Categories
TV

Rasbhari (2020)

As The Swivel Chair Spins #10

Yes, blame it on the virus. 

We should have gotten the warning when there was narration from the protagonist, but we went along. 

Amazon Prime’s latest series is a Meerut-set tale of teenage troubles and libidinous louts, it is one thing to generalize based on stereotypes, but it is completely another thing to reduce the entire city of Meerut into this this village of villains who are waiting for any woman (other than their wives) to appear. 

We start with the city because the narration too begins with the city, Meerut, just like every other small town in India, the voice says, now the scope of generalisation has been extended from one small town to all small towns in India. 

Ok, playing along, let’s just say we bought this narrative. Umm let’s say it’s a bit like magical realism where the entire town goes blind(!), or let’s just say it is like all the old men from the village who come to look at the teacher in Mundhanai Mudichu. 

There’s a teacher here too, an English teacher, played by Swara Bhaskar. Teachers in Indian film join the list of maligned professions owing to the inability of our makers to put pen or pencil to paper and think about writing actual characters. Teachers are either the strict and morally upright ones who teach students a thing or two or it is the generously minded and controversially dressed lady teachers who too teach students a thing or two (umm).

Swara Bhasker plays the second type, her appearance in the class creates a flutter among high school kids and her appearance in town, as discussed above, makes the men of Meerut into wolves with tongues wagging. While all this is played for comedy, we couldn’t sit and not wonder, what item of interest would follow in the rest of the seven episodes. 

Let’s try and keep it short, just because a web series is eight episodes long doesn’t mean our write-up should be too, in the remainder of the seven episodes what was truly lacking is the contrast. Not in terms of colors in the cinematography but in the colors of the characters. 

Humor and its popular uncontrollable cousin, comedy, comes from opposites, like to use an often seen example of a really large man being afraid; so if two sides to the same character do not contain these extremes then there is very little to play around with.

While the central character of Shanu Ma’am, if we could use the phrase,leaves a lot to be desired, then the series kinda makes up with the surrounding characters of Nand, Priyanka and we wanted more about them. While none of them get any close to arc, how Nand (Ayushman Saxena) and Priyanka (Rashmi Agdekar) move from awkwardness to mutual respect is one of the best transitions we have seen in sometime. The actors too are comfortable and maybe waiting for the story to turn their way. 

But alas Rasbhari, wants us to be interested in english teacher Shanu Ma’am and her sex obessed alter ego courtesan. Which is where it gets really confusing- the point where the teacher student fantasy ends and the social commentary begins. Maybe we should just applaud the makers intention to “excite” as well as “educate” us. The fantasy too doesn’t go the whole way for it to be classified as bold, but is definitely pictured in a way to be called as vague. 

If it is this type of fantasy that you are looking for over the weekend, maybe Amazon Prime Video is not the right site. 

Nevermind. 

Rasbhari in its entirety is streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Categories
TV

Mondays with Mason: Chapter One

The Perry Mason Recap: Season One, Episode One

Anyone who has spent some time in lending libraries around Chennai would know that Perry Mason was not just a book that you borrowed, but a whole shelf of paperbacks to get through. 

This is how them shelves be labelled and helped boys (at the time) such as me optimize our time within their premises: 

Romance (skip)

Periodicals (10 mins, mostly Cosmo) 

Comics (10 mins, mostly Phantom) 

And bulk of the time…

Agatha Christie

Perry Mason

So you see reader, Perry Mason was not just a set of books, it was a genre, a name that even blocked its author Erle Stanley Gardner out of memory. Maybe it was easy to label it as just Perry Mason. 

Speaking of names, the books had very intriguing titles, almost always a case attached to it; like the case of the velvet claws or the case of the black-eyed blonde (incidentally the black-eyed blonde part was borrowed for a recent Marlowe novel title, there’s our fun fact) and when the first episode  of the HBO TV series dropped, I was quite disappointed when it read ‘chapter one’. 

But the makers make up for the lack of imagination in titles with the richness of the settings. 

It’s 1930s Los Angeles.

The great depression, the cynics utopia, the golden age of pulp that relished the washed-out wit of detectives, the time when Chandler, Hammett (the Maltese Falcon was exactly 1930, there’s another fun fact), Gardner and a whole lot of others wrote their weight in gold. I could go on, because I love this as my literature and it’s there in this updated series from image one. 

It’s one thing recreating the city visually, it’s another recreating what I thought it was from the books. It begins with a ransom call and a baby kidnapping gone wrong, the unspeakable happens in which even a bit of thread could be so diabolical. 

That’s the case, it’s graphic and I understand why they don’t want to put in the title. 

When we meet our hero, it’s raining and he walks through his name credit, styled to resemble the Warner films of yore into a diner. Perry Mason, detective, not lawyer, detective and currently he is on a tail job. Classic. 

If you are a Depression era detective you must have the some of the following 

🔫 a pistol, because you never know what you get on the job

🤣an unhealthy sense of humor, because life’s bad anyway

👮a healthy hatred of uniformed policemen, ex-job maybe

🔬 an eye for detail, every clue counts

🐌a relentlessness search for an end and maybe the truth

👤a perennial love for social distancing

But more importantly, every detective of the time had their own take on life, a running social commentary that walked along with them that when these writers brought it out with the necessary turn of phrase, it became how readers made sense of the world, their own philosophy. 

If Marlowe was the Arthurian Knight, Mason was the one who stood between the underdog and society’s ills and monsters. 

Not in this episode, no, he is a typical detective, his philosophy will hopefully evolve over the course of the show, because there is space in ten episodes to do a lot of character development. 

Here he is quite clueless, when his partner asks him about life and fun and the next few scenes, we uncover layer after layer, his Great War experience, his marriage or lack of it, his diary farm that precariously sits next to a flying club and his general shabby life. Perry seems pretty empty at this point, clearly he has seen a lot and his motivation, although not his only, seems to be to get over with cases and get paid for it. There’s shockingly a streak of unscrupulousness too which comes out when he goes blackmailing, but I couldn’t read greed in him. Again, not typical Mason. 

But what’s typical in these types of stories is that our hero gets hit by thugs and I forgot to add resistance to thugs in my essential detective checklist. 

After much character development, we now have the kidnapped baby case brought to him by the ever terrific John Litgow who plays a senior lawyer (E.B) and our detective. 

That’s all really what I pine for, in a revival like this. 

The case is definitely high profile for Perry, he has to face off with insulting policemen at the crime scene, a shadowy client with deep pockets and deeper faith, a fidgety father who looks good for the killer on paper and a grieving mother who reminds him of his own son, far far away, separated. Oh yeah, there’s Della Street too

As we call to turn the page to chapter 2, our hero literally just has a strand from the case and there are lots of ways in which it could go from here. But is it not the job of the detective to go down the mean streets to get to the truth? 

Stayed tuned, till the next episode of Mondays with Mason. 

Oh yeah, this is a HBO show and it goes without saying.So there’s already at least two scenes that you cannot watch with family, but there’s a certain fun in solo watching of a show which features a lonely detective. 

HBO’s Perry Mason is streaming on Disney+Hotstar in India.

Categories
cinema FRS

FRS: Penguin (2020)

And we are back! 

So everyone here knows what an FRS is right? Right? 

+2: No narration and we all sigh in relief

-3: Movie begins with a statue by a lake in Kodaikanal,the statue has so much of the art department’s fingerprints on it that none will mistake it for a real statue. Small fail. 

-45: Oho so killer in this movie will wear Charlie Chaplin mask. 

Exclusive extract of excruciating moments from the story discussion room 

“Sir, apparently clowns are very scary, in US and all, children get scared by seeing clowns, they have also made movie based on it recently”

“We should also have clown face villain to creep out audience”

“People will find out…”

“Oh then what’s next to clown…maybe we should try Charlie Chaplin” 

“Wow, done deal” 

“Let’s also add one yellow umbrella so that it becomes very iconic” 

<End of exclusive extract> 

Sorry but lol, we could never associate any kind of fear with the Chaplin Killer, no the music also was not helping, sorry. Also he has a yellow umbrella like a CSK fan and so anyone in Kodai should have spotted him by now. 

-32: Movie is set in Kodaikanal types just because our characters can wear sweaters. Yeah please there are lakes all around Chennai, please summa don’t say lakes and all. 

Also also, we can see this trend in which Amazon is picking up tamil movies for release, both Ponmagal Vandhal and Penguin has the following

✅Female protagonist

✅Movie location is hilltop town

✅Murder and kidnapping involving children

✅Drone shot over car, lake and mountain

✅Sweater people and mist

So if you’re writing and selling to Amazon, have the above somewhere in mind. 

+23: One guy (not telling who) will do one morning call for ten minutes to tell what happened in the life of KeeSu so that audience can catch up, this is also aided by some photographs etc

-23: for that 20 minute intro call, KeeSu will reply with just “miss you too” #hmmzoned 

-80: Heroine goes into flashback mode suddenly so that we can know exactly the things that we need to know to progress with the movie. 

-71.2: Heroine will rapidly tell a penguin story to her kid, so rapid that we are sure that the kid didn’t follow, we were not sure if we should follow it ourselves, later we got to know that it’s not the full story even, then why so speed?

-11:Heroine then comeback to “present day” because someone call her name cliche

+34: Lady doctor gives good advice about pregnancy but of course none of this will be followed by our heroine, points for timely advice being timely. 

+101: Understanding husband is too much understanding 

-53: Kodai police are not going to like this film, especially when the inspector seems to have made the right connection at first. 

-56.9: If it is a slasher film involving a kid, then two definite elements will be there. One kid will be allowed to draw random things and characters will get puzzled over this, also said kid will sing some nursery rhyme. 

Supposedly all this is fresh and spooky. 

-23: Something something happens and we suddenly see ourselves watching Silence of the Lambs, no we mean not that movie within this movie, but something like that. Out of the blue surprise. 

-42: Movie really doesn’t progress beyond a set of characters and since the main slasher is also Charlie Chaplin costumed, most of the genre trappings like setting, sound design and the misty cinematography are not effective. 

So we know where they are going, before they get going. 

Also then they say the movie is about motherhood. Yeah, another addition to our hill-top horror series of films which has been giving diminishing returns. Yeah. 

Team FRS

Subam

Categories
cinema:tamil

Ponmagal Vandhal

As The Swivel Chair Spins #9

It’s the sort of film that could prove to be a downer. It’s not something that is a pleasant Friday evening watch, heck it is not even a Tuesday afternoon watch.

Psst... more about Tuesday afternoon watch phenomenon later, maybe on brighter days. Days when I don’t have to think and write about films like Ponmagal Vandhal.

I know it’s me, not the film. I know the problem lies at my core and nothing with the film; I just switch off when I realize that item sold is empathy.

It’s a word thrown around so easily, this empathy that everyone speaks of, this act of truly being in the shoes of others to know what they ‘feel’. Smart people will realize that this empathy concept is only used in relation to pain and not happiness.

And so they say, I can only know someone’s pain if I empathize with them. But I do need to know myself first, to try and understand what the other person is feeling. If that is even remotely possible.

Empathy is media’s potent tool, but unlike using it like a Brahmastra, it is used like your regular everyday astra. Thousands of words are written about how the goal of everything that I did for fun, namely watch movies and read books, was to inculcate this latent empathy.

<Sighs>

I can identify with someone, I can aspire to be someone, I can be tolerant of some actions and I can even be considerate but is it even possible to grasp in its entirety at what goes on in another person’s mind?

There are levels of trying to understand other people, but all those gradations are lost when someone throws the empathy argument to counterbalance a logical point.

Often the case is such that empathy is the last resort of those without an argument. And the word “empathy” has been so fortified, that few raise voice against its easy use.

Ponmagal Vandhal doesn’t do much differently, it again places empathy as evidence in a court of law and it talks a lot about justice too. So that’s where I lost the film. It’s also a social message film and not very intelligent in conveying it.

Ooty lawyer Venba (Jyothika) has just reopened a 15 year old multiple homicide case, she raises doubt that there were things that were brushed under the carpet in the initial investigation.

Clues that were smudged by the act of power.

Power here is embodied by Varatharajan (Thyagarajan), naturally as this is a Tamil film, he is an industrialist and Venba plays the everywoman who still believes that real justice still exists in this world, the David to Varatharajan’s Goliath.

The problem here is that David seems to be unprepared for a case that she had been brought up literally her whole life to argue. Her questions are shot down and her witnesses vanish, while I sit and wait for a clever move from either side, all I am presented with is empathy.

Courtroom drama is an exciting genre, a battle of wits, half of which in this film is brought by Rajarathinam (R Parthiban) while the other half of wits goes missing even with a galaxy of supporting actors (Bhagyaraj, Pandiayarajan & Pratap Pothan) whose brief seemed to be “just show up in court”.

Maybe I should have waited and not jumped onto streaming it immediately but kudos to the producers for taking the over the top route to releasing a film. Bold move, really.

Like charity, empathy begins at home, ok that didn’t explain what I wanted to say.

I meant like the first step in to being considerate (empathy is still far away and comes with its own problems) to others is to know oneself better.

Clearly I didn’t know what I wanted on a tiring Friday evening. I should work on this more by watching Hellzapoppin’.

Hellzapoppin’ now that’s a Tuesday afternoon movie and a Friday evening movie.

Ponmagal Vandhal is now streaming on Amazon Prime

Categories
cinema Essay

Gladiator : Are You Not Entertained?

As the swivel chair spins #8

A quote by Naval on May third began like this, “envy is an illusion”; the tweet immediately reminded me of Commodus.

In the year 2000, the talk about Gladiator was everywhere, it was the spectacle,it was when Hollywood showed that it’s recycling machine was well oiled to run for even another century, heck it even won the Best Picture Oscar, a badge for quality entertainment for someone looking for recommendations.

Whatever it was in 2000, 20 years later, to me it reads as a film that critiques entertainment. It dawns on me even more when I have every form of imaginable entertainment on my fingertips. It could be paid or otherwise. I am always watching something, I stop midway, get on twitter and tweet about it and see there are 4200 tweets already about it and by the time I come back to what I was watching, it has in some way impacted me. 

I have become part of the crowd, even while being alone. 

Are You Not Entertained?

It’s a line that Maximus asks the crowd. Any form of entertainment that appeals to a set of people at the same time creating the same response is in some way controlled. No matter how big the crowd is, for them to buy-in either the thinking faculties are reduced or the content itself is simplified to be so that it can be reduced to a tweet or even a hashtag. 

Yes, even the niche of twitter (since I brought it up as an example), maybe not Rome’s mob; but it does have its spheres of influence.It’s still a crowd.

In Gladiator, the emperor Commodus organises games in which people come to see slaves fight and die. Feed them with frenzy, keep them entertained and they will surely forget that they are poor. 

The movie literally is this, meta even when we go out in groups to consume “content” mostly sports and movies- both reduced to binaries like win/lose or hit/flop to forget ourselves for hours. 

The movie is more interesting because it uses the mass entertainment format to make a comment on it, yet there is a little rascal of a thought in it and that’s what made me sit up while watching it again, alone. 

I have become increasingly afraid of falling into the category of those who seek entertainment to fill time, no Maximus, I do not feel entertained, it was not why I got into the movie watching business. It was to develop a personal taste, taste that assimilates into character for life, not pass time. 

Wait, this is not a rant against popular entertainment, Gladiator is as mainstream as it gets. This is more of an appeal to take a step back and consider how the things that got popular, really got popular. 

I am also afraid of two other things, short memories and repeated conversations, but these only give birth after being wedded to the mob. If there is something definite that you could take away from here, it is this, mobs do not encourage multiple thoughts

Maximus is not happy as a clown, when he asks “are you not entertained?” He is frustrated, for Rome’s finest general, who just months ago drove away the barbarians at the gate now has to please these ‘barbarians’ in the stands. It is the ultimate dishonour.

If war was an art, then General Maximus was the artist. To confine him and make him recreate it is akin to giving Van Gogh a forty page notebook. If there is a second thing that you could take away from this blog, it is this, artists somewhere in their deepest thoughts feel that there is no bigger obstacle than their audience, in other words the mob. 

How To Get Away From The Mob

Tougher said than done, and well this is voluntary. There are some who relish in being part of the mob, they even write paens that communal watching of things is in fact the best way to watch. The experience. 

Emperor Commodus, the person who reminded me to write this, was a man of the masses, he detests the intellectualization of the senate, a philistine even. But to me, Commodus is envy personified, he believes he has been unfairly unloved and Maximus unfairly loved. In a sense he believes in the distinct dualities which drives the mob and hence the most dangerous person to wield it. 

I am not saying the Senate was any better, that’s what the movie is saying, all I am saying is that Commodus so fragile with emotions is not right for leadership and Maximus who disregards what others think and does what needs to be done is tailored for it. The tragedy of Gladiator is that both schools of thought do not survive. 

Rome is finally placed in the hands of the Senate, again a select few, some without a doubt with the capability of solving problems, but as with groups, it is the average good that comes out (thereby the average bad as well).

Ridley Scott and his team of writers do not go beyond what happens to Rome after it comes at the hands of the Senate, maybe they knew that the fall was imminent. The idea of Rome was long past. 

Think of the senate of any small group that influences another large group-the mob. This is the reality that surrounds us. The reality is that we (an individual) cannot escape the mob, even if you want to. 

The Artist Formerly Known As Proximo

Nope, the artist needs the mob too, without their attention they are just buried talent, but I think of them with more worry than myself, for they lose more of themselves in trying to please and retain the mob’s attention. than a single soul like me trying to fit into a group. 

Take Proximo in Gladiator, one of the two primary artists in the movie (the other as discussed in Maximus) who bathed in the glory of the mob and this popularity ultimately helped him win his freedom. 

“Win the crowd. Win your freedom.”

But surprisingly for an artist he is also grounded in reality, when Maximus displays ambitions of making the crowd go against the emperor he warns him by reminding him that they are just “shadows and dust”. 

They lose themselves almost completely. The only comforting part is that most artists enjoy the process. 

Proximo is killed when he tries for the first time in his life against the popular stance. 

Commodus is no artist because he has no talent, just expectation. 

The Sum Of All Envy

I keep coming back to Commodus, because every decision he makes in the movie is done in fear of losing favour of the mob, but he doesn’t really love the mob back, he doesn’t want to be one of them, he does not command respect without using his authority. 

All this springs from the envy he has for Maximus, mainly popularity, he never gets the time or the advisors like Naval, who would have said something like this. Short and sweet.

As we can see, whole empires could have been saved by a bit of right advice. 

Commodus’ father was Marcus Aurelius whose thoughts and words now power the most successful people in the world including Naval, but then which son has listened to his father?

Outside The Arena

Some of you might have guessed that this was not my initial reading of the film and I want to talk about that.

In the green of youth when I first encountered the film I was fascinated by the epic, the period and the character. On a slightly later viewing, I dealt with it as a revenge tale and a story about freedom; but this time I somehow felt that this entertainment movie was actually making snide remarks on those who seek entertainment. 

A popular entertainment which is against such popular entertainments. But it is important to know that me having to watch this movie alone had a lot to do with it.

I may not be able to completely run away from the crowd or mob; I use these words interchangeably and I know it will irritate the reader, but it is the simple truth. I may not be able to run away from the mob, but I can surely learn to develop an internal switch which I can use to switch ON and OFF when required. 

Most of the time we are part of a crowd with shared belief, an employee who adheres to a company’s vision, a family member who absorbs certain shared values? But do pause to think that why should the development of taste too be shared? It’s our one chance to seek something on our own and see if we like it or not, without having to join in on a conversation on it.