The Cinematic Experience

I often witness a clash between viewers who have been touched by a mainstream coming of age movie, and those who criticize it very harshly. I’m always baffled by these clashes and arguments because I don’t generally view cinema in that way. Let me attempt to explain my cinematic experience, and why I think this approach is useful.

I am not a member of an elite critic group who knows every movie of significance in existence, and who can describe to you the cinematic vision of every great filmmaker. Let’s just say that I’m a regular viewer who feels a natural inclination towards cinema as a storytelling device. I find it very easy to absorb and process information and form an understanding about life or myself through cinema, rather than another medium. And I have known for long that I very actively use cinema to affect my emotions and thoughts.

To me, movies are an emotional drive. They are tools that we can utilize to either reinforce or, if we choose, challenge our present emotions and thoughts. And since emotions and thoughts are always changing and evolving and are never constant or rigid, our experience of movies are always going to be different too. That is why you may relate strongly to a movie, while your friend feels absolutely nothing when they see it. It all depends on your present state of mind, and the extent to which the story, the images, dialogues, and interactions on screen reflect your current feelings and opinions. This is also why it’s very rare that I will speak very harshly about a movie. I will generally say that I disliked it or did not enjoy it (in which case I will explain why its sentiments did not resonate with mine), but I will not say that the movie is worthless if even a single person has related to it. If a movie has moved someone, that movie is not worthless– it has fulfilled its purpose. That is the purpose of cinema– to relate to the audience, to get them to realize truths that they may be hiding from, and if the movie is very, very good and very lucky, also cause some kind of constructive and positive change in the person who has experienced it.

If one sees cinema from this perspective, not only do movies become more valuable and meaningful, but one also starts to see how in your personal life, you can use cinema to grow emotionally and intellectually. Next time you enjoy something you watch, ask yourself why you’ve enjoyed it? What made you connect with that character? What made this content meaningful to you? As you answer these questions, you’ll get to learn more about yourself. And if you wish to, you can also use cinema to fulfill certain emotional and intellectual needs. Cinema is not a one-sided or passive experience. It is dynamic, it invokes a reaction in you, and you can use it to create reactions, thoughts and emotions that benefit and develop you. You can actively and regularly gauge your emotional and intellectual needs and select cinema that responds to those needs. Cinema is not, and does not have to be, a pathway for evasiveness and numbness, it’s also a healer, a promoter of human consciousness.

Advertisements

Begin Again

24176851_10104896052882740_2579908993121529332_n

It would be a great disservice to those who read and follow this blog if I don’t mention this movie. I think it wouldn’t be too bold for me to say that Begin Again is the best and most enjoyable movie I have seen in the past five years. How can I best describe the experience of this movie? Imagine you’re sick and miserable, and suddenly someone brings you chicken noodle soup. That’s how it felt to watch Begin Again.

It’s not new. This charming John Carney movie starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo was released in 2013. How it managed to slip me by for this long, I have no idea. But I think you’d regret missing it, as I did.

A failing, lonely, slightly alcoholic music producer and a heartbroken musical Brit make an unlikely team and create an album– and each song is recorded in a unique spot in New York City. Their progression through the album becomes the story, a story of healing, finding joy, and beginning again.

There are no dearth of delightful characters in this movie, played by Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, James Cordon and Hailee Steifeld. I do feel that Mark Ruffalo was the backbone of the film. His portrayal was absolutely realistic, raw, and downright likable, despite how dysfunctional he is.

And if we get to the real point, the music, is just fantastic. Every song is intentional and enjoyable. Each song feels like an unwinding, a release from a layer of disappointment, of sadness. The music becomes the journey, and it brings everyone together, and it reminds everyone of who they really are, assures them that they’re going to be all right. Just… watch this movie.

After Begin Again, I watched an earlier John Carney movie, Once (2006). Once is just as brilliant, albeit with a slightly sadder ending I thought. It took me about a week to watch Once because every time I heard a song, I was so overwhelmed that I had to pause and proceed to listen to that song on loop for the next couple of hours. If you like Begin Again, you’d like Once too.

Newton Review

Eros-Now1

Quite silly to review such an acclaimed and already loved film, I know. People are sulking that it didn’t make the cut to the Oscars after all. I just couldn’t resist.

Newton has no qualms about presenting its subject. It dives directly into topic– the premise of elections and Naxals, and where the main character is in relation to them. The community is holding elections, and the Naxals are terrorizing the system. Or we’re made to believe. Newton, a government clerk, is a reserve volunteer for the election committee, and may be overseeing the voting booths with other volunteers on election day.

It’s quite difficult to know where to start praising Rajkummar Rao for his acting abilities. He, truly knows how to get into the skin of the character. The very first thing I realized as I watched Rajkummar Rao as Newton was how often he blinked. Perhaps, you’d consider this irrelevant or a minute detail. But it isn’t. The frequency in which he blinked, his glances and demeanor created the Newton character for me: a naive, good-willed, yet driven, simpleton. Isn’t it amazing that an actor can take on a character, using such small, minuscule details. There must be some underlying scientific truth behind this, in the way our brain interprets persons, as a total sum of their gestures, behaviors, words. Our Newton, who has named himself so gloriously, suffers from common man’s ailments, of familial pressures. He doesn’t value money or status like others. In his own words, he wants to make a difference.

I think I enjoyed Sanjay Mishra’s character the most. His role as an advisor, his honest and direct responses to Newton. I loved how he told Newton of his arrogance about being honest. I found it interesting how we even find ways to feel in-admirably about our admirable qualities. How the honest boasts of his honesty, the good of his goodness. And as Sanjay Mishra says, we are not doing the world a favor by being this way, it’s expected of us. The coincidental rarity of these qualities in our immediate world, do not make them praiseworthy.

When a volunteer backs off from a booth in a community close to Naxal area, Newton takes his place. A community that was under the control of Maoists / Naxals just six months ago, and rigged with man mines. They wake up at 4 a.m. to set up the voting booth. When the police officer warns about the security situation and the pointlessness of their efforts, Newton refuses to accept and insists on carrying out his duty. And off they go for votes, like an army going into war! With bullet-proof vests and helmets. Proceeding through the jungle, on-guard, pausing and checking for danger along the way. With frequent bathroom breaks, taking dumps on mine-scanned spots!

A very interesting perspective shown through this movie is also the different perspectives of civilian and military/police. Every government has a unit on civil-military (CivMil) relations, and that’s because the perspective of each is so different, that they have a hard time agreeing on much. The dynamic between Atma Singh and Newton exemplified that well I think.

Newton tells them not to force anyone to come, but the police rile up old villagers like criminals, for voting. Taking their food, frightening and traumatizing them meanwhile. But these people have never voted before, they don’t even know what voting is. Newton has to explain to them its importance, and why they should vote. How can they vote when they don’t know any of the candidates and what they have to offer? The candidates have never come to these lands, to understand them, to ask for their votes, to make promises to them. The people feel torn between the government authorities and the Maoists who both claim rights over them. Furthermore, these villages, communities have never assimilated into the national governance structure. They continue to be governed through their traditional tribal structures. When Atma Singh and Newton get into a heated argument, the elderly village head steps forward to fulfill his duty and resolve the dispute between them. I thought this scene is possibly the best and most insightful scene of the entire movie, highlighting the polarization and isolation of communities that national governments are unable to reach, unable to serve, and who often get caught amidst violent extremist movements, who seek to take advantage of this polarization for their personal gain.

To the world outside, the West, who is always keen on the implementation of democracy, and its foremost indicator, elections, without really understanding the local dynamics and implications of its case studies, THIS election is a triumph. An example they will show the world, of how democracy is applicable EVERYWHERE and all you need to do in the path of progress, freedom and representation, is hold elections. Who cares if it makes any difference in the lives of the voters? In conflict situations, as soon as the violence reduces to a bearable minimum, the freedom fighters of the world, with their Western ideas of liberation, will fly in, and hold elections, to tell the world that, look, all is well again. ALL problems are solved. There was EVEN an election. That’s what they did in the Balkans after the war, the genocide, the destruction. And now, people speak of how the conflict dynamics, the underlying problems and frictions that caused hatred and death in that region in the first place, remain unresolved as ever. But wasn’t elections and a democratically elected government, the solution to everything?

Ah the funding. Now you get to the real point! The funding is NEVER enough. There is always a need for MORE. All that stands between people and freedom is MONEY. If there was more money, they could progress further and faster, into being liberated, into becoming the obedient patriotic servants of the national government/foreign government, that every democratic citizen ought to be.

And yet, despite all this, a man who believes in the idea of social justice, representation and voting so much, and who refuses to give up on his principles and sense of duty to the extent that he LITERALLY runs to keep a voting booth open… is just… brilliant!

I can see, how certain critics and viewers may be unimpressed with the cinematography– the very linear, direct storytelling, the conventional camera shots, the minimum use of sounds and music. But that to me, is a plus, something that allows me to focus on the subject, and the little delightful nuances of the great actors before me. This is one of the best films I have seen in 2017.

[TorrentCounter.co].Newton.2017.Hindi.720p.HD.x264.ESubs.mkv_20171216_163813.107

The Tree of Life Review

the-tree-of-life-movie-poster-slice-02

The Tree of Life (2011) is not an entertaining movie. It’s utterly realistic, short on explanations, deliberative, existential. The film begins with its premise, of death. The universe, natural landmarks, oceans, volcanoes, cells. Everything separating, clashing, gushing, dividing, merging, forming.

One cannot directly dive into the story in this movie. First, it becomes an issue of understanding the filmmaker’s vision. His preferred way of presenting information to us. Which is not primarily through narrative, but rather through images– a series of remarkable, meaningful, often breathtaking, images. As much as one contemplates the story, one contemplates how it is presented.

The use of the camera and its angles are unique. The camera is very dynamic, always moving, and the angles, unusual. It creates a feeling as though we are moving through the character’s lives, observing them, without their awareness. It makes everything more natural, because the odd, disordered angles that concentrate on specific things, seems very similar to the way we use our eyes. How we tend to pay attention to specific objects, and its details, rather than observing the bigger picture. At the same time, the dynamic movement which follows the character’s movements, who also happen to be constantly moving around, creates a sense of attachment to them, as we are repeatedly urged to see things through their view.

2621

Periodically throughout the film, there is a low-angle shot. It forces us to reconsider things from a new position, a new perspective. It also feels like a reminder, of how small we are in comparison to everything else. As the film progresses, we also progress, through different landscapes, and different eras of the world. We are made to attain a greater perspective, a grand perspective, yet without detaching from the feeling of loss, which we are reminded of through the narration. The narration is an existential one, people trying to understand loss, through which they also appear to be understanding bonds, and love. But the narration, is bare minimum. Its the images, which are telling us the story.

The lighting is bright and realistic, but with very little sunlight, and often resembling a documentary. There is an abundance in green, the characters generally being outdoors. The crispness of the colors, the emphasis on nature, adds a harsh quality to the vision of the movie. A slight feeling of insecurity, but also of freedom. The seasons, all seem to be the same. Comforting memories are characterized by a greater use of yellow lighting.

The sounds and the music, just as the use of the camera, are disorienting, alarming, threatening. Telling us that what’s happening, is natural, yet dramatic, and difficult… as death. What loss feels like is portrayed through the struggles in nature, through the natural cycles in all existing things.

The movie shifts, from fragmented memories, to nature and existence, and again to memories. Not all memories are alarming, some are comforting, calming, even fun. Until when one sees, the reality of the situation. This family, which appeared perfectly happy until now, does not seem so happy anymore. It’s not a household devoid of love, but one of rules and boundaries. Of pressure, and intimidation. Everything is enforced, even love and affection. One feels, as those boys do, worried, frightened, and unsure. Their desire to be free, from the restrictions with which they live. Their mother, a flying fairy, of goodness and love. Then comes horror. These boys are not prepared for the horrors life has to show them. They’re good at heart, and wish to remain good; protected, yet curious to know more.

Their father is very strict, disciplined and keen to teach his sons. One can tell he has high expectations from them and wants to make sure they live up to it. But his harsh demeanor, his aggression, is hard for these boys to handle, they react better to the loving compassion of their mother. Grown men in pain have a hard time showing love to vulnerable children.

The boy who died– there is a strong impression throughout the movie, of how out of place he feels, almost all the time. The way he observes his world, in doubt and hesitation. One can sense the comforting he needs but is unable to ask for. It is clear that he desires to be accepted and loved for what he is, and not what his father wants to make him into. The rules and warnings constrict him, make him feel helpless, and unwanted. His first feeling, which doesn’t involve self-judgement, appears to be longing, when a girl throws her long brown hair.

Then, he witnesses death. He thinks about death, and what it would be like to lose someone he loves. The movie, and their life, appears to take on a more and more gloomy nature. This little boy, is too young for existential thoughts, but he has them. He talks to God, prays to God, then questions God, unable to understand why things are the way they are. He’s fascinated with his mother. It’s not that his father is unable to see his sensitivity, or his need for care, but he doesn’t know how to provide it. His father is frightened to be or to appear weak, even to his own children. The disorientation of the boy’s character grows, and takes on more intensity. Meaning he seeks, but is unable to find.

Their mother is as helpless as they are. A homemaker, she stays quiet during family dinners, as her husband intimidates their children. Isn’t it utterly devastating that these boys feel freedom and happiness, only when a member of the family is no longer there? That they feel like a guest in their own home? When a home becomes a personal prison? His return, the return of hopelessness? When one is so utterly desperate, that death seems to be the only solution? Either his death, or one’s own?

The boy’s strange attraction to his mother, presents a more complicated view of him. It becomes clear, that the attachment he feels for her, is too intense, and possibly a little unnatural. Is he clinging to her more, for his need of affection?

0eb249db218cee6163baeb1d86a5f2d4

His frustration is slowly transforming into rage. So much rage, that he even starts having outbursts in front of his father. His father dumbfounded, for he has no clue, of the kind of effect he has on him. Utter and complete constriction, the farthest edges of helplessness he now feels. Yet, a slight feeling of satisfaction, of peace, of believing in his bond with God.

The father’s remorse, we get a view of it, in the beginning of the movie and at the end. But how we see his remorse, changes in between the two. And slowly the movie quietens, calms, into greater peace. The music changes, the fear reduces. This is where mourning is completed, and wounds start to heal. Where, somehow, you start to find hope once again. Albeit, not without feeling lost every now and again. The vast, barren landscapes generally fulfill the feelings of being lost in this movie.

And we return to creation once again. To flowing hot lava, the dust storms of outer space, a plead to their creator, for eternal guidance. This is where endings and beginnings merge, in a sort of beginning of time. Where light shared, illuminates the paths of many. The endless journey, continues.

The movie, which began in chaos and upheaval, its sounds, alarming and worrying, ends, in en inexplicable peace and content. A kind of divine conclusion, to hurts once felt. A triumph of forgiveness and compassion, and the reuniting of loved ones, in a place where there is no fear. Where we get to embrace them, and ourselves. Our self, the young and afraid one, and the old and afraid one. And finally, we’re left on our own, for that last journey, the last few steps, into eternity.  THIS is a story of acceptance.

Watch this movie, only if you feel it would resonate with you. It’s too unique and abstract I think for most people, and in most situations. It requires intent and a specific type of mindset. Watch it only if you found this description of it meaningful.

the-tree-of-life

Arjun Reddy Review

Arjun-Reddy-Review

I was recently bashed on social media by some Telugu film fanatics for being unfamiliar with this movie. They considered this ignorance of apparently “one of the most controversial films in Telugu cinema history” nothing short of blasphemy. Though not overtly spoken, I could sense that these young lads were in awe with this film and even saw it as a matter of taking pride in their regional cinema… a some kind of “gem” that demonstrates the progressiveness of Telugu cinema and it’s ability to compete with other regional cinemas.

Placing too much meaning on a single film? I think so too. I will attempt an unbiased and objective view of the film. Lots of spoilers, so you may want to avoid if you plan to see the film. First things first, the film is way too long. It could easily been made into two-and-a-half hours and nothing of importance would have been left out. I felt exhausted and drained in the last half hour and I just couldn’t wait for it to be over.

The entire film centers around the story of the male lead, Arjun Reddy, as you easily guessed from the title. Arjun Reddy is an intelligent and successful medical student. He tops his college in grades, is more knowledgeable on subjects than any of his peers, and therefore is regarded in high esteem by teachers and administrators. Arjun Reddy is also an aggressive, selfish, slightly psychotic bully who terrorizes the entire student base, and even the dean of the college. He has a small loyal group of measly weak friends whom he can easily manipulate. He constantly threatens people into doing things and everyone is so frightened of him and his anger, that they never try to oppose him in anything.

The entire premise starts when Arjun, who was prepared to leave the college and end his entire educational and professional career because he is too vain and stubborn to do anything logical, changes his mind after seeing a sweet, naive-looking chubby girl start at his college. It’s only natural for dominant aggressive men to prey on sweet looking, easily impressionable girls.

While we are given more than an ample portrayal of Arjun Reddy’s character in the film, as usual in Telugu films, we are given very little on the character of the girl who triggers the entire change in the lead, Preeti. She is little more than a puppet– without emotion or thought. As though she doesn’t have a character or a spirit at all, just a body with a pretty face walking around, prepared to take any shape or form that is demanded of her. I mean get this, Arjun completely dominates and controls every single aspect of her life from the moment she enters the college. As soon as he decides he likes her, she becomes branded as a sort of property, and everyone is informed of it so that no one else can claim a right on her. No one even thinks of asking Preeti what she thinks about all of this, whether she is okay with it, whether she even likes this guy, or is interested in being branded this way. Her consent is automatically presumed.

In Telugu films, women have always been displayed this way. As naive, simple creatures who don’t really have many thoughts or feelings of their own. They’re always pure and beautiful, and in need of guardianship, in need of being owned by someone else. In many of the earlier films, the beautiful, educated, naive girl would fall in love with an uneducated, good-for-nothing loafer or a criminal and would reshape her life to be with him. Women in Telugu films are not too different than set props, objects to be utilized for the advancement of the hero’s story. Just like friends, family, comedians. It is this obsession with the hero, a type of hero worship in Telugu film industry that I dislike. The entire film is made by the hero, for the hero, and everything else, purely inconsequential. Before you get up in arms about this, I know this happens in other film industries too, but it ALWAYS happens in Telugu cinema. The heroine is also inconsequential in this one. She’s again, naive, sweet, beautiful. The only difference in Arjun Reddy is that she is a naive, sweet, beautiful girl who likes pre-marital sex.

When this puppet of a heroine is easily convinced into an arranged marriage by her family, is it really surprising? For she had little to say when Arjun Reddy randomly decided to own her. She is completely acting in line with her “non-existing” character.

Of course the next part of the film, or what happens after the heart-break, is what made this film so “controversial” — the forlorn lover falls into depths of alcohol and drug abuse. I didn’t really understand why this has been considered so revolutionary as a film premise? Has no one seen Devdas, or its contemporary version– Dev D? Surely, Udta Punjab would come to mind? Or that Tamil film, Surya Son of Krishnan. I admit, it’s not a topic that is usually portrayed in Telugu cinema. But was it portrayed in the right way?

Arjun Reddy ought to be controversial because for the most part of the movie, it glorifies drug abuse by portraying the character as still being successful, good at his profession, attracting loads of woman, and looking like some kind of sexy, cool beast. At one point, it dawns on the filmmaker that he shouldn’t do that, and the hero selflessly gives up his medical practice permit while confessing he performed all of his surgeries inebriated. But despite the fact that this is the most despicable thing anyone can do, we’re expected to feel respect for the character for “choosing” to reveal this rather than letting his wealthy and influential family cover it up with false witnesses and testimonies. And our alcoholic, drug-addict friend miraculously and instantaneously recovers from his nine month long addiction without any struggle or assistance from anyone, except that of a barber to shave off his beard. To demonstrate substance abuse as something being so easy to get rid of is surely the greatest fault of this film. And for that, it should be held accountable.

As the story progressed, the hero became ever more confusing, contradictory, and outright cheap and disgusting. He criticizes a prospective groom of his friend’s sister for “objectifying women” as though he wasn’t just the one seeing women as simply sources of physical pleasure and begging his friends to give him phone numbers of women who will come to his apartment. At one point in the film, the filmmaker again feels guilty about this (he has a lot of guilt trips throughout to film), and there is a scene where Arjun’s friend tells us how he doesn’t actually sleep with women, they just come over and he chats with them. Yea right. Perhaps you forgot to edit the scenes where he was, and not entirely in a nature of consent, was forcing himself between the legs of women.

The contradictions, and insensible story line becomes unbearable in the conclusion, where we suddenly realize that all of this turmoil, the heart-break, the grievance, the anger, the fear and loss, were all for nothing. There was actually NOTHING preventing the characters from getting together, than their own pride and stupidity. I think this is the first time in a movie where I’ve regretted a happy ending. The ending neutralized and completely destroyed the entire story line. And again what’s interesting is that the female lead experienced some kind of character transformation, and not only ran away from her marriage, but went through her pregnancy alone. There is a sweet ending where the father-in-law sees them kissing (as he had done before) and acts exactly as Arjun predicted. I admit the ending was sweet, and the tremendous ridiculousness of the story line did not prevent me from getting emotional at the end. But I can’t oversee the numerous faults in the movie because of that.

Arjun Reddy is not progressive. It’s not unique and it is not a step-up for Telugu cinema. It is predictable, full of the same old cliches found in every other Telugu film, with just a few shocking elements like sex and drug abuse thrown in. Those elements do not necessary feel natural, nor do they have any particular point. This film does not necessarily demonstrate modern society and its woes because these elements have been placed in it. The filmmaker was not able or willing to go all the way and really make a film entirely on these subjects. He wanted to make sure that the film was still in line with the Telugu film tradition, he didn’t wish to be rejected. But as a result, he’s made one confusing, pointless movie, that is neither really about love, or heartbreak, or sex, or drugs, or friends, or family.

Simran Review: Marketing Misdirection

maxresdefault

Simran wasn’t quite what I expected. The film was marketed like a sequel to Queen, promising witty, funny, entertaining frolic of an empowered, independent women. Praful is certainly that. Independent, opinionated, fun-loving, confident. But this movie is not about that.

It pretends to be so in the beginning, luring us in with an image that is not too different than Kangana’s real-life personality. But then it suddenly turns into a drama of coincidences, a domino-effect of ill-fortune in which the character’s life quickly spirals downward into desperation and crime.

The admiration we briefly develop for Praful soon turns into pity because her single mistake has quickly turned into many, and we watch her sad, desperate attempts to crawl out of the hole she has dug, only to sink in deeper. This empowered woman is irresponsible to the core. And at the end of the movie, we realize she is not empowered at all, getting slapped around by criminals, and fearing her own father more than the police.

In hindsight, the scenes presented to us in the beginning of the film to establish this “empowered woman” character just appears like a gimmick to write into the script what they thought would sell the film. Add to it a poorly developed, poorly fitted romantic angle, and we just have one big mess of a movie.

I try not to focus on logic and technical aspects of a movie too much, but I couldn’t help but get irritated by how unrealistic law enforcement and criminal investigation is portrayed in the movie. Anyone who has any remote idea of how surveillance works would know that someone parking their own car, with a visible license plate at a bank parking lot before robbing it, would get caught in about five minutes. Not to mention that she watches youtube videos about how to rob banks.

Frankly, I would have been more entertained watching a Kangana interview.