Sunday, June 29, 2008

Please be kind Rewind

I watched the latest Michel Gondry film Be kind Rewind a couple of weeks back. It’s a film about a small community of people who come together to save a rundown VHS rental and thrift store in a rundown neighborhood operated by a rundown owner, Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). The building is termed unsafe and Municipal corp plans to construct a new structure on the spot. The film also stars Mos Def as Mr. Flecher’s shop assistant and Jack Black as his crazy friend, Jerry. Now, I am an out and out Jack Black fan and I love Michel Gondry’s work too. But this post is not about the film, or Jack Black or Michel Gondry. This post is about the wonderful experience of watching cinema and the love so many of us have for the medium.

After watching Be Kind Rewind in a ‘multiplex’, I thought about Chanakya. Chanakya was the most iconic 1080 seater, single-screen cinema hall of Delhi which closed its shutters forever on 27 December 2007, after a successful run of 37 years. The decision to close and vacate the place was due to a Supreme Court judgment paving the way for the New Delhi Municipal Council to raze the theatre complex and build a multiplex-cum-mall on a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis. There was a lot of write ups on it, a lot of nostalgia around it. TV channels beamed interviews of the general public who were sad at the theater closing but were happy that a new, swanky multiplex would come up in it’s place.

Different people have different take on films. Some take it too seriously but for most, it’s a mere mode of entertainment, a paisa vasool. Agreed that the scene of cinema is evolving in India. It is also true that the multiplexes have enabled the release and screening of small and independent films. But it also has a reverse effect. I believe people took the whole experience of watching films too seriously earlier. Before the world opened up, films were the main choice of entertainment for people. I am in love with the whole traditional big-screen, 1000 people packed in a dark theater, totally lost in the story-unfolding-on-the-screen movie experience.

The single-screen cinema halls have a different charm to them. Many of them were built in 70s and their structure looked so great. The whole 70s look, which now we call retro. The fa├žade, the way their names were written in fancy fonts were all part of the experience. They had a personality, a name, an identity. Each were known for, and by the kind of films they would screen and hence had almost a set kind of people who would frequent them. People love films in India, and come what may, it was and still remains the biggest form of entertainment for the masses. I believe that people took watching a film a lot more seriously earlier. They were a lot more involved in the films, because they had chosen to be in a particular theater for the film they wanted to watch. So they felt at home, they were more in it. But today, with the multiplexes where everything and anything is shoved under the same building, people have ‘choice’. Choice makes you lose respect for things. People come to cinema hall to catch a ‘flick’, and if they don’t get the tickets for ‘Mere Baap, pehle aap’, they’ll get it for ‘Be kind, Rewind’, because they have come for a good time and yeah maybe have heard of Jack Black, ..yeah..he is very funny, man!! Well, unlike Eternal Sunshine, Be kind is a ‘light’ film, but it still is not exactly a Jack Black movie, it’s a Michel Gondry movie which of-course these weekend flick-catchers have no clue of. So what do they do when they are stuck in a cinema hall and not tuned to the film they are watching? Simple. They talk amongst themselves. Play ‘predict what will happen next’. Text people that they are watching a boring film, talk on their phone and crack jokes. And god forbid if you ask them to shut up, they give you a ‘what’s-wrong-with-you, we-have-paid-for-our-tickets-too’ look. Or they just giggle and go back to doing whatever they were doing. Like I said, the respect and involvement with the medium has gone down.

If choice is the yardstick of development then hell, we’ve come a long way. But it is not. Choice is for people not sure of what they want, it’s for the confused lot. And with the multiplex culture, a lot of this confused multiplex crowd bring their confusion to cinema halls and kill the whole magic of watching a film. Single-screen cinema halls are closing down everywhere in major metropolitan cities making way for multiplexes. The screen fades into the dark and curtains are drawing on the single-screen theater and god, it is not the proverbial happy ending we forever wish for.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Long live the Ghost!

For those who came late…..

In 1536, a lone survivor of a pirate attack swears an oath on the skull of his father’s killer: "I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms! My sons and their sons shall follow me."

And a superhero was born. Comic legend, Lee Falk's The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks. (or Betaal, Chalta Firta Pret, as he is called in hindi)

Thanks to now defunct Indrajal comics, our generation was ushered into the exciting and mythical world of Phantom. He was my first super hero. Unlike a Superman, who well, is a ‘super’man and has special powers for granted, or a Spiderman, who also acquired special power thanks to a spider bite. Or a Batman, whose angst, anger and insecurity ridden character I started idolising later in my ‘intellectual awakening’ years. So yeah, unlike any of them, here was our hero continuing his family business of saving the world from injustice and piracy and killers without any baggage. Everything about him is so fascinating. A man who lives in jungle, has a beautiful intelligent, loving wife. Fights crime. Has a dog…err a wolf called Devil, a white horse-Hero. He is the first to wear the skintight costume that has become a hallmark of comic-book superheroes, and the first to wear a mask with no visible pupils, another superhero standard. He is loved by people and feared by criminals. And when he is not fighting crime, he takes off to the secluded Island of Eden for a family vacation. Keeping him company on the island are all sorts of animals, a Prehistoric man and his partner, Hizz and Herz, a Stegosaurus and Nefertiti and Solomon, the two dolphins. Now that’s some life!!
As a child, I of course couldn’t afford to buy all Indrajaal comics off the stand. But we had our ways. I had a ruddiwala, who was instructed to bring me any comics he gets. So every time a rich kid sold his or her comics to the scrap guy in kilos, the man would straight away bring them to me and sell them Rs. 1 a piece, which was still a steal for me. Thanks to that man, I had a sizable comic collection of Phantom, Mandrake, Bahadur, Batman, Superman and many more, some 300 or more of them, all stacked neatly in my drawer.

Falk’s legendary character sounds like it’s inspired by Lord Shiva, another one of my childhood heroes ( As a teenager I would actually have fights with my sister about who was cooler, my Shiva or her Vishnu. Vishnu I thought was too clean, handsome alpha male. Kind of boring, isn’t it. Whereas Shiva was a loner, a recluse, a strong, rough and tough intellectual man with a temper to match.).

There are many other parallels. Like Parvati, a King’s daughter leaves everything behind to be with her beloved Shiva in the snowy Kailash mountain. Ms. Diana palmer leaves the luxury of city life to be with Phantom, the 21st. Ok, she has a job with UN (what the heck, she is a 20th century woman after all).

Like Shiva and Parvati, they have two kids, Kit and Heloise. While Nandi was almost like Shiva’s adopted son, Phantom actually has an adopted nephew, Rex, who called Phantom, Uncle Walker.

Shiva’s anger was legendary, all the gods were afraid of his temper. An angry Phantom was a terror too ("The cold voice of the angry Phantom can freeze blood - Old jungle saying.")

Shiva was suppose to be a recluse but he would come running to his follower’s prayer.
Phantom lives deep in the jungles in his Skull cave , but all the tribesmen of Bengalla got to do is play the drums to call for help. ("Call the Phantom anywhere and he will hear - Old jungle saying." )

Enough of drawing comparisons, but I can’t help draw the last comparison. Shiva’s third eye was suppose to bring disaster. A slight change in Phantom’s story. We are in 21st century after all, we can’t expect people to believe Phantom having a third eye, so we have phantom in his mask which he never takes off in front of people. ("He who looks upon the Phantom's face unmasked will die horribly...." old jungle saying)

Lee Falk died in 1999. As of 2008, the comic strip is produced by writer Tony DePaul and artist Paul Ryan. Indrajaal comics is long gone. Diamond comics keeps printing the old Phantom comics in digest format, but it simply doesn’t have the same charm. Internationally, we now have the 24th Phantom, very slim, very futuristic. I think, it doesn’t have the very soul of Phantom. Too modern, futuristic. A metrosexual Phantom. That’s the last thing our generation wanted to see.

For the generation growing up on Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and 3D Sci-Fi characters, all I can say is that you guys came a little too late.
(Some trivia and picture courtesy wikipedia and other sites. I would have loved to put more pics but am still grappling with the whole image pasting thing.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Not Happening

This is not a review, this is just a disheartened fan's rantings.

'There are forces at work beyond our understanding,'
So says Mark Wahlberg’s character Elliot Moore, a science teacher. Exactly my thought as I was watching The Happening. Nothing else can explain this dud of a film. What was M. Night Shyamalan thinking?? Or was he at all?? As it is with most of us, I am forever torn with my feelings for his work between absolute love to downright dismay. When he burst into the big arena with The Sixth Sense (no, I didn’t see his earlier films, Wide Awake and Praying With Anger), I absolutely loved it. I loved his approach to films, taking a B-grade genre and turning it into an A-grade film. Since then I have followed all his films, of which ‘Unbreakable’ is the one I love the most. But about that, maybe some other time.

Back to The Happening, Shyamalan’s new apocalyptic offering. Shyamalan’s film have forever been a big source for the Scary Movie makers. He gives them the moment they relish to rip. All the overt melodrama, all the bad acting is just ready dough for them. But The Happening, my friends, is in itself your next installment in scary movie series. I mean, they need not change nothing at all, all the jokes, all the situation are there for the tailormade, the entire film is a spoof. I tried to be serious through the movie but I just couldn’t help myself wondering in each and every scene that the scary movie people must be grinning ear-to-ear watching this stuff. Scary Movie folks never needed a script much, now they do have a script in their hand. I even think that Zooey Dechanel looks a lot like the girl who plays the central character in all the Scary Movies. And Mark Wahlberg has never acted so bad. All said and done, this installment from Shyamalan is so not happening.

Tu Manush ahe ki....

Just the other day, me and my wife returned from somewhere. The main door of the building where we live in a rented accommodation was bolted from inside, so we rang the bell. The old lady of the house came to open the door. We did a little chitchat standing right there and found out she was all alone at home and hence the extra cautiousness. Everything was ok till she said…heard another news?? A Nepali servant has poisoned the family he used to work for ( this, in the wake of another ‘sensational’ news of a teenager Arushi and a Nepali help, supposedly killed by her doctor father) So, our landlady went, “In these times you got to be careful.” And then she went on to proclaim…”Nepali log toh waise bhi hote hai khatarnaak” (Nepalese anyway, are dangerous people). I was so taken aback by the comment that I didn’t know whether to laugh it off or to get angry at it. I am a Gorkha, which the poor lady of-course didn’t know. I was shocked and hurt by what she said. It reminded me of a comment some people make about us, that all Gorkhas are mercenaries. It’s so shallow. This generalization of people is so disgusting, yet we all do it. I mean, we don’t even realize that we are doing it all the time. It’s fed to all of us at home to be wary of ‘others’. ‘Others’ are discussed over dinner tables at home. How ‘they’ are different, how they are so not ‘us’. It’s just everywhere. I was reading an interview of well-known playwright Vijay Tendulkar long back and he was talking about racial profiling. Supposedly when his teacher in school would get angry at someone he’d scream,”Tu manush ahe ki musallman??” (Are you a human, or a muslim??)

I remember, when I started in advertising back home in Calcutta, this senior copywriter found out I am a Gorkha, and he ‘joked’, “oh, so you are a Gorkha! How come you are on the other side of the door??” Or sample another gem from him, “O ki idea korbe, o je nepali.( how can he come up with ideas?? He is a nepali after all.) Well, he sure has a sense of humour. And I am glad I forever have had a sense of humour for people like him.

Calcuttan by nature

I came to Delhi some three and half years back from Calcutta, leaving my mother, my family, my friends and my city behind. I have spent my formative years there, walked the streets, enjoyed the city, been part of the ‘experience’ that Calcutta is. Little did I know that everything I took for granted there, would soon be gone. I moved on to this city to earn a living and get ‘ahead’ in my life.

As I sit to write this post, innumerable memories of Calcutta flood my heart. It was a pleasure being on the road in Cal. The people, the commotion, the unorderliness, the chaos and the women clad in ‘saree’. There is a method in madness in Cal, and I felt at home in it.

My best friend Rajesh and I watched films after films, paying as less as Rs. 5 at Nandan and Rs. 7 for the ‘boxstall’ at New Empire. I remember the time when Bikash and I on our evening stroll, have egg-chicken roll or mughlai paratha at Mass Snacks near Jadu Babu Bazar for 10-15 bucks, or rice and beef bhuna for an unbelievable Rs.13 at Neezam’s, or mixed Chhow Chhow at stalls in Totti Lane for Rs. 25, which two people could share. Or dirt cheap early morning Chines and Tibetan breakfast at Tiretta Bazaar. In those days we hardly had any money to indulge ourselves, but we had some great fun with whatever little we had. We would get drunk on the cheapest booze, dope up and make our own Thukpa to eat if had no money to buy food. I remember how we would get drunk at Olypub and then head to Someplace Else to listen to some live music. And if at all any one of us orderd a beer there, before you could say ‘Indian beer’, the bartender would uncork an Imported brand of beer and charge some Rs. 150 for it. Needless to say, some 6-7 of us would nurse that beer for an entire evening.

Now I can afford to go to the best cafes and the best bars and have the best food in the best restaurants, but it simply doesn’t feel the same. I call my mother and ask her how’s the weather there in Cal, and insist that it’s raining a lot in Delhi, just like Cal, as if it’s some compensation. I ask her what they ate for dinner, and how was it? I don’t know why but I need to know, maybe to imagine the food and taste in my head, the familiar taste and aroma I have grown up devouring. I call up my friends during Kali Puja and Saraswati Puja, and insist on talking to all of them, who’s got drunk?, who is dancing like crazy and who all actually fasted to give anjali?? When in Cal, I would sleep through Pujas, but now I miss it. I think it is the price we pay for taking things for granted.

Now that I am away, I realise what I have left behind. Being away from Calcutta, I now know one thing for sure; I might go to Timbuktu to work and have a career, but Calcutta is where my heart is. It’s home.

I, Me and Mine

Finally gave in to my perverse desire to be heard and read . I call my desire ‘perverse’ because I know being in advertising, and being around some really good writers I have to be mad to ‘write’ down my thoughts, feelings or mindless ramblings and make them public. I don’t at all have the ability to write, and I seriously admire the quality in people who can so beautifully articulate their thoughts. I have been writing down my thoughts on anything and everything for some time now, but never have had the courage to show them to anybody. But I gave in. This is the one of the most courageous things I have ever done in my life. I don’t know if anybody will ever read them. Fingers crossed :D