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:tamil

Likeable Wannabeism : Project Agni from Navarasa (2021)

Of all the films in the new Netflix anthology series that I’ve seen (yet to see them all), the only one that does some justice to it’s rasa theme is Karthick Naren’s Project Agni. 

It’s the rasa of wonder and it works for me because it is not an all encompassing wonder theme of something beautiful which is hard to dislike, but a specific wonder that only wannabes experience.

Technically everyone is a wannabe, so the wonder in Project Agni should work for all; but then even those genuinely experience wannabeism are chided for behaving like wannabes and then are forced to lose it to put on the garb of refined taste and culture. Cursed to consume pretentious content for the rest of their lives.

While I have lost my early wannabe animal to growing pains, that animal still lurks and takes more pains when I call out on other peoples wannabeism- like we did when we did the FRS of Mafia, Karthik Naren’s previous film. 

That’s how people drop their wannabe avatars, their curious instincts lost to ex-wannabes constantly telling them so, it is in a way a loss of innocence. 

I am not asking you to embrace wannabeism here, I am well aware of its pitfalls- like not growing an own voice and constantly in awe of any swaying ‘in-thing’. I’m just trying to say that there are levels of wannabeism which are tolerable, when it does not go along for long, when it is really not on the nose- it is likeable wannabeism. 

Likeable Wannabeism is a group of friends (not more than four) sitting in a restaurant talking about the opening scene from Reservoir Dogs (I mean), but of course not for hours but just the right length until one ex-wannabe can groan (predictably) on how Tarantino is overrated (yawn) and then switch on to Scorsese or Antonioni or some such etc. 

Likeable Wannabeism is the goldilocks of Wannabeism and in the realm of cinema, in recent times, it is usually spent in the discussions of films of Kubrick, Nolan, Tarantino. It’s talking about references to and inspirations from, it is looking at important concepts of life, universe and everything through the lens of movies. Obviously it cannot go on for long, because probably your peer group has only seen Inception and the more you go on talking about it, the more they are going to order the main course. 

All I’m saying is, just allow the wannabe their time, don’t call them out on it (always, only when on the nose) and with age and when life happens to them, they too will read the Russian classics, watch Kurosawa movies and listen to Mozart or Beethoven, the generally accepted boring trifecta of books, movies and music or in other words culture. 

But when it is short and snappy, there is nothing like Likeable Wannabeism, it could actually get you noticed, it might actually make the Wannabe an interesting person and not a self suffering movie nerd.

For example, in Project Agni, when Karthick Naren’s short-movie is how we shouldn’t totally chase our obsessions because going too far could lead to tragic consequences and then he name drops a thread from Room 237, the Shining documentary where people almost spend their entire life studying the Kubrick’s movie for meanings to their life and losing it completely: some hair stood on end. 

The connection. The goosebumps. The wonder. 

The wonder that Project Agni goes for is not the general perception of what beauty is or what wonder is, but just speaking to a small subset of movie nerds (not cineastes- urgh what a term) who watch movies not as entertainment or as dinner conversation fodder (although they do end up talking all about movies at dinner- I meant in a non transactional way) or as means to acquire high culture cred but simply as a channel to understand things. Movies as a means to higher purpose. 

It’s why they (movie nerds) go into the details, the set designs, screenplay structures and director interviews- they really want to know what all this is about. Please don’t confuse this with the thala-thalapathy first look poster trailer decoding that things are reduced to on youtube today, what I’m talking about is something in the lines of NerdWriter or Patrick Willems (whose long videos ofc becomes unlikeable Wannabeisms- exactly the point). 

An obsession becomes wonder- when something is figured out and that is the wonder I feel Karthick Naren is going for and he even does some flexes by making the right references and combining genres all within 30 mins while others in Navrasa are not even able to maintain one single mood for ten mins. 

Yes the acting really does help, Arvind Swamy was born to give to exposition dumps and most of the movie is just Arvind Swamy and Prasanna sitting down and talking about the stuff they are obsessed about (another movie nerd attribute of being meta comes to the fore, it’s something we like). And Prasanna is so good that you wonder how good he will be with twice the screen time. 

Also admirable that Karthik Naren chose to go with almost all english dialogue, which the story does demand- try translating ‘subconscious world’ in Tamil and inserting it 25 times in the script, then you’ll know. For some subjects english really works and kudos for Karthik Naren for being himself, it’s a brave thing to be oneself, especially in Kollywood. 

PS

Blue Sattai Maran refused to review the film because it was mostly an English film, maybe this is the solution that the industry has been waiting for to get Maran to stop talking about things he doesn’t understand- just make movies in english, he won’t review. But we would rob the world of much humor.

I know Project Agni won’t appeal to a lot of people, but that is the point of it. We have already killed culture by making it so that it will appeal to all folks. Let this one be.  

So instead of commissioning the usual FRS for Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru, I thought I’ll just write about the stuff I liked. 

Categories
cinema cinema:tamil FRS

FRS: JAGAME THANDHIRAM (2021)

So you all know what an FRS is right? Right?    

Disclaimer: We can only begin an FRS, we can never finish it convincingly.

And so we begin, with our invocation against gangsterism

Yes it is a genre of film but we don’t have to like it.

Yes it does seem cool, but all of us here at the FRS are in this endless process of ageing, which automatically means that we are against cool stuff like coloured jackets-wearing-beedi-smoking-at-the-same-time-smirking-gangsters.

Maybe you can sense there is some hate or you can also take the logical reasoning about how when you make gangsterism the main vehicle of your film you can give any reason to justify it, where lies all our problems with gangster movies. Yes it’s a genre and we (FRS writer’s room) don’t have to like it because supposed cinematic greats have an affinity towards it and even to risk earning the wrath of all film bros.

So yes gangsterism is against the law, whatever is the reason.

+101: No Narration. Good call.

<Trivia Thagaval Sponsored by Wikipedia>

The first half (divide as you will this is a direct OTT release) is very much a reworking of ‘A Fistful Of Dollars’ which itself is a remake of Yojimbo, which in turn Kurosawa said might have been inspired by the pulp novels of Dashiell Hammett.

#PulpisGood

</Trivia Thagaval Sponsored by Wikipedia>

It is the story of an outsider who comes to town where two warring gangs compete for control, the smart outsider plays one against each other, of course for personal benefit.

Here the town is London and the man with no name, actually is named Suruli.

-45: In trying to paint the character of Suruli colourfully, the director has forgotten even to sketch the rest of the characters.

Even the most paraded character of London gangster Peter, here played by James Cosmo, who unceremoniously gets added to the list of foreign powers who pose no challenge.

-34: Reinforcement max: movie, characters keep saying that Peter is a racist and white supremacist, while we already got it with his nameplate which reads “WHITE POWER” and random Ku Klux Klan outfit in his room.

His introduction too shows that how immigrants fear him, but somehow Peter is not able to face the problems posed by the gang headed by Sivadoss (Joju George)

-69: Obsession with intros: the first ten minutes of the film is just intros, some with ultra-text splashed on screen ala Tarantino- most movies take time to introduce their characters and that’s not a fault by itself. But in Jagame, with every powerful intro, the acceptability reduces proportionately.

For example, you show Peter as the most powerful gangster in town, but then in the rest of the movie he hardly does anything menacing.

We don’t know anything about his philosophy, every dialogue of his is just reinforcing that he is a xenophobe, which as pointed out, has been already established.

This begs the question, was this really the character that Karthik Subbaraj wanted Al Pacino to play?

+21.9: Reasons: While the idea to make a cross over gangster film needs to be appreciated, the reason to take Suruli from Madurai to London is one of the flimsiest even by Kollywood standards.

+30: Intelligentally Eli: Hero finds out everything including complex smuggling networks about rival gang within one week which other gangsters (who are in the same smuggling business) could not for years

Suruli can start an online course on competitive intelligence; we would surely pay for such things.

-5: But if hero could find out such things, he could have surely been able to find out why Sivadoss’ gang is smuggling gold etc.  

+78: Mahatma Gang Leader:  For a gang leader, Sivadoss is too trusting.

Boss, like your job description to not trust anyone.

-34: Movie proceeds as thus, till it becomes about immigrants and the Tamil Eelam issue.

While there is nothing wrong in trying to address larger issues in films, but maybe if they had been portrayed with more conviction or convincing actors would have helped the cause.

D is an accomplished actor, the transformation Suruli goes through in the film feels more like the character’s ego trip rather than real internal change, we really cannot say more without spoiling the film.

-450: A Host of Issues: If immigration issues are not enough, movies marries another going nowhere plot for speaking against private prisons, the need for identification and living a free life without borders.

Hmm yeah, maybe that’s why every minute of Jagame feels like two minutes.

+23: Cameron-Kanni Spotted: Movie at some point shows a burning merry-go-round which we feel is a reference to Terminator 2: Judgement Day and so we are giving positive points like these.

Yeah like random.

+91.5: Cut to the Combat: It almost feels that the director and crew only wanted to film the final blast everything in our way to the villain’s room shoot-out.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s really done well with slow motion and all that, but it almost seems that the rest of movie, the emotions of characters, are just a ruse(wink wink, nudge nudge)to get us to here.

Well atleast you enjoyed filming that.

Maybe the Thandiram in Jagame Thandiram is to get us to watch 2:40mins of uninspired filmmaking for the last few moments of inspired action, if that was the intention, then we have a winner.

<Winks winks, nudges nudges>

Subam

Team FRS

Categories
TV

The Irregulars : An unkindness in London

Not your regular types

Stephen Fry in his introduction to the Hound of the Baskervilles (audible) observed that Conan Doyle did well to separate his preoccupations in the supernatural and the perceptive nature of his super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes. 

For Holmes, it was always logic and reason.

Eliminate all which is impossible, then what remains, however improbable, must be the truth. 

The new show, ‘The Irregulars’ aims to mix the supernatural with the super sleuth of whom we don’t see much of in the first episode. 

Just the legs, maybe the next episode might give away the hand, then a smile and then finally the eyes, much like a hero introduction from a Kodambakkam film.

But this series is not about Holmes, it’s about the struggling kids in his neighbourhood. The Irregulars be four : Bea, Jess, Billy and Spike living in a cellar, awaiting the winter and unable to pay rent. 

Bea, cool and confident, our lead is almost like a mother to the other three, but has just now turned 17. It’s the workhouses, they prepare you for anything, even being chased by an ‘unkindness’ of ravens. 

Then, there is Leo, he of royal blood (ahem) but whose blood or the non-clotting of it is why wishes to escape the stuffiness of his palace (?) and into the streets to breathe in the city air (pollution levels unknown). 

Naturally, he takes a liking to Bea, well, of course at the first instant. 

The first episode of the Netflix’s Irregulars, seems to have been written with a gun to the head of the writer, who in the lack of time uses elements from other films (Antman, Hitchcock’s The Birds) to move the story ahead. 

It isn’t much of a mystery, which is quite sad for a Sherlock based show, but there is room to explain the supernatural part. Speaking of that part, it’s when the series goes all Stephen King, a girl has the ‘gift’ and a guy who can summon ‘all the birds’ in England by thought. But I do fear that the show will take a teen love turn, it’s inevitable.

Hmm, so then it brings me back to the first Stephen Fry quote, maybe there was a reason why Conan Doyle didn’t mix the mystical with the mystery.

The Irregulars is now streaming on Netflix and it could very well be the name of our blog considering our posting schedule. 

Categories
cinema

Rebecca (2020)

As the swivel chair spins #14

The second Mrs. De Winter sighs as Mr De Winter arranges granules of sand on her back and says something to the effect that if memories are life perfume, it could be saved within a bottle and the mere smell of it could be used to recapture the moment. 

Mr De Winter, played by Armie Hammer, however wishes to forget his past. If only the unnamed second Mrs De Winter had known before being whisked away to Manderley. 

Fortunately, I had no problems remembering or forgetting here, I had not read the Daphne Du Maurier novel nor seen the Oscar winning Selznick production, famously the only time a Hitchcock film won Best Picture at the Oscars. So let’s say I could watch the new film without the weight of the past, a state that Mr. De Winter would kill to be in. 

Heroes who could never move into the present because of their past weightage is a story that is of special personal interest, it is also at the core of another Hitchcock film, Vertigo’ but I was also thinking a lot about Uyarndha Manidhan, in which Sivaji Ganesan lives a suffocated life due to a burning incident in his past. 

Yes, the new Netflix production is designed to be dull and hence over the two hours I thought about other story strains that could have been inspired by Rebecca. It’s not spooky nor it is creepy, but what it is, abrupt, but mostly it is a shame, because I love creepy mansions and the ghosts that inhabit them. 

Which brought me to Manichitrathazhu, yes, the similarities were striking, both have mansions that hide more than they show, whole wings that are out of bounds, repressed feelings, alienation and bookish heroines recreating a classical painting (literally) . Hmm that’s more similarities that I thought.

Rebecca of course doesn’t have a Sunny Joseph or  Brad Lee’s disciple Saravanan to guide us through it. Although the Netflix film does have Kristin Scott Thomas in the supposedly scene stealing role of Mrs. Danvers. 

The parallels between the two movies are an interesting rabbit hole to pursue, considering the claims that Manichitrathazhu’s origins lie firmly in the royal family histories of Travancore and not a 1930s novel by Du Maurier. It’s even more interesting when I realize that today is Durgashtami, coincidental? Is this a sign from above?

Durgashtami or not, any day is a good day to watch Manichitrathazhu. 

Rebecca is now streaming on Netflix

Manichitrathazhu is now streamin on Amazon Prime Video

The fact that Sivaji was denied Best Actor at the National Awards for Uyarndha Manithan is a reminder that best work is often unrecognized. So yeah that’s there.