inclusive under the term ‘acceptable’ has broadened, due to the ideas we are exposed to. For instance, the constant inflow of images of dead bodies sprawled across the road, which is featured uncensored and uninterrupted on a news bulletin – is bound to make a viewer immune and desensitized to such, and in turn, provides for an opportunity for writers to openly tackle a subject like violence now. Nitesh: I would slightly shift the focus to criticism, especially since the trade analyst and reviewers who behave as film critics are the ones who are putting up false pretense regarding the whole state of Indian cinema. The Indian media is one directly responsible for
12 creating this utopia. That Indian cinema is doing well at Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Bollywood is the critical and commercial darling of the world. And this is directly affecting promising filmmakers and state of film criticism in India. Satyam:: One very interesting thing that I read recently, was in the comment section of Indian Auteur, Debojit’s reply to someone who had read his article on ‘Kaminey’ and commented. He said; whenever I’m watching a film I’m not concerned whether it’s Godard or David Dhawan. This is the kind of thinking that is required. So any perquisite in film criticism should not exist. Shyam Benegal has at times made pathetic films. Many Critics suffer from major complexes, if they see it’s a David Dhawan film even before watching they know how many stars it deserves. Which I think is wrong and is not the right platform for criticism. There is a certain kind of dishonesty that exists, like twisting the text in such a way to suit their requirements and ideologies and when we watch that film, it is quite different, if not completely. Indeed a very dishonest review. Even if I hate anyone I should write something which cannot be justified or explained. We should not work on our perceptions but facts. Anuj: That’s very important and this is one of the reasons why you can easily predict the critical reception of these films in the popular media. You just know that they will be celebrated, without any proper scrutiny attached to them. The only demand we can make of the critic, thus, is now to upgrade
himself from the abysmal quality to which he has sunk, and use his unquestionable cinephilia to look closer at a film, rather than be the source of a mono-syllabic reaction to a film; superb or bad, and their reviews, an expansion of it. Their reviews should thus, be contemplation on the film, rather than a judgment on it. Moreover, even as we advise our filmmakers to do the same, the critics also need to move beyond the text and review cinema for cinema per se. The reviews of Baradwaj Rangan, for instance, while better than most, seem more like the critique of the screenplay of the film, than the film itself. Gautam: That’ indisputable, You could say the critic feels that common man does not need to know the cinematic device hence they leave out any exploration towards that entity of medium and people have continued reading and watching films in that manner per se. Cinema is a visual art and a temporal medium, which is something, most people don’t realize. And the only difference between these critics and the people who read them is that they are able to write. And the funniest part is that even if the critics completely shun the film, they still give it three stars. Anuj: I feel the current state has lot to do with television and how it has shortened our attention spans. Lot of people they don’t read reviews but merely look at the stars. I believe the current critics need to watch a lot of films and understand the history and the medium a lot more.
Gautam: I agree with Anuj, filmmakers these days also make movies pertinent to the same ideas, so if someone comes half way through the film or you come back from work and ‘catch up’. With music, or any other artform, you cannot shorthand the experience, and ask , “What happened till now?” Anuj: What amuses me is the blatant reduction of the cinematic form into a mere vehicle for a narrative. I mean, television movie channels have recaps of films after every break, so as to inform the viewer about what he has missed. How can we reduce cinema only to a series of plot-points? Also, a critic’s influence from a box-office gross should be detached, and his criticism be read as separate from an attempt to garner a good revenue, or prevent it. The question we have to ask is, if the critics so readily eulogize the films we are making now, what would they do if they are faced with an actually great film? In the final analysis, each and every genuine film critic should attempt to restore the faith of the disillusioned audience in his device – film criticism, and we, as a magazine, should make an earnest effort to move beyond Mumbai and Chennai. Nitesh: In India, a film critic need -s to have understanding of the medium and its rich history and legacy. Which most, if not all, lack. Look at the list of people who get the National film awards on film writings. I wonder what cinema books or film criticism they really write. Does a book on film poster filled with trivia and annotated
USHERING A PULPY FUTURE : VINAY PATHAK IN RAGHAVAN”S ‘JOHNNY GADDAR’
facts and figure qualify for the best film book? And this lack is very much felt even in the online space. Although the Internet penetration in India is low compared to other compared to other countries, yet the level of writing on films is going from bad to worse, as more and more people are simply writing on Bollywood and justifying its facts and figures. Even on television we have people like Rajeev Masand whose main job is to pan with camera movements and speak as clearly as possible. Gautam: And add to that Chick on Flicks that is a step ahead to make cinema dumber. Satyam: I think Indian critics suffer from many complexes, which affects their writings, if they don’t criticize or appreciate a certain filmmaker than their own position
is threatened and it does not allow and creating a wall of unnecessary them to judge things in a critical way. film theory. These are also people who find meaning in images which Supriya: An important distinction have none; it’s like they keep tryneeds to be made that a person if ing to prove the meaning of the he (she) is a master of the English apple that fell on Newton’s head language is not necessarily a good – instead of just receiving it for critic. This is an important psy- what it is – an apple that fell on a chology of our society adding to middle-aged man’s white head. which, young people are not given a chance; the only way one can en- We started this debate withter the system if you have the “age”. out any expectation of reachIt’s only age and experience that ing a positive conclusions, but makes you a master. Even though a simply to raise certain problot of reports say that the majority lems and stir up every possible of this country population is well before 25. Plus, I would like to add and imaginable issue. We do that film studies in India also suffer not hide from ourselves the because we have too many people fact that the impression people who approach cinema from their may finally take from it is that own respective prisms of judg- it’s ‘ a lot of wind’- but the ment without the slightest hint of wind bloweth where it listeth; what is the ontological value of and maybe a few specks of dust the medium. In fact, endangering will have stuck in your eye? the nature of its whole existence,
would not wish for more.
WORLD CINEMA The rise of one of the finest movements in post-modern cinema began with a manifesto signed by 26 individuals, Gautam Valluri eulogizes.
In 1962, the cinematic globe was already witness to several revisions, some of which are regarded today as revolutionary. British filmmakers were in the second year of their New Wave with their French counterparts, the Godards and the Truffauts riding the third year of theirs. Across the Atlantic, John Cassavetes had
THE CEREMONY OF REJECTION: THE OBERHAUSEN
people and to present the world a Germany healing from its wounds, all the while remaining on a small budget. The German filmmakers also had to match up to the rising influence of Hollywood films in Europe. By 1962, most of Europe had recovered considerably from the destruction of the Second World War and this was the perfect
“The collapse of the conventional German film finally removes the economic basis for a mode of filmmaking whose attitude and practice we reject.
With it the new film has a chance to come to life.” –The Oberhausen Manifesto laid the seeds of an independent movement in America through his brilliant Shadows (1959) and it would be a good seven years before Fonda, Hopper and Nicholson would make Easy Rider (1969). The Germans it seems were feeling a little left out. The term “New German Cinema” has been used interchangeably over the years with other terms in similar spirit such as “German New Wave”, “New German School” etc., to describe a movement in the cinema of Germany during the late 1960s, the 1970s and the early 1980s. While the French and British New Waves
had a life expectancy of 7 years, the New German Cinema movement would last longer and lay the foundations for Germany in the cinematic history books. At the closure of the Second World War, Germany was split up into East and West and it was up to its artistic and literary circles to take the responsibility to ‘denazify’ its image. West Germany in particular took up the task of turning itself into a modern western state against a rising Soviet influence on the eastern side. Cinema was entrusted with the important role of creating hope among the German IA/OCTOBER 2009
time for Hollywood to export its product to take advantage of the lack of high budget European productions, with a secondary agenda of giving them a taste of the American Dream and possibly encourage immigration. German cinema could not compete with the Technicolor lushness of Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and the allstar lineup of How The West Was Won (1962) or the global exploits of James Bond in Dr.No (1962), neither could it afford to match up with the brilliant plots of The Manchurian Candidate, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
Something had to be done. “We declare our intention to create the new German feature film. This new film needs new freedoms. Freedom from the conventions of the established industry.
Freedom from the
outside influence of commercial partners.
the control of special interest groups.”
Manifesto The 1962 edition of the Oberhausen Short Film Festival was to be a revolutionary gathering. On February 28th, a group of 26 individuals comprising of filmmakers, artists and writers came together and declared the “death” of the old German cinema, affectionately termed as “Papa’s cinema”. They brought forward the need for a “New German Cinema” and presented the world with a manifesto that simply said that given the chance, they were willing to create that “New” German film that was required and backed their word with the recent success of German short films. This manifesto would find its place in history as the “Oberhausen Manifesto”. These 26 individuals were committed to forego economical gain in exchange for progressive cinema that would match up Germany to the best in the world. They committed to experimention with narrative structures, exploration of new shooting techniques, bringing a sense of realism and to the telling of compelling stories through a strong emphasis on aesthetics.
In April 1962, the German government took note and announced plans to setup a board to fund the type of films that are demanded by the manifesto and in October 1965, the “Kuratorium Junger Deutsche Film” was setup. With their new found support and funding, the new generation of German filmmakers set out to do what they had promised. The “New” German Cinema was critically well received in film festivals worldwide and was quickly becoming an important movement, though it would still take a few more years until they would catch fire back at home. At the beginning of the 1970s, German filmmakers such as Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders and Werner Schroeter were becoming well known names in the festival circuit. These filmmakers went as far as attending their own screen-
15 ings at cinema halls and taking questions from the audience. Their enthusiasm and constant need to reach out to their viewers was what helped better the movement as it moved into the mid-seventies. At the 1979 Hamburg Film Festival, another declaration was made. “The Hamburg Declaration” as it was called was a moment of gathering of the original signees of The Oberhausen Manifesto in celebration of their success in creating a “new” German cinema as they had promised 17 years earlier. The declaration put forward the professionalism and dedication they showed and came to the conclusion that their only ally was the spectator.
THE TRAINER AND THE LION : HERZOG/KINSKI ON THE SETS OF ‘FITZCARRALDO’
GRACE IN LONG-SHOT : RADHA IN JEAN RENOIR’S ‘THE RIVER’
EVOLUTION OF THE INDIAN SONG The Indian film song is a direct encapsulation of an era’s cultural beliefs, and its existence as a collective. Satyam Berera traverses through a number of such eras. and receive sound. It is the arbitrariness of silences, created both by the sounds, the music, the speech and its juxtaposition with the visual imagery, changing in tone, line and colour that articulate silence further. For this, perhaps, a reference point could be the discontinuities of sound in the
ndian Cinema started its journey of music/songs in 1931 with introduction of Talkies with Alam Ara, later same year J.J.Madan’s Indrasabha was released, which had 70 songs in it. Since then, songs have been used by various directors in multitude ways. Earlier some directors merely used songs to provide a kind of interval to all the melodrama happening on the screen. Some used it for narrative advancement whike others used it to define/ create epic form in cinema. Songs have an inherent quality, one can express emotions very effectively without being loud and at the same time some uncomfortable subjects can be expressed in a song so beautifully that it is not possible to do the same with dialogues or images. Audiences rarely remember dialogues of a film, but they always remember songs. Story, dialogues or treatment of a subject in a film can became archaic but songs are evergreen. Before exploring the history of Indian film music, let me qoute what Kumar Shahani had said
on ‘Aesthetics of Cinema Sound’, providing some kind of manifesto statement for film sound, He says, “Yet silence, from which everything was originally supposed to begin, does not exist in an absolute sense. ‘The soundtrack invented silence’, says Robert Bresson, and this is perhaps true in a far deeper sense than even he meant it. On the most obvious level, silence in music relates to space indirectly. In cinema, on the other hand, it relates to space in movement. In music, it relates to the sustaining of a note, to reverberation, to absorption by the spatial enclosures, producing, transmitting and receiving the sound. In fact, cinema may or may not relate to the spaces which produce IA/OCTOBER 2009
scene where the heroine of Subarnarekha kills herself offscreen. Neither the spoken word nor music can work in such discontinuity”. Now lets us discuss few milestones in Indian Cinema, where music, songs & their picturisation had been both innovative & pioneering in defining an indigenous style of filmmaking in India. In 1930s, when talkies came, songs were used by filmmakers to attract audiences, but their picturisation were not upto the mark, primarily because Indian Cinema borrowed its concepts from Europe & Parsee theatre - ie; Phalke’s Iconic Frontality imparted a stiffness to the limbs of India’s moving imagery which it never shook
18 off. The mark of theatre is also visible in the lighting tradition in popular cinema which demands a uniformly bright light on everything, inhibiting the cinematic use of movement through light & shade which emphasizes the three dimensionality and dynamics of moving objects. Although there were exceptions like P.C.Barua’s Devdas whose cinematographer Bimal Roy used sophisticated lighting techniques, use of green filters to create a negative effect of black sky above the white bushes and grass. Saigal’s song ‘Dukh ke din ab beetat nahi’ was a major hit. V.Damle’s Sant Tukaram made in 1936, binds songs, gesture, rhythm and camera together with character and crowd behaviour denoting the spiritual connection between the poet and people while separating off the members of the Brahminical caste. Although, there had been a dispute regarding a song in the film. Many scholars mistook the song ‘Adhi beej ekale’ for an original, in which Tukaram celebrates the fertility of nature and composed in the Poet’s own ovi form of 31/2 beats, paralleling the work rhythm of women churning a grindstone. English songs were also there in Hindi Films, ie Mohan Sinha’s Fashionable India (1935), had ‘Daisy Daisy’ & ‘Jolly Good Fellow’, that were major hits of this era. Other notable songs of 1930s were from V. Shantaram Films like Manoos (1939) ‘Hum premi premnagar mein jaayen’, a spoof on the Bombay Talkies style of cinema: hero & heroine sit by the tree in a posture similar to Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani in the ‘Main ban ka panchhi’ song of Achhut Kanya
(1936), after which the anglo-indian herione, who speaks and sings with an English accent, throws off her saree to walk away in a western dress. Shataram deploys the expressionist techniques of making physical spaces represent mental states, perhaps because Shahu Modak and Shanta Hublikar use a fairly restrained gestural repertoire rare in Shantaram’s work. Shanta Hublikar’s seduction number ‘Ab kis liye kal ki baat’ is also a kind of spoof set in five different languages, alluding to familiar stereotypes from the corresponding film centres. In Duniya Na Mane/ Kunku (1937) made in both Hindi and Marathi, its heroine Shanta Apte sings this feminist song ‘In the world’s broad field of battle... be not like dumb driven cattle’, song written by Longfellow, was another major hit of this era.
directly from Tamasha - high pitch of the female singer typified by Lata Mangeshkar. There are occasional exceptions to this which only prove the rule’... Another important Tamasha Musical is Anant Mane’s Sangtye Aika (1959) - ‘In the end, the truth is revealed through a song - the Song is ‘Jhali Bhali Pahaat’, Hamsa Wadkar extraordinary performance recalling Brecht’s dramaturgy, she integrates the Tamasha and the Lavni idioms into the Melodramatic plot, combining Venkatesh Madgulkar’s stereotypes of authenticity with mythic aspects of the ruralist ‘Gramin Chitrapat’ Genre’. My personal favorite of this era is Kanan Devi’s song ‘Toofan Mail’ in P.C.Barua’s Shesh Uttar.
In the 1940s, Kidar Sharma, Raj Kapoor & Kamal Amrohi deLater in 1940s, V.Shataram/ ployed innovative techniques to Baburao Painter also pioneered picturise songs. Sharma’ Chithe brashly vulgar Marathi tralekha (1941), contains the first Tamasha Musical with Lokshahir erotic bathing scene used in a Ramjoshi (1947). The film was a song. Later in Bawre Nain (1949), major hit. The film is also notable Sharma and his cameraman Panfor Lavni song picturisation. Lavni durang K.Shinde extend the use of - a traditional form of Dance in filters pioneered in Barua’s DevMaharashtra. According to Critic das to create black skies over a Chidananda Das Gupta, ‘The most white earth in the Song ‘Sun Bairi important, successful, original and Balam sach bole re ib kya hoga’. yet traditional aspect of popular There is an unrestrained use of Indian Cinema - was added by the pathetic fallacy with repeated the Lavni tradition in Sangeetbari rain and fire motifs, especially Tamasha, the vigorous folk theatre in the song ‘Teri duniya mein dil of Maharashtra. The song reprelagta nahin, allowing Sharma to sents the philosophical, transcenmerge a romanticised socialist dental core of the popular cinema, realism with a mawkish presentaespecially in the Hindi-urdu in tion of patriarchy at times slipping which the lyrics have often been into cosmic fantasy. Later in an written by famous literary men interview, singer Rajkumari said; and set to music by highly talented ‘That this was perhaps the first composers. A unique aspect of song in which a Haryanvi word the rendition of songs is derived was used, while recording this IA/OCTOBER 2009
song ‘Sun Bairi Balam’, I (RajKumari) was interrupted by Sharmaji (Kidar Sharma), who said that the word in the song is not ‘Ab’ but ‘Ib’, a haryanvi word - ‘Sun Bairi Balam sach bole re ib kya hoga’... (Haryanvi - a Regional Language of State of Haryana in India). It was under Sharma’s skillful direction that Nargis gave her best performance in Jogan (1950) in the role of an mendicant. the film contains Geeta Dutt’s famous number ‘Ghunghat ke pat khol re tohe piye milenge’ - a bhajan by Meerabai and Music composed by Bulo C.Rani. “Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat (1949), uses innovative chiaroscuro cinematography in the song ‘Chhod gaye balam’, which created deep rather than laterally elaborated spaces and relied heavily on metaphor, as in the shot where the angled rope cut off by Reshma’s (Nargis) father aligns with the angle of the violin bow with which Pran (Raj Kapoor) nightly serenades Reshma (playing the anniversary song from ‘The Jolson Story’ 1946. the dominant metaphor for the flow of
desire, evoked by the title, is that of water - the love sequence after the song ‘Mujhe kis se pyar ho gaya’ with the waterfall, or the last shot when the smoke from Neela’s (Nimmi) funeral pyre merges with the rain clouds. In Awara (1951), the spectacular 9’ dream sequence (Ghar aaya mera perdesi), which took three months to shoot was apparently added on in the end, to hike up its market value. In Shree 420, the Song ‘Pyar hua iqraar hua’, shot at night in rain, on a ninety foot studio set made up to looklike a quite part of suburban Bombay of the time, this song in its recorded as well as picturised form has a most affecting lyricism. Filmmaker and critic Partha Chatterjee observes that, “it affirms the life force and celebrates man’s desire to marry, have a family and live on through his progeny. Never has sex in our films been treated with such sublime beauty. Nargis appears both ethereal and divine in a few close shots and evokes the image of the traditional Bengali clay idol of the goddess Durga”.
THE ICONIC IMAGE : SHREE 420
19 In Sangam (1964), Vyjayanthimala behaves like a prostitute to taunt her husband’s virility in the song ‘Main kya karoon ram mujhe buddha mil gaya’. after the BoxOffice failure of Mera Naam Joker (1970), Raj Kapoor went sexploitative, especially in Satyam Shivam Sundaram. Filmmaker Kidar Sharma described Raj Kapoor as an example of ‘The director with cave man conception of love’. Kamal Amrohi started his career as a scriptwriter in Sohrab Modi’s Pukar (1939). Throughout his life he was known as one of Indian Cinema’s finest writers, but it was as a director that he showed us that his visual sense was also exemplary. His directorial debut Mahal (1949), a complicated ghost story psychodrama. It was under his direction that the German cameraman Josef Wirsching gave his best work - deep focus photography complemented by remarkably advanced soundtrack. The song ‘Aayega Aane wala’ used by the director as leitmotif for the ghost. The enigmatic Madhubala at her best - as a ghost (Kamini) - beyond the reach of everyone. The bhajan in his next film Daera (1953) ‘Devta tum ho mera sahara’ is remarkable for how visually the director expresses a irony as well as comment on social evils . Sheetal (Meena Kumari) is married to old ailing man (Kumar) repeatedly mistaken for her grandfather. she also has an affair with her young Neighbour Sharan Kumar (Nasir Khan). From the outset, when the mismatched couple arrive at the dark, windswept scene, the symbol-laden film deploys a baroque style of lighting with very sparse
THE ARDUOUS LABOUR OF LOVE : PAKEEZAH
dialogue and obsessive characters in the grip of their desires. mise en scene - women are singing bhajan ‘Devta tum ho mera sahara’ on the ground floor, the sharpening of blades and two carpenters on a raised platform working on huge plank of wood, that finally falls apart at the end of the film. Sheetal is on the first floor terrace lying on the cot listening to it. This bhajan is in a way extremely sarcastic for a 16 year old girl married to a man old enough to be her grandfather. the director cut the images - between women singing the bhajan, huge plank of wood being cut and the girl listening to the bhajan. its cameraman M.W.Mukadam had done exemplary work - the introduction of Sharan to Sheetal in the song, to the hush marking Sharan’s fall from the balcony as the camera cranes over the crowded chaos below into Meena
Kumari on a distant Terrace. Amrohi’s belongs to rare class of filmmakers who could handle the transition from B/W to Color very successfully. His next film, Pakeezah (1971), all the five Mujras in the film are presented differently - advancing the narrative as well as recreating the decadent milieu of Courtesan Subculture with its artistic and linguistic refinement. Amrohi had used architecture very successfully in all his films as motifs. [T]His use of motifs is implicit and not explicit, they do not look unnatural, but part of the subject presented. Film Historian B.D.Garga recorded Tajdar Amrohi’s statement, son of Kamal Amrohi, “ Pakeezah was started in 1959. Since the film was in Cinemascope and there was no equipment available in India, he leased an Anomorphic lens which could be attached to a 35 mm camera. on IA/OCTOBER 2009
completion the film was sent to a lab in London. My father was not satisfied with the results insisting that it was out of focus. twice the film was sent back to London and the lab assured him that it was perfect, but he was not convinced. finally, a committee was formed in the USA to decide. the verdict... 1/100 of a second out of focus! so impressed was 20th century that they gifted my father the lens!” Although, Mehboob Khan was not known for song picturisation, but the songs he picturised in Andaz (1949) had been part of much debate and discussions, in terms of presenting modernity in a changing society after independence. Scholar Ravi Vasudevan had almost dedicated an article to this. Film Historian Partha Chatterjee observes that, In the Song ‘Hum aaj Kahin dil kho baithe’, a lowkey, contrastive lighting to height-
en chiaroscuro, which curtains billowing in the wind suggesting myraid psychological undertones, a dark baby grand piano and the deceptive face of Dilip Kumar, transparent and opaque at the same time, all added up to ‘announce and predict’ the tragic outcome of the film. Studios were closing down and there was an emerging breed of Independent Directors in 1940s and 1950s. S.S.Vasan made many films, but what made him a household name was the film Chandralekha made in 1948. The elaborate drum dance, with enormous drums, contains the hero’s soldiers who burst out of the drums after the dance overwhelming the baddies followed by the longest sword duel in Indian Cinema. It’s aggressive redefination of entertainment mobilised Hollywood-style orientalism for an indigenous mass culture and became a landmark in the codification of an Indian Mass entertainment ideology after independence.director and chreographer Uday Shankar’s Kalpana (1948) was another landmark film - its semi-expressionist angles and chiaroscuro effects became a model for later dance spectaculars. A film exemplifying a successful fusion of Indian modernism and the cinema. Uday Shankar who dances with Pavlova, was lauded by James Joyce in a letter to his daughter: ‘He moves on the stage like a semidivine being. Believe me, there are still some beautiful things left in this poor old world’. A 122 minute version was shown in US and the Indian Govt. seemed reluctant to let it be seen abroad.
Besides the ‘Aayega Aane wale’ from Amrohi’s Mahal, which made Lata Mangeshkar a household name, another song from the same year and also sung by Lata Mangeshkar, which became a rage was ‘La-ra-lappa La-ra-lappa lai rakhada, Adi Tappa Adi Tappa lai rakhada’ (lyrics by Aziz Kashmiri) from the Film Ek Thi Ladki (1949), directed by Roop K.Shorey and this Hindi/Punjabi song was so popular, that the actor Meena Shorey was known as the La-re-lapaa Girl throughout her life. Foriegn influences were also noticed in this era - Albela (1951), featured songs like ‘Shola jo Bhadke’ in flickering light and Hawaiian dance choreography. Another Song that is noteworthy is from the Film Ramesh Saigal’s Samadhi (1950), where Nalini Jaywant’s innocence came through very naturally, laced with potent sexuality as she sang ‘Gore gore O banke ke chhore kabhi meri gali aaya karo’ sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Amirbai Karnataki. Later Director Ramesh Saigal’s New Delhi (1956), a wonderful satrical comedy, where Kishore Kumar sang & act the song ‘Nakhrewali’, dressed as Fred Astaire with the cane and a top hat to an indigenous dance number by Vyjayanthimala. Bimal Roy had pioneered picturising songs in a realistic manner - using songs in the background - The song ‘Chali Radhe Rani’ in Parineeta (1953) and the songs ‘O Jane Wale’ & ‘O re Manjhi’ in Bandini (1963). The cameraman in both the films was Kamal Bose. Here songs are used to advance the narrative and reflect internal IA/OCTOBER 2009
21 turmoil of the protagonists. Later this tradition was continued by Basu Chatterjee. Guru Dutt way of picturising songs is one of its kind in Indian Cinema. Lighting, Camerawork (V.K.Murthy) & lyrics by eminent Poets - Sahir Ludhanvi,Majrooh Sultanpuri,Shakeel Badayuni & Kaifi Azmi. In Aar Paar (1954), Dutt’s bravura song song picturisations such as the ‘Tragic’ version of the Song ‘Ja ja ja ja Bewafa’ (inverting the earliar number ‘Sun sun sun sun zaalima’), where the camera pans over a series of black pillars hiding heroine Shyama from the viewer. Dutt experiments with novel ways of cutting songs into the story, eg; omitting introductory music. the opening song sequence introduces the western musical ploy of interposing incidental characters into the narrative choreography as street urchins energetically dance in the streets of Bombay. After watching Mr and Mrs’ 55, British Critic Geoff Brown pointed out: ‘Dutt realises the cinematic advantages of India’s playback system. The camera never stands still. the first, in which Preetam [Guru Dutt] tells his friend about meeting the heroine, starts in a bar, proceeds to a bus stop and continues on the bus, from which the couple are eventually thrown off. Another song - an argumentative duet between the hero and heroine - is imaginatively performed among women drying and shaking out saris. But the most exhilarating number is the heroine’s swimming pool song ‘thandi hawa kali ghata’, performed with a smil-
1 22 ing chorus line of girls twirling umbrellas parading around the pool in deliriously tilted shots. Dutt’s exploration of the tragic idiom is unprecedented in hindi cinema and can be compared to some of Ritwik Ghatak’s work in the powerful use of a musical chorus and the presentation of characters as archetypes - Guru Dutt repeatedly evokes Christ imagery in the Song ‘Jaane woh kaise’ and his appearance at the memorial celebration in Pyaasa (1957). Several sequences testify to an astonishing cinematic mastery: the crane movements during Gulab’s (Waheeda Rehman) tender and hesitant move towards a Vijay (Guru Dutt) absorbed in his own thoughts in the song ‘Aaj sajan mohe aag lagalo janam safal ho jaaye’ or when Vijay staggers through the red-light district protesting in a song ‘Jinhe naaz hai hind par woh kahan hai’ against the existence of such exploitation in a newly independent India. The tragic refrain ‘Waqt hai meherbaan’ of the Song ‘Dekhi Zamaane ki yaari’ in Kaagaz ke Phool, repeated throughout the film, endows the narrative with an epic dimension enhanced by S.D.Burman’s music. The picturization of the song ‘Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam’ is noteworthy, In a interview to Nasreen Munni Kabir, cameraman V.K.Murthy describes the process of shooting this song, “We were sitting inside the studio having lunch and our makeup man passed outside hold-
ing a mirror in his hand. When he passed by, a ray of sunlight reflected by the mirror flashed inside the studio. I thought, ‘Why not use a mirror? That’s it!’ I told the production people to get two big mirrors, something like a 4 feet by 3 feet mirror. I kept one mirror on the terrace, through that mirror I reflected the light to the inside mirror which was placed on the cat-walk. From the second mirror, I diverted the light to whatever angle I wanted. so that we could see the beam. I used a little bit of dust and smoke”. Dutt’s unique style of picturising songs is also evident in Sahib Bibi aur Gulam (1962), the Song ‘Saakiya aaj mujhe neend nahi aayegi’, where all dancers are seen in shadow while the singing courtesan (Minoo Mumtaz) is bathed in light. The erotic number from the same film ‘Na jao saiyan’, a song that is unique for its being entirely shot on the bed with the wife playing seductress, depended heavily on acting tour de force of Meena Kumari and Rehman. In Zia Sarhady’s realist Footpath (1953), the erotic song ‘Kaisa Jaadu Dala Re’ is noteworthy. In her entire career spanning 34 Years, Meena Kumari had done only three bathing scenes and one of them is there in this film. the song is very different from all the bathing songs picturised in Indian Cinema, because of its realism, (‘No White Saree and No Waterfall’) also seen later in Ravindra Dharamraj’s Chakra (1980) - Smita Patil’s bathing scene. Interestingly, all the [dirty] men in Indian IA/OCTOBER 2009
Cinema, never took bath in any film, with the only exception of Sanjeev Kumar in Pati Patni aur Woh (1977), the Song was ‘Thande Thande Paani se Nahana chahiye’. Plagiarism in music is not a disease of 80s or 90s, but goes way back to the 50s, The song ‘Eruvaka Sagaloi’ in Tapi Chanakya’s Telugu Film Rojulu Marayi (1955) was a megahit in Telugu and is regarded as signalling the advent of new generation. According to V.A.K. Rao, the song’s tune had been used by C.R.Subburaman in Shri Lakshmamma Katha (1950), where the Folk Singers Seeta and Ansuya claimed authorship, although it was probably adapted from a 1920s HMV recording by their teacher Valluri Jagannatha Rao. the tune has also been used in M.G.Ramachandran’s Madurai Veeran (1956) and the producer was also sued for the same and later Music Director S.D.Burman copied the tune in the film Bambai Ka Babu (1960) for the Song - ‘Dekhne mein bhola hai, dil ka salona’. Many renowned Maestros from field of Dance & Music contributed their expertise in various film Songs. Kathak Maestro Lachhu Maharaj choreographed many songs in Indian Cinema i.e - Amrohi’s Mahal (1949), ‘Chali Gori Piya Ke Milan Ko Chali’ In B.R.Chopra’s Ek Hi Raasta (1956), ‘Mohe Panghat Pe Nandlal Chhed Gayo Re’ in K Asif’s Mughal-E-Azam (1960), Dance Drama in Bimal Roy/S.Khalil directed Benazir (1964) and fi-
nally ‘Thare Rahiyo’ In Pakeezah (1971). Similarly, Kathak Maestro Birju Maharaj choreographed ‘Kahe chhed’ in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s version of Devdas.he also performed Kathak in Kumar Shahani’s Khayal Gatha (1988). Music Composer Naushad had used classical singers like D.V.Paluskar and Amir Khan in the Film Baiju Bawra (1952). Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan played Shehnai in Vijay Bhatt’s Goonj Uthi Shehnai (1957) & Satyajit Ray’s Jalsghar (1958). Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan was hired by K.Asif at a exhorbitant fee to sing in his Magnum Opus Mughal-e-Azam (1960) - the Songs ‘Prem Jogan ban ke chali’ - The song shot in extreme close-ups of just faces in which Dilip Kumar tickles the impassioned face of Madhubala with the white feather & ‘Shubh din aaye’. R.D.Mathur expansive camerawork is also visible in the Song ‘Pyar kiya to darna kya’ shot in color and in palace of mirrors. The undisputed Queen of Ghazals Begum Akhtar sang & acted in many film, including her remarkable performance in Mehboob’s Roti (1942), although the six songs that she recorded for this film could not be released because of a dispute within the recording companies. Later, she performed in Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar (1958). She also gave playback in two films, first in V.M.Vyas’s Dana Pani (1953) and in another film in 1970s, which could not be completed due to the early demise of the actor (both films feature Music Composer Madan Mohan). Satyajit Ray had used renowned
THE 12 YEAR STRUGGLE OF ANOTHER KIND : MITA VASHISHT IN KUMAR SHAHANI’S ‘KHAYAL GATHA’
classical musicians like Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan & Ali Akbar Khan. His biographer Andrew Robinson observes that, Ray’s overall aim was to compose background music that belongs to the particular film rather than to any recognisiable tradition. In Charulata (1964), The title theme and its Variations are derived from a melody by Tagore ‘Ami chinigo-chini’, and throughout the film Ray uses musical motifs to great effect. In Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1968), the ghost dance 7’ long and set to percussion music, calls on mime, shadow puppetry and Pat painting traditions and is shot with shimmering effects and negative images to tell of the four classes of colonial society: wellfed brahmins, Kings, Peasantry and the colonial bureaucracy. In Jalsaghar (1958), Ray used a lot of classical Musicians,Singers and Dancers, including a concert by Malika-e-Ghazal Begum Akhtar. other featured artists were Shehnai IA/OCTOBER 2009
Maestro Bismillah Khan, Singer Waheed Khan and dancer Roshan Kumari. Ritwik Ghatak is known as a filmmaker for investigating Imagesound dialectic in epic constructs. In Megha Dhaka Tara (1960), Film Historian Ashish Rajadhyaksha observes, “That the Self Sacrificing Neeta cuts across both the mythic and the melodramatic stereotypes of ‘nurturing mother’, an association elaborated further musically by the Baul folk number, the Khayal compositions and a spectacularly filmed Tagore song; the oppression/seduction/ nurture triangle which structures the Durga legend as derived from Tantric abstractions, is projected on to the Mother, Geeta and Neeta, inscribing these abstractions back into history and thus making them available for critical reconsideration. the double focus, condensed in the figure of Neeta, is rendered yet more complex on the level of
324 the film language itself through elaborate, at times non-diegetic sound effects working alongside or as commentaries on the image, eg; the song ‘Ai go uma kole loi’, used through the latter part of the film, especially on the face of the rain-drenched Neeta shortly before her departure to the sanatorium. This approach allows the film to transcend its story by opening it out towards the realm of myth and to the conventions of cinematic realism”. Even filmmakers like Mrinal Sen used songs in their films. In Neel Akasher Neechey, Hemant Mukherjee’s number ‘O nadire ekti katha sudhai’ was a major hit. Vijay Anand is known for his unique style of picturising Songs, whether in his B/W Films or later color films, especially, Jewel Thief (1967). He created some remarkable song sequences using various location like Qutab Minar in Delhi for the Song ‘Dil ka Bhawar Kare pukar’ in the Gilm Tere ghar ke samne (1963). In the same film we saw an imagined Nutan appears in miniature in Dev Anand’s whisky glass as they sing the duet ‘Ek ghar banooga tere ghar ke samne’. earliar in Kala Bazaar (1960), Vijay Anand’s characteristic use of realism as a counterweight to the release of fantasy is exemplified in the visual and the sound montage that opens the film and in the remarkably picturised song ‘Suraj ke jaisi golayi, chanda se thandak bhi payi’ set in top-angle camera among sleeping pavement dwellers.
‘ROOP TERA MASTANA’, THE ONE-TAKE SONG SEQUENCE FROM ARADHANA, WAS SHOWN IN FILM SCHOOLS ALL OVER THE COUNTRY AS A DEFINITIVE EXAMPLE FOR THE STUDENTS TO FOLLOW The song ‘Aaye meherbaan’ in Shakti Samantha’s Howrah Bridge (1958), is considered by many as one of the best songs picturised on Madhubala. The sensuality she brings to this number is unprecedented and extraordinary. The film also established Helen’s career as the dancing queen with the song ‘Mera naam chin chin cho’. In Aradhana (1969), the song ‘Roop tera mastana’ sung by Kishore Kumar, was picturised in a single 4’ take deploying the conventional cloudburst as a metaphor for sex as the drenched heroine, clad only in a blanket, succumbs to the hero’s advances after a sexual encounter in the nest room has been shown in silhouette. This sequence was for years presented to students of Indian Film Schools as the definitive example of mise en scene. Most of the time the Qawallis in Indian films are presented as a kind of compettion/debate between the hero and heroine, each one trying to outsmart other with couplets. Nasir Hussain & Manmohan Desai used this form of music extensively in their films. Kumar Shahani developed a unique cinematic orchestration of time and space through the rigid cyclical rhythms of lyric peotry. In his directorial debut, Maya Darpan (1972). The tracking shots through
the ancient house while the Singer Vani Jairam sings the lullaby ‘Lal bichona’. Later in Khayal Gatha (1988), Shahani addresses the epic forms directly in a film about the Khayal, a form of classical music established in the 18th Century, based on the earliar Dhrupad which it then adapted, mobilising elements of the other classical and folk literatures and music. For Shahani, the crucial relevance of this music to the cinema resides in its theory of the Shruti, the subdivisions between given notes in a raga which eventually yield a continous scale and prove that “you can only name approximations, never absolutes”. Mani Kaul made a documentary on Dhrupad (1982), a North Indian form of classical music. Critic Shanta Gokhale commented: “Classical Indian Music is to Mani Kaul the purest artistic search. The Alaap or slow unfolding of a raga (melody) to get its innermost swaroop (form), is its finest expression. Just as a good musician has mastered the musical method of construction which saves his delineation of a raga from becoming formless, so a good filmmaker has a firm control over the cinematic methods of construction and can therefore allow himself to improvise”. In Siddheswari (1989), a film on the famous Benares Gharana singer Siddheswari Devi. the narrative is structured like a Thumri piece: it presents key motifs of Siddheswari’s life as well as of myths and locations and elaborates on and around them with different songs, moods, camera movements, etc, until the
whole becomes a moving tapestry celebrating the transfiguration of life into music. Shyam Benegal had used songs in many of his feature films like, Manthan (1976), the song ‘Mohre ghar Agna na bhulo na’ or in Bhumika (1977), ‘Tumhare Bin jee na lage’ & ‘Sawan ke din aaye sajanva aa milo’, all sung by Preeti Sagar. Later in Sardari Begum (1996), a film on the noted Ghazal Singer, he has used songs very effectively, without disturbing the realism of the film. In Kamal Swaroop’s Om Dar-BDar (1988), The protagonist Om’s fantasies about sexuality and death are graphically realised in remarkable song sequences: a science teacher dissecting a frog expands into the Felliniesque ‘Rana Tigrina’ number or the moonwalk on a terrace on the night that Neil Armstrong landed on moon. The music and soundtracks are remarkably inventive, eg; the transformation of ‘Come September’ into the number ‘A-a-a Mohabbat Humsafar ho jaye’. The 80s & 90s was very sterile as far as innovation in Music is concerned with the only exception of A.R.Rehman. Tunes were randomly copied. Double Entredre Songs became very popular in the late 80s and early 90s. Songs like ‘Meri Jhooli mein do anar’ or the Hindi/Punjabi number in Armaan (1981) ‘Aise dekha usne dekha, jab baaje raat ke baara, main te mera chanmahi jeeve tich buttona di jodi’ were passed by Censor board and was also shown on Doordarshan several times. In 1990s Mad-
huri Dixit declared to this world that she sleeps with her door/legs parted in the famous song ‘Choli Ke Peeche”, hailed by small group of feminist as emergence of a new women, who is not afraid to talk about her breasts. But some songs were so vulgar that, one wonders how the hell these songs were cleared by Censor Board. Excerpts of few songs which were passed by Censor Board - ‘Main Maal Ghadi tu dhaka laga’ & ‘Khada Hai Khada hai’ in Pahlaj Nihalani’s Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla & Karisma Kapoor starrer Andaz, or ‘Khol ke leti rehti hun main...[long pause] raatein ko darwaze’ or ‘uska tha piya jitna lambha’, or Govinda’s number ‘meri pant bhi sexy’, etc. Recently, we heard that a Filmmaker was denied a title because it contained the word ‘Sex’, perfect example of duality. The first song that was banned in 1990s was ‘Din mein leti hai, sham ko leti hai’ in Romu Sippy’s Sanjay Dutt, Akshay Kumar starrer
SMITA PATIL IN SHYAM BENEGAL’S ‘BHOOMIKA’
25 Amaanat, although the songs of this film were already in the market. The objection raised by the censor board was that, in this song, the girl is taking something (Din mein leti hai, sham ko leti hai, bus mein leti hai, aagan mein leti hai khule aam...) which is not revealed until the end (name of her lover) and it leads to all kind of speculation by the listener and that is vulgar. Most of the producers of these double entrdre numbers argued that atleast their songs have two meaning, what about songs which do not have any meaning like Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit’s dance number ‘Tamma Tamma Loge Tamma’ in the film Thanedaar. With the emergence of dance directors like Saroj Khan, Farah Khan, etc, songs were choreographed professionally with some if not all good results. The songs, ‘Pehla Nasha’ in Jo Jeeta wohi Sikander (1987) or the song ‘Kaate nahi kate yeh din’ in Mr.India (1988), or ‘Dhak Dhak’ in Beta (1992), etc, reflected dance director’s talents and gave them prominence, a place that was denied to earliar dance directors. This also led to Item Numbers in the films, These songs have no connection with the story and are given to the audiences as a piece of entertainment. Over the years, music, songs and dance had been used very creatively by many filmmakers, but with the advent of item numbers, it has been reduced to lowest common denominator. Somehow it re-affirms the old saying ‘history repeats itself’ and lets hope that the history of creativity will also
ASTAIRE OR KELLY:
A GENERATION APART
Two of the greatest exponents of the famed Hollywood musical, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, separated by the duration of a generation, joined by the force of a common passion. Marilyn Ferdinand explores.
mong devotees of the Hollywood musical, the question often arises: “Who do you like better—Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly?” As foremost among the triple-threat stars of classic Hollywood (acting/singing/dancing), Astaire and Kelly present two decidedly different styles of dance, the talent with which both are most closely associated. Astaire’s was a lighter-than-air, elongated form gliding across the floor with a girl in his arms or tap dancing with a wide assortment of props. Kelly’s contrasting balletic and athletic styles made him a muscular presence whether dancing alone, with a partner, or with an entire ensemble. The differences between these two performers, however, come down to more than a matter of style. Astaire, born in 1899, first started plying his trade on the stage, primarily in vaudeville and musical revues, when he was a child. Kelly, born in 1912, was in his 20s before he committed to the entertainment industry—first as a dance teacher in his own studio and then as a stage and nightclub performer. Kelly’s first film, a starring role, was in For Me and My Gal (1942) opposite Judy Garland. Astaire’s first film, in a supporting role, was in 1933’s Flying Down to Rio, which also marked his first teaming with Ginger Rogers, with whom he would dance in 10 pictures. The difference in professional background, but more importantly, the generational difference between these two masters—both well-known perfectionists with major input into their mature films—shows up in their film craftsmanship and their response to changes in the musical form itself. Theatrical roots of movie musicals
In the 19th century, before the advent of motion pictures, audiences consumed stage entertainment. Theatrical productions normally consisted of high-minded melodramas or raucous burlesques, as well as the classics.
THE MOVERS ‘N’ SHAKERS : GENE KELLY(ABOVE) & FRED ASTAIRE(BELOW)
The dance hall was the venue for popular music, as was vaudeville, a form of variety show that pitched dozens of acts with discrete specialties onto a single playbill. This hodgepodge of popular entertainment informed the early filmmakers who created the first musical movies. Marrying a story to a song-anddance routine did not come as naturally as it might seem, and given IA/OCTOBER 2009
the ridicule musicals receive even today for unrealistically having characters break into song seemingly at the drop of a hat, perhaps it was a wise instinct for early movie makers to center many musicals in stories about show business. The earliest movie musicals are almost unwatchable today because they are little more than stage revues filmed by a mainly static camera. As the movie musical began to develop, stories and production numbers were placed side by side with very little integration. In the transitional musicals created in part by dance director Busby Berkeley, a melodrama would comprise the middle of the film, with bookended dance fantasies that used the vastness of the sound stage and crane shots to create kaleidoscopic musical numbers that were always eye-poppingly entertaining and that created selfcontained narratives. For example, “Remember My Forgotten Man” in Gold Diggers of 1933 fits the Depression-era theme of the Broadway show around which the fortunes of the film’s characters revolve; these lavish confections comprise standalone short films, much like a vaudeville act. Fred Astaire became a star in the 1930s. Of the 11 films he made during the 30s, eight of them have him fully or tangentially involved in show business. He insisted that his whole body be photographed in his dance routines, an innovation for a movie industry that was still figuring out how to film the fluid dynamics of dance, but also an insistence on getting what he used to get on stage—the unobstructed, untruncated attention of the audience. He also availed
28 himself of the benefits of trick photography, using it to shadowdance with himself in the “Bojangles of Harlem” number in Swing Time (1936). Astaire was attracted to choreography that would show off his ingenuity, and he frequently used props, like carnival games and coat racks, to put that vaudevillian “wow” factor into his dance routines. Significantly, Astaire would turn to gimmickry throughout his film career, for example, in his dancing-on-the-ceil-
ing number “You’re Everything to Me” in 1951’s Royal Wedding. He also would continue to appear in a great many show-biz stories. Gene Kelly’s film debut came one year before the earth quaked in musical theatre. Oklahoma!, which opened on Broadway March 31, 1943, was the first musical to fully integrate its libretto with its script. Songs and dance numbers did not put the brakes on the story or relate to a theatrical show that gave the film an excuse for breaking into song and dance, but rather, seamlessly forwarded the action, provided foreshadowing, suggested states of mind, and resolved plot points. Motion
pictures did not react immediately to this sea change in the narrative possibilities of music and dance, and Kelly’s first few musical films adhered to the show-business plots that were de rigueur during the 1930s. But in 1945, Kelly costarred in Anchors Aweigh, the first musical in which his character, a sailor on leave in Los Angeles, was not in show business. This film was a solidly integrated book-and-music musical, perhaps too solidly so, as its excessive length and somewhat cumbersome execution showed Hollywood’s inexperience with this new form.In a cursory overview of the films Kelly and Astaire appeared in from 1942, the year before Oklahoma!, to Kelly’s defining film and the apex of movie musicals, Singin’ in the Rain (1952), both stars played the following roles: ASTAIRE You Were Never Lovelier - Dancer Holiday Inn - Daner The Sky’s the Limit - WWII pilot Ziegfeld Follies - Himvself in a musical revue Yolanda and the Thief - Con man Blue Skies - Dancer and radio host Easter Parade - Dancer The Barkleys of Broadway Dancer Three Little Words - Songwriter Let’s Dance - Dancer Royal Wedding - Dancer The Belle of New York - Playboy
KELLY Du Barry Was a Lady- dual role of dancer and, in a dream sequence, freedom fighter in the time of Louis XV of France Pilot #5(nonmusical) - WWII fighter pilot IA/OCTOBER 2009
Thousands Cheer(nonmusical) Army private The Cross of Lorraine(nonmusical) - Soldier Cover Girl- Dancer Christmas Holiday(nonmusical) Millionaire Anchors Aweigh- Sailor Ziegfeld Follies- A gentleman in a musical revue Living in a Big Way- Ex-GI The Pirate- Pirate The Three Musketeers- Elite swordsman Take Me Out to the BallgameBaseball player Summer Stock- Broadway producer An American in Paris - Painter It’s a Big Country(nonmusical) - Greek American Singin’ in the Rain - Actor Astaire, aged out of the more vigorous roles Kelly, as a real GI, could play, but also defined by an earlier era, continued in musicals with show-business themes. Kelly, a modern performer not bound by the specialty-act mentality that ruled vaudeville, expanded his repertoire not only within the types of characters he played, but also by appearing in nonmusical films. Kelly was uniquely positioned to take advantage of the change ushered in by Oklahoma!; with Singin’ in the Rain, he turned the show-business movie musical on its head, incorporating songs that were not expressly written for the film—a common practice for years—in a way that would create psychological depth and plot development. The title song is the epitome of this shift, as Kelly takes a tune written in the late 1920s and uses it to create an unforgettable vision of a man who has just fallen in love:
By the time Singin’ in the Rain hit screens, film audiences were primed for more realistic musicals. Fred Astaire eulogized the songand-dance man in his own masterpiece of the 1950s, the show-biz musical The Band Wagon(1953), with this line of dialogue, “Step right this way, ladies and gentlemen, Egyptian mummies, extinct reptiles, and Tony Hunter, the grand old man of the dance!” CONCLUSION The question of whether one prefers Astaire or Kelly is much more involved than a matter of style. Audiences moving toward psychological truth wanted and demanded musicals that did more than entertain. As intense realism infused American motion pictures from the 1950s onward, even psychologically integrated songs and dances were no longer acceptable, and the movie musical went into eclipse. One notable exception is the Oscarwinning picture for 2002, Chicago, a parody of show-business musicals that revels in the unreality of its musical numbers by turning them into psychological portraits. With this highly expressionistic musical capturing the imagination of the movie-going public, the reasons for the death of the type of movie musical in which Astaire and Kelly were kings is more than clear.
30 Two masters of cinema shot a woman dancing for their respective films, The River, and Guide. While one employed the long-shot, the other installed the track. Nitesh Rohit studies.
RENOIR & When I think about something, in fact, I’m thinking of something else. You can only think about something if you think of something else. For instance, I see a landscape that is new to me but it’s new to me because I mentally compare it to another landscape, an older one, one that I knew. - Elgoe d l’amour, JLG
framed in a extreme long shot
framed in a long-shot
framed in a mid-shot
ne of the important reasons people within the Indian film fraternity believe their style of filmmaking is distinct is because of the use of song and dance. Yet, in the span of over 100 years of cinematic history one could count the number of distinct song picturizations in Indian cinema. Today in the age of Jimmy-jib and every digital gadget a camera is not the director’s eye, it’s merely a tool, that records a dance or a song number, hence, it does not compliment like in Guru Dutt’s mise-en-scene, touch the soul like in Ghatak’s film, or become a companion to gift performing art with subtle grace on screen like a Vijay Anand camera movement. Vijay Anand working within the limitation of the mainstream film industry was one of the rare auteurs in India, whose working style and temperament reminded one of the eras of Ford and Hawks in Hollywood. Vijay Anand’s Guide is a landmark movie in the history of Indian cinema. It dealt with issues regarding the nature of freedom of women and representation of their image on screen with a new sensibility. Furthermore, what stands out is not just the narrative that is staged, but his exquisitely handling of mise-en-scene in the song picturization. It’s a rare occasion that an Indian director would remind one of the mise-en-scene of Radha’s dance in Jean Renoir’s The River. It’s in in this enamouring ballad of camera and body movement with its pauses and pans, that one witnesses the persona of Radha and Krishna come to life with a magical dissolve, that transposes one into an empyreal classical Indian dance, while the camera seems to be an enthralled observer following her movements. While watching Vijay Anand’s dynamic camera movement capture Waheeda Rehman in the Cobra Dance (GUIDE), one feels the same. As it entrances the inner torment and the intimate anxiety, dance functions as an expression to break free from the boundaries and clutches of sociIA/OCTOBER 2009
& ANAND ety and it’s then and then only this Indian classical dance breaks the barriers of space and time and come to life on screen, reminding one of Renoir’s Radha movement of grace and her manifestation of love. There is a distinct similarity in these two feminine bodies, as they are involved in act of transformation- one that is represented and the other that belongs to them. Radha Barrier and Waheeda Rehman were both trained classical dancers in Bharatnatyam. And within the context of the narrative the placement of the song functions as a mirror into the souls of their characters. However, what separates and yet binds these two distinct spaces together is its mise-en-scene. In the case of Renoir, the absence of a dolly aides in the camera observing from a vantage point, allowing the dancer to enunciate her gestures using all three grounds of the spaces, this in fact, guides the viewers in following her movements, her gestures, her facial expression and allows us to witness the grace and beauty of the feminine body, as she moves from the background to the foreground. Where Renoir’s mise-en-scene is an act of grace, in the case of Vijay Anand it becomes an element of fire. While Renoir composed in relation with space, Vijay Anand brings the space, the body and the camera into a complete unison- vigorous, relentless and dynamic. In the Cobra Dance, Waheeda Rehman is involved in a pursuit to break free from the boundaries by pushing her body beyond its own limitation. The energy that flows through her body startles everyone present within that space, as an onlooker. However, it’s the camera movement within that space that forms an important connection with her body and allows the expression to reach its complete dynamism.. What stands out in both cases is the auteur and at the same time reminds one of an era bygone. Jean Renoir and Vijay Anand could bring forth this choreography with utmost precision that worked in conformity with the instrumental music, the body movement, and their understanding of the cinematic space and movements allowed these performances to reach its pinnacle. In the hands of lesser known directors it would be just another song/dance number but with the touch of these auteurs it becomes a work of art- A piece of cinema. IA/OCTOBER 2009
THE GLORIOUS MID-SHOT
THE BIRD’S EYE : FROM OVERHEAD
THE DANCERS IN LONG-SHOT
SCARRED LIKE THE MOON
by Harry Tuttle Since I know very little about India and Indian cinema, my article shall focus on the inspired mise en scĂ¨ne developed by this filmmaker operating masterfully in the dangerous waters of big budget musicals. The first hour of the film appears to me as aesthetically accomplished as the critically acclaimed classics of Hollywood Golden Age. This film has already received its fair share of acclaims both popular and critical. But I would like to take the time, from a Western perspective, to meticulously analyse the directorial choices and the coherent symbolism. IA/OCTOBER 2009
An Albizia tree. A dramatic ascending camera with canted low angle frames the red flowers against a cloudy sky. The camera stabilizes at an horizontal angle overlooking the foliage. The Neo-Roman plantation palace with an ostentatious Ionic colonnade surfaces in the background. This extravagant and maybe excessive opening shot already installs the tragic atmosphere. The Albizia has a fiery blossom : fire is an element that will play a major role in the film. The spring season announces the birth of love. And the fancy camerawork shows the Mukherjee household rolling on the horizon before coming to a steady stop, like a rhetorical rewind up from the catastrophic ending back to the stable beginning, announcing in cryptic fashion the trouble that will ravage this family. A bookend shot of similar red tree will close the film outside Parvati’s new home, when Devdas expires, echoing the foreboding opening shot. The first image marking the spectators’ retina is always an important moment of the film. The courtyard of the Mukherjee palace reminds of the Neptune fountain in Versailles, the XVIIth century French royalty residence which was rented by Lakshmi Mittal for the wedding of his daughter in 2004. Aishwarya Rai and Shah Rukh Khan were of course invited! The interior of the even wealthier palace of Bhuvan Chaudhry, Parvati’s husband, also resembles Louis XIV’s royal apartments. Somehow the opulent romance of this fictional musical written to take place in early XXth century, isn’t so far out from today’s lifestyle of the
Indian elite class. This is the eponymous story of Devdas [Mukherjee] yet it begins without him anywhere in sight. All sub-characters are introduced with a fluid two and a half minutes plan sequence. The camera runs throughout the house to introduce all Mukherjee family members before he arrives (more than 18 minutes later). Such gimmick builds up the anticipation of the audience who came to see their favourite stars, but in the hands of a lesser director, delaying the screen appearance of the title actor could feel forced. This said, I noticed he fails to accomplish anything with the same gimmick in the very average Saawariya (2007), seemingly directed by a totally different person... Saawariya is a conventional musical without any ambition, while Devdas truly deserved to be selected in Cannes, as an art film.
two neighbour kids entertain a love-hate relationship across the garden fence and are separated by adults. Once they meet again, the girl is married and the grown up boy dies trying to reconquer his first love. While the Western film strives to bring back together the lovers, in their hearts and in physical contact, the Indian story rather emphasizes the ultimate and irrevocable sacrifice of the hero, averting adultery until his last breath because he accepts the price of his fault, the fatality of his fate. Both films conclude with a pessimistic, but oh so romantic, sad ending, which is a courageous, unconventional option in mainstream cinema.
B.D. Garda : “ [P.C. Barua’s 1935] Devdas was the first real tragedy on the Indian screen. For a long time the contrived and innocuous tradition of the ‘happy ending” had dogged the Indian film. ConIn a first flashback to childhood, Sumitra recalls how her neighbour’s scious of the fact that life provides few, if any, happy endings, Barua son Devdas was sent to London, did away with it. [..] and Paro (nickname of Parvati the Unlike in Bimal Roy’s remake and neighbour girl) ran after him with the Tegulu version, both of which three rupees she owed him. This prude allegory expresses a material- devote considerable footage to the istic debt in place of the sentimental childhood of Devdas and Parvati to establish their close relationtreasure that shall remain publicly ship, Barua completely does hidden. They were separated by away with it. His protagonists are adults because of this too intimate grown-ups and he establishes their relationship. youthful relationship with utmost In Bimal Roy’s 1955 version, the economy in a montage of four or first chapter is entirely dedicated five shots.” (1) to the childhood friendship before skipping to the return of Devdas after ten years. We see the same Bhansali also begins directly narrative structure in Henry Hattaway’s Peter Ibbetson (1935), where when Devdas returns, with sparse IA/OCTOBER 2009
flashback images, incomplete scenes, to hint at this blossoming love. His couple of main characters act with a puerile attitude, adolescent show-off and petty bickering, even though they are supposed to be in their twenties. It’s unclear how old they are, but in the childhood flashbacks they look pre-teen. Devdas returns lawyer after a ten years studies, hence must be in his early twenties. Paro is probably a couple of years younger. Yet the actor Shah Rukh Khan is 36 and the actress Aishwarya Rai is 28 during the shooting of the film. That is how Bollywood expects us to believe in an “adolescent” romance... This kind of silly acting would better suit indeed the flirtatious moods of 18 years old kids than adults in their thirties. If Aishwarya can easily look younger than her age, the childishness of Shah Rukh is a bit out of place. It seems these two only become adult when separated, in marriage and in alcoholism. Bimal Roy marked a greater character evolution between the protagonists’ childhood and their adult behaviour, but his actors look even much older (the ten years span was less credible). Sumitra goes on : “A lamp lit
the lamp you lit up, it was
This lamp is definitely a central object that accompanies the film throughout, a virtual character who personifies Devdas, Devdas’ love and Devdas’ life at the same time or alternatively. And Paro will treat it as such : a dear friend she won’t let anybody else’s touch. The presence of this lamp brings in each scene a powerful narrative device to emphasise the untold love repressed by social conventions. Whereas Bimal Roy only expressed the continuity of Paro’s absentee love with a recurrent bird song and travelling singers. The flame of this lamp in particular and fire in general embodies a powerful symbol of love in the film. Eternal flame and eternal love. Quiet uninterrupted simmering fire and patient loyal longing. Raging fire and passionate vengeance. Lamp blown away and death of Devdas. This lamp is a fetish object, a talisman of superstition, an evidence of Devdas’ love (or is it Paro’s love rather?) and a substitute for Devdas himself. The following scene is essentially painted red and gold, for the colour symbolism of fire and love.
THE FIRE OF HER HEART LITERALLY SHINES THROUGH HER HEART
for a loved one draws the wayfarer home.
For ten years, in
that belief she kept that lamp
Devdas. Not once she left the lamp go out!”. In her dance Paro sings “My lamp, my love. [..] This lamp it is you”, alight for
her maids call the lamp by the
“Devdas” and later Devdas will say “In the flame of name
The first screen apparition of Parvati is also delayed. Aishwarya Rai will show a close up of her face after almost eleven minutes. Usually, in big productions, the screen appearance order is dictated by the “bankability” of the cast. Greatest actors IA/OCTOBER 2009
are served first. But here, a reverse order is being used, to frustrate the audience. Even the scene when they are meant to first show up, the whole mise
The scene begins with a bird view of Parvati holding her lamp in a rainy night, appearing in a lightning exaggerated by a resounding thunder. Her face is invisible and only the fire of the lamp is apparent. Sanjay Leela Bhansali manages to keep on hiding her face during the next minute and a half, even though she will always be present on screen. The whole time, Aishwarya Rai is downgraded to a mere lamp holder, a simple spot boy. We can easily tell Parvati only exists for this lamp. It is more important than her. It’s the only thing we get to see.
35 first sang by a choir narrating the back story, like a Greek chorus in the antic tragedy of the Western civilisation.
The close-up on the lamp could only let us see her hands and her bust. A dance move makes her touch the lamp with her feet, knee and elbow. Thus, as the camera continues to follow the lamp in close up, we get to discover her body bits by bits. Then she crosses the floor in a wide shot, but unfortunately she’s facing the wrong way, and we only see her long black hair. The only way telling her apart from the other dancers DEVDAS, THE LAMP-MAN is the lamp that never leaves her Sumitra : “Are you crying? Let hand and her taller height. not tears of joy douse off this There are a couple of beautifully lamp before Devdas comes home” composed plans with shifting Paro : “No power on Earth can scales, starting with a wide-shot put out this lamp” scale of the backup dancers, and rack focus change to the foreground where the lamp jumps Her mother just announced the in, magnifying the shot scale to return of her estranged lover and a medium close-up. This gives she cries instead of bouncing around with joy like everyone else. depth and layers to the screen accommodating several groups of Sumitra is in a medium close-up dancers interlacing each other. A with Parvati’s devout hands holding the lamp in the left corner. This rich film grammar without cuts. perspective filmed from outside Again an aerial shot. Note the exon the terrace gives the imprespressionist translucent shadows, sion that a column of rain drops distorted, cast on the floor by the aligned with the lamp falls onto coloured stain-glass. She runs it. This dripping rain also stands outside right when a lightning for the tears concealed offscreen. flashes in the night. Finally the The dialogue begs for a similar countershot we’ve been waiting countershot of Parvati’s face, but Bhansali cuts instead to a close up for : her face in close up lit by heavenly light when her lyrics of Parvati’s hands walking away start. The audience also gets to as she speaks her reply, with her mouth offscreen. Now she turns to first look at her face bathed in en scene withholds as long as possible place the lamp directly under the celestial glow, like Devdas will through clever blocking, hence surpris- drops to test the inextinguishable in the moonlight. The lamp still es the audience as late as possible. fire of her love. Her servants blow manages to take the foreground it, vent it out... in vain. Cue music, corner of the shot, in soft focus, as IA/OCTOBER 2009
PARO PRISONER, DEVDAS MENACING, AND AT THE CENTER OF THE FRAME, A DEAD FLY CLENCHED IN HIS FIST
she stares intensely at it. She protects it from the wind with a loving hand. In gracile motions, her hand plays with the fire, circling around the flame, touching it, surrounding the heat source, striving to grasp this intangible element. Now the rest of the choreography can be shot with her face on. The song lyrics reaffirm all the heavy symbolism : fire is love. The lamp is identified at once with her love. As this lamp is burning, her heart is burning as well. She calls for the return of her loved one. Another flashback to childhood shows, during the course of the song, the little Paro, lonely, wiping her tears next to the lamp (this brief insert is unfortunately shot in a corny way I must say). The choreography re-enacts some kind of psychodrama explaining the dreaded parting, with the lamp standing in for Devdas. The lamp is stolen from her hand by the
maids as she watches it helplessly. She runs after it and is stopped by other maids, who warp her inside a prison of see-through veils. The lamp is stranded in the garden where rain pours, but keeps on burning defiantly. The rain coincides with the tears in her heart after the parting with Devdas, thus marking a strong association between weather and mood, primordial elements (water, fire) and feelings (sadness, love). Although bringing rain to evoke sadness is an old cliché in mainstream cinema. The choir chants that she is “crazy and naive”, which qualifies her absurd connection with this lamp. We’ll notice the cleavage later on between her objects of love, whether she’ll choose Devdas or the lamp. The dance ends with Parvati presenting her lamp to a majestic statue of Durga, entirely white.
DURGA Durga is the Hindu warrior goddess Sumitra frequently invokes in her exclamations. She also happens to be one of the fearful form of Mahadevi, the great Goddess, second consort of Shiva. In fact, Parvati is named after another manifestation of Mahadevi. In the famous “Dola Re Dola” song, Parvati and Chandramukhi will celebrate Durga Puja together. There is indeed a firm tie between Paro and Durga, between this story and the love story of Sati and Shiva. Parvati is the reincarnation of Sati who immolated herself after her marriage with Shiva against her father’s will. Parvati craves to reunite with Shiva. She embodies self-sufficiency, patience and fierce compassion, which characterizes perfectly the role of our Paro in this film. Paro is the untouched virgin, the selfless mother
without her own children, the losing rival of a menage de trois, the lonely lover living with her lamp resigned to her misfortune. RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON : APPARITION OF SHAH RUKH KHAN Now it’s Devdas’ turn to delay his screen appearance. Kaushalya wants to organise the homecoming celebration of her son to the last detail, she wants to be the first to lay her eyes on Devdas, but will be disappointed in her perfectionist endeavour. She asks everyone to close their eyes when Devdas buggy has arrived. A servant, Dharamdas, carries Devdas’ huge luggage on his shoulder, thus blocking the view. Bhansali shows a lateral shot of the two. Dharamdas tells how her son has changed in ten years, his genuine excitement competes with Kaushalya’s frustrated anticipation, she tries to peek behind him until she learns he went to Paro’s house first... When Dharamdas finally unblocks the view, there is no more to be seen. This clever mise en scene delays the time when her pride shatters. But the act isn’t over, Devdas’ arrival will take place in 5 steps. After this first deceived appearance, he will introduce himself to Sumitra (who will be the first main character to lay her eyes on him), without appearing on screen. Paro hides upstairs upon hearing his voice. So Bhansali uses a parallel montage of Sumitra welcoming on one side, and Paro running on the other side, to replace the missing countershots of Devdas. The third step is the encounter with Paro, who refuses to show her face to him. Here Bhansali uses a big
buzzing fly to distract Paro when Devdas enters. In French “avoir le bourdon” [literally having a bumblebee] means being blue. In fact, the whole set is all black and purple. This fly is a materialisation of the awkward tension, the doubts and anxiety, but it’s also the metaphorical intruder spying on them, the unwelcome third party disturbing the privacy of this moment. She defends herself against the harassment of this annoying insect by waving a sheet around her, which is briefly reminiscent of Annabelle Moore’s Kinetoscope serpentine dances. Again we see a lot of shots of the back of her head, aerial views and layers of veils to put the audience in Devdas’ frame of mind with the anticipation to see her face. We see his hands first pushing open her door, revealing her dancing inside the flying sheet, her back to the camera. Countershot of his face in medium closeup, discovered by the sweeping motion of her sheet flying away. Now the audience can see him in plain view. He wears a hat, a bowtie and a long coat, carries a cane : chic Western three-pieces suit, while everyone else wears traditional Indian clothes. She sticks her face against the bed. When he speaks, her feet recoil slightly, betraying her emotion. Body language before dialogue. His first impression of her, after ten years, is a faceless body sensually playing with veils, like a dancer (a talent running in the blood of her mother’s family, which is the cause of her social demise), then her body abandoned on the bed, in a sari hiding all but her naked feet at the forefront of the bed. Quite a
sensual introduction. The buzzing wings of the inopportune fly will regularly interrupt the flow of their conversation. They are together at last, but this foreign presence signify the socially unacceptable character of this encounter. A gentleman in the bedroom of a single daughter. This fly could be the haunting shadow of Devdas’ offended mother irritability, the disapproving wrath of his father, or more generally the taboo of social conventions and caste barriers : all the obstacles arising amidst a simple romance. Devdas fails to assure her of his mutual longing. He will only be allowed to look at her under the moonlight, as a punishment for neglecting her all these years. “Not even the Moon is as vain”, he says. She retorts : “...but the Moon is scarred”. The battle of egos is on! He leaves after catching the fly with a swift hand, delivering a heart-wrenching line : “Paro, I hate the thought of someone else touching you.” His face his dramatically barred by the shadows of the louvered shutters. He not only delivers her from the nuisance of this insect, but he alludes as well, metaphorically, to his deadly jealousy caused by other men approaching her. Close-up on a gleeful sigh on her face. This possessive innuendo comforts her desire of manly protection, by the man she loves. However, this macho attitude reminds immediately of the subdued condition of wives, prisoners of a male’s exclusive and unforgiving desire. This attitude will soon take
38 more violent proportions for Paro. Later in the film, Devdas will catch a buzzing fly again next to Chandramukhi. The second insect attributes the same symbols of social gossips and clash of egos to the disturbance it causes, but it’s especially a reminder of the earlier scene with Paro, as he tells off Chandramukhi with his arrogant, drunken mouth... while his broken heart is however slowly falling for her. The fourth step is when Devdas is greeted by his family, except his mother who is sulking because the neighbour stole her thunder. He dropped hat and coat, and his bow-tie is now loose, which would suggest he undressed in Paro’s room... This makes for an amusing scene where Devdas tries to defuse the tension. He says Paro refused to see him, which sort of redeems his fault a posteriori. But since his mother remains stubborn, he pretends to go away, hides like a kid and surprises her as she rushes after him apologetically. Which was the fifth step. Instead of the joyful perfected celebration she envisioned, she is in tears and the butt of a joke. Quite a reversal of fortune caused by her possessive pride. The mise en scene of this whole sequence was remarkably meaningful. It’s a shame that the dialogues (like the lyrics in the songs) are overstating what we can see and feel from the
nately this scene is extremely cheesy, ruined by non-Indian music, forceful So in order of appearance, people violins, choir vocalise, fake Moon, who first saw Devdas were : moving shadows, unnecessary camera Dharamdas, Sumitra, the Mukherjee slides and excessive editing... filmed family, Kaushalya and Badima. His like a glossy perfume commercial. father was conveniently called out, But if it’s not rendered intelligently and excused himself from the wel- on screen (an exception in this recoming party. Like at every key
moment of Devdas’ life. Flashback to childhood when young Devdas is whipped by his father. The love missing from his father will be a major factor in the destruction of his personality, the loss of his “mojo”; a castrating indifference. MOONLIGHT : THE PSEUDOKISS SCENE This is the first time Devdas gets to see the beautiful Paro after ten years away from her. Imagine how he pined! And we did too, because it took more than 24 minutes of film for us to see Shah Rukh’s reaction at the sight of Aishwarya. Unfortu-
markably directed film so far), it is nonetheless a powerful scene, on paper, in the scenario : no spoken words, no explanatory lyrics either. It’s a scene we perfectly understand in silence. The Moon, the lamp, Paro and Devdas, all gathered for this pseudo-kissing scene. The Moon is the symbol of their vanity, the lamp is the symbol of their love. Conveniently she’s asleep, so he doesn’t have to confront the resentment and repartee of her witty pride, which prevented them from reunion earlier. She might be sleeping because he was late to the
meeting, or because she’s afraid of his first impression. Either way it’s better for both of them. She’s defenceless and he could kiss her, but he doesn’t. Lovers never kiss in Indian cinema! As he blows away a lock of hair across her face (one pseudo-air-kiss) to better contem-
love, symbolically. Now, this flame is effectively burning his skin. The fire symbol turns from abstract metaphor to concrete pain. Yet they are one and the same. Her love is his pain, and vice versa. Because their romance is doomed and they will never be together. This is the paradox contained in this scene : this very lamp she maintained alive all these years while he was away, now is the fire that hurts his hand. He gets burnt by his own love, by her loyal love. The object of adoration is the one that becomes a weapon between them. And it translates exactly what happens when their egos clash. He’s too proud to tell her how much he loves her, a coward like all men are when it comes to expressing feelings, but this act she is unaware of, since she’s asleep, is a proof for the audience to acknowledge. He’s willing to sacrifice himself for her, even if A SELF-CENSORED KISS his words might say otherwise. The same dilemma will come back when he’ll write her his last plate her face, she shifts her position while sleeping and her hand falls over letter. When she pulls back her arm the lamp. A trial-by-fire. To prevent away from the fire, he fails to her from getting burnt, he lands her put out the flame of this inextinhand immediately on the back of his own hand which covers the flame. As guishable lamp, and lays on her long as he can endure the pain, he may lips the stain of soot that was on his finger (second pseudo-kiss). continue to look at her in her sleep, A proper kiss is forbidden by the peaceful and innocent, like a stolen moment, a voyeuristic peep, liberated Indian censorship board, but this from her judgemental gaze. The cheap highly erotic scene is as good as a real kiss, bypassing the social soundtrack features a ticking sound to mark the time he will withstand the taboo. The smile on her face (still asleep) heat. Meanwhile, the back-lit effect at the touch of his finger is the of a hidden candle reminds me of the great paintings by Georges de La Tour tangible proof of a kiss, that either disappeared in an elliptical (2). In her song, the lamp was her burning edit or was represented here by
this metaphor. It is more than a wishful erotic dream. The black dot on her lip is like the materialisation of the proverbial fire of love. Incidentally, Devdas makes this burn mark by connecting the lamp to her lip with his finger. Her lips are now burning of his passionate embrace (though unseen onscreen). The analogy linking Devdas, the lamp, Paro and love has gone full circle, and lifts any doubt. She wakes up in a jump and notices soot on her lip. He’s already gone though. He definitely stole a kiss, but the smile on her face silently approves. Ultimately she’s content that he did see her when her arrogant guard was down. The same trial-by-fire shot reappears further when Parvati’s mother in-law grounds her. In a metaphorical statement she intends to “put out the fire before it burns the house”. Unfortunately the lamp she intends to put out to illustrate her point is Devdas’ lamp, and Parvati cannot allow anyone to touch it. She covers it with her hand. In a mirrored situation, Parvati burns her own hand over this flame to save it, just like Devdas did for her here. A LESSON IN CALCULUS
The next morning, they meet again. Vanity is back in control. Verbal communication requires once again the protection of their shield of pride. They play little games of love-hate attraction, teasing each other. Once she plays-pretend indifference and he's begging for atten-
940 tion. Other times he uses his enviable experience in London to boast about how less interesting she could be to him. She teaches him a lesson in calculus to show how much she missed him. A touching and funny scene relying mainly on beautifully written dialogue and talented timing. The mathematical theme started when Paro counted the days and hours since he left, the number of letters she wrote during the bedroom scene with the fly. The petty Kaushalya will count the guavas stolen by Paro. And later Devdas will reverse the situation and prove his maths skills when she finds him at the Kolkota brothel. Like the three rupees debt of the opening sequence, characters need concrete material enumerations to quantify the respective size of their love, a sentiment difficult to declare, let alone to measure. Follows a parallel montage of the parents of the two families, each couple in their own bedroom, having a night discussion about the prospect of their children's marriage. The inter-cutting make the two private conversations look like they reply to each other. Here is a rare apparition of Paro's father, who is curiously absent of her wedding ceremony and most of the film. This is the key scene articulating and cementing the social gap, the caste incompatibility between the two long-time neighbours. It suggests the difference in wealth through the comparison of furniture and clothing as well as in the comedic dialogue.
What's interesting here is that the caste barrier is stigmatised by the love marriage of a landlord, Paro's father, with an actress, thus willingly disgracing his reputation. It is the first testimony in the film where love triumphs over the tradition of arranged marriages. But one generation later, the interdiction remains for Devdas and Paro. Ironically, acting and dancing, which are the proud business of Bollywood, is looked down upon by the Brahman (also knight of the British empire) who even go as far as to compare it to prostitution because their family tradition is to sell brides. A subtle reminder that female roles in early Indian cinema used to be played by prostitutes, because it was inconceivable for a honest woman to consider an acting career. (3) Theatre troupes status have always been considered a social downfall, just like in the Old Europe. And early cinema actors met the same fate. It's only been five decades or so since the success of movie stars matches their social recognition. Thus the film uses the star power of Bollywood and the acquired sympathy of the audience to dispute the unjust caste system that both castigated cinema actors and inter-caste love. Bhansali's Devdas is defiantly anti-caste, in spite of the artificiality of the genre that has little to do with contemporary social reality. Tabish Khair (4) makes an interesting comparison of the theatricality in Bimal Roy's and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's versions. In the latter film, the class difference is hardly noticeable since the splendour of richly decorated interiors and fountains denotes luxurious families
above the necessity of lower classes. In fact, Parvati's father pertains to the class of landlords. The story only disputes the defamation of this landlord, and doesn't go as far as to approve love with a girl who has no landlord blood in her veins. Bimal Roy goes for a more neorealist feel, while Bhansali goes all out for the eccentricity of theatrical mythology, eye-candy sets, and sumptuous costumes. According to me, the fairytale extravagance and artificiality better correspond to the epic nature of this bigger-than-life sacrifice. Cinema shall feature the mythical dimension of this love story, akin to the selfsacrifice of Sati and Shiva, within a disproportionate context far from everyday lives. To justify going herself to fetch the soil from a courtesan's doorstep, for Durga Puja, Parvati formulates a brilliant plea : "Don't humans live there? Is there no air? No sun in those quarters? Do rains refuse to visit them? Nature doesn't discriminate. Should we?" And Chandramukhi slaps Kalibabu, accusing aristocrats of fathering illegitimate daughters in brothels, and maybe sleeping with them too. The introduction of Chandramukhi in this love triangle takes the anticaste statement to a higher degree. No longer a competition of reputation between two landlords, the social gap cannot span any wider between an aristocrat and a prostitute. Chandramukhi will openly criticize the hypocrisy of aristocrats who abuse of brothels favors at night
BINOCULARS, SYMBOLS OF A CAMERA VIEW-POINT
while denigrating courtesans in public places. There is no such public confrontation in Bimal Roy's version. Vyjayanthimala's Chandramukhi sneaks in at Devdas' property under a false identity, pretending to pay the rent to her landlord, in order to know his whereabouts. She never gets to shake the moral order or claim better respect for her profession in 1955. Thus Bhansali's film is more socially progressive regarding women conditions and social hierarchies. The angelic portrayal of happy courtesans is greatly fantasised in this fable though.
Bairi Piya : THE BRIDAL BRACELET The comedic prelude to this scene is some kind of a commentary on filmmaking. Paro and Devdas spy on each other with binoculars from their respective terrace. This is the position of a Peeping Tom,
to contemplate the beloved one without having to confront another rhetorical battle of wit and ego that usually ends up in a cold atmosphere. But it is also the position of the film director behind the viewfinder of his camera. Thankfully Bhansali doesn’t overlay here the cheap black mask that is commonly used to simulate the binocular first-person view effect. Devdas asks his Badima to find into the binoculars the bride who will receive the bracelet gift. Once she spots Paro at the other end of the binoculars, looking back at her with her own spectacles, in a literal self-conscious shot-countershot, Devdas is gone. She finds out in her binoculars that he has run to the neighbour’s house to meet Paro. In a typical process of audience identification (or psychoanalytic transference for the auteur), Shah Rukh Khan slips into the image that sees the binocular, to be part of this distant world, to chase the object of desire spotted in the cross-
hair of the camera shot. Devdas achieves what is the primal desire of every spectator : to rush inside the screen and meet the protagonists. We can certainly think about this allusion when watching this scene. It will end with a shot of Kaushalya and Kumud spying with the same binoculars on Devdas and Paro candidly fooling around next door. Paro doesn’t know this gift is Badima’s family jewel reserved for the bride of her grandson. Although expensive presents definitely bear this connotation. Thus the scene plays out on two simultaneous levels. On one side, Paro thinks it’s just a present from the prodigal son, and she will pull and push to make him pine. On the other side, Devdas makes a definite declaration by ceding this treasure to his future bride, albeit without
42 letting her know. It’s a meaningful gesture to him, without the formal character of an official proposal. The audience, like his Badima, is privy of his intentions, while Paro is still naive about it. That’s why the scene will not unfold without troubles. Paro and Devdas pretend to tell fortune, reading each other’s palm. Mockingly they invent something that will turn out to be the sad reality... The lyrics of the song spell out what they mime in silence : Paro shall marry a rich old man and Devdas shall never marry. What seemed like a joke at the time, is in fact the prophetic guess of their impossible love story. Which is an ironic built-in “ending spoiler” only a fourth way through in the film. The audience, though, is already familiar with the wellknown story of this umpteenth remake. The bracelet game-play also bears a delightful connotation of sexual initiation. Putting on the bracelet on Paro’s arm becomes a ritual of symbolic penetration (just like a wedding ring) and a funny silent choreography, where Devdas is clumsy and hesitant until Paro explains how to put on the bracelet. He tries to put it on, she dodges. She holds out her hand and he doesn’t want anymore. This trivial scene to ornament a girl’s wrist sensually drags out in a puzzling challenge. Look how playfully excited they are about delaying its successful conclusion. This is how a foreplay scene can be directed on screen, through metaphors, without shocking the censors with nudity. And the innocent
audience finds the unconscious libidinal satisfaction without the public shame of transgressing a hot taboo. In the aforementioned prelude, we see Paro’s parents heading out on a buggy; which means Devdas plays around with his girlfriend in an empty house, while the parents are away. However this couple behaves very politely. A platonic flirt with respectful dignity : we see them sitting side by side on a table or on a swing (in slow motion : the corniest shot in the film!). But the film evacuates any oversight, any moral authority, there is no obstacle for them to get closer than what is seen on screen. And we can only imagine how far they might be tempted to go when the camera is not looking. The bracelet is later transmitted to Chandramukhi to confirm Parvati’s approval of her amour. When Devdas notices it at the courtesan’s arm, he instantly understands the shift of Paro’s love and her own sacrifice. She keeps the bracelet after her marriage to prove her faithfulness to him, but let go of this symbolic marital handcuff when Devdas goes with another woman.
man. This metaphor is again found in Chandramukhi’s anklet bells : a chain of enslavement that Kalibabu wants to tie around her ankle to signify his conquest over her resistance.
The bracelet attached around the forearm may be seen as a symbol of enslavement (like the wedding ring is to the finger), the submission of the woman to her husband. She wants to be the chosen one, the only partner of his life, thus welcomes this status of sentimental slave. The coveted bridal bracelet is unique, only one woman can wear it at a given time. So it is a symbol of exclusive election. Whoever has the bracelet, owns the
end up on Chandramukhi’s arm. Two female rivals sharing the dual bracelet destined to the one and only chosen bride, is highly significant in this story. Devdas’s heart balances between two semi-brides, and never get a real bride for himself. In Bimal Roy’s film, the two women only cross path once, without exchanging a word, without acknowledging each other. Women of incompatible social castes won’t mingle publicly...
The bracelet jigsaw is echoed again at the end of Parvati’s wedding ceremony. Devdas forgot how to open the bracelet and they burst in laughter through their tears. The wrist jewels usually come in pairs for the bridal dowry. Parvati refuses the second twin bracelet, which will
and her mother when she visits Devdas’ bedroom at night, and again when her friendship with a courtesan and Devdas is exposed in her new home. Chandramukhi I love this scene for its condensation is humiliated three times, twice Sumitra’s part is pretty straight of meanings in multiple simultaneforward. She honours Krishna and by Devdas, once by Kalibabu. ous layers. Bhansali edits it in a Kalibabu is humiliated twice Radha, iconic figures of Hinduparallel montage showing Sumitra by Chandramukhi and once by ism that embody the ideal love in the Mukherjee ballroom on one story. Once again is established the Parvati. That’s what happens to side, singing and dancing, and on protagonists with over-sized egos, mythical association between our the other side, Devdas and Paro in who pride themselves on keeping the Chakraborty gardens by the river fictitious mortal protagonists and the highest reputation by crushat night. In effect, Devdas and Paro their Gods counterparts. Though ing everyone else’s dignity... in the author’s mind Devdas and They are caught red-handed and Paro personify Shiva and Durga/ embarrassed by harmless lies, but Parvati, in Sumitra’s mind they lose face because they don’t get a personify Krishna and Radha. chance to explain themselves. Significantly, another protagonist (Chandramukhi) will later The part with Devdas and Paro on thread the same storyline of is gorgeous, despite the exaggerKrishna and Radha’s encounter. ated colour scheme and the forced The two mothers have developed sculptural poses. Now Devdas here a petty rivalry over marriage finally wears traditional Indian priorities. Sumitra is lured into performing a spectacle for Kaush- clothing. So should he, since this innocent pastoral scenery where alya’s guests. Through a cunning the children meet by the water misunderstanding, she’s led to believe her daughter shall soon be while their mothers talk serious married, and dances her heart out, business is directed with a mise en scène curiously depicting which she had quit since her huseverything occurring in SumiEROTIC PENETRATION OF THE band’s disgrace. Social etiquette THORN requires the (socially inferior) bride tra’s song. On the screen we see Devdas and Paro posturing more family to await for the proposal ceremoniously than usual. On the re-enact the lyrics of the song in real of the (socially superior) groom’s soundtrack we listen to the actime, without uttering a word. On one. But Sumitra cannot wait and tions of Krishna and Radha. Our one hand, theatre : a solo performer will face public humiliation. senses naturally merge the two in on an artificial stage in front of a Bhansali injects autobiographical one. The film plays here on the live audience. On the other hand, elements from a personal nightpolysemy of the scene, that could (silent) cinema : two actors on their mare he had of his own mother’s either be an allegory enacted by own, living out a fictitious episode humiliation. Indeed, scenes of the same actors, someone’s dream on a reconstituted studio set under public shame and revengeful the blue-tinted Krieg lights. As an paybacks are recurrent throughout inspired by the song, or a dreamlike sequence with coincidental aside, the same song is here both the film; this one being the cendiegetic (as a “live” performance tral catalyst. Devdas is humiliated resemblance. Devdas is Krishna forcefully for Sumitra) and non-diegetic (as an by his father numerous times, by extraneous soundtrack for Devdas Parvati, and by his mother. Parvati seducing the prude Radha! Parvati, carrying water jars, is Radha and Paro), which further accentuates is humiliated by Devdas’ father Morey Piya : KRISHNA AND RADHA IN THE DANCE OF LOVE
this rhetorical comparison between theatre and cinema, two poles structuring the aesthetic tendencies in mainstream cinema.
44 struggling to resist to Krishna’s passionate embrace! I’m curious to know why this encounter between Krishna and Radha sounds so violent in the lyrics. First the young girl is embarrassed to be approached by a man, which is the basic social reserve dictated by moral and decency. But Krishna progresses closer while Radha continues to protest. They are obviously in love, but it is disturbing to see this courtship portrays male domination and constraint in response to a victimised female subdued against her will. Devdas holds her thigh, rips apart her jewels, twists her wrist, locks her arm in her back, carries her around... Radha (sang by Parvati’s singing dub, Shreya Ghoshal): “Oh no, not my wrist / Oh how shameful / Leave me I beg of you / No, don’t force me / spare me Dear love / No... I’ll curse you for this / Madman! Go away / Don’t torment me / Oh dearest love / Oh but I’m afraid / Love me”
This last word confesses her willing surrender as they ultimately enlace in each other’s arms. Nonetheless, it doesn’t set a particularly good examples for men to compare a young couple in love to such brutal seduction. As if to say that a woman’s “no” means “please carry on, cause I’m too shy to say yes”. Aishwarya Rai’s face doesn’t show signs of distress during the scene, she’s rather quietly
surprised and captivated. It’s easy to notice that she enjoys what Devdas does despite her playful resistance, and that she wants to succumb. In this perspective the lyrics become quite ironic. Still, it fails to picture an exemplary role model for the audience to aspire to, and only reinforce a rude machismo mentality leading to domestic violence and rapes... There is another key element articulating the scene, which is however never mentioned by the song. All this push-and-pull seduction takes place while Parvati steps on a thorn that Devdas will extract. This is a genial idea of mise en scene that adds yet another dimension to this multi-layered narrative. If the bridal bracelet scene was a hint at sexual foreplay, the tableau enacted here by our couple, half-gods, half-humans, figures all the symbols of a cryptic defloration. After they splash each other with water a few times, she walks away, stops suddenly and balances on one foot with godlike postures. Devdas smiles. Her hands are full with two cumbersome water jars and a hand-held petrol lamp, thus practically immobilised by circumstances, at the mercy of the man pursuing her. Like when she was asleep under the moonlight, Devdas needs her to be incapacitated, prisoner, to allow him to make a move closer. Only when her guard is down, helpless, could someone confront her terrifying beauty. Like I said, the bracelet was a metaphorical symbol of penetration. Here, the thorn is a concrete symbol of flesh penetraIA/OCTOBER 2009
tion. And I would go as far as to compare the bleeding wound inflicted by this thorn to the broken hymen of a virginal intercourse. This is how clever Hollywood directors inserted sexual innuendo during the Hays code era (5), and it’s not surprising to see it used in the Indian industry so morally codified by public decency. A symbol is not as offensive as explicit sex, especially if it’s a cryptic symbol.
B.D. Garga : “Surely it is the height of hypocrisy in a country like ours, where nearly half of the population goes scantily clad, where erotic sculptures and literature abounds and where majority religious groups fervently believe in extraordinary primitive rites, that the mere sight of a plunging neckline in a movie or an adult discussion on sex in a play should make the censors go crimson in the face. The sexual athleticism of “mithuna’ couples on the walls of Khajuraho is sacred, but properly profane when transported to canvas by an inspired artist.” (6)
Again the measured facial expressions of Aishwarya Rai don’t show pain and urgency, but surprise and ecstasy, stressed by expressionistic close-ups in lightning flashes. Devdas stops her from pulling the thorn herself and will take nearly four minutes before to take it out himself. He leaves her hanging deliberately with a thorn planted in her flesh, all the while, taking advantage of her unsteady one-foot equilibrium, will rob her
THE SCAR SCENE: BIMAL ROY’S ‘DEVDAS’ ON THE LEFT, SANJAY LEELA BHANSALI’S ‘DEVDAS’ ON THE RIGHT
46 THE SCAR On Parvati’s wedding day, he signs her forehead with a scar (symbol of domestic violence) and calls it a mark of his love. She accepts it proudly as a lasting testimony of his attachment since she now leaves for a husband she doesn’t love. We could say Devdas is under her skin, her secret sweetheart. This scarification is like a permanent tattoo of his initials, but only them know what the mark stands for. It still has the violent undertone of housewife submission.
She sings “The wound you left on me only adds to my beauty. My wound I will preserve as your mark that anoints my forehead”. In Bimal Roy’s 1955 version Parvati says to herself: “This scar is my joy and wealth. My sole shelter.”
split ways, because of Parvati’s pride this time. She refuses to elope with him, because he abandoned her first, because he denied her love, because she’s promised to another man and intends to respect the marriage contract of her family. She keeps nonetheless the image of an eternal love with her, and leaves to his deserved misfortune the man who disappointed her (and slashed her forehead). Even if the inertia of social protocol and her family honour on the line could never allow the lovers to fusion as one... it is always their pride that force them in last resort to stay apart, out of resignation and dignity. The mythical sacrifice of true romantic (tragic) lovers.
I don’t know how meaningful it truly is in Indian culture, but, to me, to double the red sign on her forehead is not coincidental. It might not be that shocking culturally, but this ferocious make up is visually striking to say the This mark will give Paro a new least. Next to the official bindi facial mask, one scarred like the dot applied on the occasion of Moon, in order to meet her new her arranged marriage, Devdas life, after this traumatic coming adds his own mark, another red of age incident. From a proud, stain, more permanent, carved longing, flawless teenager... she into her flesh, to defy this unturns into an adult mother overwanted ceremony and claim night, her childhood truelove fully ownership as if marking liveinternalised. When her wedding stock with a red-hot branding procession takes off, she leaves iron. Only slaves and prostitutes behind her family, her house and were branded in the flesh in this Devdas. But the iconic fire lamp manner. That’s why this scene goes with her. Devdas the man (in is so socially violent and retroLondon) and Devdas the ideal love grade, in spite of the profound (the lamp) were separated during romanticism attributed to this his studious banishment. Briefly narrative element. The lamp fire united for the childhood friendship was a metaphor metamorphosed to blossom in mature love. And into physical pain. Likewise, once again, the man and the lamp the temporary social mark of IA/OCTOBER 2009
the bindi is taken to an extreme and incarnated physically in her skin. The bindi is a protection for the official husband, commanded by social etiquette. The scar is a protection for her unofficial lover. Though the mythological trait of this fable grants magic powers to this wound. Towards the ending, a scene shows a close connection between the two secret lovers. Just as Devdas spits blood from his diseased liver, the mark on her forehead re-opens and bleeds alongside (like miraculous stigmata in Christian religion). The protagonists clearly enter the legend, and behave like the gods they stand for, with similar supernatural powers. Scarification is typical Romantic heroism when we read this in a mythic tale, because it is only symbolic and carries a tragic power. But in a mundane story seen on film, the flesh wound is more tangible and concrete, less symbolic, less transcendent. It evokes domestic violence and female subjection. When Parvati is punished by her husband, she is forbidden to leave the property. This decision only highlights what has been the fate of women in older times, prisoners of their husbands, confined as housewives, hidden from the public, attached to the house they belong to, as commanded by the Purdah tradition. TABOO OF INCEST The drama unfolding in this film features the classic themes of Indian cinema : the impossible love across caste barriers (like a Capulet/Montague type of Shakespear-
ean social obstacle), the tradition of arranged marriage opposed to spontaneous love, the heroic sacrifice in the name of love, the mythic virginity, the problem of alcoholism, and the conflict with parental authority. But the core theme is the vanity of beautiful people getting in the way of love, since their pride will be their downfall. This true love is doomed because of the schemes conceived by both families. The two lovers will end their lives alone and unhappy, as if arranged marriages and arrogance cast a malediction on these privileged families originally blessed with wealth, beauty, intelligence and happiness. Devdas is the eponymous character of a beautiful and tragic love story. This is the plight of a doomed romantic lover. The story of a man neglected by his father, denied of a manly identification, and surrounded by the female figures of his life who he’s unable to love and satisfy because of the childhood castration (the father who ignores his presence, who frustrated his impulse to acquire virility). His life is divided between four women : his grand mother, his mother, his childhood sweetheart, Parvati and the courtesan Chandramukhi. The other supporting characters are almost invisible. Devdas and Parvati are presented like childhood friends, the ideal couple born in families next to each other, raised as virtual siblings... a kind of incestuous love on the symbolic level, evidenced by the impossibility for lovers to consume this love carnally at any
point in the film. A typical brotherly love. Devdas is described as a trouble maker who is separated from Parvati before preadolescence, for ten years (which incidentally is the duration of puberty) for a fault that is not entirely explicit. Devdas’ father is strongly opposed to this relation and prevents their union by all means. In Bimal Roy’s version, Kolkota was far enough, the big city where to raise a boy into a man, away from the rural domain where the girl awaits. In the 2002 version, the place of isolation becomes London, the capital of the former colonial empire. Devdas comes back as a British-mannered lawyer, with a bigger ego than ever. The motif of the incestuous couple occurs again in the Chaudhry family of Parvati’s arranged marriage. She’s as old as her husbands’ children, so in fact she is an image of his own daughter, if not a blood related daughter. Bhuvan Chaudhry marries with a symbolic daughter. Meanwhile the son of the house desires Parvati who is his legal mother, but as old as his sister, another impossible oedipal union. Bhuvan Chaudhry relieves her from wedlock bedroom duty because he’s devoted to his deceased wife. Only this act of pure love preserves this house of incestuous sins, and at the same time preserves Paro’s “secret”. The audience, nor the husband will know whether Parvati was a virgin bride when he married her, since he vows never to touch her. Her reputation is safe either way. Such archetypal dramatic structure is hidden under the surface by symbols and a reformulation IA/OCTOBER 2009
of the familial genealogy, but the relation between characters whether they have acknowledged filiation or not remains equivalent. The plot itself tells one obvious story, decent and noble. The symbolic subtext says another story, where the taboos that cannot be expressed openly are concealed. Therefore the film develops two levels of narration, one is glorifying and romantic (sacrificial love) the other is darker and mythical (potential incest).
PROSTITUTION AND PURE LOVE The coming of age of young Devdas depends on his confrontation with the patriarchal figure of authority. An oedipal battle that will set ablaze the family home. Mischievous pupils usually don’t cause such epic tragedies with stolen guavas and class skipping. Parvati’s mother is introduced with disdain as a dancer, their kind sell their daughters. But the thinly veiled innuendo of prostitution and the jealousy of the women next door could hint to certain unholy couples. When Paro’s mother proposes to Devdas mother, she is sent off and suggested to send her daughter over to sleep with Devdas like a prostitute. Devdas’ father scorns Parvati when she visits Devdas at night: “Why don’t you open a brothel with your mother ?” A woman holds the role of a real prostitute in the second part, Chandramukhi, temptress and conciliatory. Parvati finds in her the woman who can consume love with her soul mate, she will be the sex partner while Paro remains
48 the saint virgin with pure platonic love (in a subconscious, unacknowledged wish). This finale arrangement for a menage de trois is quite disturbing, and defies any conception of jealous, possessive, exclusive, eternal love. In Casablanca (1942), in a reverse situation, two men ultimately agree on who gets the girl and decide of her fate against her will, in a bittersweet, barely believable self-sacrificial ending. Basically, the willing renouncement of true love transcends desire and attain a higher level of spiritual commitment without affective, carnal compensation. The mythical vow of love supersedes the achievement of physical love. The two women aren’t rivals but consenting accomplices. The virgin and the prostitute aren’t random archetypes there. Jean Eustache called one of his film “La Maman et la Putain” [The Mother and the Whore] (1973) because this is the split personality that faces every (married) woman : the role of the pure, frigid mother who raises the babies, and the “slut” who enjoys sexual pleasures with her partner. The irreconcilable antagonism between maternal love (celebrated by society) and carnal love (social taboo). Sometimes two different women incarnate the opposed roles, to emphasizes the choice of the man for one or the other, and the success of one or the other to conquer the attention of the man at various stages of the story. We find this subtle duplicity in Bunuel’s Cet Obscur Objet du Desir [This Obscure Object of Desire] (1977) where two actresses play the two personalities of the
same woman. Sometimes a single woman alternates between one archetype and the other, showing women as two-faced characters, with a borderline personality. Like Tom Stall’s wife in Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005) or the alter ego Beyoncé/Sacha Fierce (2008). THEATRICALITY If every Masala musical coming from India were that well directed, narratively thoughtful, aesthetically refined, the worldwide stature of Bollywood would match its ranking in production quantity. Even then, it would be an artistic success for one type of genre movies. Quite a limitation. “The Bollywood machinery loudly proclaims ownership of its exclusive filmic property or design – that of the masala, and justifies the existence of all its inanities by using an assumed ‘poor and hungry’ audience who they have to provide weekly escape routes from their lives. Do they even have an idea about their audiences as such?” (7) The conceited realm of musicals doesn’t usually appeal to my conception of cinema. Yet what Sanjay Leela Banhsali does in Devdas is exceptional. Bollywood musicals are even more artificial than Hollywood musicals in that the entire soundtrack is always dubbed (like in Cinecitta, Italian famous studios) by the actors themselves whereas the songs are interpreted by generic extraneous playback voices (Kavita Krishnamurthy for instance). This is a IA/OCTOBER 2009
gimmick the audience is required to accept and forget not to be distracted by this cruel divorce of the characters’ corporeal existence with their proper speech : the asynchronous rhythm, more or less perceptible, of lips motion and vocal diction. The eight songs in Devdas 2002 (of which six are choreographed numbers) amount for 42 minutes out of three hours, which is almost a quarter of the total run time. It definitely occupies a major part of screen time, which is one reason why Indian movies are always longer. If we omit the musical parts, we are left with 2h23 for the narration to unfold. According to film critic C. Dasgupta, an average Indian goes to the cinema not so much for the story of the film as the songs and dances in it. (8) And this mentality needs to change in popular culture for the language of cinema to prosper on the subcontinent, like it has everywhere else in the world. Despite all this and the kitsch colours, the extravagant sets, Devdas, version 2002, creates an admirable tragedy of mythical proportions, with interesting ideas in the mise en scene, and a clever integration of the song numbers. The first and last songs are the only ones where the protagonists suddenly start dancing out of the blue, from a previously realistic dialogue, and everyone around spontaneously join in a perfectly rehearsed synchronised ensemble choreography. The others are particularly well integrated in the story when a massive spectacle is plausible. And they are generally
beautifully directed, with interesting compositions and camerawork. The last one, “Chalak Chalak”, would be the exception. This drunken dance with Devdas, Chandramukhi, Chunnilal is shot like a typical masala routine : with a frontal line of male dancers on one side, and a frontal line of female dancers on the other side. Little directing depth outside this repetitive schema. That’s why Masala movies are more of a Broadway stage show, than a true homage to the more complex mise en scene offered by cinema. I admit that after this magnificent first hour, the film becomes more conventional and safe in term of narrative drive and mise en scene, but never falls in mediocre Masala musical territory. At the exception of the few of questionable details I mentioned in the article, here and there, Bhansali pulls out a remarkable work with this musical of a new kind, one for the Pantheon of great musicals. The limitations of the genre (cliches, stereotypical one-dimensional characters, fake sets, grandiloquent dialogues, historical absurdities, social artificiality, deceiving “mirror” of the real Indian population, superficial politics) that Bhansali embraces (and magnify for the success of the genre) instead of transcending or transgressing, keep this film in the lower top tier of Indian Cinema. I prefer it over Bimal Roy’s version, even if their respective genre cannot be compared. What makes Bhansali’s version a great film is I believe its rich original literary inspiration (novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, 1917) providing a solid and powerful storyline basis, its outstanding cinematography (maybe partly due to D.P. Binod Pradhan) and the high quality of its music
(Ismail Darbar & Monty Sharma) and choreography (Birju Maharaj, Vaibhavi Merchant, Pappu-Mallu, Abu Jani) that is unmatched in the few other Indian musical hits I’ve watched, and of course, above all the remarkable mise en scene. What Satyajit Ray achieved however (like in Jalsaghar, 1958, for a social-realist example of upper-class disgrace and musical passion) in term of mise en scene and cultural insights for the Indian society was always something else : the true great Indian Cinema that the newer generations should be inspired by to renew and revolutionize today’s cinema. Notes: 1. B.D. Garga, "Devdas (1935) : A Prince Revisisted", 1980, in The Art of Cinema, An Insider's Journey through Fifty Years of Film History, 2005. 2. Georges de La Tour, French paintor, XVIIth century. http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_de_La_Tour 3. B.D. Garga, "Sex in Indian Cinema", 1987, in The Art of Cinema, An Insider's Journey through Fifty Years of Film History, 2005. 4. Tabish Khair, "The ironies of Bollywood", in 16:9, #31, April 2009. http://www.16-9.dk/2009-04/pdf/16-9_april2009_side11_ inenglish.pdf 5. Hays Code, or Motion Picture Production Code, set the censorship guidelines in Hollywood between 1930 to 1968. 6. B.D. Garga, "Thoughts on censorship", 1968, in The Art of Cinema, An Insider's Journey through Fifty Years of Film History, 2005. 7. Anuj Malhotra, "Who do they make films for?", Indian Auteur, #4, June 2009. http://www.indianauteur.com/13_june_ WHO%20DO%20THEY%20MAKE%20FILMS%20FOR.php 8. B.D. Garga, "Soundtrack in the Indian Film", 1966, in The Art of Cinema, An Insider's Journey through Fifty Years of Film History, 2005.
THE BALLAD OF CAMERA & the chaos of strobe
As each subsequent film releases, only to enter itself into the contest for the biggest multiplex weekend revenue; the poor song bears the pressure of a mainstream which has gone a little too mainstream. Anuj Malhotra muses.
...But a song is often the voiceover. It is that implicit suggestion of a character’s tragedy, or a character’s new romance, that the Indian filmmaker refuses to state explicitly through the easier device of a voiceover. It is not a ridiculous claim, then, to believe that a song exists, in its original conception, only as a method of personal expression for the character. It could be a passage to revelation, or a device of contemplation. Or it could be an announcement. Film lovers more equipped than the author would point out to inquisitive readers about how early Indian cinema sought to use a song purely for the purpose of the disclosure of a character’s inner sentiment at the time the song began. It was thus, more often than not the particular point in the film when the guttural emotion of a character finally extended the seams of his skin to such a limit that it tore apart in the form of a song; often the eruption of a volcano (Roop Tera Mastana, Khoya Khoya Chaand), often also, the rupture of a burst balloon(Rulaa ke Gaya Sapna,
Aayega Aayega). It was thus, the vent, or the outlet through which would flow out the optimism of Roy, the romance of Asif, the struggle of Mehboob Khan, the cynicism of Dutt, the patriotism of Shantaram, or the declaration of Vijay Anand. It could be nostalgia, remorse, anger, or agony; it could be celebration, revelry, discovery and a carousel. It was, however, never the logo of a film. THE BRAND
In the wake of television, however, when 30 second promos have replaced the grotesque design on the billboards of yore as marketing tools, songs have become commercial formalities – produced only so as to ensure the awareness of the brand(the film), or it’s recollect(‘Have you heard that song from this new movie?’) among the consumer base. Earlier, the song was the surprise, it is now the revelation. It was earlier the effect of the narrative, it is now its cause. For in a cinema so concerned with box-office receipts, the song is now shown IA/OCTOBER 2009
in a loop, repeatedly, over and over again, the viewer at home bombarded with it, so as to ensure his attendance at the cinema hall. Ironical, then, that a device which is so pristine and pure a contribution to the cinematic narrative, is displayed on television as a unit isolated from any narrative space. The song has essentially, thus, become synonymous with the trailer, yielding a situation, wherein when a viewer then goes to watch a film, his sole concern with the narrative is to treat is as the duration passed between the songs he watched on television. As such, these songs become like buoys in the sea, or milestones in the journey, like the upcoming attractions within a film, it’s salient features, or more precisely, it’s brand imagery. In such a situation, the sole purpose of a song, as it is of other brand imagery(logos, colour schemes), is to generate association, awareness and recollection among the consumers, of the brand – and thus, the need for the fulfilment of this purpose, dictates our subject at hand – how these songs are shot. The purpose of an object inher-
ently defines its nature. For the song that shares its nature with the trailer, its purpose is clearly the establishment of a point of clear association or recollection for the audience. In simpler words, the song is burdened with the responsibility of getting the film noticed. Faced with this colossal task, the Bollywood choreographer selects a template of picturisation that aims at instant gratification. He devises a template that believes not in polite persuasion, but in submission to death. A template which ensures that the viewer does not merely absorb anticipation of the film, but is drenched with it. A template which aims at bombardment, similar to one that could be associated with a vulgar sound and light show – fast jump cuts, shock-cuts, jimmy-jib assisted high and low-angles, an array of strobe lights, the quirkiest costumes in town, frames filled with dancers flown in from all nations, and a hook dance step to guarantee emulation – all populist measures taken by the mainstream song to embed itself firmly into the popular conscience of a nation. While the destruction of the mainstream’s integrity remains indisputable, and an argument for its reversal an exercise in futility, one, however can, out of a feeling of simultaneous indignation and amusement, wonder why the aforementioned Bollywood choreographer is the prototype for all Bollywood choreographers; and why his devise, the template of picturisation, is the prototype for the choreography of all songs.
The question, here, is not the existence of a song within the film, since we remain assured of its innovation as a narrative device – but of its redundancy.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
SONG AS AN AURAL TOOL At its essence, also, the popular film song has adapted a purely aural nature. It is constructed, primarily, with the purpose of being heard. The device which plays it may be any instrument – radio, MP3 player, IPod, CD player, mobile phone, PC etc. And may exist in a number of spaces – homes, discotheques, colleges, classroom, cars etc.; but its reputation depends purely on how ‘it sounds’. Ironically, and as an amusing oxymoron, a song existing within the framework of the medium of film, is not meant to be judged on how ‘it looks’. While one may argue, rather forcefully, for the application of a similar accusation to the film songs of the yore as well, can one dispute the immediate association of certain images to O Haseena Zulfo Waali, Dil Dhoondta Hai, Khoya Khoya Chaand, or Kuch Toh Log Kahenge? In the existence, thus, of a situation in the modern day world wherein the song is merely intended as an aural device, i.e. to be heard; its visualisation becomes not a matter of meticulous construction, but of indolent assignment. The duration that the song occupies in the film, thus becomes a matter of formality for the maker of the film, and he only seeks to shoot a certain number of images, so as to fill that duration,
THE BLINDING CONCERTLIGHT
: Stills taken from (from the top), Dostana, Aa Dekhen Zara, Krazzy 4, Dil Bole Hadippa, Singh Is Kinng
or as one could put it, assign a certain number of images to the song playing in the background, so as to avoid having a blank screen. A blank screen would be more innovative. One must understand thus, that the film song, while holding a primary characteristic of an aural device, is ultimately contained within a film, and does not exist in isolation to it. It is not the song of a new EP, or a LP, or a music album, whose existence is defined by how it sounds, but also holds as a primary responsibility to ensure the flow of imagery. It should, thus, in a Utopian scenario, be nothing short of a derogation for a song which evokes a comment which goes, “It is better, when heard.” In an ideal scenario, that pretty much fails the purpose of a filmic song. After all, what is Jab Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya without the mirror maze, or the Cabelleria Rusticana without the boxer rehearsing for an ironic failure, or Gonna Fly Now without the stair conquest, or the Singin’ in the Rain without Gene Kelly singin’ in the rain/Alex raping the woman with his drooges. The imagery, of the song, thus, should not be guided by the vested interest of an assured audience interest, for while that remains an honourable purpose by itself, but not at the behest of the film itself. Just like the audience should be the effect of a performance, and not its cause; the visual element of
a song should be the yield of its aural element and not its compulsion. It should be an automatic result, and not an afterthought. The corporate heads who run our studios should also closely examine their own strategy, which confuses quality with high-budgets, and misplaces the infinite value of subtlety. It remains interesting then, that the most ingeniously conceived songs of the last few years remain those which replace the thousand backup dancers with human beings, even if few. Which instead of employing a shooting technique of cutting between frontal long-shots and midshots, look to let the camera become a tool of the song that plays in the background. Which cut not rhythmically with the beats, but with the lyrics. One may only point at the recent abominations of the song picturisation(s) of Billu, Heyy Baby, Singh is Kinng, or Golmaal Returns to elaborate how the imagery merely serves the purpose of consuming the background song itself, thus in a way, creating a peculiar situation, where the image of a song is strangely at loggerheads with the score(sound), both coming off as separate parts, rather than a whole; and both fighting each other for the viewer’s attention. One may also point out, thus, at the tragically overlooked picturisation of Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna from The Legend of Bhagat Singh, to understand how the choreography of a song is meant to be constructed. If Guru Dutt was resurrected for a day, he most certainly was, at the location of this song – IA/OCTOBER 2009
a prison, an enclosed space which holds 55 prisoners inside, and the entire choreography of the song only consists of them sitting, getting up, walking, and converging upon the central figure of Bhagat Singh(Ajay Devgan in his best performance), as if to suggest categorically, his status, as the pivot of their revolution. Or of Nayan Tarse from Dev.D, which features another ridiculous song-trailer as the most popular track, but with this, reveals an encouraging cinematic ambition – and as the open-
ing vocals begin, intersperse it with a brilliant slow-motion long shot of Dev(Abhay Deol) walking with a carton of whiskey at his side. One also has to merely look at the picturisation of the title track from Dil Chahta Hai, to further understand how the song is never meant, and never should be an event with a sold-out crowd, but a personal gathering, that allows for individuals to revel in a certain kind of shared intimacy.
And yet, its purpose remains largely misunderstood. Or understood, but twisted to satiate the presumed demands of the ‘masses’. The fact is, the song is entirely a personal device – as private as a thought, as intimate as a whisper – and only when it needs sharing, is the song needed. Therefore, history tells us that both the greatest songs and their visual conceptualisations rise out of individuals, out
CLOCKWISE FROM BOTTOM LEFT: THE PRISON SONG FROM TLOBS, DIL CHAHTA HAI, DEV D.
of characters – or a small group of characters. The song is their response to the condition they are in – it can be its description, a lament about it, or its celebration – but for a song to actually be great, the character and the situation has to be in a conjunction so perfect, that it just demands a song. Consider the example of Life...in a Metro by Anurag Basu. It features the tedious device of a group of musicians playing at every corner in the city, which is an idea that seems novel at first, but by the
redundancy of the picturisation of the band playing, threatens to completely nullify the brilliance that is the placement of these songs. In the film, each song is not only interwoven with the concerns of the narrative, but also is an off-hand description of what the character is going through at the point – much like how Bimal Roy uses the two travelling players in Devdas to describe the sheer tragedy of separation from Dev for Paro. Thus, while the device of using an entity external, separate or different from the character to convey his feelings for him is not a novel idea – it is the perfect encapsulation of what a song should be – the articulation of a character’s desire. The song should thus be the confession of an individual’s hitherto concealed sentiment, much like how a person who sits facing the umpteen torn pages of his personal diary on his study table, and suddenly decides to point the table-fan at them, so that they fly out of the window, and spread on the surface of the road below, allowing pedestrians to become spectators of his life. But imagine if a absurd wind were to fulfil the same purpose every fifteen minutes, regardless of whether the pages had something consequential written on them, or the street below was filled with pedestrians, or most importantly, whether the pages even belonged to the character or not. Therein lies another son of commerce – the stock situation. Since the song is now a tool of advertising and an assumed tool of wholesome entertainment, it has IA/OCTOBER 2009
been reduced from being as essential as individual expression for a character, to a formality. Needless to say, all such songs, and their picturisation, are massive failures. DENOUEMENT SWEEPING
One needs to seriously consider the involvement of the music composer in the process of the editing of the song. And the choreographer. No one but them identify the intended rhythm of the song. The lyricist also needs to be a participant in the process of the choreography, since each move of the camera should attempt a communion with each word of his pen. Essentially, if film is a collaborative art, the song is its favourite son. To quote fellow cinephile, “The challenge is not to create art. But to yield it out of collaboration”.
SONG VIDEOS IN TAMIL CINEMA - AN OVERVIEW As extravagance replaces the subdued, and the ostentatious substitutes the subtle, Srikanth Srinivasan tracks a brief history of the Tamil film song, through the decades.
he term “song picturization” (and there, my word processor tells me that there is no such English word) has got to be the most derogatory term that floats around in our country. As if there is a need to add images to an existing song using whatever means necessary, this term, by itself, proves the needless and perfunctory nature of songs in our cinema. So allow me to plainly call them “videos” throughout the rest of this article. Songs are double-edged swords as far as mainstream Indian cinema is concerned. I strongly believe that songs can be extremely useful tools and provide the director creative latitude to transcend genres, take to surrealism, simultaneously be expressive and subtle and elevate the film to the status of poetry. Here, I try to recollect how songs have been used in mainstream Tamil cinema. I speak about Tamil cinema because that is the cinema that I am acquainted with the most and I believe that the developments in other states would be very much similar. Of course, as always, these observations are based on
simple majority, never exhaustive and have had numerous exceptions throughout each period. In the early days of cinema, through the 1930s and 1940s, songs were the raison d’etre of movies. A movie was built around music and performance for the influence of folk art, theatre and street plays on cinema was at its peak, as with any cinema around the world. These songs, almost all of them classical, would invariably be sung by the stars of the film, who also had to dance if the movie required it. In fact, both singing and dancing were prerequisites for the actors in those times. The biggest stars of this era include Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, N.S. Krishnan and K. B. Sundarambal (who is considered to be the first Tamil actor to be paid a six figure salary!). Many times, moral messages and even conversations would be established in the form of improvised songs. The videos of these songs were pretty straight forward. That is, the films recognized the songs as an inherent part of their diegesis. As a result, songs were taken as songs and were never covered up using narrative tricks. The IA/OCTOBER 2009
camera usually cut back and forth between the faces of the performers and those of the listeners (usually the prince and the damsel!). Since songs demanded much less from the audience in terms of attention and comprehensibility of central narrative, movies with long runtime and excessive number of songs were not uncommon (A.V. Meyyappa Chettiar’s Srivalli (1945) is famous for having more than 60 songs!). Ironically, it was in this period when cinema and songs, in particular, were considered capable of bringing a social change.
The late 50s and the 60s saw the first change in trend as far as songs were concerned. Star presence and performance gave way to lyrics. Music, meanwhile, saw a shift from classical Carnatic to conventional melody, sometimes even with a western influence. With the rise of arguably Tamil cinema’s best lyricist Kannadasan, both music and the stardom of the performers took a back seat. Songs with strong lyrics, custom made for actors, were being produced. For instance, an M.G. Ramachandran’s song had to have communist overtones, foreseeing his political stint and a
‘Gemini’ Ganeshan song had to be either a silky romantic track or heavy philosophical musing. But in any case, the lyrics of the song were the primary consideration. This was also the period where the concept of playback singing took shape and stellar crooners like T. M. Soundar Rajan and P. Susheela emerged in the scene. Actors, now, needed to be good just at acting.
ing to prominence of two auteurs, who could be used to characterize the entire age. The first of them is director Bharathiraja, who gets the credit of taking Tamil cinema from isolated stage like productions to the reality of the village streets. The second of them is the legendary composer Ilayaraja, who would go on to score about a 1000 movie soundtracks. This is the time when
SETTING THE PROTOTYPE: RAJNIKANTH AND SHRIYA IN SHANKER”S ‘SIVAJI”
it was discovered that lip-synching of songs wasn’t exactly necessary and one could see the direct impact of this in many a video from these two decades. Songs would be presented visually as a montage of everyday scenes glued together by the track. With the permissiveness of the 60s Hollywood, as always, showing influence a decade later in Indian cinema, videos and lyrics with erotic and often vulgar overtones were common. As far as song videos are concerned, this period was also, arguably, the nadir of Tamil cinema too. One could witness infinite songs being shot in parks and gardens, in a comThe next couple of decades saw pletely unimaginative way, and a shift of emphasis from lyrics to choreographed in a bizarre fashmoods. The period saw the com- ion that seems more out of date The number of songs, too, reduced drastically to about half a dozen in each film. The focus in this period seems to have shifted from individual musical performances to the main narrative, possibly as a result of the influence of the genre cinema of Hollywood, via the cinema of Bombay (S Balachander’s Antha Naal (That Day, 1954) even dared to become the first Tamil film without songs). Additionally, with the arrival of Eastman Colour and Rock and Roll, songs with completely western arrangements and videos also emerged. But, statistically, they remain in the minority.
55 than their predecessors. Tawdry camera tricks, excessively garish costumes and utterly banal use of slow-motion made many great music tracks vanish into oblivion when translated into the cinematic medium. It is not surprising that it is this period that is usually targeted whenever spoofs are made. The 90s saw moods give way to landscapes in song videos. The parks and gardens of hill stations were replaced by awe-inspiring stretches of nature and man-made structures found around the world. Songs choreographed on the streets of exotic European locales, ultrascenic Scandinavian streets and jaw-dropping architectures in tourist spots that were always the luxury of the rich were common traits. These videos fittingly consisted of long shots were the human performers were subordinated to the environment. Of course, there is no meaning to this at all, but the purpose of the video - to provide a whole new visual experience to the audience - was solved. Additionally, with the advent of CG, videos with excessive use of special effects also sprang up. It is from this period that the history of song videos in Tamil cinema inevitably gets tied to the filmography of one single director – Shankar. The name of Shankar has become synonymous with extravaganza and the director, too, has never failed to imitate himself, even at the cost of his producer. Right from his first film Gentleman (1993), where he mixed live action and animation (although the first instance of such a collaboration traces back to Raja Chinna Roja (1989) to his latest Sivaji – The Boss (2007), Shankar has left no stones unturned to
THE EXHAUSTIVE LIST: ANBE SIVAM
perpetuate his claim of being the other name for ‘spectacle’. The last decade has seen yet another turn in the way videos are being made in Tamil cinema. With the increasing popularity of the MTV cutting and highmojo rock videos of the western world, Tamil videos have truly become global and for the worse. Two kinds of videos seem popular now. The first one, directly influenced by the videos of the west and of Bollywood, presents us the stars in a highly stylized studio with harsh floodlights often acting as the background of the performers. The other kind shows us elaborately choreographed dance sequences with more than three dozen dancers and is shot in outdoor sets which is often framed head on, with the star of the film placed at the center of the screen. These kinds of videos are also seen in the Bollywood cinema, proving once again the fading identity of our regional (and national) cinemas. This is
also the period where remixes have taken shape, in which both the lyrics and the sound of yesteryear are rehashed to a completely western template. The aim of the song sequences has boiled down to plain visceral entertainment with directors sticking, more vehemently than ever, to successful formulas and having no qualms about compromises. In essence, Tamil cinema has gone through a lot of phase changes. From being a showcase for star performance to being a showcase for lyrics, to being a showcase of moods, to being a showcase of landscape, to being a showcase of CG and, now again, to being a showcase of the star, Tamil cinema has come a full circle. Only that the star of the song no longer needs to sing, act and dance simultaneously. The bottom line is that songs have always been a showcase – always peripheral, out of context and tools for compromise. If only the true potential of songs with respect to the narrative is disIA/OCTOBER 2009
covered, our movies can rightfully reach new heights. I would like to wrap up with one recent example of a song in Tamil cinema that has truly tapped this potential. The song “Naattukkoru Seithi Solla…” from Anbe Sivam (2003) is presented as a communist street play and as a part of the film’s reality. With lyrics that cover everything a communist might speak about – from G4 to joint capitalistic ventures – and some amazing choreography that relies on witty improvisations and impromptu physical gestures, the song is the perfect example from recent years of how a movie song should be. The performers, at one point, speak directly to the camera and hence to the audience in a fashion reminiscent of the modernist films of the 60s and 70s. The camera offers us very many perspectives – of the performers, of the audience and of disinterested observers – and intelligently ports a whole new medium on to cinema, for once proving how powerful and innovative songs can be in our movies.
NAALU PENNUNGAL ORE KADAL KAMINEY DISTRICT 9 GULABI TALKIES
REVIEWS need for a dolly track, or a cut, to manage disconcerting proximity with the actor’s skin. That replaces meticulous blocking with a single continuous action (shot in infinite takes). That subjugates the possibility of space, and restricts the actors in mid-shots and close-ups. That announces the confirmation of coverage as the method of cinema, and when shot on real location, announces the death of miseen-scene. Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey is the latest issue of the fashion magazine. The problem is, whatever the hand-held can do, the static can do better.
KAMINEY shot by Tassaduq Hussain directed by Vishal Bhardwaj performed by Shahid Kapoor, Amol Gupte, Priyanka Chopra of which the soundtrack is by Vishal Bhardwaj & the lyrics by Gulzar Hindi/2009 - > DEBOJIT GHATAK Among other headlines from the world of modern fashion, the hand-held is now in vogue. The shaky, apprehensive, hesitant hand-held, that lends a sense of unrelenting urgency to a scene. That replaces the compulsion of aesthetic with the luxury of postproduction. That eliminates the
But Bharadwaj is a director of the intimate. He is a director of two individuals. His is an original romance. While Johar shoots love you can only see, Kashyap creates love you can hear, Bharadwaj makes love you can touch. His romance does not exist in impudent youthful confessions, vulgar declarations, leitmotif guided two-shots populated by people perfect for each other. In fact, it is two obnoxious, self-destructive, imperfect individuals who inhabit sharp focused spaces in a sea of soft focus, do not whisper at each other, but shout at each other. People whose love manifests itself through a filter of aggression, as if the first and the second are interchangeable. Bharadwaj’s love affairs are between people who replace docility with expression, a touch with a slap, and a nudge with a shove. His love affairs are not communions, but collisions. And in the mere four sequences when his latest film, IA/OCTOBER 2009
Kaminey, is in fact, a love story (three between the conventional pair, one between Charlie and Mikhail in the disc, as they shove each other, playfully strangle each other’s necks, and breath heavily), the hand-held works like magic, acting as an agent of spontaneity. Unfortunately, for Bharadwaj, Kaminey is not a love story, and is in fact, a film where the four love scenes are punctuated by a multitude of others, where caricature criminal dons, stereotypes Bollywood has repeatedly endlessly – the ones who laugh before they shoot, are scandalous, quirky and corrupt, and disguise the menace with merriment - occupy a world greedy for money. Unfortunately, for him, Kaminey is a caper – a genre the entire world seems to love, but only a few make an effort to understand. There is only a thin line that separates the great film from the great attempt at it. Only a thin line that separates the epic from the large ensemble. And only a thin line that separates Pulp Fiction and Snatch from Kaminey. It is that the previous two, despite being pastiche films, to the point of the latter being inspired from the former, are intensely personal films. A great cinema director should treat the camera as if it’s an extension of his/her body. But the formal wizardry of the directors of these films lies in the pens they use to write their screenplays. Even though the stage for their experimentation is constructed of their love of film(s), the dance is ultimately theirs. With Kaminey, Bharadwaj
59 helps in the construction of the stage, but is then happy settling down among the audience. It is because while it is a kind of film he loves to watch, or even talk about, and perhaps even make, it is not his film, in the way that Makdee was. In that while Tarantino hand draws from memory the picture of the girl he saw outside the window, and then sheepishly shows it to people, confessing in hushed whispers that she is his lover; Bharadwaj clicks her photograph and sticks it on the notice-board. Ultimately, it is a film that Bharadwaj did not even write individually, and it shows, because even when he did adapt another Brit’s works to Indian milieus for his earlier films, he could contribute a part of his own personality to them - a stifling undercurrent of irony to Maqbool, a dark cynicism to Omkara, but when he turns to Guy Ritchie, he forgets to adapt him to Bombay. He is so blinded by the magnificence of white light emanating from his idol, that he forgets it is a film he has to make eventually, instead finding his happiness in presenting a Ritchie film to Indian audiences. Yes, one might argue, about the strong undercurrent of vigorous promotion of a certain local fervor in the film, but that is a character quirk, and does not define a film. In doing that, his film becomes an emulation of Ritchie’s film, and not an interpretation. A Ritchie film derives its exclusivity not from the strength of the ensemble, or the ensemble itself, or two ensembles of two different groups of actors – for they are
not the most original discoveries of his cinema; but from the chaos resulting out of the intersection of the two different groups, and their subsequent collision, and from the wholly novel idea that he uses to induce that intersection. In Bharadwaj’s film, he ensures the ensemble, its strength, and even the two different groups – but fails on the two most essential elements – the reason for the intersection and the chaos. For in his film, the chaos is an artificial construction, for in order for chaos to exist, all elements in the system must be owners of equal prominence, but in Kaminey, there exists such a gross imbalance in the writing of the ensemble that in front of Bhope, and the three lead characters, the others are merely making guest appearances, or filling in the numbers of the ensemble – and are faces that we are supposed to remember each time they return in the film after a hiatus of threequarters of an hour or so, since they will all be present in the climax, and we should not be caught asking our neighbor – “Who is he?”. In fact, the problem with Kaminey’s chaos exists not in the actions, decisions(or indecisions) of its characters, but solely in their quantity. Because chaos in a caper film means the existence of an ensemble within the shared space of the film’s narrative, not in the existence of several characters in the literally shared space of a courtyard, as in the climax of the film. The intersection of the two sniveling, scrounging groups – that of Tashi’s policemen and Bhope’s
gangsters, is achieved, on the other hand, for the lack of a better writing move, through the convenient plot device of the twin brothers. The one with the by-now infamous lisp, and the other, the one with the stammer. While it remains, admittedly, a clever throwback to our cinema of the 70s, it remains an abstraction on the paper only, never extending its capabilities beyond that – and by the time Bharadwaj does make an effort to generate a feigned psychological and moral conflict near the denouement of the film, you are too engrossed in the action of the criminal gangs to allow it to absorb, instead letting it pass like the interview of a job you remain certain you do not wish to take. Despite its embracement of the most populist tendencies, a completely impersonal nature, and a hasty import of a film narrative structure; the film, however, contains the revelation, through a few scenes, of a film director, who it seems, makes films only so that he can create situations deserving enough of his masterful music. A director who remains, largely alone, in his capability to master the song-anddance format of the Hindi film, and establish both its aesthetic. A director who remains unique in his, and his cinematographer’s ability to create a dusty, tired, cynical color scheme through their usage of light green-blue Technicolor tints. A director who is not completely a great director yet, but through a long process of exhausting trialand-error, he remains capable of making a truly great Indian film.
the novel was put on screen but with a modern touch. It was not something new for the director since all his past films were an adaptation from a novel or play.
ORE KADAL shot by Azhagappan directed by Shyamaprasad performed by Mammootty, Meera Jasmine, Narein, Ramya Krishna which is edited by Vinod Sukumaran and the original soundtrack is rendered by Ouseppachan Malayalam/2007 - > SUPRIYA SURI ShyamPrasad, having achieved kudos for his first film Agnisaakshi, for which he received the National Award, ventured into his third project with Ore Kadal, an adaption from a novel Heerak Deepti writen by Bengali writer Sunil Gangopadhya. His films usually deal with themes, that of, love and redemption.
The film had wonderful performances by the very well known Mammootty and Meera Jasmine; both of them have also been winners of the national award. It talks about the growing relationship between two people, Dr. Nathan, an economist, also an alcoholic and Deepti, a simple middle class house wife. It was not quite surprising out of a woman, leading a simple life, living in poverty to fall for intelligence. Her fall was more of physical leading onto an emotional one. While on the other hand, Nathan still believed in living an isolated life, without love, busy with dealing the issues of poverty and finding solutions for them. Soon the values and the ethics dawn upon Deepti, when she confesses his love for him and Nathan is still running away from love, she decides to never meet him again. And the movie raises questions about the pathos in a relationship? Whether having a physical relationship is a sin or not? How does a human decide what’s right in this world and what’s wrong? What are the restrictions that are imposed in a relationship? The question of betrayal and loyalty and trust. Well this movie is more a film that evokes questions than delivering a message.
The book might have been written way back, which Satyajit Ray Deepti continues with her life once dreamt of making into a film, and Nathan goes on travelling it was finally by Shyam Prasad that for work. She gets pregnant and IA/OCTOBER 2009
is about to give birth to Nathan’s child. After his return, she does go to meet him in a hope. His refusal to her once again gets her more firm this time to never come back while he is still oblivious about his own child. Deepti gives birth to a girl, but finds it extremely difficult to overcome her guilt, the fact that she’s unable to share such a thing with anyone around her. She deals with the entire situation inside her, the sense of being loaded with something that needs to be off a her mind and shared with someone, her rejection of being loved the way she wanted to be, gets her mentally unstable and she goes on to recover through a medical treatment. While she’s on her trip to recovery, Nathan goes through his life major transformation and starts changing as a human- indulging more and more into alcohol. He feels the need of being loved by someone, he realizes the isolation he was living in, that how important it is in a society to be with another person, how interdependent we humans are, and to live one needs another person to be happy. He waits for her, there’s a sense of longing. After her recovery, Deepti returns home with a promise’s to live a true and an honest life and that she’s learnt from her mistake to not get into such a thing again. She starts leading a normal life, and finds strength in God by praying everyday. Soon Nathan visits her and she resists by not opening the door, but finally looses all her strength, indicated by the broken god pictures we see all over. At last she again breaks her prom-
ise and returns to Nathan, where he reciprocates to love, commitment which he once rejected. The movie deals with a possibility of falling in love after having the physical relationship first. Ore Kadal is a sublime, powerful and refreshing filmmaking- where the treatment allows the film to transcend boundaries .
NAALU PENNUNGAL shot by M.J.Radhakrishnan directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan performed by Geethu Mohandas, Nandita Das, Padmapriya, Manju Pillai of which the soundtrack is by Kottukapally Malayalam/2007 - > NITESH ROHIT Adoor Gopalakrishnan, the veteran Malayalam director grew up reading the short stories of T. S. Pillai, one of the towering figures of Malayalam literature, his short stories were a stark portrayal of the society he lived in. Since
everything he saw, he felt, he witnessed became a part of his stories. T.S. Pillai presented the realities of life, as it stood, from the day to day vagrants, to the complexity of social feudalism. Everything in the fictitious world felt just like living and breathing the atmosphere he talked about, and his stories achieved the status quo of social –realism.
marriage, a proper home to live and background to show. In the story of ‘ The Spinster (Nandita Das)’ a woman irrespective of having all materialism evoked in the first story remains on her own- free, independent and without the need of the man; a social implication thought to be the most important grail for the survival and protection of women.
The narrative of the film, Naalu Pennungal (Four Women) is derived from four different short stories set in 1940s to 1960s Kerala, India. The thin line binding all these four stories is the central woman figure whose impression from the first to the final tale is that of growth and progress of women in South India; told in such a sublime and humane manner that most people would miss the subtle nuances of this remarkable film. Yet the film is not feminist in nature, since Adoor Gopalakrishan is more concerned in portraying the era and the fine details it holds regarding the rituals and patterns of society than just to present a story regarding the power and will of womanhood. Irrespective of the fact, that he took his liberties in exercising what should be seen and what remains unseen( the missing text) and what remained- the earthly nature of the film, which in all due, is as much powerful to what is portrayed (the role and growth of the woman).
The two stories in between of The Virgin (Geethu Mohandas) and The Housewife (Manju Pillai) function as catalyst to help the woman progress and evolve from the first to the last tale. The Virgin is about a woman who gets married to a man, and who until the end of the short remains busy in his own rituals of life: watching films, business, and his mannerism of eating, but does not touch the woman. And the preceding story of The Housewife, is about a woman who is childless only to be visited by her childhood friend who insists on helping her bore a child; yet she remains elusive to his demands. All four stories though distinct in its nature are connected through patterns and rituals directly reflecting the everyday realities and social condition of Kerala. What then binds all these four short stories into nuts of progress and absence when seen from the impressionistic view of a woman? It’s the slow digression of the man from the muted presence to the final exclusive absence that functions as the common motif which binds these four short stories together. The first story where the man though taking up The Prostitute as his wife is nothing but a utter reflection of her fate: no home, no shelter in short a very much muted
The narrative progresses on a very harmonic scale where each story from its beginning of ‘The Prostitute (Padmapriya)’ , which is about a woman who decides to get married and eventually imprisoned for not having the right documents for
62 absence of her own existence, when the story moves to The Virgin, the man here though possess a dominant presence through the story yet remains mutually elusive to provide solace and love to the woman. In the story of The Housewife, the man becomes a neglected catalyst of impotent, where the woman irrespective of keeping on with her virtue kept swaying between the “other” and her “virtue” though she keeps with the virtue by the end of the film; but her mere absence in the final shot as the camera pans across, along with the last lines of the story shows the shine of regret when she staggers the line “ I’m stressed”, after she declines her classmate offer to bore her a child. And by the time the film manifest into the final stage of The Spinster the theme and pattern are very clear; as here, the woman has grown and eventually reconciles with the belief- that a man is not necessary for her survival, keeping out the final knock or call of the man whom she wanted to swing across from the borders of chastity. Eventually her final decline closes the chapter of this remarkable film, since it’s not the woman who has progressed but the humane (soul) in her which has grown stronger. Since for a woman to live alone, even today, is a herculean task, something which society does not see eye-to eye. Perhaps, nothing much has changed that’s the reason even though the story is set in an era long gone, it still resonates very much the way society stands- poor people and underprivileged are still crushed each day, and women still remain the two dominant figure of the male psyche mother and the whore. There is an almost organic growth
to the overall film which is linked with the foundation on which the film is based: representing the pure essence of Kerala and its people. Although, the visual style of the film gives it a very lush look and it’s remarkably appealing, but the organic growth and the relation of the intricate pacing of its characters are directly linked with the music and rituals of the society. The music of film directly infuses the sound of nature in the film. Adoor Goplakrishana has always worked with a detailed sound script, making sure that each element of sound echoes the pureness of the actual filmed space, so irrespective of the dramatic music cues, the beauty lies in the listening to the diegetic sound of the omnipresence of the crooning of the crow, the signing of the koel, the chirping of other birds and several other nature creation and habitat form a core part of the nature of Kerala. Like the common motif of the boatman rowing through the backwaters, where the sound of the oar hitting the river bed, and the silence, gesture of the characters along with the presence of nature, makes it all to beautiful. Something we take for granted each day but such moments are presented in the film with such poeticism that each scene emotes the freshness of the leaves, the smell of the freshwater lakes, and the cycle of food habits shown with full color and pattern in the film. It’s such small details which make the film special; the passing of time from one short to the other can only be understood when one pays a close heed to the dialogues or patterns of rituals within a scene. For eg: the shift from The HouseIA/OCTOBER 2009
wife to the The Spinster can only be judged by the opening dialogue of Post- Independence India or how the knot is tied by woman, or how two distinct marriage in two stories The Virgin and The Spinster highlights the jump in time (the first where the marriage is shown sitting, the latter on a stool. It’s in these small details which forms coherence of his mise-enscene. This is how the film organically progresses between the shift in between diffeent space and time. Even the acting which appears natural because of his ability to mould his actors as part of the environment without even giving them a proper cue or script but just detailed gestures, a certain “pattern’ of delivering the linguistics (a reason he never prefers to take an actor other than from Kerala) since the cognizance of the culture the film is being made is important. This gives him the freedom to put his actor part of the surrounding space, so that once s (he) adapts to the surrounding the mise-en-scene helps in creating unison between the space and the subject, that’s when the “star” disappears into “the actor”- a common folk- someone whom we bump into everyday. However, Nandita Das who played The Spinster was an exception; she did not belong to the South Indian milieu, but she blend perfectly in the role. Similarly, the way he treats his characters as part of the crowd rather than giving them a central space; which most movies mutually reserve for them marks a special contrast in his mise-en-scene. Another important scene at the beginning of the film shows a clear picture how he treats his subject with a certain amount of objectivity; where he is capturing
the realities unfolding; rather than puncturing the realities before him. When the Prostitute decides to pick stones for a good living, for more than two minutes of screen time we are treated with a montage where there is almost no presence of her (yet her absence) makes her presence much more powerful. So when she is finally revealed after a couple of shots, we are aware that she has been working hard, and what is shown is pure work and endeavor taking place, without pinning us into facade of watching a filmed space. Any other film would have began with an establishing shot of the subject or move towards them, but this is one core difference how Adoor Gopalakrishnan treats his subject- to mould them part of the surrounding space- even if it’s bifurcated by the choice of angle or gaze. And it’s this gaze and angle which makes his mise-en-scene special, even when dealing with fiction he is treating his subject as part of everyday reality, transposing an era to its actual time and space without losing out on any details something he owes to his vast experience in documentaries and the improvisation and delation of Kathakali. Four Women is a special film in all disciplines of the cinematic art form, whether you watch the film as an onlooker who is mere witness to the incident; a passer-by who hears about the incident; or an active participant (who takes a stand by looking into the incident- the mise-en-scene), each and every form would in turn be special, because of the universal appeal this film holds. Not only in its global nature regarding the treatment of women, but also how we humans behave, whether we stay in Kerala, New York or Paris. But the
only difference is the slides of liberation and the mindset of the civilization, which though separates our linguistics and cognition, yet keeps us made of the same substance- earth, water, fire and air.
DISTRICT 9 shot by Trent Opaloch directed by Neil Blomkamp performed by Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, John Sumner, Nathalie Bolt which is edited by Julian Clarke and the original soundtrack is rendered by Clinton Shorter English/2009 - > GAUTAM VALLURI In a variety of ways, District 9 was the science fiction film that I’ve been waiting for, since 8th grade and since Arthur C. Clarke’s brilliant short-story “History Lesson”. D9, much like Clarke’s story is a science fiction story only on the surface and in its premise, at its heart, IA/OCTOBER 2009
63 it is actually a story exploring the strangeness of human nature and why humans behave and live the way they do. Set in Johannesburg of an alternate universe, District 9 is an expansion of first-time director Neill Blomkamp’s awardwinning short film “Alive in JoBurg”. In this reality, an alien mothership appears out of nowhere in the late eighties carrying about a million and a half aliens, who have apparently lost their way and ended up on earth. These aliens are relocated to the eponymous walled colony in JoBurg where they try to get along to the human way of life, scavenging for rubber tires and catfood. The aliens are never referred by any name in general apart from the derogatory term “Prawns”. This is the first important point in the film made about the typical human attribute of slanging things (or species in this matter) to their closest resembling objects. As a human, I would put forward this insult fully knowing that if someone were to do the same to me, I would be heavily offended but I cannot help but think how this would apply to an alien. Perhaps, this is the reason why the Prawns never seem to protest when referred to in this derogatory manner. The film escalates the concept of Xenophobia and Racism to its next level- a universal one. Perhaps, it would only be appropriate to call it speciesism. The fact that Blomkamp seeks to set his film in South Africa (as opposed to favorites New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago) takes the
film to a very non-epic-Hollywood setting where there will be no dismembered heads of any Statues of Liberty and places it on a the edge of controversy, keeping in mind South Africa’s long history of apartheid. Blomkamp’s conscious choice of not shying away from the neo-apartheid setting of the film gives it a shot at greatness as it makes a lot of people put forward the question: “What are we waiting for next to discriminate against?” Indeed, while making “Alive in JoBurg”, Blomkamp had apparently interviewed real South Africans on their opinions on the rise in population of Zimbabwean refugees, which no doubt brought forward a lot of frank opinions and used that footage as part of the short film and made it look like these remarks were directed at the aliens. The feature version no doubt stays true to the same spirit. Blomkamp uses hand-held camera heavily in a mixture of mockumentary-esque scenes that seem to have been taken from a South African adaptation of ‘The Office’ and straightforward dramatic scenes where the viewer is left wondering just who is handling the camera now. The film is special effects heavy in terms of the Alien characters and how the humans just seem to vapourize when shot with one of the alien weapons but it really shines through in a fine performance from Sharlto Copley, the lead actor who starts out as a good-natured fumbling nerd working at a corporate position to a fugitive on the run,
with an unstoppable condition who finds courage to reclaim his life. District 9, like Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘History Lesson’ is a testament of what Science fiction can be and should be. It eats ‘The War of the Worlds’ for a post-breakfast, prelunch snacker and proves that aliens don’t always invade and that we might finally see a new kind of science fiction. An intelligent one. 57
GULABI TALKIES directed by Girish Kasaravalli performed by KG Krishnamurthy, Poornima Mohan Kannada/2008 - > NITESH ROHIT Gulabi is no pin-up model, yet her smile still lingers in my memory even after the movie long ended. She seemed so rooted in the ethos of her culture that almost all her gestures in the film are universal in their portrayal and reflection on life. The way she ate, the way she talked, the way she walked and the way she behaved formed a ritual
play of gestures and expressions unlike any other. The story is woven on a foundation that explores the duality of human behaviorsetting a story of an individual against a large socio-economic and political scenario makes this a remarkable and a masterfully conceived film. This very theme also forms a major backdrop for the eleven odd films directed by the master Girish Kasaravalli. Gulabi Talkies is a film in transit, where every second of screen time reveals something about who we really are, beneath it all. Gulabi who is an expert mid-wife is neglected by a number of people for being a Muslim woman, but she still manages to make a space in the heart for all. But space in the heart does not translate into “action”, and a number of issues prompted during the course of the film are due to the absence of this particular trait of our very own kind. And sometime when action actually occurs, the society forms a horde to pull down curtains on any form of freedom, other than the one formulated under the social framework. What we see in the film reflects the lives and rituals of thousand families who live on the shores, but what reflects in their social behavior and gestures holds true from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Gulabi leads a lonely life, her husband is happily married to his second wife, so she spends her time watching films, yet she manages to be fill every space she crosses with happiness and joy. From the opening shot of the film where we she her characteristic smile with the slight dimple on her left cheek down to the final shot of the film, she remains who she is: calm, com-
placent, happy, naïve and strong.
single most important and almost forgotten human tract- “To actually Gulabi Talkies is adapted from a be happy, and “really” care for othbook on women written by the Kan- ers”. Even when the world collides nada writer, Vaidehi and the preoc- and falls against Gulabi she manages cupation of Vaidehi are well materi- to form a gesture of non-expression alized on the screen, as she worked so that we never actually manage to towards exemplifying through the see her sadness, since she does not written text- the social atrocities on wish to show it. Yet, when she utters women, and her very basic charac- the words of final optimism in the ters defied an act against the inflated film, even a drowning man would male power ego. Girish Kasara- struggle for one last minute against valli. worked with Vaidehi on the the waves of death for survival. dialogues of the film, and even the smallest of conversation is full of Girish Kasarvalli weaves a multiechoes of love, sorrow, happiness layered film almost flawlessly; aland fears which are well carried lowing the opposition of so many from character to character. Gulabi distinctive planes (space) and time who irrespective of having child- frames co-exist in harmony. That is a like naiveté in her expression has major reason why the film achieves a solid inner soul to stand against the basic dynamic of being in a convarious injustices still prevailing in stant motion. Like the regular rituals this patriarchal dominated Indian so- of fisherman going out to fish which ciety. Gulabi through her course of slowly becomes a conscious aspect actions, gestures, defiance( by leav- of our own senses. When such reping alone) even after her husband etition finally reaches its end, the fiabandoned her, forms an image of a nal outcome does not need the backpost modernist woman who without bones of filmed drama to create a the basic imagery of hollow looks, tension, but a mere exchange of diaempty talks, and pro-feminist evo- logue highlights the collapse of basic cation achieves something which livelihood of people. For example, is still very much suppressed in the when the fishermen revolt against society. And the basic power of her the authorities regarding the illegal could be felt in the young woman grant of Gulabi’s husband Musa to who runs away from her mother- fish unlike the normal timings, dein-law house to find her dreams. spite of the fact he is Muslim, their own social standing and conscious To see Gulabi in action from being cut-throat nature for live hood on an expert mid-wife, to savoring the the fundamentalism of religion hyped dramaturgy of television, and takes a beating on being informed to even cherish the act of watching that the government has allowed the same movie again and again foreign ships to fish on the shores. raises countless questions within us, The scene not only establishes the especially the one related to the most basic social framework of people, important aspect of humanity today- but it also highlights the important “ Money”. Gulabi who loves films, political and economic standings. works as a mid-wife, has a very limited living amenities and materi- And such political and social overalism but still manages to suppress bearing did affect the lives of all our living luxuries, simply on the thousand fishermen in the region.
57 65 Girish Kasaravalli’s layered narrative weaves such schematic questions silently, without being loud. This scene is layered and builds on the Kargil War between India and Pakistan, which has lot to say about our basic nature, it also highlights how much we mistrust each other simply on the basis of such credos, and today this paranoia has exceeded far beyond our own control. Something that could also be felt in the way the women in Gulabi’s neighborhood behaved. Until the moment Gulabi did not have a color television most women did not enter her house, but when she receives a color TV along with cable connection, slowly they all came in packs, first standing and watching from the door and window, and then moving inside her home. But it’s a finally a single gesture captured during a similar scene which shows the façade in the smiles of people, when a woman is combing her daughter’s hair, she touches Gulabi unintentionally. And her mother pushes her daughter away. This single act speaks in volume regarding the large population of our society in relation to seeing people of different religion in such light. Each single space on which the stories is layered, and the characters, form the basic diegetic function to highlight the condition and plight of such people; we can witness the strong presence of social realism in Girish Kasaravalli’s mise-en-scene. The camera in most cases is mere observant of an ongoing action not dynamic and neither anticipatory static, but it functions more like a microscope used to observe the organism taking shapes and breaking away from unison. Sound plays an important aspect of the mise-enscene especially through the use
ing a movie poster to stick on her hut, or simply sitting cross-legged to watch the television in her home. She brings Gulabi from the written text to screen alive, and it’s in the hands of a master that the written text does not akin to theater or literature but achieves a degree of pureness belonging solely to Cinema. It is ironic how the tides of plot take turns and moves about, but whatever the consequences and actions were taken; it resonated to who we actually are, and people like Gulabi have become rarer to find each and every day. Since the very act of being a Even the opinions expressed “rebel” is against the basic norm of through the medium (media) af- “society”. And even this society acfects the nature of human be- tually exists on a hollow bone, since havior. When Gulabi is walking what matters for them is very much on the street two small boys sur- to “self”, yet we always wonder why round her asking for donation (on we so afraid of what others have to behalf of the Kargil War), and she say about us, instead of existing indideclines, a man standing on the vidually and working towards others. road offers them the donation and utters: “Why would they give?”. Gulabi Talkies is a remarkable film, In such a single act of dialogue which most of us would never actuthe whole function and mental- ally get to see outside few chosen cirity of our society is condensed, cles or the home state of Karnataka. especially the act of blindfolded I was lucky enough to catch the film beliefs and stereotyping religion, on the big screen in a festival- sadly caste, culture and creed. Like the the only place left for such works. whole notion of Indian marriage, Similarly when Gulabi part ways on where the family thinks that the boat to never land, the people are not parents have to get their daughters bothered where she goes, but rejoice married to a “ rich” family to pro- that the television would remain vide all happiness- an open act of with them, and when two old ladies prostituting usually hidden on var- sit trying to switch on the television ious layers of protecting our still in an empty room, Girish Kasarabourgeois and traditional values. valli’s camera observes their basic If it is Girish Kasaravalli who gave ignorance from the outside, not only the film its basic fabric of living laughing at the eavesdropping of the through his conceived mise- en- ladies who had doses of comments on scene, then its Umashree play- their regular off-screen voyeurism, ing Gulabi, who gives this whole but at the same highlights the mere filmic space and time its life. She hollowness of our souls in our own is the heart and soul of the film quest for materialistic spiritualism. and it’s her energy which makes the engine run from beginning to end with full vigor, whether it’s her simple gesture of stealof diegetic medium of modern communication: radio and television, to show the various façade and veils of hypocrisy of human kind. Like how the women would never want to enter her house but would do so only on the presence of television in her home or the sudden return of her husband to her home just to see the television. This very act not only laughs at the way we humans are – to neglect the very living social organism and be a mere remote to the reproduction of mechanism.
MANI FES TO
A STILL FROM CONTROL
Gautam Valluri contemplates on the worth of two recent DVD purchases.
I’M NOT THERE(2007) Todd Haynes’ multi-award winning film festival wonderchild and. mega star studded tribute to the many lives, legends, controversies and exploits of one of the most influential musicians of our times, is a film that is more than just a must see. Haynes takes on an ambitious task and executes it with all the flair and dexterity of a legendary filmmaker. The music, the performances, the cinematography, the surrealist imagery, the editing, the direction and everything else seems original and the work of an inspired
DIR:TODD HAYNES Bale and Richard Gere, the late Heath Ledger, young Marcus Carl Franklin, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’s Ben Whishaw and the ever versatile Cate Blanchett,
Sam Riley gives a stellar performance as the tragically charged, manic depressive and highly epileptic front man Ian Curtis of the short lived post-punk quartet Joy Division. Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn’s cinematic debut is a stunning biopic photographed in his trademark Black and White colour palette and based on the biography of the aforementioned singer written by his wife Deborah Curtis (played convincingly by Samantha Morton in the film). The film features impressive reinterpretations of the most popular Joy Division songs by the ac-
mière and is priced at a very reasonanle INR 399. The disc comes with a Behind the Scenes featurette and contains interviews with Christian Bale, Richard Gere and Marcus Carl Franklin. There is also a very impressive trailer of the film which features all the Dylan incarnations re-enacting the (in)famous video to “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. The film is presented in its intended aspect ratio and the colours look lush across
individual who truly cares for both who clearly steals the show from his art and his subject in question. under everybody’s feet. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays a strong turn in Approved by Dylan himself, the a role supporting Ledger’s Dylan film presents the various “incar- and Michelle Williams does the nations” of the legendary song- same with Blanchett’s segment. writer played in turns by present day heavy weights Christian The DVD is released by NDTV Lu-
various segments containing different colour schemes. This would form a perfect companion piece with Martin Scorsese’s Dylan documentary “No Direction Home”. An essential to all Dylan fans.
tors and shiniest of them from the lead man Sam Riley, matching Ian Curtis’ trademark baritone vocal range. As impressive as the lead actors may be, the most engaging turn comes from Toby Kebbell as the potty-mouthed band manager sporting adidas zip-ups. Alexandra Maria Lara has a short but memorable turn as the stunningly beautiful Annik Honor the doomed lover of the already married Curtis.
The menu design is quite decent and the fact that Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” starts playing the minute you pop the disc into your player is worth mentioning. The Anamorphic widescreen transfer seems spotless and the sound quality is top notch. The price tag is very reasonable at 499 and is available in most bookstores and music shops around the country. My only complaint is the cover design. The actual poster of the film is diagonally embedded into the standard NDTV Lumière template which is less than impressive. I hope to see further editions limiting NDTV’s presence to a mere logo.
The DVD is released by NDTV Lumière and contains behind the scenes interviews with the cast and some really interesting footage of the production in progress. IA/OCTOBER 2009
I opened up the door, and much to my surprise The girls were wearing formals, and the boys were wearing ties And I feel that I should mention that the band was at attention They just stood there, oh so neat, while they played their swinging beat.... It’s been long overdue-- we’ve been needing something new-Sophisticated boom boom!” -- The Goodies, 1964
IA/OCTOBER 2009 INDIANAUTEUR.COM