Sunday, January 27, 2008

And You Said The Directors Are Not Helpful

Right now, the net is abuzz with movie critics thanking Himmesh Reshmmia for reducing their work by adding the review to the title of his latest movie, "Karzzz1" (comic fans would recognize the ubiquitous “sound” at the end). It seems he has continued the tradition he started when he added "eee" (and not "oo" as odds suggested) to his first movie title, "Aap ka Surroor - The Moviee".

But before you all The Nose fans go around saying that He Who Sings Through Raised Mike has done something new and impressive (and I am not referring to the Decapped look), think again. Why do you think so many movie critics feel so “grateful” (read "beholden") to so many directors?

Don't agree with me? Let me give you a brief glimpse of my upcoming thesis on the topic:

  • Oops! - Can you think of a better reaction you might have after watching this movie? Indeed, there's a rumour this was what the director said when he saw the final cut.

  • Home delivery – This is one movie which people would only watch if they get it delivered right at home. Preferably free on cable.

  • Men Not Allowed – The director thought that he would cash in on the rebellious nature so ingrained in all the viewers. After all, how many times do you remember doing something your parents expressly forbid you to do? The problem was, people took the title a bit too literally.

  • Darna Mana Hai2, and Darna Zaroori Hai 3 – Ram Gopal Varma also found out the tendency of people to take the title literally after his first movie of the series. After much thought (the astute director that he is), he decided to take advantage of the fact. Unfortunately, that came out as a request (or a plea) at best, and at worst, many wondered whether he had left out a question mark at the end.

  • Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna4 – Once again, a humble director requested a favour from his viewers. This time round, they listened, albeit very few were happy about it.

  • Phir Milenge 4 – This was the case when a good movie was burdened with unfortunate title. From what I have heard (I missed watching this movie), the viewers said the same to the director.

Some directors, not content with giving meaningful title (or forced to give different title than they intended), help critics by adding bylines to the actual title.

  • Daag - The Fire – Perhaps the best example of my whole point in this thesis. Although just the title”daag” would have sufficed, there's an additional layer of meaning added with “The Fire”. Now, it's a long-standing question whether that referred to the hot Mahima (as perhaps the director intended) or to the feeling viewers got after watching the movie (refer “Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag” for more discussion on this topic).

  • Meenaxi - The Tale of 3 Cities – Controversies (and maybe some acting) apart, the byline tells us how many places the movie was shown, almost to the last digit.

Now, lest you think that only bad/failed movies do this thing, here are two examples to the contrary from across the ages.

  • Chalti ka Naam Gaadi 6 – I am not sure exactly what happened when the movie was originally released, but from all accounts ye film achhi chali.

  • Dil Chahta Hai 7 – There's a rare man who came out of the hall not saying that same thing about the movie.

The complete thesis will be up shortly. Got any films which you want to add to the list?

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken

Glossary (most of the meaning are literal):
1. Karz : a loan. Karzzz: a sub-prime loan?
2. Darna mana hai: "(You're) not allowed to be afraid". (darna = to be afraid, mana = not allowed)
3. Darna zaroori hai: "(You) Must get frightened". Consensus is that the title refers to the storyline(s) of the movie, and not the production values of the movie itself. (zaroori = necessary)
4. Kabhi alvida na kehna : "Don't ever say goodbye". (kabhi = ever, alvida = goodbye, na = don't, kehna = say)
5. Phir Milenge : "(we'll) meet again", used as "see you later". (phir = again, milenge = we'll meet)
6. Chalti ka naam gaadi - "that which moves is called car". (naam = name, gaadi = car, chalti = the form of verb "chalna" meaning to move/to walk. "movie chali" also means that "the movie worked at the box office")
7. Dil chahta hai = the heart wants.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Khaandan ki dastaan

All characters in this post are completely filmy, and bear full resemblance to reel life.

When Amrita recently took a look at the female characters in Bollywood films, and decided that she is better off being a hero, that got me thinking. I mean, even leaving aside monetary point of view of being the hero, you are not so better off being any other male character either.

Why, you ask? Here's why.

  1. Hero's dad/heroin's dad: Taken in general, the only difference between these two characters is whether his Y chromosome was passed on to a significant character in the film. Otherwise, you can just club these two together and nobody will notice a difference.

    If the family is poor, he is either handicapped, or retired/pink-slipped (if the director is particularly sadistic, he had to retire when he had an accident). The only acceptable professions for this character are teacher, policeman or mill worker. If the family is rich, he is a businessman and a villain, if not in traditional sense, then as The One who keeps postponing the "happily-ever-after".

    If for a change, the character is rich and good, then his whole purpose in life is to sing a song about how his family is the best in the world, and to smile when he is not crying about the same.

    Perhaps the biggest telling point about this character is that, if budget is an issue, the role can easily be fulfilled by a poster/photograph of the actor rather than the actor himself.(If the actor is really showing his age, replace father with grandfather in above paragraphs.)

  2. Bade bhaiyya (Big Brother): The only point in favour of this character is that he is not yet old enough to be casted in the abovem. role. Otherwise, he essentially performs all the duties of the father.

    He is not much better off on domestic front either. His wife keeps insisting on forgiving all the mistakes his spoiled little brother (hero) or sister (heroine) makes. Not happy with the (heart disease and other stress-related) ailments this entails, she adds diabetes to the list with her cooking. If not this sweet lady, she is a shrew who makes his life hell.

    Not content with this, a particularly sadistic director will insist on making him watch his wife being molested, or even killing him to "inspire" the hero to take revenge on the villain.

  3. Hero's friend: Aptly called side-hero, since he is nothing more than a sideshow. Mostly casted for comic relief, the high point in his life comes when he gets to sacrifice his life for saving the lead actress's ijjat (after earlier sacrificing his love for her to make way for his friend), or for taking the bullet/arrow/swordpoint intended for the hero.

    The former is frustrating since his life would have been saved if the hero would have gotten off his lazy behind 5 minutes earlier, and reached the crime scene early. The later is not any better, since that one bullet wouldn't have made much difference to the whole magazine which Hero survives 2 minutes later anyway.

    If this guy manages to survive to the climax, he gets the girl. Well, he gets the promise to be with the friend of heroine who, more often than not, was till then hopelessly in love with the hero.

  4. Villain: You know, leave out the last 5-10 minutes of the film, and villain's role starts looking lucrative. He gets to do as much (if not more) fun things as hero throughout the movie, and also doesn't have to be polite, or become "civilised" just to get the girl he likes.

  5. Hero: Even if you leave out the "ka-ching" part, still this role is great. If his family is rich, he is a spoilt brat. If his family is poor, his father/big brother/bhaabhi/mother will still somehow manage to spoil him rotten. He gets to eat all the good things in life (even if the other members of the family are starving), and turns "good" just in time to get the girl of his dreams.

    Not forgetting the fact that the shlok in Geeta about "not harmed by any weapons, not burned by fire" was written for this fellow.

Well, the short summary of all this analysis is "be the hero, be a bystander, but never ever be anybody close to the hero".

So, which character would you like to play? Is there anybody I have missed?

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Thin(?) Line

I finally got my hands on the elusive Tintin comics, "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets" and "Tintin in the Congo". Now, I agree that the comics were written in early 20th century, by a 20-century author. So, one on hand, I am happy that these comics won't ruin the umpteen re-readings of other comics for me (and I am still looking forward to the movie). But on the other hand, one of my sensors will always be looking for racial tones in the comics which I earlier dismissed as racial quirks.

This has also raised an old question to the front of my mind: When do the racial caricatures turn bad?

Those familiar with the writings of prominent Marathi author Pu. La. Deshpande will remember one of his most memorable characters, Pestonkaka. The story captures the tones, the language, the quirks of a typical Parsi gentleman in post-independence India (capturing such quirks is a typical characteristic of Pu La's writing). And yes, the story uses these quirks and accents for humour. Yet, even the most sensitive individual will find himself chuckling along, and nobody will find anything derogatory in the caricature.

On the other hand, is the "desi version" of "12 days of Christmas" doing rounds on the net. Personally, I found that particular video bad, if not in bad taste.

So, is this a subjective question to such an extent?

Every group, race, nation, people have their own characteristics, customs, accents, language (I am not talking about english, hindi etc. here), which define them as a group. Personally, I think any true to life portrayal of a particular person will have these, giving the person an identity. There are so many differences, that you are bound to find one or more of such characteristics funny. Just to give an example, every Bollywood (and even Hollywood) film watcher will have a plethora of characters to mind, which portray a particular identity in good, cheesy, all the way up to bad and pandering to popular perception way. And personally, I don't think writers using such devices for humour is bad, till the time it is in "good taste".

But at what point does the funny turn into bad? Is overuse the line to cross here? Do we perceive the "intent" of writer to be offensive (or think we perceive it) based on our sensitivities (and sometimes, our mood at the moment)?

Or, is it just a case of us v/s them, and everything is funny till we are at the other end of the joke?

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Short Fiction: The Relic Hunter

In last few months, I read the Sigma Force novels by James Rollins, among other such novels. Yesterday, I read a review of "Uncharted", where a line stuck in my head. The result was this short story:

He stood watching, surrounded by the ruins.

Behind him lay the path he had covered, tortuous and half covered by the jungle, almost invisible to the eye. In his mind, the path was indicative of the year of research, false leads and real and false hopes. An year spent in the dusty libraries and shops, ancient manors and the unknown corners of the world. Following a life after another, all connected by a single thread. Hoping against hope to find just one single clue, one more elusive piece of the puzzle. Frustrating as it was at times, the exhilarating path had finally taken him to the place he was standing in.

Walls and statues surrounded him, full of stone carvings and depictions. A tableau of history, depicting the scenes he recognized from the countless hours spent reading, pictured in numerous books, and told in many tongues across the ages. Dramatised and embellished by the believers and the devout, scorned by the cynics. Frozen moments in the history he had pieced together carefully. A life-changing moment here, a sad realisation there. Just the way his quest had been.

Before him lay the relic. The goal he had been chasing for such a long time. The single discovery which would mark the crowning achievement of his successful life. The object which would fulfil his life and make his dreams come true, as it had done to the select few throughout its almost-mythical life.

Anybody who was less determined than him would have given up the quest. Anybody less resourceful would have met too many dead ends to continue. But he stood there, staring victory in the eye. Yet again proving that he was the best of the lot.

His goal lay in front of him, and he just had to stretch his hand to claim it. Yet his mind was troubled by the complete lack of anything designed to discourage people like him. This complete absence of any defensive measures was so disquieting, that he stopped a moment longer before claiming victory. Staring at the relic.

And that's when everything came together in his mind. The hours spent reading stories, woodcuts and the carvings. The sheer force of will which took him from one stop to another along the trail. The complex path his quest had taken through time and space. All had been pointing to a single fact. The quest which had taken over his life, had become something more. It had become his life, had shown him his life in a different light. The victory he was looking for wasn't over his rivals. The rival he was competing against wasn't anybody else, but his own self.

Touching the relic for the first and last time, he turned away. The last piece of the puzzle was finally in the place, and the completed picture was shining through in his mind.

He had realised why the relic never needed any booby-traps and trap doors for its safekeeping. Sometimes the journey itself is the goal...

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken

P.S. Read my other attempts at fiction writing here, or click on the "Fiction" label in the sidebar.