Incomplete Zero

Completing the Nothingness

Monday, October 29, 2007

No Smoking: A Review

All fire and some smoke

This review is only for those who have seen the movie, since the movie is not about its plot.

As the first sequences of No Smoking end, with K (John Abraham) predictably asking the Russian soldier for a light and being shot, one was wondering which direction the film would take; at that point I was thinking I hope there isn’t more of similar predictable smart-alec stuff. I do not have any problems with smart-alec movies provided it is smart.

The scenes that followed after the titles, where K’s character is revealed in-your-face (both in terms of the screenplay as well as K’s character itself) were particularly insipid. Both the dialogue and the screenplay were surprisingly pedestrian and uninspired given the director’s undeniable writing and filmmaking talents (Satya for the writing and Black Friday for the filmmaking).

It is only when K starts walking into the world of Prayogshala does it seem like the director is coming into his own. The references are numerous, over-flowing and obvious; Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism (a Hindu pedagogy spewing Paresh Rawal in a Narendra Modiesque stubble, and burqa clad women etc), fascism and all its methods (surveillance, archiving etc), call centers, but they lack subtlety and sophistication. The dialogues were still not as consistently top draw as one expects from the writer. They were sparks but no major fireworks.

Gradually the movie meanders, trying valiantly to create the surreal horror of totalitarian regimes and the breaking down of a man’s revolt against it. But trying as much as he was, lesser directors would have surely done worse, the director is unable to present it in an imaginatively new form. The cigarette metaphor remains a metaphor only in the sense of the script. It was never realized visually. We know how totalitarian regimes work. There have been enough movies on Soviet, German and American fascism. Metaphorical representations of the totalitarian regimes have already been done in many books. So in order make the film interesting and gripping both the metaphor and its visualization should have been much more imaginative.

Both the plot and the visuals lose whatever steam they have after the interval, the many references and genre salutes notwithstanding. In fact excessive unsubtle referencing only brings the lack of strength in the script to the foreground. The parts with the Cuba returned friend being the low-point. For a non-mainstream film there were too many songs. There was been films that were more mainstream than this with fewer or almost no songs. I guess it is a function of Bollywood economics, a film’s budget is directly proportional to the number of songs it has.

One is almost sleep-watching through the last third of the movie and the closing scenes in the dungeons grab your attention. They are decent but one can’t help but feeling let down at the amount of money that would have been spent on it to no avail.

All through this time I watched the movie shaking off the pain of the knife that the director plunged into the heart right at the beginning, calling the character K. It is a sacrilege to name your protagonist after one of the most groundbreaking names in world literature. In doing so the director reveals the lack of a deeper understanding of art and its aesthetics in general and it is as pathetic in its lack of imagination as the repetition of Vijay, Rahul or Prem. To do that the film has to be as great as the author’s book. The last twist of the dagger is that it is John Abraham who is K. If it were an actor of caliber and character, it would made the film much better by covering up its weaknesses and would have insulted Kafka lesser.

It was a disappointment, a major one. The movie should be seen by all cinephiles and aspiring directors who want to put themselves and India on the world-cinema map. One can watch, enjoy, learn and fundamentally understand cinema by watching world cinema. But in order to make world-cinema one has to build one’s own idiom, brick by brick, questioning the relevance of each brick as you place it.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Zodiac: A Review

Hanfcrafted to Perfection
Se7en was gray, sharp, ominous and clever. Fight Club upped the ante: edgier, faster, gruesome and visceral. There were other films that came and went before, after and in between. With his latest, Zodiac, David Fincher has quite possibly, made his masterpiece.

Zodiac, a pseudonym under which a serial killer sent letters to San Francisco Chronicle, terrorized the city of San Francisco for about a decade since his first murders in 1969. The killer’s identity, though, remained unascertained. Zodiac, the movie, an intricately woven screenplay by James Vanderbilt based on two books by Robert Graysmith, who was actually a cartoonist at the Chronicle when the first of the letters arrived, is anything but a serial-killer movie. The object of Fincher’s obsession is not anything that is de rigueur in the genre, Se7en included: the gruesome murders, the ingenious method, the psychological motivation or the fear fuelled suspenseful build up to the climax where either the killer or Morgan Freeman wins. In fact, the murders are dispensed with within the first third of the film.

What Fincher is obsessed with is recreating the ambience of the 70’s San Francisco Chronicle office, the focal point of the action, and capturing the information and obsession in the hunt for the Zodiac as it passes, almost like an accursed spirit from one character to the other, both of which he does admirably well.

Most of the initial encounters take place in the faded yellow of the Chronicle office and Fincher brews the plot, the characters and the colours on a simmer. The extremely competent and eclectic combination of lead actors Robert Downey Jr. (Paul Avery), the crime reporter covering the Zodiac murders for the Chronicle, Mark Ruffalo (Dave Toschi), the investigating officer with the SFPD and Jake Gyllenhall (Robert Graysmith) takes turns carrying both the film and the investigation to its denouement but with enough skill to keep the actors in them beneath the surface of the film.

Downey plays Avery effortlessly, almost like his alter ego, sliding and sashaying with nonchalant confidence and nicotine glibness. Mark Ruffalo embellishes his increasingly impressive resume through his most accomplished performance to date. But as good as Downey and Ruffalo are, it is Jake Gyllenhall in an almost inconspicuously nuanced performance that betters them both. But don’t expect Gyllenhall and Co. to sing paeans for their director. They have made no bones about their displeasure at having to, at times, give in excess of 70 takes.

Zodiac also happens to be the first film to be shot (Harris Savides) completely on a digital camera, the Thompson Viper Filmstream. Fincher says that getting to watch what he had just shot in full resolution made the process much less neurotic. The movie is expansive, dialogue driven, has a timeline of more than a decade and a half and a running time of 158 minutes. But such is Fincher’s mastery over his craft that the mood, tension and gravity do not slip even a single frame.
Zodiac breaking the mould of the serial killer genre, and even Fincher’s own oeuvre, is completely handcrafted. The raw talent for editing and visualization that gushed out of his body of work has finally crystallized into a mature command over the medium. It catapults Fincher closer to the rarefied league of directors who are venerated as auteurs.


Friday, October 28, 2005


Waltair is one of the oldest names of a town/city by the sea.Only after leaving behind twenty two years of uneventful birth,adolescence full of mirth,wasted flush of youth and love's labour lost did i realise how much it was inside my being.There are two kinds of people in this world , in today's digital world i suppose generalisations can only be binary ,ones who have lived by the sea and ones who have not.The sea and the plains , the coast and the inland , water and earth.

I feel the current more than ever when in huge inland cities.Man for all his sublime intellect and growing mastery over nature can never replace it.Standing in front of the sea and watching it reaffirms life.The ebb and flow are vital reiterations of the same life force that exists in us and in nature.Airconditioning,automobiles,multiplexes,plushly upholstered skyscrapers and anything we have made do not have this intrinsic quality in them.

In the madness that life in megacities has become one eternally feels as if one is in transition and then after another day of waking on the wrong side of the bed the senses sing a song of unbearable longing , for the sound of the gush ,the sight of the rush ,the scent and the splash.


Dark Tide and the Moon

Under a cloudless sky he was dark and drained
The brooding calmness of his waves
Betray the tumultuous currents whirling within

Despite knowing she wont be there tonight
He waits laying himself bare
His heart leaping to his eyes expectantly as clouds part

Dervish, his ebb and flow
Sway to the whims of her presence
Her presence an eternal transience
From the most refulgent orb
Waxing the brightest light in the sky
To the faintest of arcs
When she hides inside her depths

Tonight she is engulfed in her own
And he curls up retreating from the shore
Where a small boy stands at a distance waiting for his waters

The boy takes hesitant steps towards him
The calmness of his waters allaying the child’s fears
As a solitary wave washes over his feet in a slow gush
The boy wonders over its warmth

He had shed tears…


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Corner of a Foreign Field - Review

Does history lure writers to romance it or are the archaeologists and subsequent chroniclers of times buried under indifference and progress quintessentially romantic?The question even more pertinent if the subject of the historian/writer's affection is sport,one of the most vital human functions over which we have not resorted to "large scale" killing of our fellow men.Ramachandra Guha's quite possibly seminal work "A Corner of a Foreign Field" for most of its length and breadth makes either answer to the above question delectably acceptable.

In times when leisure and attention span are a luxuries that can rarely be simultaneously afforded, the Indian cricket afficionado ( a species that will never become extinct,its sanctuary is everyday life) does not pause and look at his ancestors and their gods.A chance glance and a possible reading of the blurb of Guha's book , would most definetely stimulate the taste buds to relish and the mind to chew upon the history of this national passion.

Guha establishes strongly by researching,analysing and devoting enough pages to the birth, infancy and adoloscence of Indian cricket, the complex dynamics between cricket's initial development and administration in India, and caste and religion, that are unknown to the modern cricket lover.The extensive research of the writer which is clearly evident, enables the reader to draw conclusions from not only the former's own views but also from numerous excerpts from the views of cricket lovers and writers of what now seems an ancient age which he paints in sepia tones.Another fine achievement is the parallel topical overview of the freedom movement which serves as an ideal background on the large canvas.

Most of his observations are astute and plausible,but at times the romantic in him takes over and in the process the odd innocuous coincidence is cheekily lofted into the whirlpool of caste ,religion,nationalism,self-determination and cricket.The only drawback would be the length of the time frame he has chosen to deal with, which is a tad too long.The result of which is the the rapidly decreasing richness and illuminating quality in the content towards the last quarter of the book and a waning interest in events which have been editorial fodder in the not so recent past.

The book is a must read for anybody even remotely intersted in the origins of cricket in our country but what Guha must be thanked most for is bringing to light the trials and tribulations of the unsung heroes of Indian cricket, The Baloos,who now thanks to the author will be deservingly known if not celebrated cricketers among more cricket lovers in India.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Bastardisation of Everything

Many hail the liberalization of our country a decade and a half ago for the cushioning comforts it has bestowed upon our lives and hark back to make comparisons with rightfully demonised License Raj that was the third child the great lady gave us along with Jekyll and Hyde. But looking deeper beyond the gloss into how our country has changed, more specifically our culture and lifestyle and how for the poor the things have not changed, we have to question the paens.

Liberalisation has directly made a substantial monetary and hence material difference just to one strata of society:the no longer middling class.What about the poor, well they are waiting for the trickle down effect and given the immobility of labour in India they will all be dead in the short run as in the lon run all of us will. But the greatest and most telling effect of 1991 has been on our culture and lifestyle.

The liberalization of 1991 was not the opening up of the economy but the prostitution of Mother India; we opened her up, and our generation the bastard children born out of that continuing prostitution. We are the bastard children of that prostitution because we have no identity, we can no longer call ourselves Indians in the truest sense nor are we truly Western because we only understand their superficialities and popular culture.

Every country and its people evolve a culture over a period of time, like a girl transforming from the sparkling adolescent to a beautiful woman, that is unique, that is the churning of the great minds that their land produced. The culture manifested through language, music and various art forms passed on from generation to generation who develop it and help it along its further evolution. India is a marvel because of the multiplicity of languages and cultures. But the future of our rich cultural heritage seems bleak.

Our current education and value systems governed by free markets and designed to produce alpha males/females to work for big corporations and ensure that wealth goes into a few hands, do not even provoke thought. More and more children of coming generations would know their mother tongue only in its colloquial form and would be unaware of the beauty of its literature and hence would not contribute to it. Kids being prepared to become scientists and CEO's have too much homework and parents are busy meeting deadlines to even contemplate such trivialities. Do children down south still take lessons in Carnatic music in the same numbers as before or even my generation, do youngsters between 15 and 20 in Maharashtra ,Bengal and Kerala take an interest in their theatre and literature, i would not hazard a guess.

The precious little time people get is used to devour popular culture, which also is no longer Indian. Liberalization and hence the right of MNC's to sell their products in India has brought about a fundamental change in our society from a predominantly non-materialist one to a materialist one.Ours was a land which espoused the need for moderation and futility of trying to find fulfillment of the material unlike the West which was always so, and now we are more like them than ever before, just like Japan is a cheap imitation and hence a huge market for the U.S. . Selling products, as my fellow MBA's would vouch for, is done by occupying mind share and this by altering popular culture through the media. Our wants are controlled by the constant bombardment of audio-visuals through the media. Television which at one point of time aired simple gems like Nukkad,Rajani,Mr.Yogi and the list goes on.., can now only pathetically ape the reality shows which are popular in the West, and which again just prostitute the emotions of the common man and his near and dear ones for TRP’s.

Capitalism creates an illusion of happiness. It turns all of us, like Tyler Durden said,into nice consumers . I'll sell clothes to my friends while I buy their housing loan for that cozy apartment, car loan for that sexy SUV , insurance incase I can't withstand the high pressure lifestyle and deadlines and finally all the cosmetics in the world to keep me forever a young metrosexual who downs his food with cola.

Man has always been driven by the hunger for power and possession and since the first one became the leader of his tribe, we have been constantly been evolving more sophisticated methods concentrate power and hence possession in a few hands. Earlier it was direct, riding on regal horses and elephants with majestic swords in hand chopping of heads in a single swoop, now its totally subtle, it will happen while you are watching Indian Idol and you kid is on the computer. They don't need your body, just your mind.

Is there hope and salvation in any other 'ism', yes nihilism.Human beings essentially flawed as we are can never do justice to any ideology but the one of self-aggrandisement.So even if the revolution is achieved ,the power its brings to the victors will betray the very ideology that gave them power.

The big wheel is moving on, a few cogs make a noise,drop out drowned in the din of the great march forward,and roll away into silent lush dark green alleys and slowly nestle under their favourite tree with all the time in the world waiting to rush into their outstreched arms, if only more could and would do so.


Friday, April 01, 2005

The Sacred Feminine

Intoxication is good, especially the kind when you have cosmic air circulating inside you. Noise in its truest sense is quarantined and hence allows for an interplay or jugalbandi between the senses and the mind, where the nuances are appreciated in the most mundane inanities and profound sensibilities. Each of the senses is at its receptive best: music never sounds more crystal, words are never more meaningful, the eyes see patterns hitherto unknown, the taste buds at the touch of food (and lo behold if its sweet….) transport one to heaven, all this is possible because one travels from point A to point B in any of these experiences far more slowly, imbibing and assimilating bereft of any noise. But the experience one would truly cherish beyond the sensory is when one lets the mind travel, find something and then delve into its essence. In my mental eye I am running across the lush green grasslands that is my mind, in search of a thought or an idea manifested as a poem, a song or even a person. Knowing an idea by reading is incomplete knowledge and experiencing the depths of it is knowledge with understanding.

The conscious is nothing, it’s the subconscious that everything. What is consciousness, a state where our five senses working in perfect condition take us way from ourselves towards the outside world, the things we hear, see, listen, touch and taste. The knowledge of the subconscious is what takes us closer to our “selves”. Last nights ruminations during travels in the subconscious were such a revelation.

Human beings yearn for affection at their very core. In their partners for life they are looking for this very affection: the male for maternal and the female for paternal, and in generally in a strictly non-Oedipal sense, though the latter also exists. In short men look for mother figures and women for father figures. Women have a latent maternal affection in them because of the faculty of childbirth. Hence between two mature individuals of the same age the woman will more than fulfill the man’s need for maternal affection but the man cannot provide the same. Thus, a woman can be a mother to a man a couple of years older to her because of the latency that makes up for age and the man with the wisdom of age can also reciprocate the same. Therefore what ancient wisdom states that there should be a certain age gap between a man and woman in a relationship is very correct and profound. Freud with his insights into these needs shocked the laity in the early 1900’s; the ancients would also have had the same insights and reasons but would not have stated them openly because of the nature of society at that time and also because men were more willing to follow what the learned said, unlike today when the virtue of recognizing one’s ignorance about the self and the world is a forgotten one.

Taking off from the above hypothesis, if the concept of a God as the Creator and the apotheosis of Love, Compassion and Forgiveness is true, then the sex attributed to the human embodiment of this concept cannot be masculine it can only be Feminine.


Monday, February 07, 2005

Wanted : Absolutism not Relativism

January has been a hectic month for Bollywood and for the viewers because of the spate of high profile releases.The arrival of the multplex which provides so many screens has made this possible for filmakers(especially the smaller ones) .But alas though smaller filmakers have found financers and screens for their films the quality remains to be abysmally low.But what is most disconcerting is the qualilty of film criticism in the Indian media.

Rushed to watch "Black" and found the movie a decent one.Bhansali's script and truly marvellous performances by Ayesha Kapoor and Rani Mukherjee are the high points of the movie.But his penchant for visual beauty in the scene irrespective of its requirement ends up undermining an otherwise good movie.The hospital( milky white with Rani all in Black),the house where Rani stays when she goes to study are too cosmetic and plainly irrelevant. This proclivity for visual esthetics ends up making the entire atmosphere inert(which could have been achieved by other means if that was the aim) . The form should flow out of the content , but with all of Bhansali's films there is an overall look that is is superimposed on the content and at times totally unsympathetic to the needs of individual scenes.

The Friday release of Black was followed by euphoric reviews that elevated Bhansali to stratospheric heights(equating it with Satya and even greats of world cinema) a sense of deja vu crept in.In recent months the pretentious Raincoat also received similar reviews.The inanest thing being this line by a reviewer "The scene where Ajay Devgan is shaving in his friend's bathroom , has him squeezing cream out a tube while his friends shaving foam is in the background, what a sublte way of showing the huge economic disparity".It is but elementary that when one sketches a character everything from his clothes to his accessories are appropriate.Similar if not tamer eulogies for the horrible "Page 3"(whose first half will give any recent Dev Anand flick a run for its money) and the earlier excruciatingly painful Joggers Park seriously cast a doubt on the standards of judgement used by critics.I even feel that positive reviews were consciously plugged(as if a supposedly dense movie which happens to be directed by a Bengali can only be intepreted by hallowed reviewers and hence they can serve us trash).

The pattern most seem to be following is judging films with respect to their contemporaries.This is a great fallacy because one just cannot elevate an average film to outstanding since the routinely insipid fare has kept our cinematic taste buds parched. The criticism can definetely be done after compartmentalising films into genres , but erstwhile demarcations like mainstream and parallel cinema can no longer be exactly applied .The standards also need not necessarily be international nor within a contemporary time limit since Indian films mainstream,parallel and regional have produced and continue to produce quality films.Mili,Ardh Satya and Anahat to name a few illustrate the previous point.

Another aspect of criticism is positively reviewing actors who have a good press or may be are genuinely nice,strong individuals in real life.Sushmita Sen is a case in point.The gushing plaudits she received for her qawwali in Kisna are undeserving, compare it with Rekha's performance in qawwalis and the exact point of this whole piece would be self evident.Reviewers/Critics should use absolute standards of judgement not relative.