Thursday, October 14, 2010

Please Give

I watched writer-director Nicole Holofcener's Please Give a couple of weeks back and since then I’ve been thinking of writing this post. This is sort of a ‘what-this-movie-is-about-and-why-does-it-make-me-write-this-post’ post. It is a story about a well heeled present day New York couple, Kate and Alex (Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt).

In this era of really complex storytelling, Please Give is one of those films where nothing much happens. It is too self-indulgent, full of dialogues and follows linear storytelling. But it is as charming as life is, warts and all. It’s got its selfish, guilty, passionate and morbid moments.

It is set in present day New York. But it could have been a story of any metropolis in any part of the world. It is so much our story. We, the children of the new world, who make more money than all the family members of our previous generation combined . We, who are fighting this daily fight of being part of this dog-eat-dog world and yet want to believe that somewhere we are good people. I don’t think anybody likes to believe himself or herself as a bad person. We all got reasons to justify any shit we do in life.

Kate and Alex run a business selling overpriced retro furniture to upper class hip people of the city. Furniture which they buy as scrap from the unsuspecting people selling off their dead parents ‘useless stuff’ and hoping to make some money in the bargain.

The business is doing fine, swindling off people of their priceless furniture. But then again, Kate is saddled with this desire to do something good. Maybe she’s saddled with her guilt of bilking people and wants to redeem herself. So she hands out generous dollars to the homeless in the street. But at the same time, she wishes the next door old lady dead, so that she can buy her apartment and combine it with hers. Kate’s character likes to believe that the old lady lived a sad life, no matter if she actually did. But she needs to believe so, maybe to feel good about her own life. She needs to do something to feel good about herself. She doles out 20 dollars to a homeless but denies her teenaged daughter a 200 dollar pair of denims. Because somewhere she likes to believe she is middle class, rooted to the downtrodden. Even Nita Ambani and Shahrukh Khan like to indulge themselves in that belief, no matter what obscene depths of money they are in. There has to be a redemption about being the way you are. Sounds familiar, isn’t it? It does to me.

I loved Please Give because it is such a comment on how our heart is. How we really are and how we like to believe we are. Clueless but clued in. Selfish and generous. All that makes us human. It is in the same school as a Woody Allen film. Or a Satyajit Ray, or a Ritoporno Ghosh, or a Dibakar Banerjee film.( I know, somewhere some bengali is rubbing his palms, grinning, that all the references are of bong directors…hehehe). All the directors and storytellers adept at dwelling into the finer nuances of human mind and heart.

Ok, coming back to the film, Nicole Holofcener writes strong women characters. And she manages to take out some brilliant performances out of her actors, specially the female characters. Even in this film all actors, especially the women, outshine their male counterparts. Whether it is Kate’s gawky 15 year old daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), or the controlled radiologist Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and spa attendant Mary (Amanda Peet) – or their ailing and sharp-tongued grandmother (Ann Guilbert). But the one who really is most amazing is Catherine Keener as Kate. I must confess that I never much liked her, unlike Priti who forever did. In fact, i almost hated her. That’s maybe because I always saw her enacting these very strong women characters. But I saw her as the mother in Where The Wild Things Are, and now in Please Give, both parts where she is vulnerable and yet strong. And I have to confess that I am in love with her. Maybe that’s how all love stories begin. With a certain dislike and resistance towards a potent force and then a complete surrender.

Please Give is kind of movie which is critical of us but at the same time is sympathetic to us. All it’s doing is showing us that what we really are. Human, with all our flaws and shortcomings, far from the idealist picture of this righteous person we carry in our heads.

So if you can lay your hands on it, please watch Please Give.

Friday, July 30, 2010

So Long...

There’s something about leaving, which is always hard. Parting with things, places and people is harder than you imagine. And then it is harder if you have a filmy mind like me. You imagine events in a certain way in your head and it never turns out that way. Real life so doesn’t imitate reel life, for sure.

Last week I said goodbyes twice. First to Calcutta, and then to Ogilvy. Strangely with Calcutta, it wasn’t so hard. Every time I go there, a certain sense of detachment sets in.
And that’s because of the political scenario which just doesn’t let the city move. Out of the 5 days I was there, one day the city was crippled thanks to Mamata Banerjee’s Maha Rally, the other day there was Cab strike. So it wasn’t exactly a dream run in Calcutta. So saying bye to my people was harsh, but not so much to the city.

And then my bbye moment to Ogilvy. It was harder than I thought. I just hung on to it. I just wanted to be and not leave. I wanted to have my friends gather around and talk, maybe go out drinking. But then with everybody gone before me, there was no one around to do that with. So I hung on to studio and client servicing people I have never spoken and said my bbyes for ages, hoping someone would walk me out. Because that’s the way the reel rolls in my head. But thank god to Nitin and Jossy. It was nice talking to Nitin. Thanks for the gift. And Thanks so much to Jossy for the book. Very well thought of. And I loved what he wrote on the inside page. May your wish for me come true, because that’s my wish too. So I staggered out of the agency alone, and no matter how much you tell yourself to be a man and not cry, your eyes do well up. I have spent close to 3 years in this agency, known some wonderful people, made friends with some, goddamn!

So anyway, both my bbyes weren’t exactly the way I imagined. Maybe I should start dreaming those morbid NFDC type movies of 70s where nothing great happens through the movie, the jholawala union leader gets killed, people die of hunger and in the last shot the sun sets behind the fume belching industrial backdrop, leaving the screen dark. But maybe I’ll not. Why screw the vision of the head. It’s a wonderful world in there. Atleast things are perfect in there. So I’ll keep dreaming in Technicolour.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Love, Sex aur Dhokha, darling!

And you call this a film!?”

That’s how one of the 3 young women sitting next to us reacted when the end credits of Love, Sex Aur Dhokha started rolling. Not that they were quiet through the film, like most of the other viewers. Like this man in the row in front of us complained during a brutal scene of honour killing ‘kya film hai yeh?. He even asked his wife to remove the food-tray in front of him, citing ‘mann khatta ho gaya.’

What were you expecting, bade bhaiya? Probably a movie with some ‘scenes’. Before he bought his popcorn, he could have done a little homework on the film. But I guess that is too much to expect out of people, the whole thing about expectations out of a film, that is. People just float in, expecting to watch a film which is already there in their head. A film just the way they are used to seeing, a three act narrative of the beginning, the middle and the end. Nowadays, most have opened up to the idea of ‘different’ films as well. But LSD is nothing like you expected. You don’t have a clue of what’s coming. LSD fucks you. In the ass.

With so much voyeurism and reality TV happening around us, somebody had to make a film on it. And thank God, it wasn’t Madhur Bhandarkar.

LSD doesn’t follow a pattern of single story with the beginning, middle and the end. It uses three different stories of love, sex and betrayal to give you one composite film experience. A film which has no lose ends, all of them tied together tightly with one another. Long back when I was in college, I’d watched a film called ‘The Idiots’ in a film festival. I had no clue about the director Lars Von Trier or Dogme films, but I was pretty moved by the film. There was a certain naivety, and a certain devilish morbidity to it. It was heartbreaking to watch that film. As was many of Lars Von Trier’s films I later watched. I had the same reaction watching LSD. It slaps you across your face throughout. It is not exactly funny when you think it is. It is moving to see how mundane people are, and yet how devilish they can be. People do the most horrible things to people they love, or let’s just say to people who are their own.

The first story follows an Aditya Chopra school of film making obsessed young guy Rahul (Anshuman Jha) making his diploma film, who has the same idea about love as depicted in his mentor’s films. Now you can laugh saying this guy is unreal, but believe me this guy is real. They are all around us. There are so many like him, my brother in law is one such guy, with his motley crew of FB friends who sound just like him. So the hero falls for his film’s heroine, a rich girl Shruti (Shruti) with a fleet of Mercs and her Punjabi Baroque house. The second story is about Adarsh (Raj Kumar Yadav) and Rashmi (Neha Chauhan) in a 24×7 departmental store, always under CCTV surveillance. The third is about a sting operator journalist Prabhat (Amit Sial) who carries out an operation with frustrated model Naina (Devdutta Banerjee), who is out to avenge being ditched by famous Punjabi pop star Loki Local (Herry Tangri). All mundane people, like you and me. Feeding off each other like parasites. Clinging on to each other for love, giving in to sex, and tied with a common thread of betrayal.

Most film-makers have a brilliant debut film and there after start corrupting, giving into the pressures of banners and box office. Or simply because they don’t have any good story to tell. So the treatment takes over the content. Not the case with Dibakar Banerjee, he debuted with the brilliant Khosla ka ghosla, followed it with an even sharper Oye Lucky! And now has surpassed all his brilliance with his most caustic film. He is a director in command of his craft.

The screenplay by Urmi Juvekar and Dibakar Banerjee is gripping. The camera work by Nikos Andritsakis is absolutely brillaint. As Dibakar said in his interview that this is the first time in India that the digital cameras are used as digital cameras, and not as a poor cousin of the 35 mm camera. Editing by Namrata Rao is crisp. You must listen to the music album, if you are not already hooked on. I’m in love with Sneha Khanwalker's music, she is absolutely charming in this one as well. The lyrics written by Dibakar himself, are sharply written and topical. Lyrics like ‘main saat janam upwasa hoon, aur saat samandar pyasa hoon’ are absolute gem. The cast is brilliant, all the actors including the guy playing Shruti’s father and the other cocky store attendant have done their bit effortlessly.

It has more heart and soul than a lot of things I have seen, read or watched. The last time I was this moved watching a hindi film was Maqbool. After watching LSD, I wanted to go sit alone somewhere. Say nothing. Light a cigarette. Maybe shed a tear or two.

Priti and I end up watching films back to back in halls. Even today we had bought tickets for LSD and Lahore, of which we had read and heard good things only. But after watching LSD I felt like tearing away the tickets of Lahore. But that would be an insult to the very reason a film is made. To be watched. So I didn’t do it. I wish I had.