Bollywood Movies, Drama, Popular

Rajneeti directed by Prakash Jha

Prakash Jha Rajneeti Wallpaper Ok, this is a review that I had been wanting to write ever since I saw it three weeks back. In that time, I saw, much to my surprise, that it was becoming a grosser…I wonder why…
But first of all my impression. It is plainly apparent that Jha is a big fan of the Godfather series and that he has borrowed heavily from the movie (he admitted as such – he used the word ‘inspired’ not borrowed though). In the mixture, he also put in themes from Mahabharata.
For someone who has literally grown up on the cult classics like the Godfather (both the movie and the book – both masterpieces in their own right), ‘Rajneeti’ proved to be a sort of a farcical déjà vu.
Scenes have been lifted unapologetically from the movies – the hospital scene, the horse head scene , the killing of the traitor in the car, the shooting of the don, the car bomb scene which effectively combined the Sonny shooting scene and the death of Pacino’s pregnantthe_godfather_movie_image_al_pacino__3_ wife, the transformation of the reluctant youngest son to the ruthless don…though none of them came close to the drama of the original
It was really too much. He should have just labelled the movie – ‘Rajneeti – Godfather scenes included’ or something. I don't quite fathom how someone like Jha could stoop so low to become akin to Anu Malik of direction. Either he thinks that the Indian audience wont care that the movie that they are seeing is a rip off (in which he seems to be dead right) or that the majority have  not seen the original or both…unfortunately, he seems to be right…

Rajneeti2 The question to be asked is – could one relate to it? A police inspector slapping the member of the one of the most powerful political families in India?A gang-war happening within a political party which ends up decimating everyone? I mean really, what works in the environment of Mafia ridden New York of 1940s transplanted into the Indian political environment seems absurd. You don't kill powerful opponents in the middle of the road – its not Corleone vs. Tattaglias. I mean imagine Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharti going out on physical decimation wars. Police inspectors don't slap heirs to the political thrones, as they might have done to heirs to mafia families on the decline.
And I don't see the similarity to Congress that everyone kept talking about. True, every effort was made to make Kaif look like Sonia Gandhi (the wave especially and the accented Hindi coming naturally) and her rajneeti husband was assassinated but that's that…Just pre-launch hype.
The end result? I just remember multiple scenes of Mahindra Scorpios screaming their sirens coming into identical looking mansions and people with a put on air of mystery and menace streaming in. This scene must have looked admirable enough for the director to have repeated it atleast three dozen times. I also remember lot of individual scenes which seemed to have been stitched together just because they looked good in godfather (and made perfect sense there though sadly, not here). I was almost cringing as waves of déjà vu washed over me.
And as I said,  in the sad admixture, Jha puts in elements of Mahabharata – of Draupadi and Karn (or Karan). Again, the scenes seemed forced. Put in because it suited somebody’s fancy and not because it had to make sense.
The acting was terrible except to some extent from Ranbeer, though the transformation was not convincing as in the case of Pacino. Patekar looked the part maybe because these are the roles he usually does – so bvhvoutside the comfort zone for him. Kaif was wooden and Manoj Bajpai  was excruciatingly over the top. Devgan did not have the meat in the role to make an impact. And I didnt quite figure out why they put Naseerudin Shah in the credits…He had barely five minutes and his contribution consisted solely of siring an illegitimate child.
The plot made no sense. One thread did not follow the other. Truthfully, if it was a series, would have made more sense. Three odd hours was too short for all that was shown to be given meat. By the time, the movie winded to a halt after some senseless twists and turns, I was so weary and nauseated, I wanted to take a stiff drink.
And then it turns out that it was a hit!!! I think that the reason would be that we don't have a mature political genre for the movies. The last movie in that genre was the excellent and sophisticated “HazaaronHazaaronKhwaisheinAisi Khwaishein Aisi”. The genre and the look and feel of the movie is different from the usual stable. Plus we are political without knowing it and it seemed like a movie that would mix politics and intrigue – a deadly combination!!! Plus for someone who hasnt devoured Godfather, some of the scenes would look very interesting and arresting…More film makers should look at this genre and more of the “Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi” please. “Rajneeti” would not be more than attractive junk for more mature audiences…
So Jha wins on the back of the inexperience of the movie going public…alls fair in politics and movie making it seems…

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Classics, Comedy, English Movies, Popular

Modern Times directed by Charlie Chaplin

mo There are some movies that you can enjoy immensely as a child and then realize how much more there is to enjoy in the same movie, years down the line…

Perhaps that is why movies of Chaplin are ageless. You laugh and cry with him as a child and as a ‘grown up’, but as the latter, you realize the true genius of the man.

Art without commentary on things around it is worse than useless, a mere trinket, soon forgotten. This movie proves that the medium can provide entertainment and make a profound political statement as well, while never becoming preachy or descending into propaganda.

And the best way to make a statement, especially a political one, is to make it through a satire. And this is what this movie does brilliantly…

The very first scene gives a clear indication of what is to follow – a herd of sheep morphs into people coming out of a factory while the  voice over narrates the joy of pursuit of happiness via modern capitalism.

Chaplin is a worker in a factory, a place where literally everything ischaplin modern_times_2 controlled and the worker is no better than another cog. The boss is a like Big Brother, appearing on TV screens (even in the bathroom) and commanding the work to be speeded up (all the while himself doing nothing except work on jigsaw puzzles). There are many memorable scenes in the factory sequences – that of Chaplin trying to keep up with his work of screwing nuts, being force-fed by a feeding machine which is supposed to increase productivity (by cutting down on lunchtimes) and of course of Chaplin having a nervous breakdown.

This was made at the time of the Great Depression and Chaplin proves his genius by weaving into the story all the tensions, the helplessness, the dehumanisations that the common man went through in trying to chaplin_moderntimes_01 maintain his dignity. Right from trade-unions to robbers trying not to starve, to street-smart yet vulnerable gamins trying to get by, Chaplin brings in every aspect of society at that time – all the while, never losing his comic touch. He pairs up with an doughty orphaned  gamine girl (Paulette Goddard) – making a team of two, a team that is determined to survive at all costs.

Amidst all the gloom of the times, the two are refreshing in their innocence and their unwillingness to let go of their small dreams. The scene where the two dream of a home together is hilarious as it is touching.

The film ends with them walking towards the horizon, not giving in to failure. The last lines of the movie pretty much sums it all up –

Gamine: What's the use of trying?
Chaplin: Buck up – never say die. We'll get along.


As simple as that…

When it ends, you realize that you have laughed with abandon at the all of the crazy scenes (the waiter scene, Chaplin’s nonsense song, the roller skating scene among many many others) and have also been touched profoundly.

It is a movie that makes as much sense today as it did seventy years ago. Except the superficial looks, nothing much has changed really…

A movie not to be missed. Chaplin and film-making at its absolute best…



World Cinema

Paradise Now directed by Hany Abu-Assad

paradise_nowThe controversy that this movie has generated is a testimony to how important this movie and what it says, is. The movie is about people about whom the world chooses to sympathize from a distance and claims to understand using a remote. The movie brings a human face to the people under one of the longest running and brutal occupation in modern history, an occupation that hasnt stopped being schizophrenic, ever since the start.

This movie is ultimately about the choices that people make, under a situation where there seems no way out, except one. It is a world where death and martyrdom is taken as a way of life, as a given, as the only dignified answer to a life of humiliation, the only defiant answer to a war machine that kills without mercy . It is a world where you go to dinner with your family at night and prepare to blow yourself  next morning and you would have a complete justification, without self pity as to why you must do it.

But is also a world of possible redemption and a choicePARADISE_NOW_dl_1 of a different kind. And I believe that it is in this, above all, that this movie excels.

The story is about two friends, Said and Khaled, who are selected for a  suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The story is about how they go about preparing – as a soldier of the cause and as a human being. The story is also about Suha, the daughter of a famous martyr, who believes in an alternate way to fight the Zionist enemy. The movie is ultimately about the choices each one makes, while giving us a glimpse into how they think, how they view the world and the enemy, and also why they think and act the way they do.

paradisenow483_001 The movie is short and extremely powerful with some searing poignant scenes (Like Said’s last visit). It does not glorify or take sides, something that would have been all too easy, unconsciously if not consciously. There are no heroes, neither are there villains. The ‘enemy’ – is that the child who got up on the bus at the bus-stand? Is it heroic to take lives? It does not attempt an answer but leaves the door wide open for thought.

It takes an almost dispassionate view of the human cost of a situation that the world is weary of. And it makes you look deep into the faces of the people who have been sidelined to a few  paragraphs in the daily newspapers, the people who have nothing left except their bodies to fight tanks and jets.

It is an important movie. For all of us…


Book Review, Non-Fiction

Pirates of the Caribbean – Axis of Hope by Tariq Ali

ali_pirates As is clear from the title, Tariq Ali positions this book in defiance of the term ‘Axis of evil’ given by Bush Jr. And its a defiant book to the last page. And its a book that is both a manifesto of hope and a reminder of events which the mainstream media wants us to forget or worse, remain ignorant of.

The book is mainly about a new way of life that is being developed in Venezuela and Bolivia which takes Cuba’s legacy as its inspiration. The book traces the history of the region and talks about the various ups and downs that have taken place in the region’s (Latin America) struggle for self determination. He also makes a report card of how the progress has been.

What makes this book delightful, when the subject matter is such that it could have easily become a boring tome of facts and sloganeering, is the way in which Tariq Ali approaches the subject. In his inimitable style he takes on a host of varied subjects and ties it up together in one theme.

He starts off with a scathing attack on the turncoat socialists who abandoned their beliefs when the ‘end of history’ happened after collapse of Soviet Union. After this, he positions this book as an account of those who resisted and have been able to give us a different way of looking at social, economic and political problems of our time.

Tariq Ali dons the role of a pirate and revels in it. He discusses politics venezuelan-flag of the region and the fallouts especially Venezuala and its most famous leader till date – Hugo Chavez. The book discusses his rise and his consolidation and his socio-economic policies and why what he is doing is a lesson to everyone. Ali discusses Cuba and Bolivia as well, Cuba as the inspiration for Chavez and Bolivia and Morales as the inheritor of Chavez of both. He also discusses the history of the region with a whole chapter on Simon Bolivar, the inspiration for whole generations of Latin American revolutionaries. Its not only a discussion of events but is an analysis of whys and hows and which way in the future. Its the latter part that makes it so important.

The book never lets up and is a refreshing call to arms for people who are aware of the developments and a starting point for those unaware.

These discussions attain an important significance today with the collapse of neo-liberal policies, policies which were considered infallible till a few months ago and which have been proved to be hollow and worse, highly dangerous. This book, then, is a book of hope and of rebellion against ‘conventional wisdom’.

Book Review, Classics, Fiction, Historical

One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzhenitsyn


This book’s greatness lies not because of any complexity but because of its seeming utter simplicity, which when taken in context of the subject matter leaves the reader with a sense of horror.

The crime of Soviet Russia under Stalin against its own people is today a well documented fact and it is Solzhenitsyn, a victim himself, who was one of the first to start the movement. Even though the facts are well known, they in no way prepare you for a personal journey through the mind and eyes of someone who has been directly a part of it.

The book is a chronicle of one day of a prisoner called Ivan Denisovich, a carpenter, who is numbered S-854, in an unnamed Siberian camp. What makes this book so believable in the first place is that Ivan Denisovich (or Sukhov as he is called in the book usually) is an absolutely ordinary person who would normally be living a quiet unobtrusive life somewhere. He does not have an ‘education’ and has lived the life of a craftsman – a carpenter. For this reason, he does not have an ideological or political underpinning to his condition and this is what make the book and its account an account of the ordinary men and women. Because the book then becomes one of survival – while trying best to maintain a modicum of dignity and self respect. It also becomes an account of compromise, in many strange ways.

Sukhov makes the reader go through his day with its difficulties and small joys and peppers it with his observation. Any person who has read prison accounts would know that prison changes priority of things and small things become things of great importance. We understand that in theory. What Sukhov does is that he makes the importance of those small things so obvious that you would find yourself believing in it and agreeing even before you know it – like the spoon that has been with him for eight years or a piece of steel that he risked punishment to smuggle in to the camp. He makes these things seem so much like everyday life and of so high importance that you are forced to jolt yourself out of the book at times to realize that what is being described is a part of history that is shameful, a part in which the prisoners were treated as mere commodity and worse and that this was a life that was utterly brutal and inhuman. Then you realize that the perspectives are different – you would be looking at the experience from a distance in time and would be taking a mere historical overview. Sukhov, on the other hand is trying to get by each day and things that would not strike us as essential to us becomes a matter of life and death in the camp – something that an old hand like Sukhov understood implicitly without dwelling too much on them.

For example, the need to keeping some bread on the side (hidden, sewn away in his mattress)for emergency or the cunning needed to get a second helping of a bowl of mess food which was more water than food is given the importance that it had in their lives. The importance of the work gang in their lives and the small things necessary to keep their body warm while working in freezing cold on things which seem unnecessary is shown starkly.

The slow and unconscious dehumanization or should we call it de-civilization is shown brilliantly . He lives only in the present out of sheer necessity and out of habit. At one time he dwells on the fact that he does not have any responsibility except for himself – the higher ups make all the decisions for him and it suited him just fine. He makes references to the casual and often unnecessary brutality of the guards but not out of any real anger – they are just doing what they are supposed to do and you did your best to do things without getting caught. His personal references are scant – we are told he has a family in his village. He had told his wife not to write letters anymore since there was nothing that he could write and he could not relate anymore to the ‘outside’ world. We are left to judge for ourselves whether this is escapism or realism or both working in tandem. His family is his work gang and his father is the gang boss who takes care and looks out for them. He wonders whether he actually wants to go back to his village if the authorities ever let him go. He realizes he does not know whether he can fit back. The things which we hold to be so self-evidently important and feel so emotional about have become a world which exist only in the abstract for him.

It is a Kafkaesque world which is a truth in itself. There are higher-ups who are mysterious and the only point of contact for the prisoners to this mystery are the wardens and guards – victims of different sorts themselves.

There are two parts of the book that I found particularly terrifying. The first one is that when the prisoners are hurrying to get back to their own camp from the work camp before its gets cold and before the other work gangs come and fill up the places they want to go – mess, barber etc. We understand that this is one time of the day that they get for themselves and they want to get there as soon as they can. When one of the members is missing because he had fallen asleep, the prisoners howl at him like animals and are literally ready to kill him with their bare hands because by being late, he had ended up making everyone lose time. Even a normally sane Sukhov is ready to tear out the late prisoner’s limbs. The guards count again and again and then they set off. On the way they see that another work gang was coming late. On seeing this, Sukhov’s gang start running inspite of exhaustion just so that they get ahead of this gang and save some time. The race is shown as vitally important to their survival. This almost necessary anger born out of lack of anything else to direct it to is one of the chilling passages.

By far the most terrifying part comes at the end when Ivan Denisovich looks back at his day and feels that it has been a ‘great day’ – he could preserve the extra bread he had saved, he was able to get two extra helping of the food, he managed to smuggle a piece of steel that he could use for making a knife, he had felt good making a wall as prison work, he had bought off some tobacco and he had not been put in the cooler (punishment cell). He felt good and he felt at home…