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IA/JAN UARY 2010


IA

DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF ROBIN WOOD AND ERIC ROHMER

INDIANAUTEUR.COM

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ISSUE IA/JAN UARY 2010


rejection –noun 1. the act or process of rejecting. 2. the state of being rejected. 3. something that is rejected.

mainstream –noun 1. the principal or dominant course, tendency, or trend. –adjective 2. belonging to or characteristic of a principal, dominant, or widely accepted group, movement, style,

THE ISSUE 8

rebel –noun 1. a person who refuses allegiance to, resists, or rises in arms against the government or ruler of his or her country. 2. a person who resists any authority, control, or tradition.

LONELINESS OF A LONG DISTANCE RUNNER independence

–noun 1. Also, independency. the state or quality of being independent. 2. freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.

sacrifice –noun 1. the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim. 2. the thing so surrendered or devoted.

personal –adjective 1. of, pertaining to, or coming as from a particular person; individual; private: a personal opinion.

liberty

–noun, plural -ties. 1. freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control. 2. freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.

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auteur

-adj.

A SIMPLE MAN

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cover story

-noun

A DOCUMENTARY OF FANTASY adrian martin.

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A new NEW WAVE srikanth

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BUILDING BRIDGES

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CALL MONEY OR MANI KAUL satyam berera

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20 BRAVEHEARTS jit phokaew

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CINEMA AS A TOOLBOX ignatiy

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THE DREAMER FROM THE EAST anamaria dobiciuc

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reviews from the vault

THE

LONE OF A DIST

RUNN

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CINEMA AND TELEVISION IN INDIA nitesh rohit

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CONTENTS

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EDITORIAL

NER

ISSUE 8

ELINESS A LONG TANCE

nitesh rohit

I

ndependent filmmakers in India come in two shapes and sizes. The first that s (he) is a filmmaker confined to represent ideas of our world via the bastardization of social realism aka documentary filmmaker. The second group is a cousin of the carnivores T-Rex aka Bollywood, these small dinosaurs are no different from their kinship. They talk like them, the walk like them and they act like them. The only difference between the cousins is in respect to size. There is a stark similarity between both schools of so called in (dependent) cinema of India. Either of them are not bothered about the nature of the medium itself. This means, that both the groups are heaping money based on the idea that the films they sell or make are “real” or in more fashionable terminology used by desi pundits and critics- realistic. Each independent school has a clear demarcation of what they believe is the right idea of reproducing the nature of our world and the existence of our being. The documentary filmmaker stresses the fact that his work is a representation of things as it exist, the New Bollywood films of thought exclaims the same, added with a tagline “ Service to Mankind” . Little do they realize that the mechanical instrument without their divine intervention already

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reproduces what it sees (reality). And, if by any chance, a new approach of an individual’s cinematic view of the world could have been possible also goes missing since neither groups pay any heed to the fundamentals of cinema. They are so ignorant in their own success of reinvention or experiment based on the ideas of narratives or dramaturgy that if, a documentary film and a Bollywood film were to be broken down cinematically then their final atom would be the same. That means there would be no clear identification between a shot of Sharukh Khan as a person suffering from a disease and that of an actual man filmed suffering with a disease. Everything in cinematic DNA would appear the same. In the end, you realize that both groups could be doing great culture service for the human race but it should not be confused with the art-form cinema. It’s also precisely due to the nature of such state that images have lost any meaning. What we really need more than ever this decade is to start from zero, from the very beginning… where it all began: “The Arrival of the train at La Ciotat”.


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OF TAKING A STAND - noun 5. to remain firm or steadfast, as in a cause. 6. to take up or maintain a position or attitude with respect to a person, issue, or the like

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CREDITS

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editor NITESH ROHIT

art director ANUJ MALHOTRA

cover design GAUTAM VALLURI SRIKANTH SRINIVASAN contributors ADRIAN MARTIN online supervisor ANUJ MALHOTRA contributors IGNATIY VISHNEVETSKY GAUTAM VALLURI ANAMARIA DOBINCUIC SUPRIYA SURI JIT PHOKAEW designer EBRAHIM KABIR DEBOJIT GHATAK publishers   NSMedia Film SAGORIKA SINGHA KSHITIZ ANAND contact Indian Auteur is published monthly. All images contact  W-104, GK-I , have been used for non-commercial purposes NEW DELHI, 110011 only. Content cannot be reproduced without editor@indianauteur.com advertisement@indianauteur.com prior permission of Indian Auteur. Image on the cover : Kamal Swaroop writers SATYAM BARERA

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auteur

–noun 1. the maker of anything; creator; originator 2. Martin Scorsese

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AUTEUR

A SIMPLE MAN

THE INDIAN AUTEUR MASTERS SERIES

A

n Interview with the director of the greatest Indian film to have never been seen, Om Dar B Dar, Kamal Swaroop, who talks about the gift life is, the need to move out of Bombay, the virtue of contentment, films that influenced him, and

“"I was born in Kashmir in 1952.My father was an educationist. I was brought up inAjmer Pushker." These are the lines that begin the storyboard of your film on Dadasaheb Phalke. Trace for us your history as a film lover. The first film I watched was at the age of 2 in 1954. It was Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje in Srinagar. Later, I began watching almost any film that was released. At around 16, I started watching English films, like In Cold Blood, Fearless Vampire Killers, and Rosemary’s Baby.

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Later, while working for Channel V, I made a series called mini movies, where I revisited all the films again .I had to compress full length films in to a duration of 5 minutes. Then I did a program called history of arms and ammunition in Indian cinema, which was called Dhisum Dishum se Dhain Dhain Tak. Working on it gave me a chance to revisit all the cinema I had watched in my childhood.

a victim of circumstances - of being cursed with the gift of being way ahead of your time? (The irony is) I never fancied myself as a film maker. And feel very happy with the small work I do on mini dv or a multimedia project on Phalke. I also work on other people’s projects. Yes, I accept that I was good in whatever I did. If I was young in today’s time I would have been counted amongst the nerds.

In Pune( at FTII), I saw what ever is available with the archives. Initially, I watched films passively, but now I can sense the production forces converging behind the images.

What, according to you, is cinema? What does it constitute in its most original conception?

Bombay Bandra Home videos are being touted as pan-Indian reality.

Why has Kamal Swaroop become the symbol of mistaken genius; a case study in an artist’s tragedy? If I was competitive and rich I would not have been framed as a genius: rest, cultural class always looks for the fantasies of sacrifice and failure and suffering. Maybe I was available as a subject of their anthropological imagery. Even when I was in FTII, every one called me genius without a solid reason to back that claim up. I never wanted to make a film, but I would talk a lot and reject most films. People challenged me, thus, to make a film myself. Om Dar B Dar was my response. What do you identify yourself as? An example to avoid, an obsessive compulsive auteur who held dear his personal vision the most and paid the price for it, or just another film lover? One of the ex students from the FTII direction course. I can only do what I can do. In art you can’t adopt some one else’s example, you can only represent where you come from. Om dar b Dar is Ajmer. As for being an example to avoid, I would just say - each for himself and cinema against all. I have had a terribly joyous and unframed life. Is the oblivion a self-imposed exile or are you

Resurrection: Individual as in Christ, mass as in the story of Bhagirathy, mass resurrection of children of King Sagar. Most of the modern-day imagery, such as the one that features in advertisements or even in Bollywood films, basically attempts to and successfully does bypass the logical faculty of the viewers who watch them – addressing, instead, only the most primal, basal and fundamental of the human psyche. Why do you think images around us are getting increasingly redundant? Most of the best brains from arts and craft are involved in the business of advertising and entertainment industry using the best available technology. They work according to the marketing briefs, i.e each spiritual problem has a material solution. We cannot really expect a philosophical rendering of a subject from them. Why, looking at the examples of someone like you, or Kumar Shahani, should a newyoung filmmaker in this nation pick up his camera and believe that he can actually make it his pen and each film a personal diary entry? What should motivate him towards the attainment of such a personal goal? Recording and documenting is an important function of cinema, or say storing, like they say stories as means of storing a mass of information. Or say iconography, a constructed representation of vast memory and events. Otherwise it is impossible to store this chaos as it is because of a lack of space.

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I would not compare camera with pen and paper simile since language has its own reality. But I do agree that there are many young people from NID or Srishti, going back to their home towns and making wonderful things. A decentralization of production is necessary. Otherwise Bombay Bandra home videos are being touted as pan Indian reality. But again, pen and paper thing applies only to digital video, it would not apply to films that are industrially produced: That film is a result of coming together of many evolved skills and imagination and pushing the technology to its limit. We also have to consider the changing nature of exhibition and distribution, with coming up of smaller states, there is going to be a great need of film makers to represent and to fulfil the artistic needs of that time and space. There are many young film makers coming out of NID, some from FTII who are returning to their roots and their cities, who do not feel the need to keep imaging Bombay. Like Akash Gaur’s Itni Door Bhagaya, Bela Negi’s Daayen ya Baayen or Ram’s Putaani Party. But to be like a chronicler of a place like the novelist in the older times, it would need a deeper commitment and the local development of the infrastructure. Like in the early 20th Century, the writers had the whole press and distribution system. But at the same time, the demand from the author is not an exclusive subjectivity but a responsibility towards a certain objectiveness towards the people and their history. Why do you think Parallel Cinema ended of all a sudden, much like Arthur C.Clarke’s Rama? Did it achieve the aims it set out to accomplish? Was it effective, or did it run, as is suggested, only ‘parallel’ to the mainstream, thus never attempting to influence the mainstream aesthetic in any manner? Did it exhaust its own possibilities? How important do you think was NFDC’s role in it? Parallel cinema was an extension of the literary movement that took place during the 60’s and these writers also dreamt of a certain kind of a cinema and they facilitated the new film makers of that time. At the same time, the Times of India and

also other, vernacular literary magazines were in full support of this new happening where the film maker was not just a merchant of entertainment but could be bracketed amongst the artists, ie writers, painters, sculptors. There was already a space for an author like this, in cinema. Realising available space like this, some of the FTII and other people with the unexpected arrival of FFC funding, jumped in. Among these authors, different positions were taken. We didn’t only have Mani Kaul or Kumar Shahani who saw their role and position amongst the international authors, we had people like Basu Chatterjee also who took the middle path and took it also as a business activity. He inspired so many film makers from the industry that he was easily taken in the mainstream. When the industry people realized that a person like KK Mahajan ¬or AK Bir could take 75 shots in a day, the functioning of the industry changed overnight. Even the BR Chopras were inviting Basu Chatterjee to take over. So it is true that the parallel film people influenced the mainstream in a way. Then came the closing down of the TOI publications, like Saarika, Madhuri, Dharamyug, and a lot of other vernacular magazines, who were the mouthpiece of this parallel movement. Earlier these magazines were inspiring the imaginations of the readers and inspiring them to become film makers. There was a production of these films upto a time, but there were no distribution and exhibition developed parallel with the production activity. Most of the films functioned as a cultural commodity for exchange with the European countries. This cultural commodification started creating new limitations and parameters- formulas within these films. But surprisingly the new generation today keeps looking for NFDC films.

You were a FTII graduate. You resumed your studies as a post-graduate. While you assisted in Attenborough’s Gandhi, where do you think the seeds of your largely formalist approach towards cinema were sown? How important do you think was the role of your vast reading of Indian literature in it?

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A scene from My American Uncle(above); its director Alain Resnais(right). My thinking changed after watching My American Uncle by Resnais. I was always an anti illusionist and wanted to do something about imagination and education. Or fictionalize philosophical essays. In his this film and his later films, I found a way. Reading literature, it did help. I connected with Manohar Shyam Joshi’s sense of humour. What defines the term avant-garde for you? And if can consciously appreciate its connotation, was Om Dar Ba Dar a conscious attempt at that type(avant-garde) of a film? Avante garde is a technical term applied to a different movement. In Om Dar b Dar, I was reacting to the parallel cinema of that time. For example, I won’t say there are characters. I will say the film itself is a character. I was more interested in disconnecting and making the film that would work like a head cleaner. We used to call it brooming and presumed the role of a scavenger. And constructed a film based on the rejected. Is Om Dar Ba Dar an event that you look back at with pride? Or do you look at it as an opportunity lost? Do you ever think you could have made a debut feature that evoked more embracement than intimidation? Yes, with full pride. And no, I don’t.

You worked with ISRO in helping them produce Science Educational Programmes in the mid 1970s. A lot of Om Dar Ba Dar deals with a person’s simultaneous fascination with science, for instance the moon landing; and bewilderment with it – Om in his science class as he dissects frogs. Is that incorporation autobiographical? How instrumental was your work on the science educational programmes in shaping you as a filmmaker? During ISRO times, we used to make science programmes based on the Russian books where they used to explain scientific phenomenas through fairy tales and parables. These books used to be a mix and match of playfulness, imagination, and magic tricks. For example I did a programme called System and Interaction, which was a complex subject by itself, but by taking a story of Jack and the Beanstalk, it became very easy for a child of eight to understand. This was the time when we were hobnobbing with scientists, product designers, architects, graphic artists, anthropologists. I must have been around twenty two years old and it was great in my formative development. It came in the wake of an era in Indian cinema where everything had fallen into the dark ages – the VCR had entered

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people’s homes, television was(and is still) becoming increasingly lucrative, and producers from the South had imported their inane ostentatious approach to Mumbai. Was, your film, at a level, aware of this era; or did you plan it as an entrance into another newer one?

cessing the images in my mind till the last moment and not relying on the fixed image on paper. You’ve written that cinema was essentially conceptualized through the incorporation of the concept of a cyclic loop, but as the medium

I was aware of all the happenings and wanted to make my film as a force that would have to be reckoned with by the new order. My effort was appreciated even by the commercial industry, the Filmfare being the validation of that claim. With Om Dar Ba Dar, it seems you are consistently attempting a departure from the aesthetic of the parallel cinema, and also its thematic concerns. It is almost as if your film is an expose of the hypocrisy of the other films produced by NFDC. You set your film in a small town, but instead of demystifying and simplifying the residents of that town, you deliberately choose to enhance their mystery and present them as entangled in far greater issues than mere sociological concerns. As such, your characters are first human and then trigger points for greater issues, a complete antithesis of the films of someone like Shyam Benegal? Those days we used to call this middle wave cinema “Complaint Box”. What more can I say? Do you think the narrative is a burden that cinema has fallen in eternal servitude to? Is it like lyrics are to music? Considering, also, that your film uses the narrative only as an excuse to traverse greater ideas – some of which are Om’s identity crisis, the hypocrisy called Indian culture, Gayatri’s sexual deprivation, curiosity related to adolescence, and the move from adolescence to adulthood? In that sense, your film is almost anti-narration. Usually I start constructing a screenplay by dreaming of images and shuffling them in my mind. Then I note them down on paper. Since I am very weak in thinking in languages, I work in a way which in the end takes a story form as a way to keep these images together. But surprisingly, I never read what I write. The screenplay is basically for the production break down. I keep pro-

A still from Saeez Mirza’s Salim Langde Pe progressed, the events within a story werev reduced to a linear progression, with one thing happening at a time, and more importantly never happening again. Was your film a return to the idea of the ‘loop’; the ‘ellipse’? This kind of a conceptualization I only developed after I was working on the Phalke project. During Om, I was not aware of it. But in Om, the images keep repeating in different shapes. And adhering to a musical system of returning again and again. And arriving at a ‘sam’. You also deliberately dissociate sound with related imagery at various points in the film; for instance when Om’s father is indicted for conning people through fraudulent astrology, and you shoot him from a roof into the crowd and a voiceover announces the court’s judgement – was it done to make the audience consistently aware of the element of sound that they had taken for granted? Since I couldn’t illustrate all the information that I wanted to give to the audience, I was making the best use of the filmic time available.

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Om Dar Ba Dar is a film that exists in the form of mythic folklore in the annals of Indian cinema history. Most film lovers know about it; but most haven’t watched it. You have written that it’s a Dadaist film. Which would mean that you were fighting against an established order to you’re your ‘chaos’. What was that ‘established order’ for you? Even then, demystify it for us. It

is

a

fictional

film

set

in

Ajmer.

That done, tell us about your involvement with Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro. I was doing research on that project and used to go to Bombay Central, Grant Road, interviewing small gangsters operating in various byelanes, composing a prototype of Salim, the protagonist.

Mat Ro

Ever since Om Dar Ba Dar, you’ve made documentaries in association with the PSBT. Why do you think the documentary form has assumed a didactic status in the realm of Indian cinema, and why is no longer an exploration; but a lesson? What do you think is the reason behind its waning popularity? There is a mix of kinds of achievements and intention in documentary today, just as in earlier times, during the Film Division times. But once in a while, we find very well realized short films and documentaries within this funding system. For the last 20 years, you have been working on a documentary project tentatively entitled The Life and Times of Dadasaheb Phalke. With a current film, Harishchandra Factory, winning critical accolades, where do you think your effort stands in terms of its relevance? With the coming of Harishchandra Factory, people have taken a renewed interest in my project. Personally I really don’t know what kind of a form, in the end, my project is going to take and the number and the kind of off shoots. Why the fascination with Dadasaheb Phalke? A fascination which stretches into your exhaustive reading on him, and accumulation

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of different resources of information on him? So much so that you’ve had to scrape through and seek artist funds to maintain a normal lifestyle. This was the only way to educate myself in all the arts and crafts. There are so many areas in this project which are beneficial to various funding agencies. So, it has becomes a never ending symbiotic relationship between me and others. You have also said, “As Brahma of the Pushkar is the father of the artisan, so is Phalke of Trimbak given the title of father of Indian cinema-my two obsessions.” – how important is this inquiry into the figure of a father for you? There is a deeply ingrained image in my mind of the story of Brahma and his five heads, which is a generative image and excites my imagination. The story goes like this: One day, Brahma, the father, the creator, was sitting by himself and he created a little girl from himself. The girl stood facing her father, the Brahma. She was happy in the beginning but suddenly got terrified, seeing the lust in her father’s eyes. So she moved to the side. Brahma did not turn his head, he just sprung another head on the side to look at her. She again turned and in this way, the four heads sprung from Brahma’s neck keeping a track of her terrestrially in all four directions. So she flew to escape his gaze. A fifth head sprung to scan her in the sky. An adolescent Shivgana(aspect of Shiva)- Batuk Bhairava- not understanding the basis of the play of nature between the creator and the creation, in rage, cut off the fifth head of Brahma. The head stuck to his hand and with that pain, he aged and turned into an old man himself. Something similar with Phalke that I want to arrive at… You have talked in the past about cinema’s historical preference of the temporal montage over the spatial one – the latter being the one which facilitates an arrangement of shots that depict actions taking place not one after the other; but simultaneously, only in different spaces – do you think the cross-cutting techniques employed by Jean Pierre Melville, Edward Yang or Fred Zinnemann; or the narrative schema employed by Quentin Tarantino or Jean-Luc

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Godard were attempts at the presentation of simultaneously occurring events in different places? There cannot be simultaneity because the audience will watch the cross cut events in a linear way, in time. The spatial montage can function in cinema like the way it does in Mughal miniatures, many actions, of different volumes, in the same space. Expressionist cinema does this, often, where multiple images are aesthetically unfolding from the same horizon- different from the clumsier split screen.

Sisyphus. Or say, taking a text from a short story, novel or epic will lead to different kinds of cinema. If you like at Ray’s films, Bibhuti Bhushan takes him somewhere else and ¬Rabindranath Tagore takes him somewhere else. During 70’s when Mrinal and Ray were sourcing their films from the same kind of a text, say, Samresh Basu, Shankar, Sameer Ganguly, their films look alike, you cannot differentiate between Interview and Pratidwandi. At the same time, there is a different kind of cinema that does not depend on the literary From left : Luis Bunuel, Yasujiro Ozu, Andy Warhol, Roman Polanski

Who were your formative influences while growing up? Which were your favourite films? Andy Warhol, Bhupen Khakar. A lot of friends. N Navjeet Singh, Rahul Dasgupta, Arun Khanna, Manohar Shyam Joshi. Roman Polanski. Ozu. Bunuel. Alan Resnais. My favorite films include- Tokyo Story, Life Upside Down, Days of Matthew, Intimate Lighting, Nazarin, and My American Uncle. You have talked about the emergence of the new Indian cinema in the 70s being a result of realistically set literature that was the precedent of that cinema. How important do you think is the role of literature in shaping the aesthetic of cinema? The text based cinema will have a different aesthetics and would depend on the source. Like My American Uncle is based on an essay by a biologist, or the Iranian films- Wind will Carry us or The Taste of Cherries is based on Camus’ essay from the Myth of

text. And uses the liberties that cinematic imagination provides with, constructed shot after shot. You can see that kind of films in early Roman Polanski. Where do you see the position of the truly independent and experimental filmmaker in the nation today? Digital film making is the way. Finally, do you believe the attainment of pure cinema is a dream possible today, or do you, like Peter Greenaway and Godard, believe that that possibility has long been exhausted; and that cinema can no longer rid itself of the influence of text? Can an image, thus, finally detach itself from a word? If you take cinema as an activity, and an empathetic tool towards the consciousness around, I think it is possible.

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cover story

COVER STORY

–noun 1. a magazine article highlighted by an illustration on the cover. 2. a fabricated story used to conceal a true purpose; alibi.

THE TRASH HUMPERS

As the world reels from the aftereffects of multi-million dollar effect frenzies and redundant imagery fills each nook of our conscience,, IA looks at a select few from all over the world that raise their ugly heads to make themselves counted and live off nothing but an insatiable desire to document - the truly brave, the truly independent, the unwanted children of cinema.

TARIQTAPA SRIKANTH ADRIANMARTIN JITPHOKAEW SAYYAMBERERA IA/JAN IGNATIY UARY 2010


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OF BEING TOLD YOU ARE WRONG

- adj. 1. not proper or usual; not in accordance with requirements or recommended practice: the wrong way to hold a golf club. 2. out of order; awry; amiss: Something is wrong with the machine.

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A by Adrian Martin DOCUMENTARY FANTASY Australian film critic Adrian Martin looks at young Portugese auteur Miguel Gomez’s second feature length production, Our Beloved Month of August

DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF NIKA BOHINC

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COVER STORY

I

t starts like this: with a bunch of roosters running about together, watched hungrily by a fox who eventually pounces, breaking up the feathery gathering. A strange, off-hand, not-at-all ominous prologue: nothing like the scorpions at the start of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), nothing symbolic or allegorical or prophetic about it in terms of the human story to follow. More like Pasolini’s abrupt pre-credit apparitions: what he called an im-sign, a floating, unstitchable piece of brute camera-reality. If this opening is a key or clue to anything, it signals the incredible life that teems through Miguel Gomes’ second feature, Our Beloved Month of August (2008): children,

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rivers, animals, old people, trucks, dancing, motorcycles, a newspaper printing press, day breaking and night falling … and above all, stories and songs, re-told and re-performed for (no doubt) the thousandth time. It takes courage to make a film about popular music not in its glamorously resistant, underground forms, but music of the most everyday, ordinary kinds: religious parades, karaoke, a marching band, all-night accordion parties, radio programs, and middle-of-the-road cover bands who favour sentimental ballads of the Julio Iglesias style. But maybe even if you don’t love this music before you see the film, you will admire it afterwards … There is a production story that comes

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with this film, circulated in Festival catalogues and press kits. We would call it a behind-thescenes story, if what is supposedly behind the scenes was not also in the scenes … and here something puzzling begins to take shape. The production story says that Gomes came to Arganil (in Portugal) during the popular holiday season (August), with a massive script for a fiction film (we see how big it is, there on a table), and a small crew. Unable to fully realise his vision for this film, he nonetheless hung around and began to film the real life of this time and place, like a documentarian or anthropologist or ethnographer: following in particular (as I have indicated) the ever-mutating trail of a folk musical culture, which expands to provide the picture of an entire migratory world, full of tourists, visitors, strangers who came and stayed … And it is this material Gomes eventually mixed with the traces of the fiction that he managed to get on film.* Is this story true, or just too good to be true? We can never tell, very precisely, where the fiction ended and the reality began in this process, or even which of them came first. Certainly, everything to do with the ‘makingof’ (and of course the film project inside the film is also called Our Beloved Month of August) – what Nicole Brenez calls la Fabrique – seems perfectly artificial, as in the droll scenes of confrontation between the director and his irritated producer. A

specific scene is emblematic in this regard: a local girl comes to visit the members of the film crew, who are in the process of playing a game of quoits. The girl (in a long shot/long take) goes from one person to another, seeking to know “who do I ask?” to be an actor in the film (since a casting call has been made public); she goes from the sound man to the production manager to, finally, the director – but this social ritual is already a comedy, almost Tati-like, since all these people are standing very close to each other to begin with. Eventually, the girl strikes a deal with Gomes: if she can throw well as part of their game, she is in the film. That cues a beautiful, momentous cut: the girl throwing, everybody around her intently watching, the sound of where her gesture ends up signalling an off-screen we will never see. But we know the result, intuitively: she will be in the film they are making (indeed, she will be the heroine’s ‘best friend’ figure). It’s like a game of Snap: the trap or the lure of the fiction suddenly seizes the unfolding fragment of reality – even if that reality was completely scripted and staged to begin with. It doesn’t matter, ultimately, how the film came about, how natural or contrived it may be. What matters is its brilliant game of pieces, of levels, of ‘panels’ as in a particularly ingenious art gallery installation or dispositif – where everyIA/JAN UARY 2010

thing that is cinematic in this setup depends on the inventive art of transitions. The film is always moving us along, jumbling us up, spacing us out in simple but ingenious ways, through the dephasing and superimposition of image and sound. A person tells a story about their life, and about the music that is bound up in it; but usually, once we hear that music (or not long after) the film switches to some other scene, and the music continues to play over it for quite a long time (the radio station scene, early on, provides for the matricial model for this switching-circuit). Meanwhile, intriguing, unforced rhymes and echoes between pieces proliferate: for instance, the shadows of two teenagers goofing around in front of the lights of a car is answered by the shadows of two filmmakers posing at dusk; the


COVER STORY

that point, we are introduced to the supposedly real people of Arganil who play these roles: Tânia in her job as fire guardian in a tower, Helder as able sportsman and amateur rock musician. And we see the love story start here, on this level or register: and with perfect corniness, as the amorous couple is seen through the binocular-vision pointof-view shot previously introduced to convey the work of the roaming fire brigade (the fire truck introduced, in a superb transition, by a child’s fond, heroising drawing) …

Miguel Gomez

real night sky is answered by the artificial one in a girl’s bedroom. The overall effect is dreamy, hypnotic, fascinating, setting the heart and the mind racing equally – and it lays the groundwork for the final, elaborate end-credit gag (worthy of Frank Tashlin), when Gomes confronts his sound-man for always recording (as in Godard’s Sauve qui peut) a musical soundtrack that cannot be directly heard in situ. It’s the documentary of a fantasy … It takes a very long time – about 75 minutes – for the fiction, as such, to kick in. It is the love story between the young singer Tânia (Sónia Bandeira) and her guitarist cousin Helder (Fábio Oliveira), members of the band Estrelas do Alva – and the constraining, ambiguous complications caused by Tânia’s close relationship with her father, Domingos (Joaquim Carvalho), who is also the band’s leader. Before

But fiction, really, has been poised to seep in, poised to strike (like that fox), from the very start, in practically the first line of the first song we hear: “Oh, what saudade …” – that particular form of Portuguese melancholia played out in the endless lyric tales of love and loss, abandonment and betrayal, jealousy and death. Our Beloved Month of August is not so long by contemporary standards – a mere 147 minutes – but one will still hear the usual normative grumbles that it’s ‘too long’, that it could have been ‘tightened’, that it could have easily ‘lost an hour in editing’ and still amounted to the same film. Not so. It’s a film that needs time to roam between its different levels, to slowly find its fictional register (so subtly, just as it seems to have comfortably become a documentary alone), to move in and out of its different zones (hence the ‘running gag’ of the makingof-the-film-within-the-film in all its fantastication or fabulation) … Is every important, progressive film of today a remake of Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a ZomIA/JAN UARY 2010

13 25 bie (1943)? Almost every Pedro Costa film, for instance, seems to return to it; and ghosts or zombies of every material sort seem to stalk or sleepwalk through the work of Albert Serra, Lisandro Alonso, Tsai Ming-liang, Béla Tarr … But Our Beloved Month of August takes us back to a very particular moment of Tourneur’s masterpiece: the scene in which the previously subservient, gladhanding, guitar-strumming, nightclub entertainer with the wonderful name of Sir Lancelot breaks his subaltern role and strides forward to gleefully accuse the drunken, guilty white man with his deceptively lilting ditty: “Woe is me / Shame and scandal in the family …” Gomes gives us a more raucous and combative version of this scene. Indeed, it is a literal combat – a combat song (like a ghetto combat dance) phrased and performed as a call-and-response epic of mounting drama and histrionics. With true documentary intensity, Gomes renders this seemingly improvised performance with a simple pan from one side of the war to the other, from one side of the room to the other, within a long take: a drunken local man sings out his provocations about the suspicious father-daughter relationship (and the missing mother), cheered on by his tribe and backed by the accordion troupe we have witnessed in an earlier part of the film, and is answered with a like-spirited provocation. Sir Lancelot and his troupe in Tourneur’s film


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scampered away at the split second when their taunting game stood to be revealed; here, however, there is no such relief or escape route – at least until the drunkard is unceremoniously evicted. It is an extraordinary scene – raising the temperature and seriousness of the unfolding mosaic – ended only by Tânia’s abrupt, embarrassed exit from this space filled to bursting with music and community tension. Our Beloved Month of August builds to an amazing, climactic moment of cinema: after the love story has reached its point of dramatic crisis, we see Tânia from the back, next to her father, as Helder gets on a bus, leaving her life forever. Then she turns, and she is crying; but, almost as soon as we have registered the deep, searing pathos of this, her tears turn into a kind of mad, uncontrollable laughter. This is not only a triumph of mood mixture, a profound emotional switch worthy of Jean Renoir: as the laughter continues, it is not only this woman who transforms, but the fiction itself which dissolves. Leaving only those thin, permeable barriers which will take us once again through a documentary im-sign (the printing press, but one that ‘prints the legend’ as Gomes says in homage to John Ford and Liberty Valence), to the final comedy of the filmmaking process itself, as the credits identify in turn each member of the crew involved in the fancy of arguing about the phantom sound … I have heard the complaint that Our Beloved Month of August is not real cinema, but an instance

of a odd, disconcerting, perhaps dissatisfying new form of paracinema, namely: cinema of the art gallery, destined (or maybe better reworked) to be arranged across the variegated panels of digital photo-stills or computer display screens. This has been said, in various ways, of the cinema work of Philippe Grandrieux (‘a series of beautiful startling images – but where is the cohering cinematic structure?’), of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (which also wanders between the conjured levels of documentary and fiction, film and video, before-the-camera and behindthe-scenes, in Syndromes and a Century and Worldly Desires) and, a little earlier, of Abbas Kiarostami (in Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us) – all filmmakers who have indeed taken the step (alongside Ruiz, Akerman, Costa and others) of moving from cinema into gallery works and back again. Doubtless, such impatient evaluations of Our Beloved Month of August are prompted by the background information that Gomes is part of Portugal’s current ‘experimental auteur scene’ (alongside Sandro Aguilar – his producer here – and João Pedro Rodrigues, channelling the departed free-radical spirit of João César Monteiro), and that he has dabbled in film theory and criticism. But such complaints miss what is innovative, indeed revelatory, about this great new film. The great Czech-born philosopher Vilém Flusser once mused on the difference between a screen wall and a solid wall – for him, the convenient key (like so

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Clockwise from top : A still from I Walked with a Zombie, the film’s director Jacques Torneur, Abbas Kiarostami, Pedro Costa, Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, the poster of I Walked with a Zombie.


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many mundane, everyday phenomena, of the kind that Gomes also alights upon) to understanding our civilisation and its discontents. The solid wall marks, for Flusser, a neurotic society – a society of houses and thus ‘dark secrets’, of properties and possessions. And of folly, too, because the wall will always be razed, in the final instance, by the typhoon or the flood or the earthquake. But whereas the solid wall gathers and locks people in, the screen wall – incarnated in history variously by the tent, the kite or the boating sail – is “a place where people assemble and disperse, a calming of the wind”. It is the site for the “assembly of experience”; it is woven, and thus a network. It is only a small step for Flusser to move from the physical, material kind of screen to the immaterial kind: the screen that receives projected images, or (increasingly) holds computerised, digital images. From the Persian carpet to the Renaissance oil painting, from cinema to new media art: images (and thus memories) are stored within the surface of this woven wall. A wall that reflects movement, but itself increasingly moves within the everyday world: when I was a little child and once dreamed of taking a cinema screen (complete with a movie still playing loudly and brightly upon it), folding it up and putting in my pocket so I could go for a stroll, I had no idea it was a predictive vision of the future, the mundane laptop computer or mobile phone. For a long time, cinema has seemed to be inextricably wed to the solid walls of halls, the-

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1327 atres, cinematheques, and now hi-tech home theatres. Wed to dark rooms and their Gothic dark secrets, to assemblies and preprogrammed public events. Our Beloved Month of August, in its own, remarkable vision of an ‘expanded cinema’, a cinema of multiple panels or screens interacting in space and time, frees the viewers’ minds and lets their emotions roam: through documentary and fiction, through music and travelogue, through drama and comedy, through the plaintive directness of eternal pop culture and the Baroque convolutions of modernism and postmodernism. Of course, it is literally not a museum installation, not a new media piece. It’s an old-fashioned film that gets projected from start to end in a linear fashion, that truly takes you on the passionate journey that every, lesser movie promises to do – but also manages to multiply that journey and the entry-points that we, as spectators, take into it. Moreover – and this is key – Our Beloved Month of August matches its form to its subject in a startlingly rich way: in this film about music and family (as well as about itself), what counts as liberatory is not the wall that shut things in and gives them an illusory fixity and identity, but the fluctuating experience that happens when people “assemble and disperse” (as they literally do, dancing, in a long-held early image), and when the wind is mobilised, calmed and unleashed by the ‘soft machine’ of cinema.


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A new

SRIKANTH SRINIVASAN

NEW WAVE A new wave of filmmakers emerges from within the fog of Berlin. Srikanth looks at them closely, with great interest and not a little amount of suspicion.

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L

ast month, the Goethe Institut – Max Mueller Bhavan, Bangalore, India organized a film workshop on the “New German Film Wave” (also known as the “Berlin School”) conducted by film scholar Dr. Peter Zimmermann that took a look at the films (and directors) that are classified under this hip banner by world critics. Spread over two days, the workshop presented films and film excerpts, with runtimes ranging from half hour to 45 minutes, and attempted to discuss the stylistics of their directors in relation to the other German contemporaries like Fatih Akin, Tom Tykwer and Wolfgang Becker, who have had a more conventional approach compared to these “Berlin School” directors. Led by the trio of Christian Petzold, Angela Schanalec and Thomas Arslan who, apparently, studied at the Berlin Film School together in the 90s, the “New German Wave” seems to be characterized primarily by filmmaking techniques that deviate starkly from existing classicist forms. The workshop kicked off with small clips from Run Lola Run (1998), The Downfall (2004), Goodbye Lenin! (2003) and Head-On (2004) in order to establish what exactly the German New Wave is antithetic to. The following section attempts to take a broad look at this new movement based on a film each by its three major helmsmen and then a number of excerpts from other films. Although this may be a gross undersampling, I was assured that these films are generally accepted to be the quintessential

works of the movement so far. Dr. Zimmermann clarified that “New German Film Wave” and the “Berlin School” are merely terms coined by world critics and are not bodies consciously founded by a set of filmmakers. However, it is also apparent that these set of films do have much in common, stylistically and thematically, and can well be placed under the same label of Berlin School, even if they do not stem from a clearcut movement with well-defined agendas and motives. The most interesting aspect of these films is the fact that most of these are collaboratively produced by TV stations and film companies. Dr. Zimmerman pointed out that the TV stations, specifically their screenplay departments that fund these films, allow the first three films of new directors to be telecasted late night, in order to supplement theatrical releases which get little or no attention. The TV stations, surprisingly, give complete freedom to these directors, even to the extent of allowing the film to be experimental, and as a result the films, although whose scripts resemble TV dramas, are presented in a completely new film language that just can’t go unnoticed. Let me present some of the general characteristics of all the films that had been screened at the workshop. For an initial approximation, one can describe the approach of the Berlin School as “cinema vérité minus the intimacy”. It is as if all the “new waves” have a tendency to negate their country’s legacy, to turn inside out the world’s perception of their cinema. If the French Wave attacked psychological realism, the New American cinema de-

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clared the studios to be dead and the new Russian cinema discarded montage for truth, the Berlin School seems to be directly going against the stylistics of the Expressionists. These films thrive on ultra-realism wherein the images are desensitized, possessing only a bland colour palette. Serene yet ordinary suburban or countryside locations with a startling absence of civilization often form the backdrop, thus making the characters the only beings in this deserted zoo. The soundtracks resemble ones from Tarr movies and accentuate natural sounds to such unreal levels that, beyond a point, images start accompanying sounds, instead of the usual way. These films have little or no nondiegetic music and predominantly present sounds from objects and characters present off-screen. The cinematography is sober, eternally static, almost always presenting detail in tightly-framed medium, long and extremely long shots, usually with a shallow focus that allows us to observe only one character at a time (much detail would be lost during pan and scan). Traditional dramaturgy is sacrificed for loyalty to reality of space and time and the films assume a plotless nature, content with merely observing the characters over a time interval. We are constantly reminded of the limits of the film screen and that a world lies beyond its four edges using shots in which characters are either cut off physically or leave the frame long before a scene ends. This technique is also used for the purpose of denying emotional identification with the characters who, in turn, flourish on repressed emotions. The films could be seen as a chunk of cinematic reality


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in four dimensions with no contrived starting and ending points. The typical themes seem to be emotional isolation and a felling of pointlessness in a sparse and cruel world and the inability to get a grip on life despite incessant attempts. Usually downbeat in presentation, these films almost always have an open ending. The workshop, which began with an introduction to popular German cinema influenced by the likes of Hollywood, was succeeded by a screening of Thomas Arslan’s Holidays (Ferien, 2007). Strikingly similar to Woody Allen’s Interiors (1978), Holidays presents us a struggling translator Anna (Angela Winkler) and her husband Paul (Uwe Bohm) who travel to the countryside to visit her parents. We soon learn about Anna’s extra-marital affair that results in the breaking up of the couple. Holidays is shot in an idyllic countryside where nature is at its prettiest and its sounds, the most dominant. As if indifferent to the petty tribulations of these individuals, this nature, with its majestic stance, reminds us of the transitory nature of their dreams and hopes. The soundtrack is stylized with hyper-real sounds of gusts of wind and ripples of water from the pond located near the villa where the characters stay. Low on plot and with conventional writing tricks, Holidays contains some fine performances with understated emotions but the film still cannot transcend the limitations of a middle-brow drama that has too few words to provide meaning to the silences between them. As a result characters come across as perennial whiners who have only themselves to blame.

Almost same is the case with Angela Schanelec’s Afternoon (Nachmittag, 2007), which discards even basic plot requirements to capture of-the-moment experiences of its characters. Taking place, again, in a serene suburb where an actress Irene (played by the director herself) has arrived to meet her son Konstantin (Jirka Zett) – an unsuccessful writer who lives and tends to his uncle Alex (Fritz Schediwy). Irene is disheartened to see her son in such a state and tries to help in vain. The highly idiosyncratic cinematography of the film restricts the film frame to a very small space and lets the action evolve irrespective of the character positions with respect to the camera. Shot-Reverse Shot techniques are eschewed in conversations and a Kiarostami-like approach is taken up. With barely fifty shots in the movie, naturally, a lot of pressure is placed on the actors’ shoulders and they do a convincing job.

31 Characters are written in such a way that they complement, mirror or negate each other in a fashion that isn’t entirely unseen before. One big blow for the film is its choice to be a explorative narrative film. If only Afternoon chose to be a non-narrative contemplative cinema that never worried about what the characters felt, it could have effectively made us “feel” the titular afternoon that forms the backbone the movie. Christian Petzold’s Yella (2007) is perhaps the most renowned of all the films of this collective and rightly so. Richly layered and completely low-key in execution, this typical Berlin School product follows Yella (Nina Hoss) - a young woman whose professional and personal life seems to have come to a stalemate. With the hope of starting anew, she leaves for West Germany after selling off her company. There, she finds herself as an assistant to the flamboyant Thomas Arslan, and Angela Schanelec(inset)

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Philipp (Devid Striesow), getting involved in large-scale business deals and witnessing corruption, back-stabbing and forgery all the way. But that does not seem to be much of a bother compared to the ghosts of her past, which she attempts to renounce, that haunt her. At heart, Yella is an acknowledgement to the fact that no one - neither an individual nor a country – can completely escape the past. Mildly nostalgic about the life and times in East Germany, Yella boasts of remarkable production design, wherein images from East Germany are laden with lush greenery and vast open spaces, as if providing people with spiritual freedom and prosperity if not economic, while those from West Germany are endowed with rigid, geometrically precise furniture with icy cold blue colour and claustrophobic, corporate buildings dominating the frame. Carefully treading the line between being instructive and being neutral, Yella could well claim to be, aesthetically and contextually, the most triumphant of the New German Film Wave. Now, there are some very big complaints that I have with this so-called Berlin School. All the films of this movement that I have seen deal with the age-old theme of urban loneliness, empty living and emotional alienation. I really don’t have a problem with this redundancy as long as the approach taken offers a fresh perspective to these phenomena. But with Berlin School, these serious issues come across as mere notions waiting to be illustrated cinematically. There is no politi-

cal, cultural or social exploration whatsoever in any of these movies. It is as if the directors assume emotional isolation to be an isolated phenomenon by itself, devoid of historical and political connotations. None of these films seem to want to engage us in a socio-political discussion within the fabric of the family drama that is unfolding on screen (Only Petzold’s Yella provides a historical dimension if not examination). Even when situations and characters are written to serve as microcosms of the German society, the statements made are too broad and general to have any contextual weight (There is barely a statement which concretely locates the film in time and geography – a move that seems only too simplistic). Also, none of these films seem to be personal in nature, for avenues to exploration of the cause of tumult is sacrificed for unwarranted recording of consequences. One is only reminded of the egg that Pedro throws at the camera in Los Olvidados (1950)! Furthermore, the aesthetics of this collective seems to be extremely genre-limited. It is difficult to imagine how the school can think of venturing into other genres or deal with other themes or even dig deeper from where they stand now without having to relinquish, in part or completely, their style which relies on a rigid, academic mise en scène, inflexible camera work and protracted shots. The more dangerous issue is that the school’s aesthetics runs the risk of being compromised by the shallowness of the scripts. The general approach of these directors invites us for a detached

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Poster of Beware of the Holy Whore rumination about the life of the characters, but the scripts contradict that intention by not having any depth of examination, instead calling for emotional engagement. As a result, the movement comes across less as a prism for evaluation of contemporary Berlin than as a bag of stylistic eccentricities that serves no purpose other than to call attention to itself. Additionally, these films rely too much on “dead times” and silences to evoke empathy, in vain. They seem to equate mundanity of the script to that of the characters’ lives and, hence, provide little insight in these stretches of time. One needn’t look any beyond than the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder to understand what the power of these seemingly banal passages of time are. Even in a completely plotless and clinically mundane film such as Beware of the Holy Whore (1971), Fassbinder scathingly and self-reflexively reveals political, social and sexual power games at work in the city. Well, one shouldn’t complain. Not every director is a Fassbinder. And not every film movement is a Nouvelle Vague.


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1) Tell us about the period of your growing up as a cinephile. What were the films that helped shape your initial ideas about cinema? Who and whose works were your formative influences.

BUILDING

It’s hard to pinpoint a beginning, but there were certain personal milestones. I can tell you I started early, as a child. I didn’t have a camera for a while, but I was drawing comics constantly, creating puppets, writing short stories and plays – and I knew that I wanted to make films eventually. First of all, I was fortunate to be born during the start of the VHS boom, and to be living in New York City long before Mayor Giuliani’s reforms raised the rent and drove away many of the great cinephile hangouts. So, all different kinds of films were always available to almost anyone who happened to be living at that time and place. The first big discoveries for me, until I was ten or eleven were: the Fleischer Superman cartoons, Dumbo, Popeye, Batman: The Animated Series, Vertigo, The Snowman, Empire of the Sun, The Red Shoes, Goodfellas, The Red Balloon, and The Purple Rose of Cairo. Second, I was fortunate to have an encouraging mother, who is an artist, and though we had very little money, she made every effort to make things available to me. My parents and I watched Jewel in the Crown when it aired on TV in 1985, and they took me to see the four hour re-release of Lawrence of Arabia at the Ziegfeld Theater, partly because my dad bore more than a passing resemblance to Omar Sharif. I was probably five or six years old, but I remember the part in the middle when Daud drowns in the quicksand and Lawrence is powerless to do anything except watch his friend die right in front of him. God that was so terrifying that I just remember sobbing so loud right there in the theater. After that, my mother got a VHS camcorder, and I started using it to make meaningless little short movies, having to edit in camera. Editing, however crudely, was my first real taste of power as a kid, and

that helped make the world seem a little less scary. I started watching movies every day, and the movies I sought out were the ones that had a point of view, and which told a story that felt honest to somebody’s experience. The movies that meant the most to me (and the kind I decided I wanted to make) were like that. So, I can mark certain periods of my life based on what I was seeing. At age eleven I went to the theater alone to see Woody Allen’s Manhattan and then I saw Taxi Driver at Film Forum. That was a day I’ll never forget. What a revelation to see those two movies, side-by-side, because they really captured everything that could be said about what it was like to live in New York City at that time, the romance and the terror. It wasn’t just about

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BRIDGES IA talks to Tariq Tapa, the director of the much acclaimed independent film, Zero Bridge; as he elaborates on the method in the madness that is independent filmmaking.

”Cinema is the most

alive

art form”

going to the movies anymore: those movies really were about things I felt everyday but couldn’t express myself, and which nothing else around me was even attempting to express. And that was when I realized that someone actually made those movies, and that that person felt the way I did. It was like magic. My mother had a book of Pauline Kael reviews, which was useful for tracking down titles to see. So I began working through the lineage of directors. From then until fourteen, other big movies for me were: M, Dog Day Afternoon, The Blue Angel, The Conversation, Belle de Jour, Barry Lyndon, Casino, The Good The Bad and the Ugly, Pinocchio, Seven, Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Vanishing, The Wild Bunch, Paris Texas, Unforgiven, Nights of Cabiria, Chinatown, A Woman Under the Influence, and Long Day’s Journey Into Night. My best friend in school heard me raving about Network one day, and so even though he wasn’t really a film fan, for my fourteenth birthday he actually went out and got me Lumet’s book Making Movies. That was a life-changing book. (And a lifechanging friend). Near the beginning of the book, Lumet mentions his favorite director: Kurosawa. So, I went and saw my first Kurosawa, which was Yojimbo. And that led to buying a paperback copy of Kurosawa’s autobiography, which really changed my life. After reading that book I came up with my life’s plan, according to the advice to aspiring directors Kurosawa gives in the book’s appendix. And I realized recently that in almost fifteen years since that milestone, I haven’t really changed or deviated much from that life plan. So you see, I’m actually very lucky to have had such encouragement. People don’t encourage each other nearly enough, when just a little bit goes such a long way. Of course, there have been many other great directors I’ve gorged through since – Capra, Ozu, Lang, Olmi, Melville, Cassavetes, Rossellini, Renoir, Kubrick, Bresson – but no other living director I’ve come across has been

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able to improve upon Kurosawa’s very simple and useful advice from 30 years ago. (Actually, there is one living person who actually surpasses Kurosawa’s advice and talent, and that is David Milch, who as the writer-producer of 400 hours – equal to 200 feature films – of some of the greatest television drama ever, now leaves even some of our best film directors in the dust. But I digress.) But why so few people who want to direct have apparently not read Kurosawa’s book is really a mystery to me. If you want to make films and you’re reading this right now then for God’s sake stop reading this and go get a copy of that book and keep it with you! How much do you think your education at CalArts has influenced your filmmaking aesthetic, which is far more typical of say, an Iranian or a Eastern European film; than of an Indian film? Also, was it a conscious decision to distinguish yourself from the run-of-the-mill Indian film? I enjoyed my time at CalArts a great deal, but it’s difficult to say what its influences were on me compared to anything else going on in my life. Thankfully, the school doesn’t have a “house style” to which it expects the students to conform. Zero Bridge was written, planned, and filmed on the other side of the world, so probably the one thing I was influenced by during my time at CalArts was the encouragement to take risks, to be bold and fall on my face. Looking back, I don’t think I did that nearly enough. But by the time I graduated I think I had broken the ice with myself more than when I started. Because of that it was a good experience and I’m grateful to those who shared their time and skills with me. In general I try not to watch run-of-the-mill films (from any country) so I can’t say I was reacting against the ones from India, per se. All I wanted was to tell a story. But I think nationality is a useless way of classifying directors, because the truth is that it’s a director’s point-of-view, finally, that distinguishes one film from another. And point-ofview is the only thing that stands the test of time and transcends nationality. How else could you explain why Satyajit Ray, De Sica, and Renoir have more in common with each other than

they do with their fellow countrymen? In fact, cinema is the history of people (mostly men, sadly) who constantly borrow from and inspire one another, in endless permutations. It’s not necessarily the finished films themselves that inspire: often it’s a person’s process, or attitude, or perceptions. In my case, the extent to which people want to point out that Zero Bridge bears the traces of Ermanno Olmi is absolutely fine with me, but it’s beside the point. (For one thing, even when Maestro Olmi himself saw Zero Bridge with me at the Venice Film Festival, he didn’t agree at all with my claims that certain scenes of mine were lifted directly from his films!). So you see, the deeper truth is not in the question of one’s influences but in one’s own point-of-view. What led to your choice of the digital medium as the format to shoot your film on? What is the camera you used, and what other equipment did you employ? Do you believe, thus, that digital cinema is the way to go for the independent filmmaker in the future? I used the DVX100B, three G-Tech external hard drives, three Sennheiser microphones (one shotgun and two lavs), a set of binaural microphones, a Mini-Disc recorder, and a 13” MacBook without the video card. Everything fit in one carry-on backpack, for the cost of what the average person spends on a car. Economic and logistical necessity drives every decision on every film that anybody makes anywhere. That’s always a given. The real question is how to turn a problem of spirit into a problem of technique? How to turn something you are forced to choose into something you actually want? In the case of Zero Bridge I chose 24p DV because 1) I knew I would have the most freedom financially, technically and logistically for making a film with no crew in Kashmir, 2) it handles close-ups very well, which is how I knew I wanted to shoot my story, and 3) it converts to 24 frame HDCam quite easily during postproduction, for creating high-res exhibition masters. Digital is already here. This question is settled. All post-production is digital, all delivery platforms are digital, more and more theaters are converting to digital. The quality, quan-

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tity, and versatility of codecs are increasing at a geometric rate. Soon, all imaging will be digital too, and celluloid will occupy the same role as vinyl records: kept alive for a small but devoted following. Personally, I’m glad that The Vinyl Record That Is Celluloid Release Printing is finally on its way out. Film is obscenely expensive to shoot, develop, and print. So only wealthy or lucky people get to tell stories and get them seen. Besides, it’s a reckless format that allows a careless lab to ruin the one film roll with the one magical

as how much shooting stock is available. Imagine if a novel’s length were determined by how much paper the writer could afford! If paper is cheap for writers, and if paint is reasonably affordable for artists, then so should image stock be for filmmakers. Now it finally is. And it’s only going to get better. Besides, think of how painting was revolutionized once paint factories developed the technology of putting paint in cheap little tubes, and how that liberated painters worldwide to paint outdoors and

Imran Tapa in a still from Zero Bridge

take. It forces the production to interrupt actors’ concentration every few minutes just to reload film magazines, when the actors should be the most important equipment on the set. Just to handle film you must have extra people around, which means the whole set works more slowly. In fact, film itself is really what has made actual filmmaking so damned cumbersome all these years. Digital means freedom. That doesn’t mean a director should be wasteful or lazy with these freedoms. Indeed some digital filmmakers are lazy and they are the ones that give digital a bad name. But except for the rarest projects (like IMAX), a film’s potential should never be compromised by something as mundane and arbitrary

without a gaggle of assistants. Could a genius as poor and irascible as Van Gogh have been able to paint without the saving grace of being born during such a revolution? Digital puts everything into a backpack and gives complete control to the maker. Digital made a rarity like Zero Bridge possible, because it affords the most valuable currency of them all, which is time. Time not eaten away on relighting and reloading for film is time spent on the story and performances. And I think digital democratizes the medium and liberates it from wasting precious time to the extent that cinema finally has a chance now to grow up, to let new people sit at the adult’s table.

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We noticed while watching the film that you were constantly trying to subvert the conventional cinematic notion of Kashmir - that of an insurgencyridden state which is under constant turmoil and where life only revolves around one topic, which is terrorism - a notion that films like Mission Kashmir and Fanaa try to strengthen. While insurgency is one of the vague subtexts in your film, you seem to be more interested in presenting the people in Kashmir as having, first of all, human concerns, and only then, larger social concerns just like people in any other corner of the world.

the response verbally by saying: “That’s real, that’s what life is really like.” Even when a story is set in outer space, if the audience bonds emotionally to the story, they walk away saying: “Of course, that’s what outer space is really like!” In fact, Kashmir might as well be in outer space, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. But I believe that we are, above all, emotional beings, and our brains construct all kinds of justifications to explain what we feel but can’t describe rationally. How else could you explain the utter irrationality of someone who has never been to Kashmir saying: “I know now what it’s really like to live there.”

No, I wasn’t interested in subverting anything, because life anywhere is always about survival, period. I haven’t seen those other films you named. As I mentioned, I am strictly interested in storytelling, which means being true to the behavior of the fictional characters. The fictional people in the film wouldn’t be likely to have a strong political consciousness because as you said, they have human concerns. But not because I’m making a statement such as “people in Kashmir are people too” but simply because these are fictional characters and that’s how they behave. By contrast, some actual living people that I have met who are Indian or of Indian-origin already have strong opinions about Kashmir and terrorism, which they use to judge this film whether or not they have actually seen it first. But after listening to them talk I get the sense that few of them have actually been to Kashmir, beyond more than a few days as tourists. I must say, although I live in America I would bet that I’ve probably spent more actual time in Kashmir than those who have been the most vocal about my film’s politics. But that’s okay, they’re entitled to their opinions. Mark Twain said, “In matters of politics and religion, most people’s opinions are gotten second-hand from third-rate sources.”

Why do you believe a film like Zero Bridge still remains unreleased? We seem to think that it is an important film about Kashmir - much important that the ones which only confirm the populist notions about the people of your state. It is a truer depiction of the state and its people than all those films. Do you feel cheated that it still does not get a mainstream release as such?

Regarding those people who aren’t familiar with Kashmir but who still liked the film by saying it feels like “a truer depiction of life,” then that simply reflects the power of art, rather than the power of politics. It means that the film’s storytelling was what touched their emotions, not their prior knowledge of Kashmir. In fact, whenever we as audience members bond emotionally to a story, we articulate

One of the more important themes in the film is the suppression of an individual desire in order to fulfill a social role - Dilawar being consistently made to fend for his uncle, and Bani for her family, in a move reminiscent of Maria Full of Grace. What attracted you to this particular theme? And also of the consequent unsuccessful rebellion by these two against the circumstances?

No, I don’t feel cheated at all. I’m proud of the work we did, and the film has had a much wider response than we ever imagined when we made it, which bodes well for future films I want to make. Regarding Zero Bridge, distributors have said they liked the film a lot but don’t understand how to market it, which I confess I don’t understand because it’s already pretty obvious who the immediate audience would be and how they can be reached without great expense. Not to mention the crossover audience the film has found internationally with audiences who just like world cinema. Right now, there are some tentative discussions about doing a Limited Edition DVD release. We want to just make the film available for people who want to see it, and that may help with a limited theatrical release. But it’s very tentative right now. We’ll be posting updates through our Facebook page and our website.

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Imran Tapa and Ali Mohammed Dar in Zero Bridge\

You mentioned Maria Full of Grace. After Zero Bridge was completed but before it premiered, Paul Mezey, one of the producers of Maria, became an executive producer of Zero Bridge, and he’s been extremely savvy about navigating this little film out into the big world. Yes, you’ve touched upon an idea that is part of a larger theme I’m interested in, which I would call “the weight of the past on present behavior.” To me, that is the real subject of every story, because it is the secret subject of everyone’s life, including mine. When explored in a setting such as present-day Kashmir, that theme resulted in Zero Bridge. Right now I’m in the midst of writing something where that theme is set in a much different world: the early days of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Settings are really just pretexts for enacting the human drama. If you take a biological view of man, you realize that human behavior never changes however much societies do. You have cited Bicycle Thieves as one of the ma-

jor influences on the film. Elaborate on that. It wasn’t the film itself that I found most inspiring, although of course it is perfectly made. But to me it’s the ideas that film presents which liberated me in a similar way that seeing Taxi Driver did when I was eleven. Basically, both films, however perfectly-crafted as stories, are ultimately trying to achieve a higher purpose, which is to engage with the world around them. Those movies made me realize that there are really only two kinds of directors: those who are basically interested in the world, and those who are basically interested only in themselves. The ones interested in themselves make movies that are usually about other movies they have seen, seen through the prism of the director’s own personality tics. And those movies are really for an audience of people with similar concerns, which basically is why they go see them: to reaffirm themselves. By now, I’ve realized that I will never fit in with that crowd.

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But I feel a kinship with the directors interested in the world. For one thing, they are harder to pin down, because they tend to make themselves disappear into the work. That isn’t to say that those directors interested in the world only choose to make “realistic” films. (Kubrick is a perfect example of someone interested in the world but whose work is dreamlike). But it is to say that they aren’t just making films for films’ sake. They aren’t made just to appeal to one’s small immediate circle of friends, colleagues, critics, bosses, teachers, or neighbors. They are made to be in conversation with as many people as possible; ideally, with the whole world. Those directors choose to speak straight from the heart because they know that what comes from the heart goes to the heart. And if cinema has one distinct advantage over every other narrative form, it’s that it more immediately accesses the pre-verbal, subconscious emotions. Because pure cinema is not restricted by language. Only music can achieve the same immediate power, can produce the same energy in the viewer/listener. (Kurosawa mentions this). I believe that there really is an energy felt from a work of art. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say that a film (whether it’s Sleeping Beauty or Seven Samurai, it doesn’t matter) made by someone from another time and place is viewed and enjoyed by someone else – you – in another time and place. Even though the filmmaker is not with you in the room when you watch it, when something – even if it’s bizarre or disturbing –speaks to your inner life, that lifts you up. Doesn’t it? You feel alive, alert. You feel – briefly – part of something.

they usually assume a posture of irony to protect them from being mocked. Because we live in a world that suffers from the absence of secular faith – a genuinely questioning perspective which is unpolluted by fundamentalism or commerce, but where people can still seek something greater than themselves. The absence of this is now the reason why secular people, whether they realize it or not, turn to art. Even those who don’t believe in God still want to find something meaningful to do with their time on this planet. Art is the place to connect, even if it’s a disturbing connection. And the most alive art form, to me at least, is cinema. That’s why I’ve chosen to work within a mass medium, because I’m taken with the idea that art can be the vessel for shaping experience into truth. Whenever anybody picks up a camera and tries to give shape to experience, it proves the validity of the idea that cinema can be a bridge to humanity, even if that bridge leads to the darkest parts of our nature. Someone said that the highest possible compliment to give to a work of art is to say that it’s not only beautiful but that it’s useful. Well, what could be more useful than something that shows you that there is a way back into the world?

When that happens, it means that some force had to have given that spark rise, to allow it to cross the distance of space-time to make itself emotionally vital to someone whom the artist never met and maybe never will meet. Yet, a connection was made, however improbable and ineffable. And I think that that whole process just defies rational explanation. It can’t be commoditized or politicized or owned. But it can absolutely be felt, when it happens, and it happens of its own accord. And that kind of almostreligious experience scares people because it’s so personal and emotional. People are ashamed to talk about it without seeming old-fashioned or crazy, so

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Call Money Mani Kaul

OR

In which Satyam Berera talks about the concepts of parallel or mainstream, avant-garde or convention; the paradoxes within a culture. Being the adventures of an indepedent filmmaker in this nation.

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THE INDIAN AUTEUR ESSAYS

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ny person who wants to be filmmaker in India, has usually two choices, either to 'call money' by joining what is now known as the Harward of medicroity in the east aka Bollywood or become 'Mani Kaul', who was actually invited by Harward Film School to join them as a faculty member to teach their students of cinema, what is unique and original about his cinema. The choice is very difficult, considering the fact that money is very important thing in life and joining Bollywood, not only fills your pocket, but gives you instant fame and recognition in a already established conventions of cinema. To follow a path that is different and wants to present things differently and bring new perspective, is difficult. One is often mocked at, ignored and then there is this worst kind of connoisseur or the name dropper, who simply wants to show that he/she likes your work, because this provides him/her upward social mobility in a group of snobbish people (where logic and consistency is often ignored, for what is fashionable or classy), Thus what is spoken is never in any language, what is said... 'All great thinkers think the same. Yet this 'same' is so essential and so rich that no single thinker exhausts it'. Martin Heidegger in his lecture on Nietzsche in 1936.

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he above statement by Heidegger seems to have been adopted literally by the cinematic world, each tries

to attack other in the same fashion for decades now and explore similar subjects within the established compartments, created long ago. If one studies various class of filmmakers and critics one tends to draw various parallel lines. These parallel lines are very vary of the 'crooked' line. Segregation within the intellectual class, who fancies itself as secular and neutral. Even within the creative group, getting any kind of support is difficult. One must understand that, if the aesthetics or formulae for mainstream cinema are there, so is there for the other side of it and this other side which fancies itself as creative and avant-garde had defined the 'boundaries of creativity' and anyone going beyond that is often ignored and ridiculed. For Ray, the cinema of Benegal and Sathyu was acceptable, but not Kaul or Shahani. The problem is that the other side, who tries to define itself as 'different' (Parallel lines) had constructed the four walls of what is creative and what is not. A friend of mine once asked, if an creative individual truly believes in 'Yeh duniya mujhe mil bhi jaaye to kya hai', then why release [t]his work and ask the public to appreciate his/her message and feel rejected when it doesn't. It may reflect a reaction to a moment in life, but not someone intentions, perhaps intentions are either misplaced or misunderstood. Even the New wave is now 40 years old and is still addressed in the same fashion. This brings the question of originality, which takes a back seat, when faced

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with ideology, Something that is already defined, can be presented in various colorful ways, cinematic or language wise but it is like continuing the tradition invented by someone else. Then there is another reduction, men with agendas and ideologies tends to be sterile in questioning their own beliefs. Man must not check reason by tradition, but must check tradition by reason. A person who tries to re-check what is already defined by someone, and take into account the unquestioned assumptions and inconsistencies, that are there, can attimes, not always reach a different conclusion. Here let me point out that the 'Crooked' line often emphasizes the value of what is absent - the varjit, the forbidden - as perennially in argument (vivadi) with what is narratively present. The short moment of creation is posed at the point where human action simultaneously registers what exists and in the process, produces something unprecedented... ADDED BONUS AND ORIGINAL GOALS - TRAPPINGS OF GENERALITY AND MYSTERY OF AVANT-GARDE :

I

t takes all kind to make this potpourri. There are all kind of men who want to be a part of this filmworld, for example, there was this guy who wanted to make a film and could not find a suitable title for his film, he asked me "can you give me a muslim title for my film, which sounds classy, something like


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Maya Darpan", so I can sell this film to various festivals circuits, his association of Urdu language with a particular religion, his failure to distinguish between Hindi and Urdu language (Maya Darpan are Hindi words and not Urdu) and its associated status as a language whose remarkable lexion has a upward classy feel, (primarily its association with 'Adab'), somehow uncannyly reflects his viewpoint of this medium as well as himself. Then there was this budding actor who wanted to join Bollywood, rather than he be concerned with how he is going to polish his talent or study a character or learn various techniques of acting, he was more apprehensive about, 'what kind of Oil will be better for his ass to survive the casting couch, olive oil or a cream?... but these examples clearly illustrate that what are your goals - most of persons working in Bollywood tends to focus on money and thus resulting in commodification of an art form, and in this process if they make something creative, that is like added bonus, but not their original goal. Mainstream cinema has its own logic in defending its output, in the garb of the question, why should they (connoisseurs/critics) impose their understanding/expectations from a medium to someone (filmmakers). They argue that we should judge anyone with what his or her intentions or goals are, for instance, according to common understanding/opinion, a young tall beautiful girl should try her hands at modelling and earn fame and money and if this girls refuses to use her [presumed] as-

sets in this expected fashion and most of time, she may receive a comment like "Girl you don't deserve this body", but the question is that, whether she wants to be a model or not, should be taken into account and an conclusion can only be reached only after checking his/her intentions and goals.

T

he persons who may have passed such comments are not wrong, they are doing what they see and think should be the case, but these assessments carry a fallacy of ignoring other person's intentions. Similarly we should judge filmmakers intentions and should pass judgments/ comments only after understanding what he or she is trying to do and not based on our expectations/perception of the medium. They further state that, often in the creative group, there is tendency to ridicule the 'Basic', as we know, how high you may be (creatively or otherwise), you cannot ignore the 'Basic'. Agreed, but the problem is that Bollywood fails to re-evaluate what they consider 'basic'. Inquiry is missing. It may sound like a cliche, but usually inquiry is done by someone, who is the affected party and wants to question the system/device/ideology/method and does not not accept the current state of affairs, otherwise most of the time, we accept whatever is there and succumb to subalternity, for instance, it is usually the so-called lowercaste person, who is pushed towards the margins of society, who will question Manu's ideology, because it affects him/her and the quality of life he/she is

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expected to lead. What most Bollywood films do is that, always present a 'convenient' reality.

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onvenience is tricky word, because every filmmaker has its own definition of what is 'real' and 'acceptable' and what is not and they always try to mask this under the word 'subjective', for instance, there are numerous Bollywood films which celebrate national integration and creates a false or comfortable world, where denial seems to be a dominant force, reality is far different and complex, which raises many questions rather than providing answers, but mainstream Bollywood always believe in providing answers and messages, even at the behest of ignoring the complexity of reality. Mainstream Bollywood always look for a safe or what they think is a safer bet. Then there is another myth propagated by the script writers of Bollywood, who argue that there are only 8 or 10 original plots and the rest depend on how you construct these into different stories. Many directors in Bollywood still believe, that it the story and script or the actors which make the film. Cinema is still not treated as complete art in itself. Making a movie is considered an achievement itself - it is as if someone's motto in life is 'Saans Bharna hi Jeevan Jina hai'... PSEUDO-INTELLECTUALS :

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erception is also built by people who are part of the art world and there own bias and mis-information also leads to


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another reduction, and that is of the medium being reduced to lowest common denominator. Most of the time one finds these filmmakers from Bollywood trying to present themselves and their brand of cinema as something which is beyond the superficial. There are filmmakers/actors who call themselves as 'perfectionist'.

T

he word 'perfectionist' is often used when you believe that you have saturated an art form and thus it cannot be modified or improved. How boring an human life would be, if there was nothing to explore and one is only left with learning,continuing and functioning within the boundaries of creativity, defined by others. Getting an approval and funding for doing a PHD. on Mani Kaul or Kumar Shahani or their brand of cinema is very difficult, but if someone wants to do the same for a mainstream Bollywood director/actor, then he/she can avail indirect funding from the selected director/actor himself/herself. These sponsored PHDs or papers are nothing but fanthonable write-off in praise of the filmmaker/actor, while carefully highlighting the weaknesses of his/her contemporaries in a way, which to a idiot may sound like praise and going to an extent of distorting history - hiding facts and twisting facts in such fashion that it places the other person in bad light. The disclaimers that are issued by these authors are merely, a tactic to hide their

dishonesty from a knowledgeable reader. Recently, I came across a book which was about a film, which had been the biggest box-office success in recent years and the director is so afraid/insecure of loosing his cult status that he had not signed any film as a director after this maiden venture. The writer who fancies himself/ herself as a critic, should have named this book 'how to increase your english vocabulary' rather than name of the film. Whenever one sees filmmakers like Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani or Kamal Swaroop, one wonders that these gifted filmmakers could have made few commercial ventures to fill their pockets, and while doing so, could have made their brand of cinema, but they choose a path that was different and are contented with it.

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his is a personal choice and it requires lot of guts to persue this path of creativity. The difference between the mainstream commercial filmmakers and filmmakers like Mani Kaul, although they both take risks, is that the risks involved in persuing commercial venture is that, it may fail at the boxoffice, but he/she still has the cushion of money for its director, but for someone like Mani Kaul or Kumar Shahani, who work on a shoe-string budgets, the risk is greater, creatively and otherwise, there is much more at stake here, say then incase of a commercial filmmaker. Recently in a discussion on

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cinematography, where one of the participants was trying to compare Subrata Mitra and K.K.Mahajan's works, filmmaker Kumar Shahani pointed out that Subrata Mitra still had a good budget to get his things done, his way, but in the conditions he and K.K.Mahajan worked, (on a very miniscule budget), it was extremely difficult, but the quality was never compromised. Everybody is ready to eat the fruits of anyone creative success, but what about the person who risks his/her life to create that. What most young filmmakers fear is that, if they want to persue something creative, nobody supports/appreciates them and then there is this fear of being branded a 'loser' in the world of rat race.

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ow, Indian cinema's urgent necessity is another new wave, perhaps another creative revolution, which defines our times and our understanding of various issues and present a reflection of our current sensibilities and also reflects the churning of knowledge over the years. What was considered 'Truth' ten or twenty years ago had changed with time and the same needs to be reflected. Time has come to remove the divide, so that 'Money' and 'Mani' can meet and create something unprecedented.


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20BRAVEHEARTS Thai cinephile Jit Phokaew lists 20 young independent directors from his nation who use camera as their war machine and the digital format as their mistress. IA looks eastwards.

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1.ALWA RITSILA

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lwa Ritsila and Komvish Zally shocked many audience in 2008 with their Mofo Life Size Doll (2007, 25 min), an unrelentingly brutal film using dolls as characters. The main character of this film rapes, tortures, kills, and crucifies other characters. This kind of extreme brutality can also be found in other films directed or co-directed by Alwa. Though the cruel stories in his films make some people want to look away from the screen, other people feel drawn to the beauty of the cinematography and the perfect use of the soundtrack in his films. Another interesting work of his is The Witch (2009, 29 min), which he co-directed with Phatamon Chitarachinda. In this film Alwa played all the three main characters by himself—the masturbating father, the virgin daughter, and a witch who loves drinking the blood of a virgin. It ranks as one of the most brutal films I have ever seen, but I can't deny its cinematic power. Alwa is the dark lord of Thai cinema.

IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER

2. ARPAPUN PLUNGSIRISOONTORN

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rpapun made Repeating Dramatic (2008, 8 min), which is one of the best Thai political films in 2008. In this film, an extremely melodramatic scene from a soap opera is replayed for numerous times. The colors of the scene are increasingly fading each time the scene is replayed, until what remains on the screen looks like moving mass of ugly colors. The audience also hears a radio report of political news during the same time. This film reminds me of the sad political history of Thailand, in which military coups have been staged frequently, even in 2006. The country has always been stuck in a vicious circle, like a melodramatic scene which is forever repeated and unable to move forward. Arpapun also made Fairy Feminine (2009, 29 min), which tells a twisted fairy tale about a relationship between a mother and a daughter. The mother looks like an angel, a witch, and a lesbian rolled into one. The prince in this film performs the role of a seducer instead of a rescuer-hero. And the seven dwarfs in this film look like a gang of rapists. Maybe this is a perfect fairy tale for children in our postmodern time.

3. ATTAPON PAMAKHO

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ttapon made Hasan (2008, 29 min), which is one of the most touching gay films I have ever seen. It deals with a married Muslim man who has an affair with his wife's brother. The story is very daring compared with most Thai films, and the cinematography is gorgeous. Hasan is successful in expressing the inner torment of the husband, the role of which is excellently played by Supasawasdi Buranawate. It reminds me of the power of another great gay film—Priest (1994, Antonia Bird). Attapon also co-directed Seaport (2006, 22 min) with Benya Poowarachnan. This documentary deals with immigrants from Myanmar who are living with difficulty in a province in Thailand, and the racial prejudice of Thai people. Seaport shares one thing with Hasan--the use of music in both films' ending scenes brings tears to my eyes.

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4. CHAIWAT WIANSANTIA

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haiwat Wiansantia made Fragrance of the Wind (2007, 26 min), and Wake Up Time (2009, 10 min), both of which are like semi-experimental, semi-documentary films. They seem to tell no obvious stories, and focus on landscapes. I think the story of Fragrance of the Wind is about a person who is bored with living and working in a big city and decides to go visiting his rural hometown for a while. The film can capture the rural landscape, or the soul of the rural landscape, very well. It seems to be able to transport the pleasant atmosphere of the rural areas into the screening room miraculously. I felt as if there was a magical wind blowing in the screening room while the film was shown. I felt as if I could smell the damp earth soaked with rainwater while I was watching the film. Wake Up Time portrays a group of people who go to a seaside. The film lets us see their seemingly insignificant activities—walking, talking, painting—and interspersed them with seemingly unconnected scenes, such as scenes of a neon lamp going on and off, or scenes of a taxi. The "seemingly-illogical" editing helps create some magical feelings and makes this film very much different from a mere home video.

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948 5. CHALOEMKIAT SAEYONG

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IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER

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haloemkiat Saeyong’s masterpiece is Politically Lawyer and Narrative Cinema (2009, 27 min), which plays with many elements of cinema. The film tells a fictional story about a murder in an airport and uses this murder to remind the viewers of the real case of Somchai Neelaphaijit, a Thai political lawyer who disappeared in 2004. Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa, a Thai film critic, makes an interesting observation that the film seems to both tell a story and destroy its story at the same time. The film is extremely self-reflexive and has numerous weird things in it. For example, both the English title and the Thai title of this film are “intentionally” grammatically wrong. The film shows us a lecture room or a corridor in a building, while a text appearing on the screen says that the audience must imagine that what they see is an airport. The film reminds me of some weird and wonderful films by Jean-Luc Godard. Chaloemkiat also made Peru Time (2008, 18 min), which lets us watch a sunset for 18 minutes while some unreadable texts keep appearing on the screen. Wiwat compares this film to the opening scene of India Song (1974, Marguerite Duras). Chaloemkiat also made A Place of Different Air (2008, 24 min), in which the images appearing on the screen change their sizes from time to time. This semi-documentary, semi-experimental film is about a family who has just moved to a new place, and the different image sizes seem to emphasize the contrast between the old place and the new place.

6.CHAWIT WAEWSAWANGWONG

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hawit Waewsawangwong made Fireflies (2005, 4 min), which presents beauty neon lights in Bangkok, while an electronic dance song is played. The editing of this film corresponds perfectly with the song rhythm, and it can be considered one of the most beautiful dance music videos ever made. I also like it very much that the film seems to celebrate neon lights and night life in Bangkok, instead of doing what some other Thai films and some other Thai artists do—trying to portray Bangkok as a one-sided place of evil and ugliness and looking down on night life. I consider this film as possibly one of the three most beautiful films about Bangkok. The other two are Rough Night (2001, Samart Imkham, 22 min) and Bangkok at 21:42 hrs (2001, Thanes Maneejak, 3 min). Chawit also made some good animations, such as Enough (2007, 3 min) and Continue (2005, 2 min). I also love Hate (2004, 2 min), in which we see someone intending to kill someone, but the film minimally and effectively tells its story by letting us see only the tip of a cutter moving closer to its victim.

7.CHULAYARNNON SIRIPHOL

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hulayarnnon made Hualampong (2004, 12 min) when he was a high-school student. This film observes an old man who frequently came to a railway station to take photos. There is nothing dramatic happening during the whole film. The film observes this man very patiently. This film drastically changed the attitude people had had towards Thai high-school students-filmmakers. Before this film, we used to think that high-school students only made funny films. After this film, we know we can never underestimate these teenagers any more. Chulayarnnon's masterpiece is Danger (Director's Cut) (2008, 14 min), which tells a story about a murder in an apartment building. What makes this film extraordinary is that the script of this film and some harsh comments on this film are also inserted into the film. We see texts from the script and texts commenting on the film appearing on the screen from time to time. This film is originally made as a thesis in a university. The harsh comments were made by a teacher. When we watch this film, we don't only see a murder story, but we also learn about its narrative structure and the bias against this film. I have never seen a film as self-reflexive as this before. An instant classic!

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8.JANENARONG SIRIMAHA

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IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER

anenarong made I Scream (2008, 21 min), which is a very entertaining horror-thriller film, though the film is as good as many good films in its genre. It doesn't transcend its genre. However, Read Me! (2008, 17 min) proves that Janenarong is a talent to watch. This film, which is about a female university student who can read other people's minds, is hard to categorize. It is extremely entertaining and can please general audience as much as a good mainstream film, but it is very different from most Thai genre films or most Thai mainstream films because it doesn't let itself be bound by the rules of any genres. It keeps on surprising the audience until the end. Janenarong also made Ying and Wan (2008, 7 min), a very funny film in which an actor played five characters. This low-budget film proves that creativity, not money, is the best thing you can rely on when making a film, no matter whether the film is a pure entertainment or a work of art.

9. NAPAT TREEPALAWISETKUN

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apat likes John Waters and Michael Haneke, and this fact is obviously shown in his films. Nene, who gives maddeningly fierce, wild, raw, and extremely memorable performances in many of Napat's cult films, is his own Divine. A Series of Salinee Event (2007, 14 min), which was made while Napat was still a high-school student, tells the story of a woman (Nene) who hires a killer to kill someone, which turns out to be Salinee herself. This film made Napat stand out from other Thai teenage filmmakers, because the film has a very complicated narrative structure, and the extreme violence in this film is shown in a serious mode, while most films made by Thai teenagers show violence in a playful, funny mode. I Will Rape You with This Scissors (2008, 13 min), which stars Nene as a demented mother who may or may not kill her own daughter, also has a perplexing narrative structure. It even has a deeper layer of meaning. This cult film is actually a satire on the censorship of Syndromes and a Century (2006, Apichatpong Weerasethakul). While most of Napat's earlier films may show the influences of John Waters, the influences from Haneke become obvious in Seduction Lullaby (2009, 23 min), a feel-bad film which tells a story about rapes and guilt. The characters in this film don't ex-

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20BRAVEHEARTS pressively show their feelings as in Napat's earlier films. They carry enormous pain inside. Napat also made It's Hard to Say How I Love You, Captain Hook (2009, 10 min), which tells a story of a mother who patiently takes care of her disabled son. The film is very interesting because it doesn't seem to belong to any obvious genres. It is not a feel-bad, a comedy, a black comedy, a satire, or a tear-jerking drama. It is just itself. It also indicates that Napat's directing styles may evolve very fast.

10.NAWAPOL THAMRONGRATTANARIT

11.PRAP BOONPAN

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rap Boonpan, whom I consider a leader of Thai political films, impressed me a lot with his Two Worlds in One World (2004, 18 min), which deals with the problems of the film The Siam Renaissance (2004, Surapong Pinijkhar), which may or may not present Thai historical facts, and may also present some wrong attitudes. Prap presents the problems of that film and his arguments very straightforwardly. He makes the characters in Two Worlds in One World talk about these problems and he uses his camera to focus on some historical textbooks in extreme close up, so that the viewers can read what is written on the textbooks. I like this kind of technique very much. It reminds me of some foreign essayistic films or some films by Jean-Luc Godard, but I had never found this kind of argumentative techniques employed in Thai films before. Prap uses this technique again in Letter from the Silence (2006, 5 min), in which he uses a camera to focus on a letter written by a Thai taxi driver who heroically committed suicide to protest the military coup in 2006. I had read this powerful letter before I saw this film. I liked the content of the letter very much, but it didn't have a strong effect on my feelings when I read it on a website. However, when the letter is presented in this film, the power of its words seems to increase exponentially and unexplainably, and this time the letter can make me cry. Maybe the film lends an "aura" to the letter. This technique is used again, but by a younger director, in a film called Women in Democracy (2009, Atthawut Boonyuang, 6 min), which is one of the best Thai films this year. This fact seems to indicate that Prap may have some influences on younger directors. Prap's masterpiece is The Bangkok Bourgeois Party (2007, 28 min), which condemns many bourgeois people who support the military coup. It contains an instant classic scene—a three-to-five minute blackout scene in which the viewers see nothing and hear nothing. This scene comes after the bourgeois characters kill a character who thinks differently. Though many films by Prap contain a lot of dialogues or texts, there are some films in which he turns to use some symbols, instead of texts or dialogues, to convey his messages. This group of films includes Culture and Nature (2008, 3 min) and

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awapol works both independently and for studios. He became famous for See (2006, 9 min), which observes his own father while he is making fried rice, eating, and watching TV. The film also has what would later turns out to be Nawapol's signature styles, namely static camera, long take, and long shot. Though Nawapol uses some arthouse styles in his films, his films are very different from many arthouse films because there is a Nawapol's brand of humor in his films. I don't know how to define his kind of humor. I think I should just give some examples. The story of Giraffe (2007, 3 min) takes place when the world is about to end after 300 Malaysian giraffes died. Two people want to listen to a song before the world ends, but the song they end up listening to is So Dem a Com by E-Type. In his documentary Shit Happens (2003, 52 min), Nawapol talks about the problems his family has with dog excrement in


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the latter part of The White Short Film/The Candle Light (2009, 20 min), which earns him the R.D. Pestonji award. This award-winning film consists of two parts. In the first part, we see a man and a woman reading a script about the political situation in Thailand in late 2008 and early 2009. In the second part, we see a man watching a candle in a TV. This film, together with Culture and Nature, makes me contemplate about the future of Thailand. I think in the future if someone wants to write a book about Thai political films, Prap Boonpan is one of the names which must be included in that book.

12. PRATEEP SUTHATHONGTHAI

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rateep is an artist who makes photos, videos and video installations. He cleverly explores the themes of minorities and ethnicity in Thailand via his videos Where Are Thais From? (2007), and Explanation of the Word 'Thai' (2007, 2 min). In Explanation of the Word 'Thai', we see a Phu-Thai guy reading Thai history out loud by using his own local dialect, which makes his reading incomprehensible to many Thai viewers, especially Bangkokians. The video also presents some karaoke texts, so that the viewers can pronounce what the guy is saying, but still don't understand what the guy is saying. Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa observes that this video makes the viewers realize that Thailand is not composed of only Thai people, but composed of people from many ethnic groups who have diverse cultures. The viewers also realize that some groups of people are marginalized by Thai mainstream culture, and these minorities are not mentioned in the definition of the word Thai which they are reading. I also like Moving Cameras – October 27 (2009), which is a video installation of Prateep. This video installation, which is composed of four TV sets, shows us the views from a camera which is passed from one person to another person to another person, and so on. This video installation, which may be about some abstract ideas, unintentionally makes me realize that in order to see the whole thing or to understand a thing completely, we should watch it from various viewpoints, observe it from various angles, or maybe listen to people who think differently.

13.RATCHAPOOM BOONBUNCHACHOKE

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have seen only three films by Ratchapoom, but I'm sure this director, who is also an avid cinephile, will go very far. His films include Unpronoucable in the Linguistic Imperialism of Yours (2008, 3 min), which is a mockumentary about a Thai female artist who opens her house to let people come in and watch her masturbating. This film makes the viewers realize that we rarely see a heroine expressing some sexual satisfaction in Thai films or Thai TV series. We more often see Thai villainesses expressing this kind of feelings. This film touches on some taboos in Thai media which we may not have noticed before. Ratchapoom tackles taboo subjects again in Mermaid Wearing Pants (2009, 7 min), which is composed of found footage from many banned films, including Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini). This film also reminds us of some political taboos in Thailand. Ratchapoom's masterpiece is Bodily Fluid Is So Revolutionary (2009, 41 min), which tells a story of a gay couple who encounter a serious relationship problem when one of them becomes allergic to any bodily fluid coming out of his lover. The allergic one seeks help from a female doctor, who eagerly volunteers to have sex with her own patient, while his lover resorts to masturbation. What makes this film special is its self-reflexiveness. The images in this film are strangely disrupted from time to time, as if the film is shown via a scratched or damaged DVD, but the characters also realize that they exist in a scratched DVD and try to escape from it. Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa observes that this film does not only tackle some sexual taboos, but is also about the relationship between film viewers who become allergic to arthouse films, critics who provide the cure, and filmmakers who are accused of masturbating themselves by making incomprehensible films.

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14.SOMPOT CHIDGASORNPONGSE

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(I want to note that Sompot used to be an assistant director of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and many other people who used to work with Apichatpong have turned out to be great independent directors, too. These great directors include Nitipong Thinthupthai, Phaisit Phanphruksachat, Santiphap Inkong-ngam, Suchada Sirithanawuddhi, Supamok Silarak, and Teekhadet Vucharadhanin.)

15.SUPAKIT SEKSUWAN

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hat I love in many of Supakit's films is its free flowing and its incomprehensibility. Some of his films seem to defy logic and make the viewers ask, "What is happening?", "What does this scene mean?", "What does the whole film mean?", or "Why was this scene inserted into the film, because it makes no sense at all?" Having said that, I don't want you to misunderstand that Supakit's films are very arty. In fact, his films seem to be cheaply made, and observe no rules of film aesthetics. This quality turns out to be the reason why seeing his films is a very refreshing experience. His films are the opposite of many films made by film school students who strictly observe the rules of what good arthouse films should be. In I Open at the Close (2009, 12 min), Supakit lets us see many unimportant activities in a university. Most viewers don't understand what this film is trying to say. I don't either. But it is a pleasant experience to see a film which seems to be bound by no rules, except the feelings of the director. There's one scene I like very much in this film. It's the scene in which the camera stalks a young student for a long time. It stalks this student for no obvious reasons, and it stops stalking when the student seems to realize that he is being stalked. I also love Inside Out (2009, 21 min) and The Love (2007, 8 min), two documentaries of his. The first is about a group of rural children who talk about many trivial things. The second is about his grandparents. What I like in these two is the feeling that Supakit might not know what was going to happen in the next minute or the next second when he was shooting these documentaries. It seems as if Supakit just let the subjects of his documentaries express their true selves and enjoy themselves, instead of trying to control his subjects in order to make his documentary serve some purposes or convey some messages. My most favorite film of Supakit is Prognostic (2009, 8 min), in which we see a guy walking and doing some activities, while the images of these activities are manipulated in various ways, such as being turned upside

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ompot's first film is AUAD DEE (2003, 10 min), which impresses me a lot because it is like an essay. In this film we see a young man, who is supposed to be a representative of a certain group of Thai teenagers, expressing his opinions on many social trends for nearly 10 minutes. But in the end we hear the voice of a narrator expressing some scorn on this man. I think Sompot made this film in order to express his opinions on other people's opinions, and he succeeded. His method may be easy, but I like its straightforwardness and its difference from most Thai films. Sompot made another essay film called Diseases and a Hundred Year Period (2008, 20 min), which talks about the censorship of Syndromes and a Century. He also made some atmospheric films, including Bangkok in the Evening (2005, 16 min), Andaman (2005, 16 min), 8,241.46 Miles Away From Home (2006, 6 min), and Landscape 101 01 1101 01 ... (2007, 28 min), all of which seem to present "landscape" as one of the main characters. All of them are documentary-like and very slow. In this group of films, I prefer Landscape 101 01 1101 01 ... the most. This film explores the landscape of a burnt forest very patiently. I love its extreme slowness and the fact that the images in this film become blurred from time to time. However, it is interesting that Sompot changes the rhythm of his films after that. Physical Therapy (2007, 1 min), which is about a woman running in a desert, and Yesterday (2008, 13 min), which is about the hectic lives of Thai students in USA, are fast-paced, and it indicates that Sompot is a director who may like to change his styles from film to film in order to fit the different themes of each film. I can't wait to see his thesis film Are WeThere Yet?.

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16.SUPHISARA KITTIKUNARAK

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uphisara made Thom (2009, 30 min) and Passion Sonata (2009, 13 min), both of which deal with sex in a very interesting way, or in a way I had never seen in Thai films before. I guess she can be called the Thai Catherine Breillat. Thom deals with a young woman whose husband just died. She decides to keep his corpse in her bedroom, becomes a prostitute, does some weird activities, flirts with a young boy, and shaves her head. Suphisara also plays the lead role in this film, and she did really have her own head shaved. That shows how devoted she is to her film. Passion Sonata deals with a young lesbian couple who sometimes have sex in a tennis court, and a gay couple who live nearby. One of the gay couple (played by Napat Treepalawisetkun) likes to play violin after making love. Trouble seems to happen when one of the lesbians tries very hard to rape one of the gays. Nearly all of these things in both of her films are presented in an objective tone. While most Thai filmmakers may try to present this kind of stories in a comedic tone or in a melodramatic tone, Suphisara tells her story in an objective tone, which reminds me of some Austrian films by Barbara Albert, Ulrich Seidl, or Michael Haneke.

17.TANATCHAI BANDASAK

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have seen five films by Tanatchai – Drift (2008, 3 min), Endless Rhyme (2008, 26 min), Lalita (2008, 5 min), Swamp (2008, 3 min), Sweetheart Garden (2009, 22 min) – and I don't think I understand them. I just know that they are very poetic and their beauty is beyond my ability to describe. Lalita may be the easiest film to be described. It is composed of found footage of two TV series starring Lalita Panyopas, a famous Thai actress in late 1980's and early 1990's. She stars in some melodramatic TV series, but the film 'Lalita' turns the found footage of these TV series into something very haunting. Some original TV scenes are slowed down, and some sound effects are added. It is as if Tanatchai had turned a found footage from Melrose Place and Beverly Hills, 90210 into Twin Peaks. I think Tanatchai is an expert in using sound. Drift presents us the drifting of one noise to another noise to another noise, and so on, while we see an image of a policeman gradually turning into some abstract images. Swamp lets us hear the voice of a radio DJ, while we see an image of an eye falling down into a swamp. My most favorite film of Tanatchai is Sweetheart Garden, which also has some haunting sound effects. In this film we see some unconnected gorgeous images, such as images of a dark corridor, a man watching TV, a porn theater, a wasteland with some historical images super-

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imposed on it, a zoo in fog, the breast of a woman, etc, while images connected to train, such as images of a platform, a railway, or a tunnel, are interspersed between these unconnected images. The ultimate sublime feelings I have while seeing Sweetheart Garden reminds me of the experience of seeing Take the 5:10 to Dreamland (1977, Bruce Conner). Both Bruce Conner and Tanatchai Bandasak make films which defy explanation.

18.TOSSAPOL BOONSINSUKH

19.TULAPOP SAENJAROEN

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ulapop became famous in 2005 when his film Sad Scenery (19 min) won Vijitmatra award, though I haven't seen this film yet. The first time I was bowled over by his film is when I saw "___" (2006, 8 min), which contains some unconnected scenes strung together. In this strangely titled film, which I called the "underscore" film, we see images of some trees in the dark, someone washing his feet in the dark, children in a park, a cleaning lady doing her job, and some texts which run so fast that most viewers cannot read them completely. Our Waves (2006, 12 min) is also composed of unconnected scenes strung together. In the first half of the film, we see scenes of a group of friends doing many activities. In the latter half of the film, we see some waves in the water. These two films are very different from films by Tossapol and Tanatchai, though some of Tossapol's and Tanatchai's films are also made of unconnected scenes. While films of Tossapol touch my heart

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ossapol, who is also a writer and a musician, has already made about 100 short films, and he also made two feature films – Afternoon Times (2005, 90 min), and Under the Blanket (2008), the latter of which is actually composed of a few short films strung together. I think I may have seen only 25 of his films. What I like the most in his films is its extremely atmospheric quality. An obvious example of this can be found in No One at the Sea (2005, 3 min), in which we only see an image of a seashore while hearing a piece of piano music. Tossapol is also great in using his feelings, emotions, and instinct in making films. This fact makes some of his films "incomprehensible" but "emotionally overwhelming". Some films of his are composed of unconnected scenes strung together, such as Don't Warm Egg in Microwave Or Else It Will Explode! (2005, 14 min), and Life Is Short 2 (2003-2006, 14 min). I don't understand the logic behind the juxtaposition of the scenes in these two films. All I know is that Don't Warm Egg in Microwave Or Else It Will Explode! makes me feel so happy after seeing it, while Life Is Short 2 makes me feel so melancholy and uplifting at the same time. What I also love in Tossapol's films is the feelings of loneliness, but the loneliness in his films is not the kind of loneliness found in Wong Kar-wai's or Tsai Ming-liang's films, but it is the kind of loneliness found in Jun Ichikawa's films. It is about people who are alone, but sometimes they are contented to be alone. An example of this can be found in She Is Reading Newspaper (2005, 8 min), in which three people in a cafe don't talk to each other, but they are perfectly happy like that. Tossapol's masterpiece is Afternoon Times, which deals with a restaurant owner who falls in love with a delivery boy, and gets extremely depressed after he disappeared. This film also contains one scene which might be one of the longest static takes in Thai film at that time. It is a scene in which the heroine closes down her restaurant, thinking that she may never find the delivery boy again. The static camera lets us watch her picking up a lot of drawings and various objects in the restaurant into boxes. The longer the film lets me watch her doing this, the stronger I feel an urge to cry. I guess this long static take lasts about 15 minutes. I had never seen a long take like this before in Thai cinema, except in Windows (1999, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 17 min).


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and my feelings, and while films of Tanatchai speak to my subconscious, these two films of Tulapop tease my brain. These two films remind me of some films by Arthur Lipsett and Alexander Kluge, which also contain unconnected scenes strung together and seem to appeal more to the intellect than to the feelings. Some of Tulapop's earlier films also appeal to the intellect, because they objectively experiment on many things. Vocal Instruction (2006) is an experiment on the contrast between text and voiceover. For example, when the viewers see the sentence "Read this" on the screen, the viewers hear the sentence "Do not read this" at the same time. Video Book (2007) shows us some random numbers, and teases us to find the connections between these numbers, though the connections may not exist. Water (2007) is an experiment on the changing forms of water. When the Movie Listens (2007, 11 min) stars Tulapop himself as an attentive listener. For the whole duration of this film, we see only the face of Tulapop who seems to be listening to anything the viewers talk about. "2008" (2008, 3 min) is a film composed of crazy ending credits. However, the other three films Tulapop made in 2008 seem to show more human feelings than before. The Return (2008, 5 min) talks about the memories of a son and a dead father. Tales of Swimming Pool (2008, 13 min) questions the meanings of life via three stories. The Eternal Light (2008) is an atmospheric film showing some beautiful abstract images and images of the sea under beautiful sunlight. I prefer The Eternal Light to many other films by Tulapop, partly because this film is not weighed down by concepts, ideas, or stories as other films of his. Maybe he has stepped on the right direction. I'm very eager to see his new film.

20.YANIN PONGSUWAN

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anin made The Spectrum (2006, 48 min), which is a documentary about the big band of Wat Ratchabopith school. The film shows us how hard the band's members tried in order to win in the annual competition for school big bands. My favorite scene is the one in which the coach got very angry with some behaviors of the band's members. He criticized them very harshly in front of the camera and seemed unafraid that this footage would be shown to the public. I felt as if I myself was criticized while I was watching this. I guess even Yanin herself might not have expected before that her documentary would have such a dramatic climax. Another thing I love in The Spectrum is how it portrays many gay teenagers in the band. The film shows how much these gays devoted themselves for the band, and show them as interesting human beings. This film offers a space for Thai gay teenagers, a space which they deserve, but don't often find, in Thai media. I think the true power of The Spectrum comes from the fact that Yanin found a way to get familar with or get close to the subjects of her film. Many footages in this film result from the trust the subjects have in the documentarian. Yanin made another great documentary called Home Video (2008, 14 min), which talks about her loving relationship with her mother and the fact that she may not have time to spend with her mother as much as before. The pace, the tone, the choice of footage, and the lyrical quality of this film made this film stand out from other Thai films in the same vein. This film touches everyone's heart. (I want to note that many young and old independent Thai directors make films about their own families. The great ones include A Century of Love (2007, Chaloemrat Gaweewattana, 14 min), Ghosts (2005, Anocha Suwichakornpong, 35 min), Empire of Mind (2009, Nontawat Numbenchapol, 90 min), From Nachuak to Bangkok (2005, Siwadol Rathee, 83 min), Little Plant at the Old House (2007, Sasikan Suvanasuthi, 5 min), Love Actually (2008, Gun Sangkaew, 9 min), My Grandfather (2008, Pichet Smerchua, 45 min), Our Film (2005, Atthasit Somchob, 22 min), Sleeping Beauty (2006, Chulayarnnon Siriphol, 40 min), and Track 01 Take 30 (2008, Thakoon Khempunya, 17 min). Jit Phokaew is a cinephile living in Bangkok. He once wrote for a Thai book called Filmvirus 3. His favorite film lists of the year 2001-2007 can be found at the website Senses of Cinema. Limitless Cinema (http:// celinejulie.blogspot.com ) is his bilingual blog.

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Cinema as a toolbox Fierce and irreverent, Malaysian filmmaker turns the camera into a cold calculating machine of disposal. Ignatiy Viishnetvisky gets reverent.

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J

ames Lee is probably Malaysia’s greatest filmmaker, but that isn’t really important. Who cares who’s what country’s best director – what matters about Lee is that he’s great and that the films he makes are always cause for excitement. Why are they cause for excitement? Because, like the films of Steven Soderbergh in the US, they show what can be done when a director indiscriminately applies the tools cinema provides him. That, when the scenario or the idea is a proposition and the film is a blackboard on which the directors writes out proofs, the results can be beautiful. Lee makes photoplays on Malaysian themes and writes letters to an unknown audience. Meaning: 1) that, like all variations on themes, they are more important than the themes themselves and 2) that he communicates directly to the viewer, that his edits whisper instructions into your ear. That's no small task. Many directors never learn to lead the audience without treating its members like children (and anyway, even children don't like to be treated like children). Direction is communication through silence. The camera rolls, the technicians move it along the dolly, the actors speak and the director stands back, silent. To be a director is to learn to speak clearly and completely without having your voice heard or your words read. Lee’s the hardest working man

in Malaysian show business; he’s had a hand in 35 films since the turn of the century. He’s directed and produced short and feature films through his ridiculouslynamed Doghouse73 Pictures, made films for television and even taken a stab at the “mainstream” with Histeria, reportedly the country’s first slasher film. He started by directing theater plays, and he continues to be involved in stage productions and performances. Some of his films, like Waiting for Love (2007), are shot and set in spaces that can’t be more than 10 by 10 meters; the action is reduced to the most minute scale, where even a person washing dishes becomes an epic gesture. Others travel out into offices and supermarkets, finding oppressive geometric patterns (invisible to the characters) in the architecture. It’s therefore possible, just based on description, to call Lee is the “Malaysian Fassbinder.” He has adhered, in many ways, to RWF’s maxim of “truth-telling above storytelling” – the proof above the proposition. But Fassbinder attempted to build filmmaking in the image of cinema (not just some cinema), so to follow in Fassbinder’s footsteps means to follow in everyone’s footsteps. Lee uses the most accurate instruments filmmaking and film history have provided (a camera movement is a camera movement, a pan is a pan, a close-up is a close-up, etc.), as well as certain models made by Godard in the 1960s and Tsai in the 1990s, to solve his impulses: short story writing, vague commentary, the documenting of ordinary life,

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pattern recognition, miniature melodramas and (most prominently in The Beautiful Washing Machine, but present elsewhere) the occasional Surrealist gesture. Surrealism functions in painting, sculpture and literature because there is only one reality: that of the painting, the sculpture or the text. In cinema, photography, dance or theater, there are multiple realities and therefore “Surrealism” in these forms always acquires a realist undercurrent that makes it impure and, for that reason, more potent. Instead of undermining our perceptions or expectations, it undermines reality. Instead of undermining our assumptions as to where the plot will go, Lee undermines Malaysian life, the same way Jia Zhangke has undermined the seriousness of a landscape in Still Life (which itself now strikes me as an imitation of Takashi Miike’s love of undermining his madness with arbitrary pathos and his pathos with arbitrary madness). We could say that radicalism is an impulse to get to the bottom of things; Lee wants to depict the surface of things so that we ourselves might discover the interior. He will make us radicals, and he will undermine the reality he’s so careful to accurately depict. His mise-en-scene is a magnetic puzzle. Small elements (food, dishware, drinks and, above all, cigarettes) are moved around larger ones (locations, posters). He’s the only director in whose films furniture takes on meaning, if not character. It’s akin to the way Jacques Demy once ap-


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plied the principles of costuming to wallpaper so that we knew and understood the spaces his characters lived in the same way we understood characters by their coats or the way they wore their hats (at the same time, Jean-Pierre Melville reversed the idea by applying the techniques of set decoration to costuming, so that coats and hats became decorations on the body, a frayed shirt collar taking on the meaning of dirty laundry scattered across the living room).

Taylor why they shot Crank: High Voltage on such cheap cameras. Taylor responded: “We just look at it as a paintbox or toolbox.” That’s a good approach. Our surroundings provide us with so many good tools. Why be sentimental? The camera is a just an instrument, like a slide ruler.

There was an interview last year where someone asked Brian Neveldine and Mark

Posters of various James Lee films, James Lee(in black, above) himself.

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the DREAMER in the by Anamaria

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ne of the most important directors of the nouvelle vague roumaine is Corneliu Porumboiu, born in 1975 in Vaslui, a small Romanian town which would later become the choice of setting and a source of inspiration for his films. Porumboiu’s first feature, A fost sau n-a fost? / 12:08 East of Bucharest came in 2006 following a string of short films. Independently financed, this debut feature film was a success, winning the Caméra d’Or award at Cannes, as well as the hearts of audiences. Actually, Corneliu Porumboiu’s success at the Cannes Film Festival started much earlier, with Călătorie la oraş / A Trip to the City (2003), a short film that brought him the second place at Cinéfondation. If A Trip to the City gives us a glimpse of Porumboiu’s ironic style, Visul lui Liviu / Liviu’s Dream (2004) is the one that establishes the theme of interest present in both of his future features. Liviu is 24, unemployed and with questionable everyday life ethics. He has been having the same dream for a few days but he can never remember it the moment he wakes up. Liviu’s life is dreary and he seems to be the archetype of a despondent youth that doesn’t dare to dream big. Or at least not while being in a state of consciousness. Through Liviu’s eyes, Porumboiu portrays a post-communist society with no values, a morally corrupt society; people are directionless, live from day to day and blame the dark communist past for their mediocrity and failure to achieve something meaningful. The end of the film reveals Liviu’s reoccurring dream, this way offering an almost surreal image – a metaphor for a generation born during communism and trying

61 to somehow survive the transition. THE FIRST FEATURE

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here are many unanswered questions left about the Revolution that overthrew Ceauşescu’s regime in late December 1989. Every year since then, talk show hosts and their guests unsuccessfully try to get to the Truth about the Revolution. In A fost sau n-a fost? / 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006), Porumboiu captures this Romanian reality with a wonderful sense of humor. The pace of the film is rather slow, just like the pace of life is in this small town, Vaslui, where a TV host invites a history teacher and a Santa impersonator to a live debate regarding the Revolution. The question they try to answer is “Was there a revolution in our town or not?” However, finding an answer to this question is not what the film intends to do. This quest for the Truth is just a pretext for Porumboiu to sketch a post-communist reality. And just like in Liviu’s Dream, the characters seem to be sleep-walking. Only this time, the tone of the film is not as serious; it is rather self-mocking. With 12:08 East of Bucharest, we get a first sample of Porumboiu’s brilliant dialogue writing skills as well as a first proof of his directorial edginess – long shots and real time (the talk show scene lasts for as long as a real talk show would last). POLICE, ADJECTIVE AND ANOTHER SUCCESS AT CANNES

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009 brings us the sophomore feature of Corneliu Porumboiu, Poliţist, adjective / Police, Adjective. Winner of two awards at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Un Certain Regard and FIPRESCI, Police, Adjective presents us a director who has found his style and is not afraid to stick to his preference for real time and slow pace. Set in a small town, Police, Adjective focuses on Cristi, a

good cop who investigates the case of a teenager suspected of dealing pot. Going against the usual practices we see in films dealing with investigations, Porumboiu doesn’t skip the waiting actionless part of a police investigation. If Cristi surveils the suspect’s house, we surveil it too, if he has to wait for some paperwork, we have to wait too. It’s like Porumboiu is saying “Bear with me! I’m trying to make a point, and I promise the waiting will be worth your while.” And it really is worth your while. The delightful “dictionary scene” towards the end of the film establishes Porumboiu as a savvy and witty screenwriter with a great sense for dialogue. In this scene, prefigured by a conversation Cristi has with his wife about the Romanian Academy, language becomes the protagonist. With this exceptional scene, Porumboiu proves to have a deep understanding of language and discourse, of the way in which simple dictionary definitions can be manipulated. If in 12:08 East of Bucharest he gives multiple definitions for the word “revolution”, in Police, Adjective he tries to define the word “conscience”. Every film he’s made so far is Porumboiu’s Romanian reality. It is a rather despondent perspective, but an honest one: “My generation is an inadequate one as it had absolute idealism and saw it collapse. Even after the Revolution it became more and more cynical or adapted itself to the prevailing cynicism. It seems to me that the transition Romania is passing through today is never going to end, or it is going to end too late when I won’t need it anymore. Every film I’ve made so far has been made in the shadow of this despair. I hope that I’m wrong.”1 Through his films, Corneliu Porumboiu comes across as a fine observer of post-communist Romania, and as an intelligent director who knows that less is more when it comes to sending a simple yet meaningful message. .

WOOD

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OF MANAGING A COMPROMISE –noun 1. a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.

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IAREVIEWS

SINGHA ON TINGYA GHATAK ON PA MALHOTRA ON AVATAR

–noun 1. a critical article or report, as in a periodical, on a book, play, recital, or the like; critique; evaluation. 2. the process of going over a subject again.

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goes through, has been very effectively portrayed and presented. The plot is weaved in such a manner that almost all the presumed prejudices have not been left out.

TINGYA(2007) shot by Dharam Gulati directed by Mangesh Hadawale performed by Sharad Goekar, Tarnnum Pathan, Sunil Deo, Madhavi Juvekar, Chitra Nawathe which is edited by K D Dilip and the script is written by Mangesh Hadawale BY SAGORIKA SINGHA

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mong the present emerging new wave of Marathi directors who have sprouted and brought about a sort of awakening to the Marathi film industry, Mangesh Hadawale’s directorial debut, Tingya, has been regarded as one of the harbinger of sorts. Tingya is refreshing as far as its choice of subject is concerned. Its beauty lies in it being essentially rooted to the simple life. Though the setting of the story is rustic, the universality of the issues is undeniable. The film focuses on the intricacies that exist underneath that simple existence. The daily difficulties that an Indian farmer

The feel, the characters, the superstitions, the way of life, the circumstances, the challenges, the situations have all been very intensely depicted. It tries its best in recreating the reality that is to be found in the core of every story in rural India. The background of the story is the conditions that are responsible in driving the spate of farmer suicides which have been showing an alarming and terrifying upward trend. In the foreground, we are introduced to Karbhari’s family who is going through a severe moral crisis - facing the reverberations of a harsh decision. Karbhari’s bullock Chitangya gets wounded after falling into a leopard trap, thus rendering the bullock useless to the family who depend on the animal in a major way. Karbhari is in a plight; he is already overloaded in terms of debt to the Sahukar and is left with no other options. Ultimately, he has to decide on giving Chitangya to the slaughter or to commit suicide. It is after that the film actually begins, chronicling the gamut of emotional tornadoes that the family, and particularly the father and the son, undergo. At the helm of the affairs, the mother is shown to be stuck in between the polarities of decisions, and torn by her love for her son, appalled by the inhumanity of her husband’s decision and at the same time grasping its practical validity. Karbhari’s younger son, Tingya, the small wonder of the entire story, is the life of the film. A rebellious, inquisitive, impudent 7 year old (played convincingly by first

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time actor Sharad Goekar) Tingya shares an unusual bond with the Chitangya. The film keeps this as the base, the other issues are just branched cases which highlight and bring to fore the other inherent layers of village existence. There is nothing extraordinary in the nature of the story telling, nor does it go overboard in terms of technical finesse. What makes it appealing is the simple way in which the complexities have been evinced. In this case, it might be attributed to the fact that most of the actors in the film were real life villagers playing their part. In a span of two hours, we get to see the blows of ominous winds that befall the characters, Tingya and his family with the wounded bullock, the decider of their fate, and Rashida, Tingya’s best friend and neighbour (and at times, angel in distress), with her dying Grandmother. They grow up within this period of change facing the unavoidable travails that accompany their life. The incidents and accidents seem to bring to surface the pains that poverty paints. One can see the moral imbroglio that both the protagonists find them in. Karbhari needs to think for his family. He himself does not want to sell Chitangya to the slaughterhouse. Tingya is devastated, angry so much so that he is wants to see his father dead. The bull was born just two months after Tingya, for Tingya its more than a pet and a playmate, it’s his brother with whom he’s more close than his brother Paapya (who has a very ignored presence in the entire film). For Tingya, Chitangya is no different than another extended member of the family.


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While driving the story forward, it very deftly layers the prejudices and pains of rural life. e.g. the very predominate position that superstitions and prayers play in village life, the holy thread that Tingya gets for Chitangya’s well being, the inauspicious warning by Tingya’s mother when she finds Tingya sitting on the threshold, to mention a few. It has been touted to be semi-biographical by the director himself, may be that is the reason for the convincing collation. The world of the villagers has been shown to be one where it’s rather the circumstances and the fate preceding it that plays the role of the villain. The people one encounters are essentially good, the clichéd characters notwithstanding. So, there is the husband-abiding wife, the shrewd moneylender (they always are), and the kind doctor (who can feel the desperation of the child who has walked all the way to get the ‘doctor’ to treat his bull because he helped Rashida’s grandma too). Such is life. The undaunting love for Chitangya that Tingya has has been exalted. The film very subtly touches on to a very crucial case of morals and survival and how we ultimately give in to our survival instincts. If on one side we have fighting morals, on the other we have learning experience. For Tingya, the entire incident is a lesson in growing up and discovering some brutal truths about life, like how one cannot equate the life of a human with that of an animal (‘Why does not Rashida’s grandma too be taken to the slaughter house? She is not well as well’). The linearity in his taking things, exuding his immaturity, innocence which gets a beating when he’s finally made

to understand the worth of human life and the cost one has to pay to keep it going. He finds himself isolated and unable to make other see through his reasons. Tingya, as a first venture, have no doubt, drawn similar resemblance with another of the all time rural based cinema on humanity, Pather Pachali, but their lies a definite drift in the way the pathos have been created. That is not to devalue the worth that this film has. This is definitely a welcome change from the lame comedies and family dramas that are the staple theme in the Marathi film scene and as the revival of the Marathi new wave as such, this is a perfect avenue for sure. Tingya tries to raise almost most of the existing embroilments that the rural life in general faces. At the same time it makes very minute observation about the way of life and behavioural pattern as well. It goes to show how less has developed in rural India in terms of thought process. The male, being the all in all in the family, is threatened when the woman in the house even slightly seemed to raise a voice, Karbhari’s wife, Anju, with a very understated performance, do meekly attempt to assert herself, but ultimately gives in to the authority, to the patriarch, (from giving away the money she earns by selling the milk to bearing with violence) without a single murmur. At the same time, the story even manages to play on social biases, like the Karbhari’s brother-in-law who marries a much younger woman, replacing his sister, who is unable to give an heir to him. The social injustice and trends which have been always much played on gets to see glimpses here.

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It is refreshing as a topic, the bonding between a human and an animal is something that has been something not that explored in Indian cinema, Tingya has been a change. The convincing, yet at times, a little over dramatic performance of its actors, gives the film the leverage that it so thus attains. Tingya is special because it touches you with the smoothness, simplicity and emotional adage. It’s a tale that brings out a side that we don’t thread frequently. About feelings, love, belief, problems that compel us to look at life from the point of view of the emotions less judged. But, even after all that, there is a lacking, somewhere. The suicides case in Vidharba has been one of the worst incidents that had been faced by India at large during the last one decade. Tingya brilliantly camouflages the entire geometry of the conditions with a text that indirectly points at it. Sunil Deo as the father, who has been placed under the Damocles’ sword, gives the best performance - The intensity and the rawness, the tired, failed expression, the good father-left clueless. He is right in understanding his conscience and where it is going wrong. But he also has greater responsibilities to meet. He has to think practically. He has to decide. He is after all the father, the patriarch. The film runs on emotional quotients to much an extent but there were moments when it almost touched on being melodramatic. There is not much to write home about camerawork and it becomes useless if we consider the nature of the film. At times you might even be reminded of the good old Malgudi Days, only it’s much brighter in its hues capturing the lush landscapes of


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the rural Maharashtra in its best. Overall, Tingya makes one realise and look into a different form of life that exists outside our kind of existence. The simplicity wins you over. The staid proper portrayal affects you, this cannot be declared the greatest film ever to come out from the Marathi film industry, but as a forerunner in the revival, it completely deserves to be acknowledged. The award and accolades aside, Tingya is for everyone, who wants to go back and bask in basic human emotions, it’s about unusual love, about growing up, discovering life, about basic survival instincts and its repercussions. It ends on a positive note; life continues and finds a way, even when there seems to be none. Hardships and obstacles are part of life, they make it real and happening indeed and that we ultimately triumph.

PAA(2009) shot by PC Shreeram directed by R Balki performed by Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, VIdya Balan which is edited by Anil Naidu and the script is written by R Balki

BYDEBOJIT GHATAK

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efore Shahrukh Khan assumed a persona that is unattainable in its size and incomprehensible in its scale, he was the symbol of middle class hope. Up till a certain point in his career, people did not have to look up at his image on the screen and try to demystify its sheer magnanimity; but instead, could look straight at him as someone who had risen from amidst them. Till that point, he evoked within audiences a sense of relation. Now he evokes intimidation. Then, he was a commonly shared example which aspirants to the screen would attempt to emulate; but now, his mention is a hushed whisper because emulation is not a thought that is impossible – it is also demoralizing. Up till that point, a filmmaker could fit him into a film. Now, they fit the film into him. When Mani Rathnam, known for his meticulous casting of actors and choices of faces to represent his actors, selected Shahrukh Khan to play Amar for Dil Se, people were skeptical. Wasn’t Khan’s image as this huge everyman’s superstar directly at loggerheads with the irrelevant nobody he was going to play in the film? And yet, it was precisely the image of a superstar, as Shweta Nambiar puts it, that Rathnam wanted to have dwarfed by the magnanimity of the issue that is terrorism in the film. It was precisely the use of Khan’s middle class origins that Rathnam utilized to play into the primary vulnerability of his film’s (and the nation’s) predominant mid-

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57 7 67 dle-class audience – no matter how big you get, there are certain issues bigger than you. It was the utilization of the icon to not revel in its iconic stature; but to break it. It’s a wonder that in a nation where, in the ensuing 11 years, innumerable talentless nobodies have assumed the stature of a celebrity, no one made an attempt to deconstruct the trend and appreciate this nation’s tendency to create mountains out of molehills, or simply, to comprehend and then subvert a legend until Paa came along 11 years later. The problem with most other films, or television programmes that use someone as huge as Amitabh Bachchan is that they embrace his superstardom. They celebrate his stature as an icon to the extent that they find themselves in eternal allegiance to them, mostly resulting thus, in making him a larger than life persona who the film is subservient to and in some cases, thankful to, for his mere participation. Examples galore, Kaun Banega Crorepati, Black, Sarkaar, Sarkaar 2, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Bigg Boss – films in which he is treated as a figure so large, that the entire film’s mostly a tribute to him. In the last ten years or so, the only film that managed to soak him into the atmosphere was Dev, his best performance since Deewar. With Paa, director-writer R Balki’s attempted such a monumental feat of iconoclasm – he has taken the conventional suave Reid & Taylor borne image of Amitabh Bachchan and completely destructed it to create a character so far removed from


68 where we started with, that it exceeds the achievement of the rather run-of-the-mill film it is placed inside. And it is a brave achievement, because unlike The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, where Fincher, by the end of the film, had to restore Brad Pitt’s iconic stature to its most fundamental – by actually taking the actor back(by making him look young) to the early 00’s when the hysteria was at its peak – Balki not only sticks to his guns of destructing the legend of Bachchan, but he also does not display special pride in it - until the very tepid last half-an-hour of the film, where he finally falls into the Bollywood-ian trap of celebrating one’s own achievements. He resorts to shooting Bachchan in extreme close-ups, for the more wrinkles his character develops, the more Balki wants us to appreciate the authenticity of the makeup. What he does not realize is, however, that the more authentic the make-up looks, the more we become aware of its presence, and consequently, the presence of Amitabh Bachchan underneath it. However, until that point, Balki creates a character that is so good not because it is well-written, actually being one more in the tradition of children from Mumbai who are unrealistically clever and quickwitted for their own good, and elicit humour from their emulation of adult-like behavior ( a child, in a quick-fire repartee, puts down his father; another makes a closing monologue in the finale that is the turning point of the film); or because it is so well-played by Bachchan (good, as usual); but because it uses the audience’s awareness of the Bachchan legend outside the film, and uses that as a point of reference for his character.

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As a result, most of our astonishment with Auro(Bachchan) is not a result of how it is, but how it is compared to the real-life visual image of Amitabh Bachchan. We respect, not the character itself, but the transformation that it is a result of. Martin Scorsese understood that in Raging Bull. He was aware that De Niro’s histrionic achievement in the film was nowhere as good as compared to his turn in Taxi Driver, even bordering on being uni-dimensional, but that it could be presented as great if his bulky avatar was placed directly adjacent to his normal one. Therefore, at the very beginning of the film, Scorsese cuts from a CU of La Motta in 1950s to a similarly aligned camera CU of him in the 70s. By placing these shots in quick succession, he made you aware of the scale of De Niro’s achievement. But De Niro was never as huge an icon as Bachchan is. Therefore, Balki did not have to place the reference point (Bachchan’s real life persona) within the film, but instead; allowed it, in his pre-release blitz to exist outside the film, with Bachchan himself promoting the character, and automatically, placing himself adjacent to it. Unluckily for Balki, however, most of the rest of his film also exists in a consistent state of comparison. The reference points for the comparison to take place are either the world outside the theatre, or cinema itself. It is a new tendency in Bollywood screenwriting to incorporate events from the real-world within their ridiculous plots to induce a notion of being based in ‘real-life’ (itself disputable). But their attempt at it comes across more as a desperate scraping for narrative

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possibilities in their inability to break free from clichés. In that, they attempt, not to innovate and create a new idiom, but substitute those clichés with events from the life outside the screen. What they do not realize is that ‘realism’ exists not as a term which has a literal, definitive existence that can be incorporated within the film; but as a notion whose essence has to injected into it. Their idea of realism is to copy and paste reallife characters/events into the narrative of their films, for instance, Ajay Devgan witnesses the murder of a starlet in Hulla Bol, or Kalki Koechlin gets ridiculed for her participation in a MMS scandal in Dev D., John Abraham suffers because of 9/11 in New York, and Abhishek Bachchan’s character(Amol) only mimics Rahul Gandhi from real life in Paa. However, the fact that these reference points exist in reality still do not make their films realistic. Yes, it might assure them of not being ridiculed for the lack of logic, but realism, as aforementioned, should yield from an aesthetic approach and not a narrative one. It is a result, not of impersonation, but of creation. One could shoot an event as immediately urgent as the Mumbai terrorist attacks, but still manage to attach unnecessary sentimentality to it and make it look cinematic. Similarly, even though Abhishek Bachchan mimics Rahul Gandhi, his character exists not as a human being, but as a confirmation of a populist belief – the simplistic view about the injection of youth in politics would change the nation’s scenario – a belief endemic in films like Satta, Rang De Basanti, Yuva and Nayak. Consequently, his character and the events that hap-


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pen to it yield from this belief – and are thus, entirely predictable. One wishes that Balki would have used the time he wasted on Bachchan’s defeat of his corrupt political opponents on developing the sense of incompletion that his and Vidya’s(Balan’s character) relationship so suffers from. Mostly, thus, Balki’s film cannot break away from stereotypes. The children are too conceited and too confident, each being yet another resemblance of Sexy from Cheeni Kum, who because of her individual existence, came across as a humorous aberration. The principal is the kind-hearted soul. The political opponent is the manipulative, corrupt bastard. It is only when Balki allows a minor world within the film to exist outside his narrative concerns, and those of his attempts at realism, that his film attains some sort of exclusivity. It exists inside Auro’s home – where his mother Vidya (Balan, perfect, the best performance in the film), and her mother, live with Auro. It is precisely because he chooses to let his characters simply live and breathe in that house, instead of burdening them with the responsibility of progressing his narrative at two scenes a minute that there exists a chance for them to develop, both a set of relationships, and characters, whose traits go beyond a wafer-thin existence. But such form of naturalism does not stay for too long simply because, as you realize later, Balki is in too much of a hurry, like his peculiar editing style (the entire first half seems like a montage through dissolves) to reunite the estranged lovers – Amol and Vidya. In that, he does not care if the narrative of his film begins bearing a very emphatic resem-

blance to his preceding Hindi feature, Cheeni Kum, almost to the point where a cathartic event (deaths, in both cases), bring together the two lovers. And it is when that begins happening that you realize that the character of Auro does not have an existence more than that of a convenient narrative device to catalyse the process of reunion. Yes, his disease and his subsequent appearance is a representation of an ‘incomplete’ relationship that yielded it. And through this reunion, he only seeks to legitimize his identity. But does that mean that the relationship’s completion becomes the very point of his being? He has progenia, sir, for a very specific purpose, as you discover at the end. Specific, and very very callous. When will ever go beyond the idea of love existing, in its prime state, only between a man and a woman?

AVATAR(2009) shot by Mauro Fiore directed by James Cameron performed by Sam Worthingtton, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver which is edited byJames Cameron, John Refoua, Stephen E. Rivkin IA/JAN UARY 2010

BY ANUJ MALHOTRA

I'll tell you the story of Ramakrishna and his disciple. Ramakrishna was a Hindu wise man. And he had a disciple who had absolutely no faith in his teachings. So the disciple went off all by himself. Fifteen years later, he came back and said, "I have found the Way!" He told Ramakrishna, "Come, and I will show you." Then he took Ramakrishna to a river. And the disciple went back and forth across the river, walking on water. "See?" he told Ramakrishna. "I can cross the river without getting wet! I have found the Way!" Then Ramakrishna said to him, "You're a complete ass. With one rupee and a boat, I've been doing the same thing for years!" Contempt(1963)/Jean-Luc Godard The history of cinema is linear. If an event occupies a certain point on the linear cinema history-time, it will never reiterate, repeat or recur; instead, like the history of time, being frozen at that point. Such recurrence is rendered impossible because cinema the artform is intertwined with cinema the technology. Each era in cinematic history is marked primarily by the machine (or set of machines) that facilitates its creation. The cinema is but a yield, a subservient one at that, of the level of technological development at the point of its production. If one were to attempt a summarization of cinema’s history in a few words, he could exclaim the names of Lumiere, Melies, Griffith, Eisenstein, Lang, Ford, and Godard; and the answer would be correct, but if he


70 were to choose to constitute his answer with terms such as Phantasmagoria, Zoetrope, Kinetoscope, Bioscope, Kodak, Arri, Michell, Bolex, and Ampex, would it be wrong? No. And yet, despite the impossibility of recurrence in cinematic history, the possibility of evocation remains intact. Each point in cinema’s history is true not because of its own existence, but because of the existence of another artifact in the future through which its existence will be confirmed. The same manner in which the Cahiers evoked Renoir, and Paul Thomas Anderson evokes Robert Altman, who in turn evokes someone else. The entire history of cinema can thus be described as the present’s homage to the past; resulting in a history that through referencing, is preserved in a state of eternal recurrence. And yet, the history of cinema is a line and not a circle. Even while it is stuck in its celebration of itself, it surges forward – cinema is an artform that evolves. That is because each case of aforementioned evocation is followed by iconoclasm. Therefore while the Cahiers worshipped the aesthetic of the neorealist Italians, they adapted it to their own city, and developed it into an exclusive property; thus allowing cinema to escape the captivity of blind reverence. However, certain examples of cinematic evocation only worship the icon, but never inquire it, thus being cursed to make the same mistake as the icon itself. Avatar evokes How the West Was Won in more ways than one. For how the Cinerama enhanced the cinematic experience in 1962, Avatar enhances the cinematic experience in 2009 – but while the experience is enhanced, who will think about the cinema? The entire point of shooting with a camera which has two in-built highdef cameras fitted inside it, and projecting onto a 2D plane from a 3D cubical light source – is to ensure immersion and interactivity. To provide the audience with an experience that

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teeters on the verge of failing to preserve the fourth wall and the traditional screen-viewer relationship by allowing the viewer to not look at the screen but around himself. This act of seeing as Brakhage would’ve said, is defined, however, by a very superficial, of course literal and I daresay, shallow meaning of the word ‘immersion’. Is it not a disservice to the one and a half century of cinema that preceded it if Avatar stops short of the claim that cinema remains capable of immersing its audience into the experience only through the reduction of literal ‘distance’ with the viewer (whether the reduction is achieved through a physical effort, such as in How the West Was Won, or an optical illusion, such as in Avatar); and not through the simple yet often underrated in modern times power of a well-planned cut or a deft tracking forward of the camera? Even in 3D, one can never get immersed for while the fourth wall of the traditional screen breaks; that of the huge glasses remains. Even then, Cameron attempts to suit his aesthetic to the new technology, and create a shooting schema that remains exclusive to the purpose of its utilization. He blocks his characters in a manner that they almost always enter the frame from the audience, or exit it into the audience, instead of letting them enter from the right-side or the left-side of what is generally, a two-dimensional space (the frame). Also, instead of executing a choreography of action that is conventionally areal, which divides the two-dimensional space into the right-hand side or the left-hand side or the center-ofthe-frame; he plans it in a manner that is planar, allowing his action to take place in different planes of the image, utilizing all the three planes of the image, with most of the action taking place in the foreground, thus allowing the three-dimensionality to project itself better. However, I fear that the description sounds bet-

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ter than how its subject looks. The novelty of the 3D experience, as is of the aesthetic, wears off after the first walk through the forest in Pandora – where Cameron composes carefully to let the feeble leaves form a foreground that you can pluck, yet know better than that to try doing it. Cinema has had a peculiar manner of warding off commercial competition through scale. Whenever an immediate threat rises, a faster film stock is invented, a lens with a sharper depth of field is instituted, the size of the cinema screen increases, and a sound system that simulates a 4 Dimensional surround is introduced; and yet, only rarely does a progress in the technological scale have a simultaneous development in the cinematic aesthetic. For it remains essential to separate cinema from the technology that makes it, howsoever interspersed they are. Isn’t technology a means to a greater end, or is it the end itself? It is a fallacy on the part of the executives in the cabin to believe that anything exceeds the scale of a human victory, or a human tragedy. Yes, cinema has a tendency to give way to operatic scale, but even then, scale does not have a discernible, measurable or tangible existence of its own – it does not exist in nature, and is meaningless without a corresponding event to apply it to. I do not believe that scale is an aesthetic approach – I believe it rises more from the event that the aesthetic is applied to than from the aesthetic itself. Isn’t the scale of an Aguirre far higher than that of Apocalypto, a film shot at a higher budget, with a Hollywood-sized crew? Isn’t the scale of a Jaws much higher than Deep Blue Sea? In both cases, the struggle of the individual, or the group of individuals, takes higher precedence than helicopter shots. One might shoot a person walking on the road from a crane, and then a he-


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licopter – but it would hardly appear as operatic as a physical brawl which is shot with a static camera. While the former may lead to wonderment and awe; the latter would yield less instantaneous and more evolved responses. Cameron invested in the technology, and perhaps, consequently, even in the aesthetic, as aforementioned. However, the story of his film is a mere extended situation meant only to apply the technology to, and functions at a level which can hardly claim an involvement as personal and impassioned as Cameron’s in the institution of the technology that made possible its creation. The story, if it has to be told, is a parable on modern-day rampant imperialism wherein a nation declares war on another weaker one, or a race on another weaker one, to gain unsolicited access to its natural resources, in the process causing inconsiderate harm to the indigenous population and their way of life. A representative of Earth, the stronger race with access to modern warfare technology, in his N’avi Avatar becomes a member of the indigenous clan of the people of Pandora, which is a planet that is host to a mineral essential for Earth. However, slowly, realization dawns upon him and he learns to sift the right from the wrong. Told through a series of shockingly lazily written characters who confirm the worst of stereotypes – with the Earthlings being almost unanimously (with the token ‘traitors’ who turn the course of the war) condescending, smug and arrogant in their possession of modern tools of warfare – and the N’avi, who are culturally inclined, children of the forest, believers in brotherhood and harmony ; and natural warriors who do not respond until provoked. The film borrows from obvious sources such as Dances with the Wolves and The Last Samurai; and from the not so obvious ones like Princess Mononoke Hime. Cameron attempts to utilize the ‘immersion’ capabilities of the 3D camera to make

the audience wonder at the beauty of his Pandora, and then automatically side with the N’avi when it is destroyed. By making you a resident of the planet, he aims to generate automatic concern; and yet, contradicts himself, when he has fun shooting the explosions of missiles fired from the human choppers, on the surface of the planet, later in the film. He does not function as a filmmaker thus, when he expresses simultaneous joy at his discovery of a planet, and then at its destruction. He functions as an action-movie fanatic. The way he captures the destruction of Pandora is symbolic of his megalomania, as his explosions are prettier than the landscape of the planet. It seems like he can do just about anything he wants to. Sadly, he does. The scale of Cameron’s ambition is comparable to Herzog while making Fitzcerraldo or Coppola’s, while making Apocalypse Now, where the nature of the protagonist’s story begins bearing a remarkable resemblance to the struggle of the filmmaker while attempting to render it. Of course, Cameron is attempting a different type of ‘rendering’ of his oft-repeated man vs. machine theme (yes, even Titanic is an example, a man defeated by the sheer scale of his own mechanical achievement) – through motion-capture, he is transporting the mannerisms and characteristics of his human models onto his digital counterparts, claiming upto 95% similarity, in a process that is clearly similar to the creation of a N’avi avatar of a human gene in his film. However, isn’t it inherently automation? The creation of a world from scratch, one that has its own physical laws, its own language, its own diverse system of flora and fauna, and most importantly, the residents – if they do not have an existence in the ‘real world’ as such – isn’t it animation? If it is, is it as rich as

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71 Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or Miyazaki’s Spirited Away – with the former existing in dystopia and the latter in myth? No. Because while his characters look like something you’ve never seen before, they behave like everyone you know in Hollywood. His immaculately rendered characters cannot hide the fact that they are, in fact, only a bunch of immaculately rendered Hollywood clichés. Avatar does not change cinema. It does not have the possibility to enhance film grammar. For all its accomplishments have no relation to film grammar at all. Avatar is not a document of cinema; it is a document of technology. It shows us how far we can push ourselves in industrialized setups, and yet, reveals nothing about us as human beings. For while Cameron shoots his action sequences with a camera thought to be a figment of an overambitious mind as recently in 2003, he still places it in the same places everyone else does. And while it looks beautiful, it is not great cinematic imagery. Even as cyborgs indulged in combat in Terminator 2, he could masterfully incorporate a sequence of a mother looking through a wire mesh at herself and her son, playing in the park, as the candescent globe flashed in the background sky. To be able to underline such humanity amidst such mechanical profundity is ability curiously amiss from Avatar. One wishes he would’ve let it breathe as a normal action thriller, instead of letting it feign the possession of a greater, more philosophical ambition. James Cameron took 13 years to invent a new type of an ink. The moment you write with the ink, you amaze at how smoothly it spreads across the space of your characters, and how lustrous it looks when freshly placed on the white page – but after the second sentence, when all the amazement is over, you still need to write a lot.


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INTERVIEW

All characters, events, places, and locations in the following presentation are fictitious. Any resemblance to real-life is purely co-incidental.

CINEMA AND TELEVISION IN INDIA by

NITESH ROHIT

FROM THE VAULT

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EPISODE 1: OF CONVENIENT REALITIES

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FROM THE VAULT

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FROM THE VAULT

"It's another picture of a victim." Of course it is! And there will be another, and another, and another…and soon it will be forgotten. The 1982 Asian Games brought a conscious shift in the way we looked at our surrounding and reflected a sense of spirit towards communal living. The transmission of television shifted from black and white to color and in a single day of its inception it changed the course of our own history and subconsciously marked an impression for generations. The first telecast on September 15th, 1959 did not change the perception of the audience towards cinema; black and white films co-existed with color, but the second-coming of television marked by the ‘spectacle’ of Asian Games killed two birds with one stone- the black and white film and parallel cinema. This also set the foundation for the decay in offering reflection vis-a vis images on screen, however, the era did offer better content on television than cinema. While the former chronicled India and gave a chance to reflect but the latter became a circus, but one important idea continued that of, " The Spectacle" from news to cinema. There is a stark similarity between the fates of a visionary of cinema and color television in India. Dada Saheb Phalke died a poor man after giving birth to cinema in India, on one hand and on the other, Doordarshan (India’s National TV) today is suffering and hospitalized as well, rather it’s surviving in an ICU for quite

sometime. Doordarshan gave birth to a ready made audience who were gradually prepared to take in more, and Nararshima Rao government gave them the ‘choice’ with the social and economic reforms in 1991, and foreign channels like Star TV and domestic channels like Zee TV began broadcasting. Dada Sheab Phalke did the same, established a base for an audience who soon fell in love with the medium. The era before 1991 is a an era of research, family and social collective thinking, projecting India as a whole, where every element within the space of projection and transmission: from news to serials, held value, not only in determining the ethos of the era, but offered the audience an object that could be valued whether they decide to take something form it or leave it the moment they switch-off the TV. There was an important factor for television providing image, sound and narrative that was self-reflexive and offered more than the cinema of the era; because, an auteur was present behind the work that was telecasted, a certain individual, who had an identity, a personality that, unlike today, is not lost in materiality of desire. Hence, the credit of a television serial meant something back then, today it's a mere text that holds

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no accordance with the spectator, the image or even the sound of projection, since neither there is a text that is related with the individual, nor the articulated passage of sound or images. The only drawback was that this imagery sowed the seeds of passive (uncritical) fundamentalism that completely blew out of proportion in the era of globalization with the wave of individuality and liberal thinking. One of the first memories of a ‘spectacle’ could be seen in homes across India where people gathered around a small TV set to watch Ramayana and Mahabharata. There is a direct co-relation with the advent of color television and the first movies made in India. Both heavily relied on re-enacting ‘Indian Myth’ and using the epicform to entice, inform and bind the audience- to bring them together as a mass, this zeitgeist did give rise to fundamentalism through a conscious propaganda of Hindu imagery whose final manifestation can be testified in the evidence of the demolition of Babri Masjid. Hence, the black and white film projected a passage towards a better future, but the advent of color televi-


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sion slowly created a vacuum of ‘active’ thinking on the part of the audience. And they soon became a passive participant where their rhetoric and activism did not employ their own ‘critical’ thinking but was formed out of information fed through text, images and sound. The vibration of which can be felt across India even today and that severely rose after the coming of Satellite TV. Marx had once said, "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” The past of lazily being fed and cinema and television doing all our thinking is slowly and steadily catching up on all of us wherein we are not able to determine the sudden gaps between reality and fiction in our lives because the process of communication is handicapped. When viewing a transmission(tv) which is routinely packaged as a spectacle, we are confronted with the representation of realities(through various stories), however, instead of referring the images to its respective physical manifestation, we annotate the images, sound and horror to Hollywood or the crisis to emotion reflected in movies. Either of which are fiction and offer no answers or reflection on our lives. Therefore, what we watch is fiction(cinema) and when we are confronted with a “real- life -crisis”(news) we refer it back to the same fiction(cinema). So it's not surprising that while watching news of real life hostage drama

the news anchor keep referring to the “news” as the spectacle, “This is like a movie”, “This is like a Hollywood film”, are the words and expression that is routinely heard. Does that mean the ‘image’, the ‘sound, and the ‘cries’ of our reality is nothing but a movie? And could be forgotten and shifted out just like every new release on a Friday, and the images would not accompany us. Or is it that the language of expression does not exist hence the confusion in referring to the objects of our physical world. If I take an old tapped VHS of Newstrack (a news programme that used to come on DD) and watch the demolition of Babri Masjid, it makes me angry, frustrated, sad, it even offers the ‘space’ to think, and gives us the power to reflect. Today, the news is more animated than reflected. It’s precisely the reason that the power of images is lost to offer evidence that one can ‘see’ in its physical manifestation. Hence, a report today becomes a routine, where the reporter, the anchor and the producer are simply doing their duty of reporting. So if muted and stored and the same report is juxtaposed with previous one weeks offering: every gesture, expression and manner will be the same, not that one is looking for ‘emotion’ or ‘acting’ within the clutches of news, because where one seeks information(news) it gets fantasy and presumptions judgment and when one escapes to fantasy(cinema) we are offered meta- fantasy. Both so removed from life- the physical body and mass of the

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world around you that there is simply no connection, but a spectacle- a drama, and there is a constant re-filtering of the same drama. The major shift being the ‘ presentation’ hence a shot of "Sharukh Khan" on a news channel with a reverse shot of a channel’s report on "victims of violence" offers the same formula of corrupted image and sound with mannerism that offer judgment without reflection or information. You can change stories but you can’t manipulate human perception that is based on garnering viewers on the idea of emotions. So an interview of Sharukh Khan(image) to get TRP established on the freeground of getting viewers who would have an 'emotional connection' with the superstar, and the same for the news story on a bomb-blast(image) is repulsive. It’s precisely the reason why the images we see on screen and the images we see in television today have become so dependence on the text that is supplemented in the newspaper and magazine- the last bastion of truth as believed. The text offers an evidences as opposed to the fantasy of television, hence a report on Godhra in magazine/newspaper (not all) offers us a choice to think. The text offers us an aptitude to look, the images on screen and television are so far removed from us that it makes us blind even when we have the ability to perceive and conceive. So instead of asking where is Dr Binyak Sen or who is Sudha Bhardwaj or when can we walk to markets with-


FROM THE VAULT

out fear, we detox our “mental” and “physical” exhaustion from such issues because we believe that as an individual we have no less worries, but we fail to realize that an individual consciousness is largely based on his own social consciousness. Perhaps, it's not our fault but the problem lies with the images we are growing up with everyday, and we severely fall short on questioning the image and the absence itself. Television and Cinema have fallen in a decadent state where too much is in the hands of too few, there is no autonomy of any sorts whatsoever, every image we see, every word we read and every sound we hear is controlled through rigorous censorship some are visible (Censor Board) while some remain hidden (people who have investment in this conglomerate) It’s precisely then there is a dire need to look at the ‘absence’ that is missing; in order to form the foundation of a ‘ struggle, as reading between lines, looking at blank images and questioning the voices we hear has become important. Therefore, the news of an Indian winning an award at Berlin Film Festival needs to be reported, the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights to Dr, Binyak Sen should be seen and, definitely, the voice of Kashmir should be heard. It’s precisely then there could be a balance between what the audience ‘want’ and what the ‘media’ perceives, because perception in itself is formed out of judgment that is routinely based on surveys and rating.

But the mere outline of their ‘research’ is faulty because the mass at large is already blinded that they themselves don’t know what they doing. Since their opinions and perceptions are formed out of ideas and judgment that are routinely formed by the ‘spectacle’ of cinema and television, it gives rise to parochialism; often due to the reiterations of the images projected and opinion transferred through dialogues, as also interviews and text bombarded in terms of superlatives not to mention faux “ Breaking News” blurbs Serge Daney, the French critic talked about cinematic concept like ‘montage’ or ‘close-up’ gifts that cinema makes to the twentieth century. These concepts along with the different shots: long, medium, close, and extreme close gives an important co-relation that cinema holds in accordance to life (where the distance of a shot gives the impact on-screen) and gives a rare glimpse into viewer’s perception and gives us an understanding of the depth of human bond and relationship. Let's esis,

take a hypothFor example:

IMPACT: A blast in a remote part of India SHOT: An extreme

long

shot

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REACTION: Media not worried, devoted not much time-frame, people not bothered, because it's somewhere in a remote place of India so images not transmitted, texts are not devoted and the sounds is never heard. Inspite of the fact that this could be an important foreground to understanding the depth of every subsequent shifts of spaces. IMPACT: A blast in a small town in India SHOT: A long shot REACTION: The media responds with little speculation, security still not tight anywhere in the country. People go about their lives unless of that respective town. Images devoted, but if, a filmstar or cricketer gets sick, there is a shift in transmission. Newspaper and Magazine do devote some time towards the event. Sound is heard. But all three don’t make an impact on the collective conscious. IMPACT: A blast

in

a

mini-metro

SHOT: A Medium shot REACTION: The media find this as a good information to report (Speculating) it could go on for few days there is still no collective reflection of the event. It has happened still somewhere away from the ‘central’ idea of India. Hence the notion that video stands for “ I see” its finally forces us not to see, because than the image is becoming redun-


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dant, and as a ' mass' we are not able to realize things and it seems far removed from us(passive) instead of questioning(active) every element that is important for our own safeguard. IMPACT: A blast in a metro SHOT: A close-up REACTION: The country wakes up: politician to common man, everyone is hurt or rather awakens form the deep slumber. Suddenly the security agency wakes up. The media goes in a state of frenzy. We are bombarded with images from television, cinema and text about what has just happened in ‘central’ India. This notion of cinema/television looking at problems and life only consolidated between the metros in India (close-up) has certainly left a void in understanding the causes of several problems that are germinating at the grass-root level (extreme-long shot). This is precisely why almost all television production shot usually in “close-up" and movies have lost its values, as there is absolutely no relation between the subject and its surrounding. Since the surrounding in most cases never exist, and if does, it has no inherent value, and is never explored. This is another reason why a close-up of Guru Dutt could offer more impression about the individual and society in general than the projection we see on-screen today. It also

helps us associate with the past to make a better future, but most images projected today - through television and cinema, have lost all source of meaning and values, and this a major why its never remains part of mass social awareness and is easily forgotten.

men who are representative of our own lot, and trusted to provide service and growth in their representation towards the society. And it’s only in such a shot- reverse shot that a similitude between cinema and life could be established and images accompany.

This lapse of memory in public sphere and media to “question" the authority for a choice of better life and secure living hardly happens and things move back to normal, unless something new comes up. Perhaps, this distance of spaces is severely one reason why we are never able to feel the emotions and loss of human life to force upon a collective voice to seek out to live. Hence, a violence in Kashmir has no association with a business man in Mumbai, and vice-versa, and when it does it's because of the impact of the projection of images in(closeups) but these images too slowly reach a point of exhaustion. And the audience after the initial bombardment of shock, horror and emotions simply move on, it's only those who are personally affected that the scars never heal, especially when the " answer" or even the " questions" die out in a matter of days. The last Indian and one true exception who managed to break the illusion of the ‘ spectacle’ and remained questioning, fighting’ and winning as a common man is, Neelam Katara. And when we take a close-up of her picture and place it against that of GuruDutt(close-up) both images provide an important evidence in embodiment of the human spirits, the hypocrisy of society and the creation of reality of ‘ images’ by

However, at grass-root level most voices are never heard (sound), the problems never shown (images) and consciousness never talked about (text) that really leaves a major portion of our own society feeling ignored. In the name of entertainment, information and service to the audience, a fascism(cinema and television) is evolving that is not ready to take criticism and the subjects around them are not ready to allow the criticism to deter the determination for a global domination in the name of projecting the " fantasy" of the masses. The idea to ‘ question’ is becoming smaller day by day, it’s incisively because how the ‘ images’ have shaped my own generation- we are shown and we are fed- what we want to see, to please us and keep us happy in an ‘utopian state’ that the representation is mainly forcing us to do. The people who force this upon us are clearly the ones that are bridging the divide between them and the workers irrespective of the fact that they have no knowledge or understanding of their own crafts, hence Katrina Kaif can become actresses simply on beauty while a technician keeps surviving for their livelihood. A politician can dry up the money in a state but a farmer has to pick up a gun to protect his land, and both our representative fail to realize

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FROM THE VAULT

that without the “ worker” and the “ farmer” they will cease to exist. Sadly, we too get blinded because the “image” is something we cannot touch (inspite of our knowingness that we created them, and can break them) and also not question. But if ‘beauty’ and ‘body’ are the only two physical attributes for doing ‘a work’, and if that is the only parameter then every worker should be paid a crore (a million dollar) for dancing around. The idea that entertainment and information evolves only passive participation is deceptive; this is something that has constantly been hammered in our genes so that there are no mutation for struggle and revolution, because any form of active involvement and questioning is directly against the hegemony of authority, those who are supposed to be our own representative, and that is inversely related to our own social nomenclature where a distinctive choice other than the one laid is considered insecure. Yet, I believe, there is a need for a collective mobilization of people to help inculcate the ideation of pushing toward returning back to zero, to begin fresh in order for exploration and projections of issues and problems deeply affecting our day to day living.

difference lies in the fact that there state of living(images) is out in the open, but here its hidden under layers of freedoms of choices and opinions that is projected towards us through the medium of cinema and television. Such promises and dreams that politicians show us with every fresh election and filmmaker with every new Friday release reminds me of two verses from the Faiz Ahmed Faiz Urdu poem, Hum Dekhenge(We’ll See)(3), and a line form Tagore's poem My Country Awake(4):

Hum dekhenge Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge Woh din ke jis ka waada hai Jo loh-e-azl pe likha hai Hum dekhenge Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garaan Rui ki tarah ud jayenge Hum mehkumoon ke paun tale Yeh dharti dhad dhad dhadkagi Aur ehl-e-hukum ke sar upar Jab bijli kad kad kadkegi Hum dekhenge

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

To critique a film against the mass is subjected as prejudice; it’s considered against the will and freedom of the society, who are dying for escapism, and the product is tailor designed for them. Isn’t such a tailor made life designed for the North Koreans, the only

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78 REVIEWS

EPISODE 2: OF MY TRUTH AND YOUR TRUTH

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83 FROM THE VAULT

“A Proposition”

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OF INDEPENDENCE OF NOT DEPENDING ON THE DICTIONARY FOR DEFINITIONS.

OF CREATING YOUR OWN. IA/JAN UARY 2010


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ERIC ROHMER And Mr.Rohmer said, “You can’t think about nothing.” R.I.P Eric 1920-2010

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Indian Auteur: Issue no 8