Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Celebrating a 100 years of....Talkies?

I hesitate to interrupt the beautiful silence here, but since I have had Thoughts after a long time and about cinema after an even longer time, I thought I should get let them out in case of system overload.


Indian cinema celebrated its centenary on 3rd May this year. What it marked was the centenary of the release of Dadasaheb Phalke's Raja Harischandra, which is as good a place as any to mark a beginning. Naturally, there have been special issues and programmes and things and they have been the usual mixed bag of celebration, nostalgia and some good writing.

In the middle of all this, there is Bombay Talkies. 

It is a compendium of four unlinked short films by four different directors and you can google anything you want to know about it. This post is about the state of my mind after watching it last night.

(There were aunties who came inlate - while the title song was on - and congratulated themselves for being on time. 'That is a matter of opinion,' I muttered under my breath but the auntie next to me was busy talking on her phone. During the interval, one of the said, 'How do they allow this kind of thing? Do you want to leave? We can leave if you want. It's up to you.' The phone aunty got up and left. The other one followed and tread on my toes while doing so.)

First off, general puzzlement: I know the Hindi film industry likes to pretend it's the only one around, even while they help themselves to story-and-plotlines from Telugu, Tamil and Korean films; but surely Bombay Talkies could have found directors who were not only mainstream/semi-mainstream Hindi film makers?

Also, Talkies. Someone needs to work on their titling skills, because as code it's inaccurate if somewhat efficient. Harischandra was silent and the studios were still some time in the future.

Thus my general discontent about the nature of this celebration on film: narrow, short-sighted and - for a celebration - minimally aware of its own history.

But the films themselves were fairly enjoyable, if uneven.

I was thinking about what the filmmakers were saying about Cinema-with-a-capital-C beyond the stories themselves, as they must have been because otherwise why bother to string four diploma-length films together, right?

So, in order of appearance:

Karan Johar: Karan Johar is such an insider that he doesn't even need to think about what cinema is. Because - isn't it obvious? - what he does is cinema and why is even a question? We celebrate a 100 years by making more of the kind of film that brought us upto this point.

If there's anything larger he's saying about cinema it is, possibly, that film music is cinema's umbilical cord and tells a kind of truth that transcends all the lies we tell ourselves and let our stories tell us.

(Yeah...that's farfetched. No it isn't. Yes it is. N- Whatever.)

That said, though he's no Wong Kar-Wai, his film had a few genuinely heart-stopping moments. Pity he let the last five minutes of his film slip away from him.

Dibakar Banerjee: There are big stories in small things. That's DB's definition of cinema. Or at least, his definition has sympathies with Ray's vision because he chose to film a Satyajit Ray story.

Zoya Akhtar: Tell 'em what they wanna hear. Hers is the least interesting and most cynically
blasé of the lot. 

Like Johar's film, hers is the work of an insider who is attempting to view the world of cinema through the eyes of an outsider or a misfit. But when you think of all the misfits and outsiders and deadbeats who made even mainstream Hindi cinema (never mind all the other kinds of cinema in whatever language) the memorable thing is is, it made me feel slightly ill to hear that what we need to do to make it is follow our dreams, nurture them in secret (and pray to Katrina Kaif dolls).

Anurag Kashyap: Cinema is misdirection and (a satisfying and necessary) illusion. Of the four, it is perhaps Kashyap who put any kind of thought at all into why he was a part of this exercise and for me that raised his film above the others.

It was clear that while KJ and ZA are one kind of filmmaker, DB and AK are another. These last two, being outsiders to the industry but who are beginning to slide their way in, are less concerned about the truth-telling and lie-nurturing nature of cinema. They don't care if cinema is about truth or lies; what they care about is, that whatever it is, it has the capacity to nourish small and real lives like any great art. 

And that is why we obssess about the movies even today, a 100 years on. Even when we download them carelessly onto our computers, and experience them as a solitary pleasure instead of communal festivity, cinema can attach us in precisely the same way it did a hundred years ago. And at least half of Bombay Talkies celebrates this.


Oh wait. I'm not done. I feel I must congratulate the Censor Board for this piece of cleverness.

[Apologies about picture quality. Bad phone camera and bad light.]


Wait. I'm still not done. 

I want sympathy and alcohol because I watched Star Trek Into Darkness. In IMAX 3D. The sight of Benedict Cumberbatch weeping in rage and sorrow over one half of an IMAX screen (in 3D!) still gives me nightmares. And I still have a half-crush on the man (at least, on his voice). 

Basically, JJ Abrams has watched [Spoiler Alert!] The Wrath of Khan and has scavenged dialogues wholesale over both his films in the reboot. That's not entirely a problem; what is, is that despite its cheesey sets and costumes, the earlier film was the better one. 

**Spoiler Alert**

Plus the racefail of having Cumberbatch play [the even more namefail] Khan Noonien Singh. (Seriously, Hollywood. Get your act together.) 

And he's So. Deadly. Serious. Gah!

The best part of the film for me was when Kirk is so frustrated with Spock that he expresses a desire, to Uhura, to yank Spock's bangs (not at all innuendously). 'I know he's your boyfriend,' Kirk says, 'but.' Uhura says she knows how Kirk feels. And then Kirk has this priceless dialogue:

"Wait. You guys are fighting??! Oh my God! I can't even imagine what that's like!"

To me that, and the scene with Kirk, Spock and Uhura in a pod, going to meet the Klingons, was worth the price of the ticket.


Fëanor said...

i commend your courage, watching a film in 3D. gives me a serious headache if i do. saw the film yesterday (in old-fashioned 2d). looks like it's not a reboot anymore. we're back to recycling old material with some inside jokes...

Space Bar said...

F: I hate watching films in 3D. However, because of reasons, I had to watch this one not just in 3D but on an IMAX screen. As you say, 2D is bad enough. (And yes, it really is a badly recycled, unwitty return to Trek).

km said...

JJ Abrams, meh. Bombay Talkies, meh.

Why is this world crammed with *meh*?

Space Bar said...

km: I know. The thing is, tho, that I went and watched Gippi after these two and...I want Meh back!