March links: Remembering Suzette Jordan, the India’s Daughter fracas, Jerry Seinfeld and more

Why Suzette Jordan’s voice mattered:

Suzette Jordan leaves an enormous absence, but hopefully, it’s one that we will fill with the necessary conversations about how to survive as a woman in a society that’s being struck by a backlash against women who are wriggling out from under patriarchy’s thumb. Our statistics for violence against women may not seem as bad as those of countries like America, but the levels of misinformation and victim-blaming in India are depressingly high. We need to talk about rape and harassment responsibly and sensitively, so that understanding is furthered instead of stigma.

In the cacophony surrounding violence against Indian women, we need more voices like Suzette’s. Voices that are clear, loud and unashamed. Voices that will start conversations, not fights. As long as we don’t let ourselves be gagged by fear, in our ordinariness lies our strength. Suzette Jordan taught us that.

Rest in peace.

March also saw a massive controversy erupt over India’s Daughter, a painfully mediocre documentary on the December 16 gang rape. Why the government wanted to ban it, is a mystery since the decision to do so made India look far more idiotic than the documentary itself.

Continuing the trend of politicians making Onion-worthy comments, Sadhvi Prachi urged India to boycott the Khans. I wrote this:

I’m disappointed that while lashing out at Bollywood, Sadhvi Prachi didn’t point out that there is a film out in theatres now that stars a Khurrana instead of a Khan, and is just the film that should warm all our hearts, regardless of our political leanings. Dum Laga ke Haisha could become the Hindutva brigade’s favourite film, the one to screen at annual general gatherings and at indoctrination camps.

Starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pendekar (note: good Hindu names), the film is set in the Hindu, holy city Haridwar. It has no violence, if you ignore minor details like a husband and wife slapping each other and a young man threatening to set himself on fire. Because hey, if it doesn’t have stunts and fake blood, it’s not real violence, ok? Liberals, make a kachori of emotional violence and stuff your faces with it.

The film’s hero is a young man who is deeply committed to his shakha, a gathering of men in shorts (and khaki sweaters) who meet in the morning and do PE together. If that doesn’t bring a single tear to the eyes of everyone with an RSS background, I don’t know what will. And the cherry on the cake: there’s a sub-plot in Dum Laga ke Haishaabout the hero’s aunt that is bound to make Sadhvi Prachi and gang choke up with emotion. The aunt was married as a child to a gentleman who sent her back to her family without any explanation. While she lives with her brother, hoping against hope that her husband will want her back, her husband goes on tirth-yatra (tours of pilgrimage spots). Surely this angle in Dum Laga ke Haisha will give Jashodaben Modi the warm fuzzies?

Read the whole piece hereDum Laga ke Haisha was absolutely adorable, though I had a few niggling issues with it. That, though, is just me being nitpicky. It was a charming little film and it did well at the box office. Yay!

Jerry Seinfeld was supposed to have a show in India, but it got cancelled at the last minute. Before it got cancelled, however, I got a chance to interview him. So that was pretty interesting.

Most of the films from March were pretty meh: FocusCinderella, Hunterrr

The ones that I did find myself liking (unexpectedly) were NH10 and The Second Best Exotic Marigold HotelThey don’t get much more dissimilar than that.

There weren’t too many releases in March since the cricket World Cup had everyone’s attention. I haven’t actually watched a single cricket match in years, but such was the cricket fever that even I ended up writing a piece on an India-Australia match. Only this one was held in Mumbai, in a film called Awwal Number.

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February links: Bad films, good films, Oscar grump, literary feuds and more.

I’d like to hold this wretched heat responsible for the fact that I completely forgot to put up links of published articles for the past couple of months. The way the temperature’s been rising, the only logical explanation for Mumbai’s weather is here in this Instagram post. But let us rewind to when the temperatures were less harsh and when less of my brain had molten into slush. Here are the links from February.

Reviews of Shamitabh, Badlapur, Qissa and a running commentary of watching Roy‘s first-day-first-show. February was Oscar season, so here’s what we saw in the theatres from the list of nominees: Mr. Turner, Wild Tales, The Grand Budapest Hotel, American SniperThe Imitation Game, Wild, Whiplash, Boyhood. The big winner, ultimately, was Birdman and I wrote about the predictability of Oscar wins. In case it wasn’t obvious, I preferred Boyhood.

There was an odd programme on the History of Sex on television, which I wrote about here.

I know it’s fashionable to feel outraged these days — and considering all that’s happening around us, it seems we’re all en vogue, regardless of our political and cultural orientation — but MSG was the next level of shamelessness. Here’s a sample of my rant about MSG.

I’d like to imagine that in a culture that values aesthetics and creativity, the critical establishment would ignore MSGentirely. Singh has every right to make it, just as his fans and admirers have every right to see it. However, when we as critics consider MSG worthy of a review, we’re giving cinema a bad name. And it’s unfair because MSG is not a film. It’s propaganda.

But caged as we are today by the need to follow trends and the conviction that growth is judged quantitatively and not qualitatively, MSG is a film. With each review that we write, we’re validating Singh, with his non-existent cinematic skills and dubious intents, as a film director. When we say that his film is laugh-out-loud funny, we’re unwittingly putting him in a category that includes real comedic talent and ranges from the silly slapstick of Padosan, the black comedy of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, the mischief of Chupke Chupke, the goofy stupidity of Andaz Apna Apna and the crackle of Hera Pheri. No wonder Singh grins at us leerily through his unkempt beard. Now there are more people who know him as a director and actor than as one accused of rape, murder and possession of illegal arms. Everyone who laughed at MSG, the joke’s on you.

You can read the whole thing here.

Speaking of outrage, Bhalchandra Nemade and Salman Rushdie had an online spat of sorts. I couldn’t help but say a prayer of thanks that writers are, in fact, lunatics and wrote this piece looking back at literary feuds.

My personal favourite literary feud, however, is from 2008, between Derek Walcott and Naipaul. Naipaul had observed that only Walcott’s early work showed talent so Walcott responded by writing a poem for and about Naipaul, titled “The Mongoose”. You can hear Walcott recite it here.  It includes lines like, “The old mongoose, still making money as a burnt out comic”

What’s worth noting in all these examples is that the authors fought (sometimes viciously), but these incidents didn’t take on proportions that intimidated either party. If anything, the provocative statements encouraged debate and discussion. There were no silences because of these feuds; only conversations that were louder and more passionate.

Read about other, more scandalous author squabbles here.

Fifty Shades of Grey didn’t get a release in India, so I took a walk down memory lane and realised Bollywood romances are kinkier than you’d think.

Links: Reviews, Oscar drinking game, snubs and more

This round-up is long overdue and I’ve been delaying this only because I’m not sure how to organise two-pages worth of links. So now I’m biting the bullet and dismissing any prospect of organisation. These are just links, in no particular order.

The Lego Movie is, without a doubt, one of the most awesome movies I’ve seen. (Spaceship! Spaceship! Spaceship!) (Everything is awesome!) Sure, it’s product placement, but it’s also adorable and very, very clever. And maybe even a little subversive.

Recently, The Times of India published an article that said Aleph had recalled copies of On Hinduism by Wendy Doniger from bookstores in Bangalore. It’s not quite clear what’s happening with On Hinduism because Aleph has only issued an odd, confusing statement. However, the Doniger affair began with Penguin deciding to withdraw and pulp existing copies of her book, The Hindus. More on freedom of expression here.

Marathi cinema is seeing something of a resurgence, after having been squashed and starved by Hindi blockbusters. One of the films that proves this renaissance is the gorgeous and heartbreaking Fandry.

A review of Gunday, which is perhaps the most graphic Bollywood bromance I’ve seen.

Nishtha Jain’s documentary on activist Sampat Pal, Gulabi Gang, is an interesting documentary on Pal and her organisation. There’s always so much eager to attack men and families that are strangers or unrelated. When it’s one of the Gulabi Gang’s own who is involved, everything becomes more complicated.

My review of Highway, a film that I thought was ok right after watching it. In hindsight, the more I think about it, the less I like it, particularly the end where the victim of a kidnapping imagines herself and her kidnapper as children, gambolling around a picturesque countryside. Because you know, that’s what kidnap is: child’s play.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting great insight from Shaadi Ke Side Effects, but neither did I expect the film to unravel as much as it did.

There’s a new season of actor Aamir Khan’s talk show, Satyamev Jayate, on Indian television.

A quick compilation of the best film nominations at the Oscars and a list of some of the films that the Oscars snubbed this year.

Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, which is slow but just such a wonderful, contemporary look at Americana. He’s so good at capturing family dynamics and making the seemingly dysfunctional reveal itself as strangely endearing.

Ok, I admit I liked watching the Oscars as a kid. I got up at the crack of dawn and took great joy in the fact that I was in my jammies while the red carpet stars had to scrub themselves into their high fashion. But let’s face it, not only have the Oscars revealed themselves to be the product of much lobbying, even the dresses aren’t as much fun as they used to be. Remember JLo wearing a dupatta held together by a brooch? Tilda Swinton in her kaftan? Now the Oscars is the kind of do to which someone like Lady Gaga comes wearing a totally regular dress. So disappointing. However, since I’d have to get up and watch it, I figured a drinking game was the best way to make Oscars fun.

Two pieces on Gulaab Gang: a review and a piece that was written when the Delhi High Court initially agreed with Sampat Pal’s claim that Gulaab Gang was defamatory.

By far the best chick flick I’ve seen come out of Bollywood is Queen, with Ranaut delivering a brilliant performance (and superb dialogues) as a young Dilliwali who conquers Europe and herself.

Queen-Photo

 

Talking movies: Fahrenheit 451, Blue Jasmine

From Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451
From Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451

For Banned Books Week, I wrote about the film, Fahrenheit 451:

Truffaut’s film presents literature’s as a cultural keepsake. Simple or complex, realistic or surreal, fact or fiction, words and stories are a record of how the human imagination has arrived at its present form. As Montag says of his nightly reading ritual, “I’ve got to catch up with the remembrance of the past.” Truffaut and Bradbury suggest literature is like the mythical phoenix, which had healing powers and could rise out of its own ashes. Both fragile and resilient, literature seems simple enough to stifle. Ban it, and it disappears. Burn it, as libraries have been in every civilization, and all that remains are ashes. But if a book has been read even once, it survives, even if only as a fragment, in memory. It’s passed on when someone shares that memory, and in this way, literature survives. It transforms, spilling its stories into different art forms, like cinema and painting. As long as there is memory, there is literature.

Click here for the entire piece.

More recently, Woody Allen decided Blue Jasmine wouldn’t release in India because he didn’t want the anti-tobacco messages imprinted upon his film.

Many will cheer for Allen standing up for his work and claiming his right as the director of the film to decide what happens to it, the way David Fincher did when he refused the edits that the Indian censors demanded of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. There are those who will raise the valid question of whether one line of warning against smoking, written in small, semi-transparent type, is actually potent enough to destroy the aesthetics of Allen’s frames in Blue Jasmine. Would that warning popping up now and then really distract us from the story he’s telling? It’s possible that Allen is being a cantankerous old perfectionist who is making a big deal out of a stupid requirement. But it is his film and he is the only one who has the right to decide whether or not it should be ‘customised’ for India.

The real question is, where does that leave the Indian viewer? The answer is, snubbed. You can either limit your film watching to what is available in cinemas or watch a pirated copy of the film.

The whole piece is here.

Links: Prisoners, Besharam, Gravity, About Time

Gorgeous alternative poster of Gravity from here.
Gorgeous alternative poster of Gravity from here.

It’s update time again so voila the film reviews, in the order they were watched:

Prisoners:

If anything, the idea of a film about child abduction set in a depressing, non-descript American town probably sounds a little off-putting to most. Add to that a father who, with righteous zeal and desperation, takes someone prisoner and tortures him because he’s convinced the police’s politically-correct, non-violent interrogations aren’t enough to make criminals spill their guts, and it’s not a film that screams ‘general entertainment’. But barring a few shots, Prisoners is precisely that. The ideological debates and philosophical frills are secondary. It is, first and foremost, a brilliant whodunit.

It’s a superb film, particularly if you like the good ole fashioned murder mystery in which detective work is about brain work and intuition, rather than gadgetry.

Besharam:

Besharam isn’t really a film. It’s Ranbir Kapoor lip syncing and dancing to an inordinate number of terrible, forgettable songs. Kapoor is one of the more versatile actors of his generation, but Besharam is proof that he can’t do crass, no matter how little he shaves his jaw and chest. He thrusts his pelvis, pulls socks out of his crotch, overacts and in the process churns out an appallingly dull performance.

Ghastly. Just thinking about it is making my brain — or what’s left of it — whimper.

Gravity:

The film is filled with unforgettable images, like the sight of a tiny astronaut’s figure against an immense earth that is partially lit by the Northern Lights or the reflection of the earth on the shiny transparent globe of an astronaut’s globe. Every aspect of Gravity is so carefully considered and paced that you’ll find your pulse is beating to the rhythm of the astronauts’ breathing – racing when they panic, slowing down when they do, but not really settling until the film comes to an end.

I watched it twice. I haven’t watched a film twice in the theatre in, like, forever.

About Time:

About Time isn’t the best example of Curtis’s writing or direction, but it’s good enough to make you fall in love with Tim and his family. Tim uses his time travelling skills wisely. Which means he makes sure that his dad’s best friend, a playwright, has a good opening for his new play (rewind x 1); that he doesn’t say the wrong things to Mary, the woman of his dreams (rewind x 2); and that when he and the love of his life finally get together, their first night is fantastic (rewind x 3).

Not Richard Curtis at his finest, but this man’s version of ‘ok’ is sweeter and more charming than most rom-com writers’ best efforts.

The Mag This Week

Right. Links. In the Books page this week:

Saikat Datta reviews No Easy Day by Mark Owen and Counter Strike by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker.

An exclusive excerpt of Mridula Koshy’s forthcoming book, Not Only The Things That Have Happened. Harper Collins is bringing out the novel in November (which means you should see it in bookstores in a couple of weeks. That is, if you’re fortunate enough to live in a place that has bookstores). The excerpt is about a character named Saramma, who has decided she’s returning to her family for good after having been a rich man’s sexual keep. Enjoy.

I saw Cloud Atlas and I wasn’t wildly impressed. In the never-ending debate of Book versus Film, this round goes to the book. Particularly unimpressed by the Wachowskis’ decision to ‘yellowface’ actors, rather than using Asian actors. Of course, it was done to underscore the idea of reincarnation (Bollywood thought of it waaay before them), but the trope gets tired quickly and hampers the acting and — since I’m not particularly clued in on Korean cinema — there I was, imagining someone like Tony Leung playing Hae-Joo Chang. Anyway, here’s the piece on Cloud Atlas. 

Cloud Atlas: Book vs. Film

David Mitchell described his novel,Cloud Atlas, as “one of the most ’unfilmable’ books I’ve ever read.” He also said that if the novel’s structure was retained in the film, it would “suck”. Clearly, Tom Twyker, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski agree. Their adaptation is very different from the intricately-plotted novel as far as structure is concerned. Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is complicated swirl of sub-plots that take the reader through past, present, future, and all over the world. Nested in this house-of-cards novel is a thriller in which a journalist is hunted by a powerful corporation.

There’s also a sci-fi story, in which “fabricants”, or clones, rebel against a horrific and oppressive system. Yet another sub-plot goes into the future while one goes back into the 1800s. All the stories seem independent but ultimately prove to be intimately connected. Much of the joy of reading Cloud Atlas comes from discovering connections and realising how one character’s experiences loop into another.

Cloud Atlas the film begins near the end of the novel and unravels the stories in flashback. This should make it easier for those watching the film, especially if you haven’t read the book.

However, shuttling between so many time periods and places can be confusing. Add to that the different dialects of English, from old-fashioned to futuristic, and you have moments when even a viewer who has read the book will wonder what the hell is going on. The directors chose to make the actors play multiple roles to make obvious the interconnected nature of the different strands in the story. So, Ben Whishaw is the young composer Robert Frobisher from the ’30s as well as a record store owner from the ’70s and a ship hand in the 1850s. Sometimes, this device works; frequently, it becomes tacky.

While the novel’s many parts add up impressively, the film demands you let go of logic and follow the slipstream of the screenplay. In fact, if you do apply common sense, then Cloud Atlas is unsettlingly akin to Bollywood. Here, reincarnated characters are played by the same actor (and you criticised Karan Arjun for being unbelievable), give or take some prosthetic accessories. How can you not watch Hugh Grant with obviously fake slit eyes, pretending to be a sleazy Korean restaurateur, and not remember Bollywood’s attempts to turn the faces of actors like Madan Puri, Chunky Pandey and Aamir Khan to a more Mongoloid persuasion? Of course, the make-up is much more sophisticated in Cloud Atlas but the effect isn’t much more convincing. One of the most ludicrous parts of the film is when Jim Sturgess appears as the Korean Hae-Joo Chang, and we’re supposed to believe he’s a normal human and Doona Bae, the real South Korean, is a clone.

That said, there are some breathtaking moments in Cloud Atlas. Its greatest strength is the music that remains imaginary in the book. Frobisher’s symphony (titled Cloud Atlas) is a soaring composition and acts as a wonderful sonic backdrop. Tragically, the Indian censors’ moral policing butchers the piece’s crescendo(it accompanies love scenes).

Loved this moment in the film, even though it’s one of the sequences that the damned Indian censors butchered. Grr.

Cloud Atlas is long — at almost three hours, it gives a Karan Johar’s films a run for their money in terms of length — and parts of it are beautiful. But three directors and a novel of dazzling complexity has resulted in a film that is almost naive in parts and frequently implausible. The film simplifies the novel but this doesn’t help make the story more comprehensible. Our advice: read the book.