Categories
cinema

Kalank (2019)

As the Swivel Chair Spins #11

If you were to ask any resident of Husnabad as it appears in this film, the route to Hira Mandi, the notorious locality where courtesans and blacksmiths co-inhabit, the resident would probably come up with something like this 

“ No eagle requires direction to fly, it knows they way from its heart” 

The Streets of Husnabad from Kalank
all day song, dance and poetry

Very difficult to deal with such daily poetry, so it is always better to carry modern tools such as Google maps when visiting Hira Mandi. The visitor will likely be awed by the erected sets of Husnabad, which seems to be the combination of Istanbul and Venice, but is labelled as pre-Partition Pakistan. For example you would need a gondola to reach the mahal of courtesan Baahar Begum, to whose voice the whole city goes to sleep; much like Vaidehi Kaathirundhal. But unlike the older Tamil film, here the songs are not about loss but about longing. 

Madhuri Dixit as Baahar Begum, once courtesan now music teacher
once courtesan now music teacher

Naturally our heroine Roop, who is new to Husnabad and who has been forced into a contract marriage with nice guy template Dev Chaudhary because his first wife Satya is in her last stretch of her life, death quickened by cancer; but normally we wouldn’t notice because even cancer here is beautiful or atleast made to look beautiful. 

Making everything beautiful, does not make this a Bhansali film, nor does the classical number or the rose tinted look of Pakistan of the time; but hey they tried a lot. As another Husnabad resident would immediately come up with lines like 

“Only the blind would look for story, in a film about love” 

Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan from Kalank
love boating

Maybe that Husnabad resident is right, I should indeed focus on the gondola ride at the end of the street and the mega burning Raavan before whose embers that our lovers Roop and Zafar meet. Obviously it is love at first sight, the complication in this love story ( as in most love stories) comes from the fact that Roop is a recently married woman. But as the movie which upends the Partition says “love has no borders” who am I to question. 

While even with a healthy level of cynicism I do accept this love, but Kalank tries to push another theme called ‘respect’, all the characters here are looking for one of the two or both. 

Roop says to Dev that she will not be able to love him, but she will respect him and she has given up on her lover Zafar,  because she no longer respects him. 

Right, so that was a streaming pause moment for me. Maybe you should go back and read that again. Maybe movie love is different from all this, better to leave abstract things to the poets in the streets of Hira Mandi and focus on characters. 

Alia Bhatt plays Roop, a free spirited like a kite without restraint-stubborn Rajputana girl whose dreams are cut short until they are rekindled when they meet Varun Dhawan’s Zafar, a brooding blacksmith whose eyes light up like a furnace when he hears the word “Inteqam”.

Their love story is a given, obviously since they are the leads of the movie and their story would be championed over the others, every side glance cements it, but director Abhishek Varman tends towards maximising this supposed poetry in the hope to make another Bhansali. 

But as the Husnabad street poet would quote beautifully

“Chandeliers and Courtesans alone don’t make a Bhansali

Like how a melting clock doesn’t make a Dali” 

My biggest issue with the film is not the confusion between love, sex and respect, it’s not even the over insistence n beauty, decor and makeup, it’s not even the off-mood Baahubali type bull fight that Zafar gets into, it’s not even the dullness of the senior actors (Madhuri and Sanjay) who have seen far better times but are unable to recreate it now, heck it’s not even the overblow Dusshera celebrations that I touched upon earlier. 

Nice Guys Get Nothing 
Aditya Roy Kapur as Nice Guy Dev Chowdary

It’s about the nice guy, Dev Choudhary; it is not good to be a good guy in Bollywood. As in, if we crystallize all of Bollywood films into the single line as “who gets the girl”, the good guy would never get it. 

Everyone in Bollywood hates nice guys, the character is always given to the ‘other’ hero, not the lead. His character undergoes no change that even if he has the means and need to express his feelings (for the heroine, what else), he won’t do it, his character won’t do it. 

He is the well educated, understanding, silent and “aapko books pasand hai” type guy who loses or in most cases willing to ‘sacrifice’ the girl to the street corner romeo who says sweet things to your wife like “ let the willingness of your eyes not be marred by the obstacle that is your eyelids”. Our man can never say such things, he is probably editing a cabinet report committee on steel factories in his library somewhere. Nice guys are not exciting (for the heroine, hence audience), nice guys are nice, but that’s just it. 

It’s even verbally said in Kalank, for those who might not appreciate this reading of the film, when Baahar Begum tells Roop that Dev (Aditya Roy Kapoor) is an ‘achcha ladka”, Roop responds by saying, is being “achcha” enough to spend a lifetime with? 

Umm, his plight continues, he loses his wife to cancer, who is another ‘achcha ladki’ Sonakshi Sinha who sacrifices her position  of bahu in the family, so that her husband can have a happy future. Has a wandering father (Sanjay Dutt) who from reports seems to be the Zafar of the previous generations, naturally the Begum fell for him! 

All of Dev’s credentials of being a London educated, progressive news editor and sensitive husband all fall to zero before the first class rascal nature of the romeos, because that is where Mohabbat is. 

Love is strange, but Bollywood is stranger. Maybe the end is a bit of a surprise, going against tradition, he does ‘get’ the girl, but her heart? Oh it is floating somewhere in the clouds or in the Gondolas of Husnabad. Nice guys, even when they win, they lose. 

Nice guys get nothing and that’s my biggest issue with Kalank. 

PS

Oh yeah I forgot to mention about the good old zero sum bollywood socialism sub plot, where Zafar instigates rebels against the coming of a steel plant which can only mean local industries will go bankrupt. Naturally this leads to a riot. 

Kalank is streaming on Amazon Prime and pardon my Hindi, I am learning through subtitles. 

Categories
cinema FRS

FRS: Dragon Blade

So everyone knows what an FRS is right? 

-40: To us, the pandemic has made us seek out the absolute bottom of what Amazon Prime Video barrel had to offer, not that we had really seen the other films, but nothing was as exciting as an epic Chinese film about how Jackie Chan defends the silk road from 100,000 Romans! Yes you read that right. 

+300: To the director who convinced Jackie Chan to invest in a film by telling the above one line, yes Jackie is also the producer, apart from being the action director and action here of the piece. 

-21: Movie does not begin with narration, but with our second favourite irritation, the phrase “based on real events”. We mean…nevermind. 

+67: Jackie Chan plays Captain Huo An of the Silk Route Protection Corps formed in 48BC to maintain peace along the trade route. 

This would mean that he will have film-worthy goals like word peace and mutual anbu. Since this an epic film he will have goals which are unrealistic by even film standards such as “I will unite all the 36 nations who use this silk road kind of thing’ 

+34: Subversion of audience expectation: which is critic-speak for “movie sucks, but cant tell it openly”. If anyone had bought a ticket to Dragon Blade thinking that they would at least get to see Jackie Chan do some fighting, he would be slightly disappointed, because he is part of the peace corps. Which means that he would be preventing other kingdoms from fighting, really. 

-27: Hero beats girl in an altercation, means that the girl will fall in love with him cliche, applicable even to ancient chinese dynasty heroes. 

-32: Hero is peace loving means surely some mentor in a flashback would have told him about the importance of peace, otherwise how da. 

-61.2: Hero, back home from peace corp, we get to know is married to sweet school teacher cliche, teacher says she will work towards race equality etc. This reminded us of the Kajal Agarwal paatu class in Vivegam. 

+78: Movie becomes slightly exciting when John Cusack appears as a Roman General invading a Chinese outpost fort city, but is he really attacking or is he out here for something else? Shhh

-11: If there is a plot involving a kid and Romans in the movie, it is rest assured that the kid is in line to the throne cliche. 

+100: Sandstorm Ex Machina, a sandstorm threatens the whole fight between Jackie Chan and John Cusack and we never get to know who the better fighter is. 

+54: Natpu da! Nanben da mode, these two go into. 

In one conversation involving the difference in Chinese army and Roman army, Jackie Chan says Chinese Army is present only to maintain peace in the world

<crickets> <crickets> 

+56: John Cusack character seems sensible and is motivated by revenge against those who have done bad things to him, Jackie Chan however being the hero is still preaching peace, in short anbu selling. 

-24: Sudden target of building humongous wall within 15 days extremely sudden. 

+101: It’s done, it’s a Sino-Roman joint venture, the scenes in which Jackie’s corps and Cusack’s centurions flex their muscles and engage in a bit of play fighting are the most enjoyable in the film. 

-77.2: But as this is the movies, mutual happiness does not last more than five minutes and there needs to be an even bigger villain who should spoil these guys’ friendship. 

+561: That person is Adrien Brody, whom I have never seen have so much fun in this film, it seems more fun because our hero is straight as an arrow peace loving average anbu seller 

-23: Watch your accents Romans! While John Cusack sticks to his American accent, Adriend Brody is acting as though this is a West End production. No he is really enjoyable. 

+56.4: What’s more enjoyable are the production values and the movie making magic which leads up to the final battle, great stuff guys!

-300: Something, something happens and the movie becomes 300 for a while and it ends quite predictably with all the tribes coming together and peace finally comes to the silk board…we mean silk road. 

Nooooooo!

All are happy. Except Adrien Brody. 

Also if you have seen the film, let us know why this movie was called Dragon Blade again? 

All numbers are incidental and arbitrary, except the facts provided by our data analytics team.

Team FRS

Subam

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.