Tag: Chennai

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

That Tarantino taught himself movie making from behind the desk at a video store is the stuff of legend. In Chennai, it is not uncommon to have friends who due to compulsions of engaging with popular culture have a tee shirt which proudly says “ I never went to film school. I went to films” or some such Tarantino quote. 

Tarantino is the real life story of the fringe becoming mainstream, the director who launched the career of numerous disciples, the director who within a short time had an ‘esque’ added to his name. The director who has his quotes on t shirts in Chennai. 

It’s what he became.But let’s come back to the first  fact, as a video store clerk- he saw every type of film. Often in the transference of his coolness, the reason for his coolness is omitted.He saw every type of film.  

Has there been any Tarantino conversation without the generous movie name-dropping? To think of it, his tee shirt makes perfect sense, he really figured out how to make movies by just watching a ton of movies- a certified movie nut with unconditional love. 

He just didn’t stream the AFI top 100 to become what he did become(relevant in our time of curated lists and general entitlement of everyone seeking the ‘best’). 

Tarantino went to work, consuming films of all types and sizes, without any notion of preconceived taste.His passion extends beyond just viewing them but to track down and remember every filmmaker. The resultant is a wholly unique person with an extremely specific movie taste. 

Specific to the extent of keeping a close watch on how he will be remembered (the 9th film by Quentin Tarantino is how Once Upon A Time…is marketed), his movies are combos- the ones on a food menu which arrive quick, valuable and consists of enticing items from different pages in the same menu. Each preceding film was a genre version of what Tarantino cooked up. 

But Once Upon A Time is different…it is still a heady mix of genres, it still moves to an assorted pop soundtrack and radio commercials, it does have an obliqueness to violence but this is really Tarantino’s way of giving it back (love) to his industry. 

Although at the same time it is not the “love letter” or the nostalgia driven look of Hollywood- it is authentic but not rose tinted. It is a film about time, a word that features in the title. 

A passage of time, 1969 seems to be year of closure of many things Old Hollywood- the slowing of the studio system- the decline of a certain sort of heroism. 

A man’s man would be ridiculed in our ‘woke’ times, but their careers seem to have ended a long time ago. I can never imagine an ‘environmentally’ aware hero like Leonardo taking up anything remotely similar to Bounty Law ( the TV series that Rick Dalton, his character plays in this movie). 

Tarantino feels for Rick Dalton & his driver-companion Cliff Booth (Dalton himself is based on many leading TV men of the 50s and 60s who lost their way, without a break, mostly forgotten by history) but he is not tied down by the weight of historical accuracy. He wants them to get that one break, that one lucky break which could change a sagging career. 

At the other end of the story is a young Sharon Tate, who at the time represented the Hollywood to come, young with life, till it was horrifically taken away from her. Tarantino cares for her too, doesn’t really care for history. One of the best moments come from Tate getting to watch her on screen in the ‘The Wrecking Crew’. A rather ‘asinine’ film, as Tarantino himself put it while guesting on a podcast. It isn’t regarded as a classic film but means so much to Sharon Tate, thus proving that any movie could make deep impact in a person’s life, irrespective of how it has been ‘regarded’ by society (especially critics). 

The ending, which is sure to shock many, but unlike the catharsis of killing Hitler in Inglorious Basterds, this comes from a sweet place of good intentions and confidence.  The way he juxtaposes fact and fiction in a way that only reminded me of Monty Python’s Life of Brian- a film that follows the parallel lives of the Christ and a commoner.

Clearly my favourite Tarantino and definitely the most re-watchable , a movie where I could endear myself to his brashness.

He knows his stuff, this is his subject, he seems to be having the most fun when without any care following his characters to see where they go-forgetting lines, feeding dogs, folding clothes, watching movies and generally raising hell in the Hollywood of 1969. 


They Who Need Not Be Named

Parking Lot Notes 2: Maanagaram

Maanagaram

Adhavadhu(that is…),
humanity’s greatest achievement is not the great wall of china or moon landing or the moon landing tapes, but cities.

We weren’t meant to live in caves, or in forests or spend our lifetimes working with crops and pests and pesticides, notice how we came from all that into this density of human life, simply called the city.
(Density, city rhymes, +5 marks, self evaluation as they say in some industries)

But not everyone, mostly not those originally from a city seem to like life in one, they prefer rural silence to urban violence, the slow pace to a rat race. Also non-citizens (here meant to denote those not from a city) tend to think that there is some sort of moral loss that happens in a city and that this loss is communicable.

Mainly this idea has been spread by Tamil(also others?) cinema.

Innumerable movies talk about the helping tendencies of the rural-ites, their hardworking-ness and their ever helpful nature. Cities however are the polar opposite, if a village can be compared to the character of a hero, then a city is the serial rapist villain who has bald thug named ‘Peter’ who spits Pan Parag in railway ticket counter corners.

Nevermind.

Like all things in reality, cities are inescapable, for me they represent human life at its aggregated best; a place where differences blur because everyone is pushing against each other towards an unknown center.

Without cities, we would be even distant islands of self image and comfort. Without cities we would still be somebody. See, because one of the best things that a city offers you is anonymity!

Like rain water, sewage etc etc making it to the sea, we all make it to the city.

It doesn’t matter who we are and where we are from.

Maanagaram is what knowledgeable people call a hyperlink film in which multiple characters pursue their own stories but are united in the core theme of the film, which is ofcourse about the city.

But wait, this is not Ayutha Ezhuthu, this is better( hi to all Madras Talkies), with much likeable characters, pulsating music, open your mouth in amazing disbelief kind off opening titles, swear words and their social context, broken beer bottle into your neck kind off action and generally Chennai by night( which is the biggest plus)

Underneath all this is a thread of that of the kindness of strangers, how far will someone go for another man(or woman); invisibly connecting all the characters that inhabit this city, I mean film.

Maanagaram, one of the best films out there this year ( coughs and says Gaudam, “what does your instict say”) not only because of its extreme filmmaking and exciting characters but also because Maangaram gives the best that every big city offers: anonymity

Untill next time.

 

{Parking Lot notes initially appeared as a Facebook post somewhere}

IT WAS SHOT HERE

An attempt to view Madras/Chennai through its songs          

 madras1

Who knows what type of day it would have been, but trust the Madras resident to come conclude that it would have been, like every day: a very hot one. The imaginative residents would have even got to the extent of picturing a sun burned and sweating exploring officer of the East India Company, pausing at this small and then insignificant sand bar on the Coramandel coast.

He could have gone further, but then he stopped.

The officer on duty was Francis Day, one of the neglected founding fathers of the city; the city they once called Madras and now we call Chennai. There are many tales as to why Day stopped here, it wasn’t even a natural harbor, so essential for the works of the company; the story of Madras is perhaps the most cinematic one; the one never told or explored by the dream spinners who now work in what widely circulated newspapers call Kollywood, a name which sounds so odd that you would like to say something nice after you mouth it.

But there has always been the beach, the coast that made the travelling Englishman stop has churned the memories of many a Tamil filmmaker. C.V. Sridhar often heralded as the first modern Tamil director shared Day’s enchantment and used to write all his scripts on the Marina and would shoot at least one scene there, his classic comedy Kadhalikka Neramillai (No time for love) was set entirely in the southern mountain retreat of Chinnamalai but that couldn’t prevent Sridhar from shooting this opening song on the sunny beach overlooking the Madras University, it is one of the most happiest openings in Tamil film and Sridhar’s sentiment with the Marina would continue all through, not far away a bridge named after a 19th century city Governor Francis Napier, the distinctly red lighthouse and the Indo-Saracenic architecture of the university buildings has also served countless location managers, the stretch of the Marina would be the most exploited, mostly for songs providing walking space for leading couples to ad lib while the composer’s music played out.

When the Marina is used, can Elliot’s be far behind; the city’s second favorite hangout has an added advantage of having a cenotaph to decorate the panoramic shots.

 

I do agree that there has been repetition in the Madras that appeared in songs; after all there can only be so many places of interest, so we can afford to forgive Mani Ratnam (who incidentally has a company called Madras talkies) for using the Chennai Museum complex for a dance recital and as a court-house. He famously used the college of Engineering for the same, but that is another matter.

 

Repetition too has some beauty, but that lies in the mind of the reciter,  a song which begins with a sombrero wearing Manorama aptly titled Madrasa Sutti Paaka Poren (I am going to see Madras)is your quickest guide to the city, even makes fun of Lord Ripon after whom the Corporation headquarters is named; the same year (1994) also came Shankar’s Kadhalan (Lover)a song which quickened the pulse of a nation and also managed to capture Prabhu Deva taking over Madras from the top of distinctive green buses while people watch, mesmerized from the sides of the High Court and the LIC buildings, which I should take time to mention as Chennai’s Empire state, it is not much, but still it is ours.

Staying on the topic of LIC building as a symbol of the city, for years that umm…modest skyscraper and the Central Railways station has been used to the change in setting of any film, from the village to the big bad city; going to Pattinam(as Madras was called in the villages then) was considered an ill act.

Here in B&W Madras, the villager ponders over skyscrapers and how irresponsible the citizens are, the trend continues to this day; in a time where Tamil Cinema is moving southward to the raw rustic surroundings of Madurai and elsewhere; Chennai is often seen as a city of IT professionals who live fake lives and always speak English to the uneducated.

But the city silently bears all that, waiting for that rare moment where even the immigrants;  these protectors of Tamil culture pause for a moment and realize what a ladder this city has been for them, on the other hand new blood from the city have not been silent as they had to deal with inter-zonal conflicts; eternally dividing the city into one of the haves and the have-nots; after all which city does not have boundaries.

But what many cities do not posses is a tongue of its own, rumored to have borrowed equally from English, Tamil, Sanskrit and Hindi, perhaps even German (who can say) is the Madras Baashai, no Tamil film attains completeness without a Zaam Bazzar Jaggu having his bichua knife ready to slice or singing songs on the banks of the foul-smelling holy Cooum: our ever unclean-able.

But how can I finish with the Cooum, so I return one last time to the cool Marina where it all began. Sivaji Ganesan here walks past innocently in search of a better tomorrow where his majestic statue now stands; a merger of worlds of sorts.

The clips in this document is far from complete, but have been assembled to give a fleeting glimpse of the city, many great songs and sites have been left behind and there are still many corners in the city to be explored and filmed, for who would have thought that the famous banyan tree in the Theosophical Society would have given ample shade to silent lovers or that a gully cricket match between the RA Puram Sharks and the Royapuram Rockers would mete out an amusing tale, if not for cinema. We will wait.

For mine is a laid back coastal city, till only recently sprouting signs of competing with the hustle of its colleagues; but somehow maintaining the warmth and air of welcome, I have never been anywhere else; but I have always been welcome at home. Maybe that is what made Francis Day stop, he probably felt home.