Categories
Netflix OTT TV

Decoupled (Netflix, 2021)

What if you could really say what you think? As opposed to what if you could really say what you feel?

I avoided the word feel, because Arya Iyer in the new Netflix relationship series Decoupled doesn’t seem to care much about feelings.

He is an observer and a thinker and by virtue of being the second best selling Indian English author in the country (huh), he is able to achieve this special status.

In India, it must really be normal to say what you think, after all it is guaranteed in the Constitution, but as an earlier Manu Joseph (the same who created Decoupled) column would go on to say:  freedom of expression is always subordinate to someone’s freedom to take offense.

Netflix marketed Decoupled as a divorce comedy that looks at marriage in urban elite India, which it is, but it is also mostly not.

Arya Iyer, a stand-in for Manu uses Decoupled as a platform for social commentary. All evidence points that way that, starting from the Dravid vs Tendulkar argument, the constant state of being riled at Indian bullshit jobs, the users of certain words and the general dissing of economists and art films. It’s all from his columns.

In modern marketing (an upmarket term that marketers use to prevent themselves from being identified as digital marketers), seniors would often throw around the term ‘content repurposing’ which is shorthand for ‘we don’t have any new ideas.

There you learned something which you can use in your next marketing meeting. See here, I’m being meta about my day job while using a film blog as a platform to spell out my irritations. Decoupled does the same.

The observations from Manu’s mint column which are visualized, some of them prescient like an offhand comment on how like Israel everyone in India should have 2 years military training and many hilarious like literal Greta Thunberg costumes, Gurgaon working women’s book club and the concept of live-art.

But what’s the point?

People (mostly men) have a lot of irritations, but mouthing them would land us in trouble, increasingly so when each word has to be measured in the fear of offending anyone. So much so that it is often portrayed that expressing such observations (however superficial) is somehow insensitive to others.

The threat of being offended looms large and most opinions are not expressed. Be civil, agree to your mainstream, smile when you have to, salute when you have to, give for the causes everyone gives to etc. In a sense it is the freedom of collective expression that prevails over the freedom of expression.

While the better thing to do would have been to air the opinions however stupid or profound and be done with it. It’s an opinion for God’s sake, it can change and it should offend.

Arya Iyer is a creation of an irritated mind, he cannot exist in reality, he cannot exist in the sectors of Gurgaon or in any Indian gaon; but Manu goes beyond just creating an irritating character but allows him to pursue his irritation into actions of small pleasure; it is as though in this universe: the irritated must irritate, the annoyed must annoy back and therein lies the sweetness of small-time revenge.

And Madhavan is a revelation as Arya Iyer, offending everyone, he is self-assurance personified and when he does say these observations (The Indian way of having one gate closed- haha), it does come off as a person who wishes to be seen as smart.

Punching in all directions

There is an unwritten rule that farmers and poor people should not be made fun and the joke should always be on the rich and the famous. Decoupled boxes with this rule in some episodes. When the driver Ganesh tells Arya that the smell on his body is actually the smell of the land (the sweat from agriculture), in a usual film or series this would be an inspiring-emotional moment but here it is played for laughs.

I wish this season had gone into establishing that rich or poor, we all come with our quirks, malice and goodness and true representation is showing them as they are and not feigning respect or sympathy for sakes. Ganesh does get the best lines in the series after Arya, maybe a tad bit too late.

Decoupled also does not give me enough of Shruti, played by Surveen Chawla who displays a keen understanding for the character but has very little to do, again until the very end. The writing also becomes lite when the series tries to be an Indian version of Seinfeld (Arya and his friends pitch something like a show about nothing to Netflix) and suddenly the gravity of the lead characters decoupling takes over episode 7 and 8.

The series is important to me also because after a long time felt watching a show which did not try and appeal to everyone for the sake of distribution. The creation of the niche shows was what was promised in OTT land but even the good ones took the broad-based Bollywood approach to storytelling.

Decoupled is specific in its targeting and interesting in its premise, funny in its happenings and is a very easy watch.

All episodes now streaming on Netflix.

Categories
cinema

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time (2021)

So, it’s December now and I thought that this would be a year (like most) which would pass on without me having to cry about watching a movie and lie about not crying about it later.

Like how most grown men do.

But I was proven wrong, like how most grown men are (often).

So, I had read Slaughterhouse-5, sometime just after I could squeeze in a membership in a decent library to which I could cycle to.

Usually, people who do read books, talk about reading slaughterhouse-five in college. Others would have had a passing glimpse of the Cat’s Cradle cover, those folks ended up with an MBA.

Nowadays, people look at you as a genius if you remember that if you merely remember the author and the book title. They might even give you a prize for it.

So it goes.

Nevertheless, nothing ever prepared me (even reading Slaughterhouse-five) for Bob Weide’s documentary Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time. Otherwise, I would have carried a box of tissues with me.

The tears came not only because of the realization of the fact this was a thoughtful, cheerful and wonderful documentary on arguably America’s greatest man of letters of the 20th century.

Ok side note:

how to determine if you are really reading the greatest author of your generation?

Answer: If your parents have heard of him/her; then better throw the book away, far away.

Side note ends.

The tears came because, it is possible to lead a fruitful life by a man of letters (as this documentary shows).

Vonnegut Jr, died in 2007, he was eighty-four and he had retired ten years earlier. He regarded life very seriously and hence wrote funny novels about it.

The tears came because, any career length feature about Vonnegut would have simply been awe-inspiring.

But this doc which was forty years in the making where the writer-director is himself a character (a trait Bob inherits from Vonnegut) and makes it another great film about family, friendship, loneliness and the struggle of the creative process.

Just like Simla Special.

Ok, that was supposed to have been my punchline.

So, do yourself a favor and use the weekend to watch Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time.

Like most of the movies that matter, this is not on any OTT that you maybe paying precious money on.

That’s life, spending on all the wrong things, when all the right things are for free.

Simla Special can be watched for free on YouTube.

If you don’t know how to get hold of a copy of Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, you are using the internet wrong.

So it goes.

Categories
cinema:tamil

Aranmanai 3: Into the Aranmanai-verse

Beyond Imagination

In Aranmanai 3, Yogi Babu plays a thief called Abhishek (lel), who thinks he has stolen 10 kg of gold and safeguards it in the titular Aranmanai.

But the audience knows that it is not 10 kg of gold but 10 kg of dosa batter.

How far can this joke be extended successfully?

Sundar C does it for almost 3 hours.

Actually, this is nothing for Sundar C, compared to how he has managed to extend the same-premise franchise for three whole movies and maybe into the future as well.

“Cash grab!” someone shouts.

Yes, but only in ways like how the MCU is a source of recurring revenue. It is a cash grab but certainly better in many ways than the immediately comparable Kanchana franchise.

“Okay, they are really serious about discussing the Aranmanai franchise” someone shouts.

Yes, as is the case, we are ahead of the curve in assessing pop-culture phenomenons, when all other review bodies can only see this as a cash grab. They will continue to see it as a cash grab till maybe the fifth or sixth installment (or till the point of ego-breakdown) and write think pieces about how “Aranmanai” is actually good.

This cycle happened for many franchises, including The Fast and the Furious, whenever review bodies see franchises, they see it is as a devious corporate attempt to extract more money from the same.

Maybe true.

But Aranmanai 3 is actually good. Very good.

And I am not saying this because of my inherent bias towards Raashi Khanna films. #FullDisclosure

Astrologer asks: What’s your Raashi, Khanna?

A good way to gauge interest while watching a movie is to pause it at any moment (thanks to OTT) and see if we are able to guess the rest of the way. Most of the movies would fail in this test, but the investment that I have in the characters alone would see me through.

For Aranmanai 3, I tried to do this multiple times and always Sundar C and team always won.

If Aranmanai can be seen as an extension of Chandramukhi and Aranmanai 2 an entry which was just finding it’s footing in mythological horror; Aranmanai 3 can be seen as Sundar C completely embracing the madness.

Chandramukiying!

Always crazy in thought and totally shocking in execution, you will see stone lions come to life, undying love and half dead bodies, scheming paintings, competing saamiyars, poison spewing paatis, piano playing ghosts, tik tok obsessed aunts, matted lock sadhu brigade and lots and lots more that you will forget to be shocked when singers Shankar Mahadevan and Hariharan appear as themselves leading a lord Murgan themed rock concert somewhere in the unreachable hills in this undefined film.

If the writing team had suggested 100 ideas during the discussion, all of them, repeat, all of them, made it into the film.

It’s great! It’s baroque! It’s nothing like anything!

It’s a movie where two ghosts come together to form a combined fighting unit!

What’s not to like?

Sundar C what you did there

Then there is director Sundar C himself recurs as Ravi, the great controller of all the strands of the plot. Each of these strands as dangerous as the snakes on Medusa’s head and only he can make sense of it all, and even that pressure is lifted off from our shoulders.

The satisfaction.

Also, this is the last appearance of Vivek sir, extending his sadboi comedian persona well into the beyond, he will be missed.

Aranmanai 4, yes over here, I’m interested; but can Sundar C ever top this?

Aranmanai 3 is now streaming on Zee 5.

Categories
cinema:tamil FRS

FRS: Annaatthe (2021)

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

At the outset, Team FRS would like to wish everyone a Happy Deepavali.

May this festival of lights…

Editor: Enough, I’m done with festival greetings

Writer group: we haven’t even started and also can we add the now popular phrase “from us to you or from ours to yours, chief?

Editor: No! (shouts)

Let’s just stick with the FRS, okay? Already our brand is too weak, we haven’t done an FRS in months.

Just begin.

-101: Annaatthe begins with a voice over. Always beware of narration boys! Funnily enough this narration is never followed through again the movie. It is only used as a lead in to take us six months back.

-45: People of Kolkata are eager to know who is Annaatthe, they are also using the hashtag #whoisannaatthe, but we know that Annaatthe beats up gangs who hold black money of the rich and famous, so pretty much an underground operation, why would the media be covering this and why would people on the street want to know who Annaatthe is?

Cut to Soorakottai.

+52: Obviously hero is village president, but he is also arbiter of local fights, deliverer of pearls of wisdom and doer of kurumbu, singer of songs and dancers of the (omkaara) koothu

No need to mention that everyone from 6 to 60 love him, because he is hero.

Do villagers really love this kurumbu doing hero or is this a Kollywood based reality?

Also also innocent and cheerful villagers are innocent and cheerful.

<Idea Moment>

How about a story where the villagers are actually irritated by the doings of the kurumbukaara hero types because their innocence and mischievousness always come in the way of you know, farming and they send him to Kolkata which is actually a place where the kurumbukara hero learns reality of life, work etc.

</Idea Moment >

+31: Rajni’s hair for being the representation of bounce, at times it seems like it is a separate organism with its own thoughts, wants, needs and ideas.

Did someone say idea?

<Idea Moment>

Rajni’s hair develops its own consciousness and starts to pick up radio signals whenever there are wrong doers around him, it’s mostly like a on the body travelling sidekick cum guide which helps him clean up crime.

</Idea Moment>

+155: Rajni himself for being the embodiment of enthusiasm, he does so much in this movie, more than all the rest of the cast, more than all the list of writers credited, more than what he is supposed to be doing.

It’s a pain to watch, but also at the same time painfully admirable that someone has so much spirit in trying to retain an audience.

But can he do it alone?

Umm

400: Paasakara Psychos

If you popped in (your mouth) popcorn every time someone says Paasam (affection?) in this movie, then you will run out of popcorn within the first few minutes, if you want to continue with eating popcorn and counting the word paasam be ready to break your FDs, because Popcorn is costly bhais.

Also, this family is full of Paasakara psychos that it is literally their affection which brings out the main conflict between Kaalaiyan (Rajni) and his sister Thanga Meenatchi (Keerthi Suresh).

Paasam is above everything and controls everything, it’s almost like Kaalaiyan and Thangam are possessed like in a horror film, also people around them are enablers, except the comedian who as usual sees the inanity of this situation?

Would you shower affection so much that they break themselves?

Disturbing to say the least.

Editor: please order more coffee, our writers need it.

Owner: no money, just publish and get done with it.

+19: But the ensuing drama for about five minutes is one of the best, Rajni also has a brilliant Siva conflict moment earlier in the movie where he needs to get his sister married but does not really want to.

As the saying goes, obstacles are good but conflict is always better.

Obstacle is when the hero needs to overcome something to accomplish something, conflict is when hero has to overcome something but doesn’t really feel like doing this.

Siva really does conflicts really well and Viswasam is one of the best mainstream movies which did this well in the last decade and we can keep typing away on the conflicts in Viswasam, but this is not that blogpost, that is a different one.

Here the conflict is small and it hardly registers. Siva has shown he could do it, but not always past experience leads to similar performance in the future.

<Cut back to Kolkata>

Editor: Wait a minute! Did you mention about how Meena ma’am and Khushboo ma’am brought in the nostalgia element and how people were transported to the 90s etc.

Writer group: were we?

Editor: get on with it.

<Cut again to Kolkata>

Kolkata the city where it is always Durga Puja.

-103: To reinstate that we are indeed in Kolata, Keerthy Suresh is asked to run on Howrah bridge and Victoria Memorial.

We mean…

-67: Something something happens and we find ourselves with our first major villain.

-50: something something happens and we find ourselves with the second major villain.

The something something here refers to the designed action sequences which technically should be fun to watch, but since we don’t have any real stakes here and since both the villains are no match for Rajni, there is no swarasyam left with us the audience.

Swarasyam, there’s a good title for the next Siva and Team movie.

Editor: Do put in a word about the villainous roles of Jagapathy Babu, the audience will like it.

Writer group (in unison): we write for ourselves, who cares what the audience like.

Editor: Waiddaminit! Something struck me, you guys were telling about the paasakara psychos right? Where affection itself becomes deadly to those involved?

Writer group (in unison): Yes!

Editor: So it could be like Siva’s reading of the Rajni phenomenon itself, so many people love him and the pressure just gets to him every time he makes the movie, the love they have for him could be a deterrent to what he could do on screen, it almost becomes a controlling force.

Maybe Siva and Team did experience this deadly affection pressure when they were writing the film and thus he put all that into the movie?

How is this interpretation?

What do you all think?

Writer group (in unison): We are not film companion, sir.

Subam

Team FRS

Categories
cinema Essay

Demented Deranged De Palma

Body Double (1984)

Poor Jake Scully. 

What else could he be, but a failure. 

He is playing a goth vampire in a B-Horror movie called ‘Vampire’s Kiss’, only to realize that he has claustrophobia.

Paralyzed in a coffin. Think about a frozen vampire who cannot come out to terrorize at night, a frightening thought. As if on cue, the set of Vampire’s Kiss catches fire. 

But Jake’s been here before. 

Here meaning under the ever growing shadow of disappointment, after all he’s a struggling actor in LA; rejection and failure are any actor’s constant buddies. With his chin back up and small smile on his pale face, Jake drives home, only to find his partner in bed with someone else. 

She also seemed to enjoy it. The face.

Poor Jake Scully. 

When someone is down, one kind word, even a smile might make the person feel that this is godsend.  But cynical De Palma knows that in the real world unlike the ideal, there is no kind word without malevolence, no smile without a secret and no help without expectation. 

Those who fall for these ‘godsend’ acts, risk lowering themselves into the bottomless pit of irredeemable failures. 

Jake Scully’s face is that of pure failure, the one that you want to slap and bring back to life and shout “don’t trust these guys!” when he accepts a caretaker job in the hills of LA. 

It was Hitchcock, who said something about putting the bomb under the bus and making the audience go mad knowing that it is going to blow-out (pun intended) ,Jake’s serial failure to the path to foolishness is DePalma’s answer to Hitchcock’s bomb under the bus.

We can see what’s going to happen to Jake, but he cannot.

A lot’s been said about De Palma’s Hitchcock obsession (yes he’s also made film with the same name- double title pun here, well done me), yet he goes all the way in this neatly laid down trifecta of a plot which includes the best of Vertigo, Rear Window and Dial M for Murder. 

It almost feels like De Palma having his vengeance on the critics who had dubbed him Hitch minor. Ok here you go, maybe thought De Palma, here’s three suspense classics- watch me put them in a blender. 

Hitch would have probably recognized the cruel intentions (no pun intended here, no reference too) behind the plot, but would have never muddied his hands and knees in the sewer that De Palma bravely (and gleefully) goes into. Slumming it proudly by making a movie about moviemaking which begins at the fringes of Hollywood and descends into pornography. It’s really too much, but never not enjoyable. 

Never not enjoyable- that’s De Palma as a tagline there for you. That could literally be the title of a career retrospective of De Palma, but they made one such and simply called it De Palma, the fools I tell ya.

Coming back to failures.

Failures make the best reflective protagonists and you can never get a better one than a failure in love; here’s Jake Scully in this fancy house in the hills with the rotating bed and when the lights go down his ‘nearest’ shapely neighbour starts to put on a show. 

Stop looking Jake! Stop looking for God’s sake. 

Easier said than done, but look he does.

Maybe it’s love, maybe it’s a fascination, maybe it’s just that he feels he is owed some relaxation after all the effects of failure kick in. When the relaxation kicks in, also does Pino Donaggio’s astral music plays over her routine, Body Double pushes its weight and reputation from being just another erotic thriller to the realms of art. 

In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, one who would have thought that De Palma just is the swoop of the camera, he is just the crazy angles and he is just the slow motion- this would have just been that, an erotic thriller from the 80s which probably was given as an alternative when Basic Instinct was under circulation at your local video store. 

But this is De Palma. 

Nothing is generic, nothing is expected and nothing is out of bounds- you would think an attractive neighbour doing a self pleasure routine is going overboard but then comes the shock of the power drill (did he really do that in the 80s?- first time Tarantino-heads ask lol) and then he surprises you with a musical number shot on an X-Rated film set which weirdly asks us to “Relax, don’t do it, when you wanna go do it.” 

While the voyeuristic elements are drawn out of Rear Window, the movie smoothly blends into long stretches of Jake Scully jointly (?) pursuing his neighbour ala Vertigo which rightly feels like a silent film, here too it’s just on camera and with music that De Palma builds the tension. I cannot stress this enough because Jake Scully is a nobody or say the person could be anybody like you (the reader) or me and not the stars like Grace Kelly, Kim Novak or James Stewart about whose life and death we care about. 

It’s a different way to look at filmmaking to reduce the stress of the characters themselves and put more pressure into the visuals (and in effect on the director himself). 

Roger Ebert opens his review of Body Double, calling it an exhilarating exercise in pure filmmaking and all through praises the direction but notices that there is very little point to the film. 

Sorry Roger, bless your soul, the point is that De Palma wished to hoist this story of an everyday failure and construct around it one of the most visually stunning thrillers. 

Psst: Ebert also uses the word construct twice, just saying. Would like to state that when the movie came out, critics were not as charitable as Ebert was and promptly dismissed it. Body Double’s reputation has only grown from then on. 

Maybe I’m reading too much or maybe i’m trying to drill (no pun intended here too) home the point of “filmmaker of failure” too much, but to me this clearly is a “it could happen to you” type film and Hollywood does a lot of “this could happen to you” films, ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances; the you in “it could happen to you” is probably played by Cary Grant whose is heroism personified. 

In contrast, Craig Wasson’s Jake Scully (poor Jake) is emasculated in full technicolor, his helplessness is at the core of his failure and when a person is at their depths and when there is no internal motivation to proceed, nature comes to his aid. 

Nature in the form of women, of course. 

First in the form of Deborah Shelton and then in Melanie Griffith. 

There’s a phrase that people going through shit are familiar with- the dark night of the soul. The seemingly unending period of trials and tribulations that a soul has to go through before it’s communion with the ultimate.

Body Double can be seen as Jake Scully living through his long dark night of the soul (it is not necessarily one night) getting one bad hand dealt to him after another, just when you thought he hit rock bottom, there’s another blow waiting for him in the corner. 

The biggest of them all is when his helplessness couldn’t prevent the death of the woman he thinks he is fascinated with, it’s a double blow at the end when he comes to know that he is in some way responsible for it. 

And this is where it turns. 

Body Double is one of the rare happy ending films from De Palma, maybe because it was too much even for him.

Jake Scully does find himself in the end and illustrates that one can simply stop being a failure by just taking control of their life in order to not only to better oneself but to help others. 

But since there is a deadly director like De Palma calling the shots, the difference between success and failure could be as serious as life and death. 

The end.

Cover image credit: https://www.screenslate.com/articles/body-heatbody-double