About Avatar

May 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm (Cinema, Mary McQueary) (, , , )

To say that the movie Avatar is about an alien Jewish American Princess having a hissy fit is actually a fairly accurate assessment. But that wasn’t the only storyline it contained. It was as if the writers’ brainstorming session became the script.  “What if the Indians weren’t decimated by smallpox and they united to fight against us?” suggests one writer.  “I say we pit the military against the scientists”, insists another.  “Don’t forget to plant the plot of boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl in there too, that’ll guarantee it to be a Academy Award nominee”.

That being said, you’d think this movie would be one I’d say pass on. But wait, underneath all the stereotypes and repetitious yawn provoking obvious storylines there truly were some thinking persons’ treasures.

To begin with, the alien planet’s animals are amalgams.  Is that part dinosaur, dragon, hummingbird, dragonfly? Thank goodness for that boring plot line, as your brain is suddenly found busily scanning the creatures, performing a type of IQ test, analyzing and identifying which part of the animal comes from which earth animal.

While your brain is busy analyzing creatures and/or creating its own chimeras and asking questions such as, “how many creatures do we have on Earth that are colorfully feathered?” and your inner child begins shouting, “I want to fly on the back of one of those too!” in slips a current events issue.  The hero of our movie has a spine injury and has lost the use of his legs. Note the subtle atrophy to them through the movie, so the question pops up, if medical technology exists to give a person back the ability to use their legs, should cost prevent them from getting such medical procedures?  While you mull over whether you support healthcare reform in slides a thorn to prick you about your internet usage.  

Today, more and more people are living two lives, one online and one IRL (in real life), and just as in the movie, one of our worlds goes limp and silent when the other is active. How IRL are we?  Have we become slaves to our overactive overfed imaginations? Is it possible to regain a relationship with our planet, to have it as our playground, our kitchen, our medicine cabinet, our protector, our home once again?  Or have we let cyberspace steal us away from our own place and kind? In Avatar choices are made, there is no playing for both teams.  This is this lesson I think merited spending $100 million to make and hopefully will be a couple hours of joyful movie viewing for you.

– Mary McQueary

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Sthaniya Sambaad : Something Bijjare This Way Comes

May 16, 2010 at 9:30 am (Cinema, Kiran David) (, , )

While we live in a country that makes the largest number of films in the world, unfortunately most of them are of the lowest quality. In fact, even the so-called ‘good’ films endorsed by cretins in the media are abominable. Most practitioners of the medium do not know even the basics, and the critics who write about them know even less. One enters halls screening most contemporary Indian [actually also most current Hollywood] films, with a sense of great terror at the idea of wasting a couple of hours of your pre-determined short life. It really curdles your blood when you are subjected to the bovine expressions and simian observations that critics, both in the press and more so on TV, pass off as ‘expert opinion’ on this so-called cinema. There is also a funny bunch of directors who say that if given a good budget they would make world-class films. My response to them has always been, “Bullshit man, learn the language and find your fucking idiom.” Yet another kind of mutt leans towards you and whispers, “I am making a film for the festival circuit.” I am tempted to vomit on this type. One thing our mediocre bunch should learn is to shut the fuck up and try to make films with a modicum of honesty. In the process, they may pick up intelligence and wit which most great filmmakers possess.  

Despite my reservations mentioned above, I do not deny that on very very rare occasions, experiencing movies both within and outside the mainstream has been rewarding. Listing them here is not the intention of this piece, but to talk about one in particular.

I was privileged to see the Bengali film Sthaniya Sambaad [Springtime in the colony], the first feature co-directed by Arjun Gourisaria and Moinak Biswas. The film, besides being a delightful work, is also one of remarkable clarity and musicality. Though the narrative is quite simple and easy to follow, the joy is in the way the filmmakers have structured it.

 Space and time, the two fundamental coordinates, are used with intelligence and grace. The film is set across three spaces. First, Deshbandhu Colony, where the protagonists live, many of them refugees who came from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) over a period of time, beginning with partition. The second is Park Street, referred to in the film as White Town (or Shaheb Para) and the third is New Town where, as the name suggests, new townships are being developed.

What makes the film special is the way the directors have used basic, almost seminal, tools of the medium to navigate between these spaces within the temporal context of the film. The first part of the story takes place in Deshbandhu Colony; it then splits the action between the colony and White Town. The third part fragments what happens between the first two spaces and New Town. After this we observe scenes unfolding between New Town and the colony, and finally, we come back to the colony in the concluding part of the film.

 The film also has a certain musicality – the makers structure the film as variations on a theme. Here every sequence actually works as a minor variation of the major theme, which is never explicitly stated but constantly implied. In point of fact, the almost shocking opening sequence with the braid (or did someone say ‘bride’) works as an evocation, a variation and also a metaphor of the film’s theme. Unlike the ham-fisted Let’s Talk, a film made a few years ago with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, where the filmmaker kept insisting it was structured like a Thumri (hence variations on a theme), Sthaniya Sambaad actually travels this path with incredible sophistication and grace. 

Besides the formal nature of the work, here is a film that states its geography, evokes its histories, exists on the cusp of a world that is changing. A young poet who is floundering, unrequited youthful love, misunderstandings regarding where the ‘nape’ is located, a chorus and life with all its joys, sorrows and endless other quotidian details emerge in this film.

The cast of Sthaniya Sambad seems handpicked for the job. Rarely has one seen such a bunch of talented actors in one film, all of them mercifully non-stars. To name a few – Anirban Dutta, Suman Mukhopadhyay, Anindya Banerjee, Suvankar Mitra, Sanat Sen, Sourya Deb, Thatagata Chowdhury, Shubam Roy Chowdhury, Aranya Chowdhury, Bratya Basu, Nayana Palit, Manali Dey, Kasturi Chatterji and the delightful duo Mrinal Ghosh and Dilip Sarkar. The list could go on but what is most important, more than the performances, is the way they understand and appropriate their roles. Recently, I watched on television an annoying TV-type with the expression of a computer-generated smiley interviewing Aishwariya Rai who actually referred to herself and some of her crones as artists. Talk about delusional. I suggest she watch this film, maybe she would realize that there is a craft in acting that is way beyond her.

One of the things that struck me after watching Sthaniya Sambad was whether this film (which was produced by the recently dissolved Black Magic Motion Pictures of which Goursaria was a partner) would have been given the thumbs-up by other corporatized production companies. I imagine those vacant employees hired by the companies to go through scripts wouldn’t know a good script if it became a projectile and fucked them in the ass. Most of them would not have the imagination or wit to know the poetics that exist beyond the script and within the process. For lovers of cinema who eternally hope that something worthwhile will happen in this part of the world, Sthaniya Sambaad is really a miracle.

While I always believe it’s the films that make the festival and not the other way round, I feel disappointed that Sthaniya Sambaad did not make it to the Cannes film festival. Not so much that it is the place to be, but that it would have given the film the international platform it deserves. I believe a film Udhaan from India has been selected in the Un Certain Regard category. I would not like to comment on it before seeing it. I honestly hope it is a good film and not something catering to the Slumdog Millionaire-type sensibility. I wish it success and if it is achieves 10 % of what Sthaniya Sambaad achieves, I shall consider myself a happy slob.

Finally, I have to say, as an aside to both Arjun and Moinak – “Man, or is it men, or just the usual friendly fuckers, the opening shot works.”

–  Kiran David

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