Raat Akeli Hai

As The Swivel Chair Spins #12

Fridays are better than most days. 

Particularly the ones that come with detective movies. 

Raat Akeli Hai is indeed an evocative title, more so for Bollywood buffs of the Dev Anand song, but it hardly captures the movie that follows it. We could push a little more and say it’s a romantic title, much like Inspector Jatil Yadav- who’s secret gaze of women contradicts his lofty expectations from his future wife. “Decent” & “good looking” is what he tells his mother, how difficult would that be to find? 

Later on a lonely night, somewhere in the Gangetic plain,as Jatil bhai sits down to have his reheated dinner, a gruesome muder is reported. 

A large mansion. A dead old patriarch and suspects reaching to the double digits. It’s a classic Christie setting. 

Wait! A short detour into what catapults the best Christie adaptations into classic status, hmm, it’s only five things that we really need.

  1. There’s the idiosyncratic detective (mostly accented) 
  2. There’s the avengers type collection of the best of acting talent and all of them  colorful suspects 

(Maybe you can look up the list from Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express) 

  1. Of course, who could forget multiple motives
  2. Easy deception or more deaths 
  3. Finally, climatic exposition of what happened, preferably in the drawing room. 

Netflix’s Raat Akeli Hai has all of the above! Typing this makes us very happy, to see writing that loves genre elements like we do. 

But that’s not all, if it’s classic Christie in part, writer Smitha Singh seems to have been bitten by the Chinatown bug and weaves in Radha (Radhika Apte), a shifty femme fatale and layers of social commentary. 

Hmm, mostly it works well, no one can fault Nawaz as he limps through the small lanes in the search of clues and solve the murder of Raghubeer Singh. Nawaz believably goes from frustrated to sufficiently self confident. 

Where Raat Akeli Hai loses the plot, is in its inability to differentiate the suspects, this is important in a classic Christie setting because the tension is wholly sustained on who the killer is? 

Could it be him? Could it be her? Could it be them? Or could it be one of those unbelievable sleight of hands that Christie does and stumps her reader, just for sakes. 

All of this tension comes from us knowing the characters, glimpses of their lives, their worries and motives from the interviews that the detective would take and frame the narrative. Here, after a point (the third act), it didn’t really matter who the killer really was and our characters are just names painted behind foldable film shooting chairs. 

For the viewer tired of Christie’s Mysteries, there are lots of other things to look at, like the elaborately designed rooms in Thakur saab’s mansion, mirrors and Pankaj Kumar’s effective cinematography.

Yes, but it’s hard to watch this film  and not think about Knives Out.

Raat Akeli Hai is now streaming on Netflix.

A Society Under The Influence

So yes this is a reactionary post(sad, always like to be proactive).

I have not seen Arjun Reddy/ Kabir Singh; even when I see it I am sure to dislike it(prejudice alert), but that is because I dislike most movies, it also because we make a lot of dislike-able movies. 

But there is also something to like in all films. What I take away is my own.

As is usual a certain section of well meaning, focused on the future types telling (yelling) about the values of the leading man in the films above mentioned. They have also qualified saying that this is not just about the values but also because the Sandeep Reddy Vanga film ‘glorifies’ such disgusting values.

Somewhere in these cautionary posts of value education would be the mention of the over influence of movies as a whole on society. As a constant movie watcher I would like to agree that movies are influential to the individual, but what these activist uncle types don’t get is that source of influences are multifarious and never really pinpoint.

<I like to use the word uncle a lot, this is not something I picked up from the movies, but maybe because I like to use uncle because I don’t like to use swear words. I dunno, I don’t want to psychoanalyze myself to death, so whenever I use uncle it can be substituted to a word of your choice>

So yes, uncles think there is some kind of linear relationship between the content (or malcontent as they would say) in movies and the depletion of our value system.

Again, they have only good intentions, but they get only linearity, maybe they did social sciences. So they immediately get enraged and come to conclusions that if guy watches a certain actor’s films and stalks girls then surely movie only gave him the idea, where in reality it could be multiple inputs of different magnitude for a person to make any action.

Guy treating gal badly-hey stop showing such things in movies- sooo toxic etc- but guy could have watched his father do it.

Influences are multifarious and come in different sizes and their impact too.

Second question to uncles is that would you really want movies to be the moral compass for the next generation? 

If you really are so concerned about falling values then you must be in a position of greater influence to tell next gen of what good values are and more importantly tell them to avoid movies with bad values.

But here of course, uncles want to just shout at filmmakers for having bad values, not realizing filmmakers themselves are under multiple influences and their values are a resultant.

A good activist uncle who truly believes in the values he wants next gen to have will work himself to become a bigger influence than the movies that he so hates, or he could put trust in his upbringing system and in the next gen wards to choose the best for themselves.

Unfortunately, uncles will do neither, they seem to have understood that movies are soft targets and probably gain from taking moral high ground. Uncles also want to be seen as commentators on art etc. Lool, that’s another long post.

I believe that deep down people know what people are doing(mostly with their own code), so I also have a code to illustrate this. Simplified in the form of three truths.

1. Movies are movies

2. Life is life

3. Uncles will be uncles.

See, three distinct things, no confusion. It is perfectly possible to bring up the next generation with the simple notion that movies and life are different things seldom do they intersect.

But hey, movies are fun. The problem lies only when in social studies driven shixx analysis of it. 

The manual of which is below:

“Every comment on a movie should be a statement (socio-political), every movie should be about some big social theme. Even superhero movies must have some substance”

Social studies analysis be like

X/Y movie is very important because it deals with social factor Z in which director A has infused political theory B but using modern & commercial elements to illustrate the stigma around C

or a trashy analysis would be like

X/Y the movie should not exist (because toxic something something) in the first place now A/B has tried to remake it in some other language. It’s all very toxic and people are clapping in cinema halls and I fear they will these people will turn into mobs and collectively bring down our society etc. X/Y movies must be banned.

Social studies driven shixx analysis has effectively ruined whatever fun movies had little in them for me and I effectively try and avoid reading much into them. At least I am not calling for a ban on social issue based analysis of film- I only say it is an easy way to analyse any art because there will always be problems in society. Unlike  how some uncles are intolerable of movies that show bad values. 

If I want to know about social issues and human suffering( no I really don’t, call me anything) I won’t reach out for a movie because I have encoded values which immediately shout into my ears

Movies are movies

Life is life

and in a much softer tone ” go read a book or something”

A note on Chinatown

Chinatown is one of my favourite films, I also consider it (from my limited understanding of film) one of the greatest films ever made.

It’s got a great cast, Jack Nicholson playing a Marlowe type detective who gets sucked into situations far greater than his doing. Made in the seventies and in colour, but is very much a fascinating take on film noir- a great score, brilliant visuals, a twisted screenplay and a climax that shocks me every time I see it. 

Oh Chinatown  is also about the politics behind water,abuse of power, city corruption and red tap-ism in Los Angeles.

Why did I go off tangent with Chinatown? Ah yes-the need to learn ‘good’ values from film cannot be imposed. Vice versa- bad values too are not immediately lapped up.

Everyone takes home something different from it(that takeaway could be something even the director or writer did not intend), many could very well miss the societal aspects of Chinatown and some could miss its hat-tips to film noir. 

Chinatown is not great because it tackles these social issues, it is great despite it. 

It is great because it tells a great story. That’s what great movies are all about.

Distill that even further, that’s what movies are about. They can be good or bad irrespective of theme or issues addressed or abused. 

“Forget it uncles, these are just movies”

A short note on values 

I have my own or whatever I believe in, three of which I have shared with you already; similarly social values is a collective of all our individual values that doesn’t mean all our values are the same. 

It is also that these values do undergo a lot of change over time. 

Just because a movie is seen by a lot of people does not increase the responsibility quotient of the filmmaker, he/she has the same responsibility like everyone of us. What he conveys is his set of values and what we take away is based on ours. 

Do not forsake important things like values to films and filmmakers and expect to learn from them. 

Summary for some

  1. Influences are many for any action
  2. Filmmakers are easy targets 
  3. Filmmakers have the same social responsibility as the rest of us (not more) 
  4. It is easy to overestimate the influence of movies and underestimate the influence of other factors.
  5. Movies are movies
  6. Life is life
  7. Belief in law is more effective than belief in outrage
  8. Keep watching movies, they are fun

Fin. 

RAISING MANORAMA SIX FEET UNDER

Manorama Six Feet Under

The screen lights up with shots of the vast desert, a lone water tank. The dryness is later joined by the wryness of the voiceover, Lakhot is a small town in the Indian Desert the voice informs us and it is in the news only a couple of times every year and that too not for reasons its citizens could be proud of.

Chinatown is one of my favorite movies and it is also the first movie that comes to my mind if some poor soul comes to me and makes the often committed mistake of asking which film I would suggest. Those people never usually come back to me for more recommendations, either they are irritated with the film or the person who suggested it. I am no expert on movies, but I do take my movies quite seriously and I wish to dwell among them, think about them and smile knowingly when something is going to happen. Chinatown is that sort of movie in which you feel the weight, the layers and the length which makes you feel to view the film again, at least in parts.

Manorama Six Feet Under borrows much from the above mentioned film, but in a way in which makes you happy and not make you shudder with limitless disgust, which is the normal reaction when it comes to remakes and rehashes.

A viewer’s demand for an original script is a legitimate one, but how much should the viewer’s demands be considered during the making of a film is an even more legitimate question. If we are a dedicated and rational audience, we would get better films every following Friday. So the debates blurs at that point, and the only conclusion we can come to is by assessing a film by its worth. All that matters is that whether it is good film or not.

Certain movies, by mere mention of a thought of a remake are censured. To re-kindle the memory, the recent uproar by both people and critics on the decision to re-do Sholay, although such a thing was done it was not received openly. Similar instances have prevailed even in the west, when attempts were done to colorize classics like Casablanca.

Chinatown

Manorama may lack the smoky trumpet jazz of Chinatown or the world weariness of Jack Nicholson’s performance, but it makes up for it in spirit and sincerity. Satyaveer is a suspended engineer in a nondescript desert town with writerly aims, his first book Manorama not going down too well. The humdrum of his life is brought to life by a mysterious lady in need of a detective.

Manorama, like Chinatown works on two fronts, the social and the personal. The social theme of the drought and bringing water to the desert and on the personal theme of betrayal, and like the sub-title goes ‘In the desert, nothing is what it seems’.

The director is clearly a devotee of the 1974 film and goes on to reference it in a matter-of-fact way, in places where he could have ripped off scenes without humility, Navdeep Singh decides to take a slightly different path and necessarily Indian, say like how there is not a proper concept of ‘a private detective’ in India and how every working man is tied down to his family and immediate circle of expecting in-laws and the importance of Diwali and every day humor even among thugs. Navdeep Singh scores in these parts, making the movie more accessible than its parent.

Chinatown itself hark backs to the film noirs of the fifties, Robert Towne’s immortal scripts dives into the sick minds of the people who walk the sun-light streets of LA (picturized expertly in color) shown from the view of a flawed but wise-cracking protagonist, the movie made critics come up with terms like neo-noir to define it.

Manorama Six Feet Under is a commendable film, not because it leaves us with no option but to compare it with its predecessor but because it achieves exactly what it sets out to achieve, in my opinion viz an Indian version of Chinatown.

I think Manorama Six Feet Under is a must watch, not just for people who grumble about the ‘heaviness’ of Chinatown but for everyone who loves a good mystery.

 Meanwhile, you can listen to the love theme from Chinatown