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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sahibs to rescue our cinema too?

There was a news item in today’s edition of The Telegraph (top of p.4 – I couldn’t find the link on the net: if someone discovers it by chance, please send it to me) titled ‘Hey, hero, Brando’s school is coming to Bollywood’. The gist of the story was this: mainstream Hindi cinema has always been high on melodrama, burlesque, slapstick and suchlike stuff (a package they call ‘nautanki’ in the vernacular) and low on acting; so Bollywood stars have specialized and taken pride in being good at dancing, mock-fighting, hyperemoting, in-your-face tomfoolery, lip-synching with background music and so forth, and have never bothered much about acting proper. But now those days may be over: in response to a supposed change (‘maturation’?) in audience tastes, they will soon have to learn what real acting means and how it is done. To help them along, the Stella Adler Studio of Acting (founded in New York, 1949) is setting up shop in Mumbai soon. This famous school supposedly brought about a sea change in Hollywood following the lead given by the ‘immersive, psychological acting technique’ based on the work of Konstantin Stanislavsky, actor and sometime director of the Moscow Arts School. The school claims to have Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon and Martin Sheen, besides other stellar Hollywood actors, among its alumni.

Now that might be welcome news to some, but I am not too sure. First, I don’t know whether the above names are the only greats among Hollywood actors, and whether great Hollywood actors, generally speaking, really learnt their skills from European pioneers. Secondly, if mainstream Bollywood cinema rarely rises above pedestrian levels, isn’t it because our producers, directors and actors have to make a living like everybody else, so they have to keep dishing out the sort of stuff the great majority (which, unfortunately,  includes not just the vast unwashed masses but even the children and wives of the rich and supposedly educated public, with few exceptions) wants? If their tastes require that movies never be more subtle and aesthetically demanding than Hum Aapke Hai Kaun or Dhoom in order to succeed at the box office, is it the fault of those who make cinema in this country, and can it be cured by a foreign school of acting?

Besides, is it true that our actors cannot act when they want to, when they are given a chance to? I can  think offhand of dozens of fairly good-to-excellent movies made even within the suffocating limitations of mainstream Bollywood cinema within just the last decade or so: Dor, Aamir, Black Friday, A Wednesday, Cheeni Kum, Black, Swades, Parzania, Rocket Singh, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Taarey Zameen Par, Guru, Paa, Johnny Gaddar, Omkara, Yuva, Dev D, Kaminey, Ishquiya… and if you bothered to look at regional cinema in at least half a dozen languages, you would find a much bigger pool of proven talent: talent which was home-grown, talent which, if it could not do as well as it might have, was only restricted by what the audience was prepared to take, in terms of both story-line and acting methods (Raj Kapoor said long ago that the commercial failure of Mera Naam Joker had taught him a bitter lesson he'd never forgotten, much more recently Sanjay Leela Bhansali said, in expiation of Devdas, that he could do much better films than Black, but the audience wouldn’t pay for them, Ayesha Takia has gone on record saying that if she only acted in movies like Dor, she would starve, Nagesh Kukunoor has trouble getting new projects funded, Shah Rukh Khan has wasted a life in singleminded pursuit of pelf, and Aamir Khan had to stoop to juvenile clowning and teenage mooning to make a hit of as important a movie as 3 Idiots). How is a ‘phoren’ school of acting likely to make a difference in a country where actors as talented as Om Puri and Utpal Dutt have been reduced to what is basically rustic jatra  to pay their bills?

I’d like comments from serious cinema buffs here: not those who presume to write 'reviews' by hamhandedly copy-pasting stuff they get from IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, wikipedia and other such sites on the net…

27 comments:

Arijit said...

Sir,
You are absolutely right.Nothing is going to change.We do not lack talents the fact is that the west is jealous now a days by seeing great films,that are often promoted abroad by Bollywood.This jealousy can not be endured by them.Like the East India Company these acting schools are trying hard to conquer Indian Cinema.Let them setup whatever they like alas they will have to go back in vain as they won't be able to conquer Indian Cinema.
Aftermath will be horrible if both Hollywood and Bollywood mix,perhaps they will name a new industry Hotchpotch-wood.

Shilpi said...

I completely agree with you on this one, Suvro da.

Gah is what I can say and roll my eyes. What a ridiculous idea.

There's nothing good I can see in this venture. Absolutely nothing. And who cares whether the Stellar Adler school has/has not produced stellar actors (and as you point out I don't know whether they are the 'best of the best', and for the couple of known names on the list - there are plenty of names that make one raise one eyebrows and nothing more - apart from the names that I have never heard of, which probably doesn't say much but still).

We do have plenty of good/great/unusual actors and always have - it's just that people need the eyes to see and the ears to hear apart from having some other senses, and the actors need to be able to get the roles to play.

It's never been about actors not knowing how to act or about directors not being able to direct or about the lack of good/great story-lines/screenplay. It's got everything to do with what will make money and what the majority of the audience wants and only some directors have been able to withstand the tide.

One specific counter-example comes to mind. Tabu could have ended up being portrayed as one of those regular bimbos...and who would have known that she could act if it weren't for the unusual roles that she was able to get after some garish and scary first movie or maybe a couple. And there are plenty of actors I can think of who can well-stand any international/global scrutiny. They didn't have to be trained by the Stellar school now, did they?!

Maybe they could have a home-grown school for training the audience to appreciate the good and the beautiful, instead...That might do some good.

Gah.

Thank you for the post. Haha about the last paragraph. Quite a shift from the previous post....takes a while to adjust oneself.

Shilpi

Anonymous said...

Sir,

Thanks for this thought-provoking piece. I hope you find many takers for this post, especially since the number of serious movie watchers in India is supposedly on a rise nowadays (Is it, really? I highly doubt it). I take good interest in movies, having watched and admired cinemas ranging from the old age classics to the recent Hollywood blockbusters. I have also watched movies from widely different countries (France, Iran, Brazil, Germany, Russia, China, South Korea, Iraq, just to name a few) in different languages and from varied genres. In short, I consider myself a serious movie buff, never having shied away from admitting it in front of parents and elders unlike many of my contemporaries, and always insisting upon the fact that watching good movies is a far rewarding experience than mall-hopping or pub-crawling or watching substandard television soaps.

The news article in The Telegraph caught my attention too. I share your cynicism entirely- the cultural decline in India has hit rock bottom, and has severely affected the nature of movies in our country, among many other things. As long as the bulk of our educated, middle-class huge population feel the desire to unwind themselves by watching third-rate movies in fancy multiplexes, there is little hope of amelioration.Eminent movie producers and directors in India have lamented that the present Indian audience thinks poorly of a movie that does not boast of an 'item song', which is basically nothing but a bevy of semi-clad women gyrating provocatively to the tune of loud Bhangra music. Besides, most of the movies are poorly done remakes of Hollywood or foreign films. The few good Indian movies rarely find enough watchers to recover their production costs. It is indeed sad to see Aamir Khan being forced to resort to cheap publicity gimmicks to promote a good movie like '3 Idiots', as unfortunate it is to bear with the unnecessary, tiresome song-and-dance sequences inserted at regular intervals in the film just to engage the attention of the typical Indian audience.

Lest I come off a prude whose only likings lie in abstruse art movies, I would like to clarify that I am fully aware of the entertainment aspect of a movie. I acknowledge the fact that not all movies have to have a moral; in fact I love to watch movies where a simple tale has been narrated superbly by talented actors (I have many films made by directors as diverse as Satyajit Ray and Quentin Tarantino in mind here). On the other side, I know for sure that cultural downfall is an evil not specific to India alone. Most of the Hollywood movies produced is utter crap these days, with movies like "Die Hard' and 'Titanic' flooding the theaters. These movies are equivalent to our own Desi masala films, and equally tasteless. Look at how low the level of Oscars has stooped in the past few years.

Nevertheless, it makes me sad to think about India's inability to make even a handful of quality films. Even more painful is the fact that we had so many wonderful actors, actresses and filmmakers not too long ago. Gifted people like Satyajit Ray, Uttam Kumar, Robi Ghosh, Chhabi Biswas worked in the Bengali film industry just a generation ago. Now, Prosenjit is the best we can offer! As long as people don't take films seriously, as long as intelligent minds don't get involved in the process of film making, things won't change at all, no matter how many foreign acting classes crop up.

Thanks,
Joydeep

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I won't sound so pessimistic, Arijit: some things may change slowly for the better. The fact that this country has good directors and actors, and some producers who are willing to take some risks, despite knowing what the audience is like, and that they do occasionally manage to make some money even with good movies is heartening.

Shilpi, Tabu is indeed a good example. But I wish that she had got more opportunities. And indeed, nothing is more needed than large-scale audience-education projects countrywide. I know that millions of supposedly educated young people have never got a chance to watch good stuff, and simply lack the intellectual capital to discriminate between the good, the bad, the ludicrous and the disgusting (such as realising why Ben Hur was a great movie and Titanic was yuck).

Joydeep, I nearly missed your comment: please don't post anonymously! Lucky for you I took an accidental peek into the trash... we must also remember that all great art has entertainment value, as Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling, Charlie Chaplin and Steven Spielberg have always known. There is nothing more disgusting than swinging over to the other extreme (we call it aantlami in Bangla) to assert that great art is only that which is abstruse, fails in the market, and is praised only by marginal loonies... as with Jean Luc Godard and Ritwik Ghatak. I remember writing for a newspaper review long ago that Satyajit Ray should concentrate on making marvels like Goopi Gyne, leaving 'socially-conscious' movies like Sadgati to the second and third tier of directors, who are far more numerous...

Arijit said...

Respected Sir,
Ya I'm a pessimist,but I would like to know something.The film SAWARIYA , had great talents like Rani Mukherjee , Ranbir Kapoor with co-actor Sonam Kapoor. Audience did not like the film. Would you still say it was splendid art!
All the best and keep writing.

Shilpi said...

I am no serious cinema buff but I’ll make some more points and ask a couple of questions.

1. Joydeep – Prasenjit was not the best we had to offer. You might remember Sabyasachi Chakraborty, who was most likely a contemporary, and who was completely wasted. Used for minor, useless side-roles and then popped into some Feluda remakes, and then finally dumped into a role of an elderly father, and much too before his time. But then again can you imagine him dancing and swinging from trees? And here I will say: if he had been in Hollywood or had been a British actor – he most likely wouldn’t have been so frightfully and terribly wasted.

2. There might be a point in the making of good movies depending on consumer tastes but maybe the ones who are making the movies and have a say in the supply side can try shaping consumer tastes and tell them what they need to appreciate. I’m reminded of the old Bengali movies and certainly some Hindi movies: the Bikash Ray, Suchitra Sen, and Soumitro starrers and the movies made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee (ah) come to mind. They had entertainment value and they did indeed come with a moral. Indeed good entertainment always does have some sort of a moral message (whether explicit or not) or whether it can be seen by a regular viewer. Didn't E.T have a message and wasn’t it hugely entertaining?

3. I’m also curious as to which Quentin Tarantino movies you enjoyed? I did watch Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill. While they have a couple of unusual and quirky bits (and probably from a serious move maker’s perspective many an interesting way of messing and playing with the time-line or plot or the images used) – Tarantino, in my (untutored) opinion, is one of the most over-rated and hyped up directors who has a perverse fascination for blood, gore, and extreme and mindless violence. Or let me say that he makes movies where he can use a lot of blood and gore and perverse violence – and to what ends?

4. I’m sort of unsure whether most Hindi movies are Hollywood remakes. Maybe many are – and embarrassingly and sadly so – but with the number of movies churned out – I’m not so sure about the ‘most’ bit. And in some instances I think that a line of acknowledgement could have well solved matters. Sarkar could have well-stood on its own two feet if some liners in the credits had acknowledged its debt The Godfather. And while I forget the title of the Hindi movie which was supposedly based on Reservoir Dogs – somewhat loosely – I actually preferred the Hindi ‘remake’ (it had Amitabh Bachchan in the lead role).

And Suvro da, yes of course I do too wish that Tabu had gotten more opportunities. I guess I was subconsciously trying to make a bad dig. She didn’t starve and she managed to survive, and she stuck to her guns – probably too because she found directors who realized what they had found. And then there’s Rahul Bose too. Who can see him dancing and swinging his hips and making an ass of himself. Life must be difficult though, and I'm sure they get annoyed, irritated, and frustrated with what they have to put up with. But still. And so I have to say that Aamir Khan could have cut out the ‘juvenile clowning and the teenage mooning’ bits (hahah) by now. And it was the same in Raang de Basanti. With all my admiration for him – I think he’s in a position to call some of the shots, by now.

This has become a long comment, Suvro da, and so soon after the previous one. And I’m not a serious cinema buff by any stretch of the term.

Shilpi

Abhirup said...

Dear Sir,
I had to do a bit of background study on the Stella Adler School and some other cinema-related topics prior to writing this comment. Based on what I learned during the process, as well as my general understanding of films, here is what I think of the issue you have raised in this blogpost.

1) Joining an acting school has one advantage: directors and producers sometimes visit these schools to hold auditions, especially when they need a new face for a particular role. This may give an aspiring, gifted actor his/her break.
Now that, of course, is largely a matter of luck, which may or not favour you. But apart from this, is there really any need to join acting schools in order to be an actor? I have always wondered if it is really possible to 'teach' acting to somebody. I can understand it if direction, script-writing, editing and cinematography are 'taught', because there are some specific tricks of the trade and technical proficiency that one needs to learn in these fields (though I must add that many of the great directors and screenwriters have never been to film schools either). But acting, which is basically about conveying emotions and making an onscreen character believable, is something that, in my opinion, impossible to teach; one must learn to do it on his own. A person may benefit from certain instructions from experienced actors or filmmakers, but having full-length courses on acting is something that I find rather needless. In any case, while auditioning for a part, a filmmaker will not ask for any degrees from acting schools—he will just give you some lines and ask you read them out. One is selected if he is convincing and expressive, regardless of whether he has any formal training or not.
Maybe I shouldn't say all these, given that I have never been to acting classes myself. But then, how can you possibly ignore the fact that so many of the great actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood (Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, James Cagney), as well as later day stalwarts like Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman have never been to any school to be coached in the art of acting? The same goes for some of the biggest names in Bollywood, like Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Hassan and Aamir Khan. Even actors who have been to acting classes have confessed on various occasions that they really learned acting while performing before a camera on the sets, and that much of the theoretical jargon they pick up in the classrooms turn out to be quite useless while actually playing a role. I am reminded of Spencer Tracy saying that he came to know more about acting by working with great actors and film directors than in drama courses, and Anupam Kher stating in an interview that he realized, upon joining the film industry, that much of those theories of Stanislavsky he had to study are pretty much inapplicable when it comes to acting proper.
And speaking of Stanislavsky, I second Sir’s statement that the prominent Hollywood actors usually do not emulate European acting styles. In fact, barring the actors trained in the Stella Adler Studio and the Lee Strasberg acting school—Brando, De Niro, Pacino, Hoffmann— Stanislavsky’s methods haven’t found too many takers in the USA.

Abhirup said...

2) Even if we agree that acting schools are essential, why do we need one from New York to come all the way to India? This country has some renowned institutions with full-fledged acting courses. The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, for example, has Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Jaya Bachchan and Amrish Puri among its alumni. Besides, there is also the National School of Drama in Delhi. So, it’s not as if India is lacking in places where wannabe actors can hone their skills. Why, then, do we need to go into raptures over the fact that “Brando’s school is coming to Bollywood”? I have nothing against it, of course, and unlike Arijit, I definitely do not think that this is some kind of neo-colonial conspiracy to Americanize Indian cinema (God, what damage has Edward Said and his ilk, with their postcolonial and orientalist theories, have done to young, impressionable minds!). But I do feel that it is not something worth getting excited over.

3) The poor taste of the Indian film goers is largely responsible for all the drivel that Bollywood makes. After all, the law of demand and supply is as much applicable to the movies as they are to any other product. So, if the vast majority ask for films where an intelligent storyline, layered characterization, attention to details and conveyance of pertinent themes and messages be replaced with hackneyed boy-meets-girl love stories, slapstick ‘comedies’ or inane action flicks (with the infamous ‘item numbers’ with skimpily clad stars), how can our directors and actors refuse? A single commercial failure can practically ruin even an established star; Raj Kapoor (whom Sir has mentioned) would have vouched for that! I remember the recent film Luck By Chance, which superbly depicted how Bollywood functions. There’s a scene where the distributors of a film, who had initially waxed eloquent about refinement of audience tastes being their prime motivation, refuse to fund that film when its leading man, a superstar, drops out of the project. The director of the same film says that he must include a totally pointless song-and-dance sequence (that too after the death of one of the characters in the film) merely because Hindi films cannot afford to leave such things out.
What I am trying to say is this: if our filmmakers often compromise, it is because we insist that they do so. The result is that absolute trash like 'Dhoom 2', 'Welcome', 'Singh is Kinng', 'Heyy Baby', 'Wanted' and 'Housefull' rake in crores, while unusual, engaging, rich and thought-provoking ventures like 'Raavan' fail at the box-office, and the likes of John Abraham gain more fame and fortune than actors like Kay Kay Menon and R. Madhavan. What we need, therefore, is not any foreign acting studio, but (as Shilpi-di has suggested) some programme to better the taste of the audiences. Alas, there is little possibility of any such thing happening in near future in this country: after all, since when has well-intentioned ideas been implemented with enthusiasm in India?

Abhirup said...

4) Despite of all these limitations, it is indeed encouraging to see, over the last ten years, so many directors trying out so many new things, in the process giving our actors the chance to play meaty, powerful parts. A bunch of new faces like Vishal Bhardwaj, Shimit Amin, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Sriram Raghavan, Imtiaz Ali, Rajkumar Hirani, Nagesh Kukunoor and Ashutosh Gowariker (among others), alongwith veterans like Mani Ratnam who are still active, have done a lot to raise the bar of Indian cinema. To the already extensive list of notable films Sir has named, I can add Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, Rang De Basanti, Chak De India, Maqbool, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Hey Ram and Iqbal. Granted, the bad films still outnumber the good ones, and even the films mentioned are not necessarily perfect. But instead of ceaselessly lamenting about what isn’t happening, and destroying the sparks of promise with a tide of hipster cynicism, why not applaud the sincere efforts put in by the aforementioned people? That is a far more healthy approach in my opinion.

5) I cannot resist the urge to express my complete agreement with Sir has said in the third paragraph of his last comment, that as much as we should deplore crass commercialism, we must be equally stern in our criticism of the obscure, pretentious and boring ‘art-house’ movies, which are unintelligible to eight out of ten people, and whose makers seem to take pride in the fact their creations are so confusing and alienating. This is NOT art; it is just an inability, a failure, to reach out to the viewers. Francois Truffaut, despite being a part of the French New Wave, realized that the movement is becoming increasingly esoteric and abstruse; hence, he soon removed himself from it, choosing to make films that are more accessible and entertaining (and yet, not low on content or depth).
Sorry if this comes across as a repetition of what Sir has already mentioned, but I detest this cinematic pseudo-intellectualism so much that I seldom lose an opportunity to rant against it.

6) I would now like to address a few things Shilpi-di has said in her last comment. Firstly, while I am not a big Tarantino fan either, and I agree that he is rather over-rated, I don’t think it is right to criticize him for his use of violence in his movies. Violence is a legitimate subject to be explored, and in any case, for films which are set in the world of organized crime or the espionage, or during certain historical periods (say for instance, during the Crusades or in Nazi Germany), depiction of violence is essential for the sake of realism. Secondly, Ram Gopal Verma did acknowledge the fact that Sarkar is inspired by The Godfather: it is mentioned at the very beginning of the opening credits. Thirdly, the Hindi film that was based on Reservoir Dogs is called Kaante. Fourthly, I think that the juvenile antics of Aamir and his co-stars in Rang De Basanti was justified, because the characters they play are juvenile delinquents, at least in the first part of the film. The very point of the film is to show the transformation of these irresponsible, shallow revellers who have no ideals or commitments, into sensitive, thoughtful young men. The film does have flaws—the climax seemed painfully contrived to me—but otherwise, it is definitely one of the better films to come out of Bollywood.

Abhirup said...

7) Finally, I have long felt that the quality of Indian films would improve significantly if our directors explored the literary treasures more frequently. There are so many great works by Indian authors that are yet to be adapted to the screen. And why think only of our own writers? Even the books by authors of others countries can be filmed against an Indian backdrop: Bhardwaj did it magnificently by translocating the stories of 'Macbeth' and 'Othello' to contemporary India. More directors should make similar attempts.

Thanks to everyone who read this long post patiently.

With regards,
Abhirup Mascharak.

Joydeep said...

Shilpi-di,

1. Sabyasachi Chakraborty, as you have rightly pointed out, is perhaps a better actor than Prasenjit. Alas, the fact still remains that the latter is the face of Bengali cinema in our nation and more sadly, the face of West Bengal in general (as evident in the new Mile Sur Mera Tumhara video). The blame for this misfortune can be primarily ascribed to the rapid decline in tastes of Bengalis nowadays. However, it must be remembered that Sabyasachi Chakraborty, though a decent performer, comes nowhere in comparison to the stalwarts I mentioned in my previous comment. I know it's not entirely his fault- directors and producers have made a fine mess of his acting potential- but isn't it regrettable that the next best thing to Uttam Kumar and Soumitro Chatterjee would happen to be Sabyasachi Chakraborty? Why should we, as a state, or as a nation, lower our expectations and standards in this regard?

2. There can be nothing more heart-warming than established actors and directors trying to shape up improved consumer tastes. Hopefully, the likes of Aamir Khan, Rajkumar Hirani, Vishal Bhardwaj and other talented people will make an effort in this direction. I will have to disagree with you on the fact that every good movie has to have a moral. I can recall at least ten excellent movies from the top of my mind in which I couldn't find the slightest hint of moral or any social message whatsoever (Goodfellas, City of God, Full Metal Jacket, Pulp Fiction, Oldboy, Twelve Monkeys, In Bruges, Sin City, Mulholland Dr., The Big Lebowski and many more). These movies excelled because of their gripping storyline, fantastic screenplay, engaging dialogue and smart direction.

3. I loved Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Inglourious Basterds. I didn't like his other films such as Kill Bill and Death Proof so much. It's true that he is over-hyped; in fact, I won't rank him in my top ten favourite movie directors for the simple reason that the number of movies from the Tarantino stable is far too few to make a fair judgement. As for the blood and gore part, directors as talented as Stanley Kubrick have used violence as a theme in many acclaimed movies; Tarantino has overdone this bit, and is finally diversifying out of his earlier forte.

4. I am not an ardent follower of Hindi movies. Unluckily for me, whenever I watched a Bollywood movie in the past few years, I could name the original Hollywood or Korean movie within the first 10 minutes (there are a few exceptions, of course, like Taare Zameen Par, Lage Raho Munnabhai, 3 Idiots, etc.).Needless to say, I found these Bollywood remakes to be poorly done and far inferior in comparison to the original movies. It is unfortunate that our directors would invest time, energy and money on doing shabby Hollywood remakes while a large collection of enriched Indian literature lies at hand. Unless Indian directors focus on original screenplay and direction, it would be futile to expect any betterment of Indian movies. The good news is, some of them are at least trying....

Thanks,
Joydeep

Shilpi said...

Abhirup:
1. Thanks for letting me know the title of the movie based off on Reservoir Dogs.

2. My apologies, of course, for imagining that Ram Gopal Verma didn’t give credit where credit was due.
And to clarify some bits (and going off-topic):
3. I absolutely agree that ‘violence is a legitimate subject to be explored’ but my objection was not against depicting violence or exploring violence and I’m not squeamish about either. At least five brilliant movies come to mind immediately and all of them ‘old’ ones I’m afraid - Prahaar, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, and Turtles can Fly - which depict/explore violence in (different) ways which make me grit my teeth and more but never make me feel: now what was the point of all that?

4. My criticism is/was directed specifically against Tarantino (and his fascination for perverse violence). There is for me no lasting impression, no means of connecting the violence to anything outside the immediate context of what-he-shows and chooses to show. Without going into the details of all his movies (and I haven’t watched his latest), I find myself saying, ‘what was the point?’ Tarantino, and very specifically Tarantino, gets tiring.

5. As for Raang de Basanti – I thought the movie had a number of merits (apart from some personal grouches, which I won’t go into here). My problem with the clowning, goofing, and mooning is this: Aamir Khan’s role was somewhat silly, stereotypical, in-your-face, and it went overboard. The character went straight from an unholy mess of silly posturing, aggressiveness, mooning, and insipid rebelling into a clear-cut no-nonsense character. And what was the reason for his previous angst? What was it that he was so flagrantly protesting against? Was he protesting against anything? Because indeed one may be a delinquent, an outcast or a rebel – but surely one must have one’s reasons (one hopes) – and being a rebel or even a delinquent doesn't mean one has to be senseless or mindless or both. I didn’t spot any strength of character in him before his transformation – and that’s where I have a problem. And I don’t think it would have taken much more effort or time to give attention to some of these details than it did to concentrate on the irresponsible and dangerous horsing around and disgusting in-your-face mooning. Some of the excessiveness may have been cut out, sure, but the end where the boys meet their end is one of the things that made sense to me.

I too am unsure about how much acting schools (even Indian ones) help produce actors. I somehow think acting is something that runs in the blood so maybe it might help some actors here and there but nothing more. To me it seems much like going to Art school or doing a Masters in creative writing – although the latter doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever.

The less said about those artsy-gassing films – the better. They’re like those modern art bits which one never knows which side is right-side up let alone anything else with much, much less excuse.
Take care. Shilpidi
Suvro da, This has become one long comment….

Abhirup said...

Shilpi-di:

Thanks for your reply. I would like to address each part of it separately.

Let me tackle the ‘Rang De Basanti’ bit first. I don’t think Aamir Khan’s character had any “previous angst”, nor do I think that he was “protesting” against anything in the first part of the film. All he, as well as his friends, were concerned with was partying, getting drunk, hitting upon girls, and clowning around (which involved joking even about serious issues, such as the problems of contemporary India). This wasn’t some sort of rebellious lifestyle: these young men were least interested in rebellion or any such serious matter. All that they wanted to have was full-fledged ‘masti’. And trust me when I say that it was a very credible depiction of contemporary Indian youth: in the last three years of my life, I have seen an alarming number of my peers leading exactly this kind of directionless, shallow existence.
The transformation of these characters occurred due to two specific reasons. Firstly, while working for the film on Indian freedom fighters which that British girl had come to make, they studied the lives of the revolutionaries more closely, gradually gaining respect for them and what they stood for. Secondly, when one of their friends (the role played by R. Madhavan) dies in a MiG crash, they realize how shattering it is to lose a loved one, as well as the fact that the corruption of the defence minister is resulting in the untimely deaths of so many young air force officers. These are the factors that bring about the change in their outlook and activities. In my opinion, Aamir depicted this transition in a convincing manner, without really going “overboard” at any point of time. He did fool around in the initial parts of the film, but that is what the role demanded—if you are playing a goofball, you have to act like one, right? I thought his performance was good enough; but I can understand it if you think otherwise. The opinions on these matters tend to be subjective and vary from one viewer to another. But allow me to ask you to check out the following link; I think it does a good job of explaining what I have been trying to say.
http://baradwajrangan.wordpress.com/2006/01/29/review-rang-de-basanti/

Abhirup said...

Now, regarding the use of violence in films. I think the “point” of using violence in those five films you mentioned was to bring alive the horror and the brutality of those eras. These films deal with such things as the Second World War and the Holocaust; hence, it is only fitting that they would contain sequences that are violent, sometimes gut-wrenchingly so. And in my opinion, they DO make you feel. In ‘Schindler’s List’, for example, when you see the Jewish children being forcibly separated from their parents and being taken away to be annihilated in gas chambers, it’s violent, sure. But more importantly, it’s poignant and heart-rending.
As for Tarantino, let me re-iterate that I am not a defender of his. However, I do not find his use of violence as offensive as you do. He has a fascination with characters who have to use violence as a part of their day-to-day life, such as professional assassins, bank robbers, smugglers or soldiers, and he shows in his movies what it is like to live such lives. Given his subject matter, it is inevitable that gore will be a part of his movies. His films aren’t deep or profound, and nor does he claim that they are. But they do have a certain degree of entertainment value (not the entertainment of the highest kind, but entertainment all the same), and hence, there is nothing wrong about someone enjoying his films.

Acting, I feel, doesn’t necessarily have to be something that “runs in the blood.” There are numerous examples of people who have no actors in the family turning out to be talented actors themselves. But I do agree that it is something that one has within himself—not in genes (at least not always), but as something one is naturally good at. It is important to hone the capacities, of course, but I remain doubtful as to what extent acting schools help in doing so.

Finally, a thunderous applause from my side for your priceless comment on the “artsy-gassing films.”

Take care.

With regards,
Abhirup.

Shilpi said...

Joydeep: No, it isn’t regrettable. What is regrettable is that he was never used the way he could have been and there were never any movies which exploited his talents. There were never any movies nor any roles that did him any justice whatsoever, and I wonder how/why no director even realized that. I'll stick with that.

I should have been clearer. What I meant is that a film for me, and to be an excellent/outstanding film, must have a story and must be executed well, and a story has some aspects of ‘right’/’wrong’ or ‘good/bad’ about it (one follows the characters; one roots for some character/s; one hopes with the characters, and so on - one is involved in the story). I didn’t mean ‘morals’ in the way of preaching or of sermonizing or in the way of some pontificating social message. However, out of all the movies you listed (and I have only watched three) – I don’t see anything excellent in Pulp Fiction or in Sin City. Sin City was more unusual of the two in its execution – but so what? As for Pulp Fiction – I find myself saying, ‘what was the point of it all…?’ What exactly was so ‘excellent’ about either of the two? As for Twelve Monkeys, I’ll disagree about there being no ‘right/wrong’ – ‘good/bad’. It had a story (and went beyond the immediate/visible context, which is what the good sci-fi movies do) and a very disturbing one, and it was more than just a gimmick. I will say however – that there are indeed some fast and furious thrillers that I do like…but that’s a different pot altogether.

I didn’t say that other directors do not use blood or violence. I’m saying this again: Tarantino, specifically, displays an unhealthy fascination for blood, gore and purposeless violence. His movies (and not just him) are over-hyped and tiring.

Shilpidi

Shilpi said...

Abhirup,
Thanks for your reply too and the link. There is one particular line there that is especially funny and very appropriate.

1. Well if he wasn't angst ridden - then that explains something but not something else. Regarding my scepticism/annoyance about Aamir Khan's character as you paint it: How many of those peers who lead an otherwise completely shallow and purposeless existence can you see/imagine being suddenly charged, directed, and motivated to act with absolute courage and a certain ruthlessness in the name of justice?

2. That was my point. That the movies I listed did focus on violence but focused on it in an extremely mindful way. The movies make me grit my teeth - sure, because they are painful and much more but they do not show purposeless violence. That's why I wrote: they "never make me feel: ‘now what was the point of all that?’"

3. No, I realised that you weren't defending him or his movies. I don’t think I must say another word about Tarantino and his movies. It's the other way round for him though - this I will say. And there may be nothing 'wrong' in someone liking his movies (certainly, I won't go and clobber them on the head for it) but I can question their tastes or at least ask them about it and object too if his movies are called excellent.

4. I used 'runs in the blood' – quite directly? - in this instance. That is, acting is probably something that runs within as a fundamental force/innate talent/ability/need that needs to be expressed.
Take care.
Shilpidi

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Yes, let's give Tarantino a rest. In any case, as both Shilpi and Abhirup know, I'd rather give all movies filled with blood and violence a miss, whether there is a point or not, my excuse being simply that I have seen too much of it already, both in movies and in real life.

As for Aamir in RDB, I recall that in a rare blue mood, he mused aloud before his girl that he realised how he had been refusing to grow up, hanging on to the campus life and letting his mother continue to feed him by the sweat of her brow. But as to whether such people really do grow up suddenly when they have a traumatic experience, I don't know... I am reminded of Paul Baumer in All Quiet on the Western Front, though, and even Scout in Mockingbird.

I'm delighted at the way the debate has been going, but doesn't any other reader have anything to say here?

Abhirup said...

Shilpi-di:

That’s a good question you have raised. No, as of now, I don’t see any of those peers I mentioned suddenly becoming charged and motivated about any particular issue. However, if they have a life-altering experience similar to the one Aamir Khan’s character and his friends did, then even these peers may undergo a significant transformation. Let me quote from my previous comment: “The transformation of these characters occurred due to two specific reasons. Firstly, while working for the film on Indian freedom fighters which that British girl had come to make, they studied the lives of the revolutionaries more closely, gradually gaining respect for them and what they stood for. Secondly, when one of their friends (the role played by R. Madhavan) dies in a MiG crash, they realize how shattering it is to lose a loved one, as well as the fact that the corruption of the defence minister is resulting in the untimely deaths of so many young air force officers. These are the factors that bring about the change in their outlook and activities.”
So, the characters in ‘Rang De Basanti’ didn’t change overnight or without any reason. Their change was brought about by a highly personal tragedy, which they were eventually able to put in the context of the entire country—that just as they had lost a dear friend, many others are also losing their friends/sons/husbands/fathers because of the faulty MiG planes, which the defence minister is trying to hush up. I felt that the film did a good job of explaining all these things, and the motivations of the characters were laid down quite clearly.

To further elucidate, let me use the example of ‘Schindler’s List’ once again (sorry if I am mentioning this film too often, but it’s one of my all-time favourites, and one that has moved me, perhaps, more than any other film). In the first part of the film, Oskar Schindler is a dissolute person, who spends his time drinking, womanizing, gambling, and rubbing his shoulders with the top brass of the Nazi party, so that he can gain their permission to start a factory and enrich himself. Also, at the beginning, he has little sympathy for the Jews: he shamelessly occupies a lavish apartment whose Jewish owners have been forced into a ghetto, and he employs Jews in his factory only because he has to pay them lower wages. In other words, he can exploit them for his own profit. However, as he develops an uneasy bond with his Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern, and when witnesses Jews being massacred in the Plaszow concentration camp, he is shocked into realizing what monstrosity is going on around him. Thereafter, he starts working to save as many Jews as possible.
So, even a man as unlikeable and materialistic as Schindler changed for the better when he experienced some truly horrifying first-hand. So, there’s nothing unrealistic or far-fetched about the young men in ‘Rang De Basanti’ becoming thoughtful and socially-conscious after their friend’s death. Now, I am not comparing ‘Rang De Basanti’ with ‘Schindler’s List’: the latter is a much, much better film. I am simply using it as an example to explain the change in attitude that comes over Aamir’s character and his buddies.

Yes, even I think there’s no point in talking about Tarantino any more; we have devoted more time in discussing him than he deserves. I will conclude by saying this though, that there are some sections in his films, especially ‘Pulp Fiction’, which are audacious and commendable in their experimentation with cinematic time and space. He may not be the best director around, but the man definitely has command over the language of cinema.

Take care.

Abhirup.

Joydeep said...

Sir,

I will give Tarantino a rest here mainly because Abhirup has brilliantly summed it up for me in the last paragraph of his latest comment. I couldn't have done a better job. I will just say this much: He is one of the very few directors around who can captivate the audience with his superb storytelling. That is precisely the reason why I loved 'Pulp Fiction' and would look forward to his movies in future, irrespective of whether they are profound or not.

Thanks,
Joydeep

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I keep agonizing over the fact that badly made movies on very serious/important subjects sink without a trace in this country (such as Milind Ukey's Paathshaala) just as well-made movies like Nishikant Kamat's Mumbai Meri Jaan do! And of course, Indian audiences will take at least another half century before they can applaud something like Ishquiya. I only wonder how the producer and director dared...

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

I recently watched Raavanan (the Tamil version) and I am disgusted to say that in spite of lovely cinematography, background score and astounding acting from Vikam (who plays Veera) parts of the audience clapped and whistled and catcalled only when a certain actress embroiled in a scandal with a "God-man" came on for a cameo. It was embarrassing and disgusting and yet it is not entirely new. I do not watch many movies from Bollywood but the Tamil industry suffers from the same problem. For the sake of "mass appeal" directors here are content to make "Masala Films" that leaves on dazed and feeling not a little stupid. Every now and then a movie comes out that makes you sit up and take notice, only for the movie to be engulfed by another string of "mainstream" movies. Kamal Hasan's Anbe Sivam is a classic example. It is one of the most wonderful movies I have ever seen yet it did badly in the box office because it was released along side a masala movie. Who is to be blamed? The public or the film industry? Both....I think...

Shilpi said...

...now that last movie - Ishqiya - is what I'd call a thumping marvelous thriller (among other things).

Watched it on Sunday after reading the comment of yours, Suvro da, and especially because of that last somewhat mystifying line.

But I'd have thought that the movie would have done very well even though it may have ruffled some feathers and made some say with a sniffle of disapproval 'Well, I never...'

I'll not say anything else in a long-winded comment but Abhirup - many thanks for the 'thunderous applause', and for the very good discussion/argument.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Notice, everyone, that though this seems to have been an animated discussion, how few have actually participated!... and yet, as I keep finding in my classes, every high-school graduate thinks he or she is capable of writing a sensible essay on the subject.

Dipayan G said...

I don't seem to have anything substantial to say here but I remember a certain KKR player, David Hussey's remark on being asked whether he has watched Bollywood movies and whether he enjoys them. He said that he had watched a few movies and in every movie "your girls seem to dance too much on screen!"

And yes, the vast majority in India still demands item numbers and bike races and bikini-clad actresses. It's no wonder movies made on particularly serious/sensitive stuff are simply ignored. I just came across a guy who thinks Peepli [Live] is an ultimate bore of a movie even though he hasn't seen it!

I myself have a taste for non-conventional movies so I feel I might starve as well in the film industry!!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Oh, I can vouch from thirty five years and more of watching Indian movies that on the whole the tastes of the Indian cine-going audience (never very refined) have deteriorated abysmally. As I said before, I wonder how some talented directors and actors still dare to come up again and again with offbeat and minimally intelligent films these days!... and remember the irony: today's audiences supposedly consist of far more 'educated' people than they did in the 1960s!

Dipayan G said...

You are so true Sir. Yesterday night I went to watch Peepli [Live] with mum and we couldn't enjoy all the witty dialogues in the movie mainly because some 'cool guys with girlfriends' were laughing at the mention of the slightest swear word, something which I think has very common in "modern India's" streets today. I gathered that they might be trying to impress their girlfriends (god knows what!). But I found it wasn't me alone, Sudipto bhaiya also couldn't follow the dialogues for 30 minutes owing to the loud guffaws from such seemingly 'cool guys'. The worst part is, there wasn't anything humorous to be laughed at. If you're laughing at a swear word, then you need to grow up.

Dipayan G said...

Oops a typo there... meant to say "has become very common in modern India". The ills of not revising your work!