Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Hi All! I'm back after a longish break. Visited Vizag, Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark and have a thousand different things to talk about. In fact, there are so many things to talk about that I'm having a very difficult time deciding where to start. I guess things would start coming out one by one. So I start with a couple of nature videos that I made on the way and just uploaded to YouTube today.
First off, is a lovely touch-me-not plant atop Dolphin Hill at Vishakhapatnam. Dolphin Hill is a Navy occupied hill looking over the Vishakhapatnam harbour and has a light house abover it. We actually got to go right up to the top of the light house and the view from there was breath-taking. So, the video and a couple of snapshots.
View of the sea on the other side.
The next video is that of a crab that we found on the banks of river Bhargavi near Konark. We stopped at the place where the river meets the sea. The place wasn't too picturesque but the tiny little crabs that inhabited the river bank by the thousands made the day. Here is the video. You can hear Shwetabh talking to a fellow tourist in the background.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Watched Saawariya again yesterday. Although most people would regard that as signs of insanity, I was glad to find out that the movie gripped me again. There was nothing new that I could see, except some things that I'd noticed earlier but forgotten about. There are so many things I still want to write about the movie! But later. Meanwhile, Aneesh has added his own ek naya paisa to the Saawariya debate.
Madam did point out some new things that I'd not noticed. She caught references to something called Windermere which, when I searched on the net, is a reference to a play called 'Lady Windermere's Fan' by Oscar Wilde. Apart from that I now think that the movie is also referring to Picasso's Blue Period in it's color scheme. But this too, later.
Was faced early morning by a cleanliness worker who used to clean my room back in second year. At that time he'd walked into my room once and said that his mother had died and he needed money for the last rites. He had started crying then. Being the poor student that I am, I lent him fifty rupees. He promised he'd return it at the end of the month. He never did. Neither did I ask for it. But everytime I met him he diligently came to me and made some excuse or other as to why he wansn't paying me back. So today he came again and did the same old routine, claimed that he needed money for the anniversary of his mother's death and started crying. He wanted three hundred rupees. Claimed that he would return it by the 25th of this month.
But this time I refused. I just could not come to believe him.
I'm leaving for the conference at Vishakhapatanam today night. Will be away for a week, so probably no posts, depending on whether there is internet at the hotel where I stay. In any case, will see you when I come back.
Friday, November 16, 2007
I am reading Vayam Rakshamah by Acharya Chatursen these days. While I do hope to write a more detailed post later let me just put some preliminary thoughts in words here. Reading his introduction I was struck by how the pre-independence writers were full of a self-sacrificial feeling. Acharya Chatursen begins his introduction by describing how he has sacrificed for the past eleven months for writing this novel. He describes how he has not slept more than two-three hours a day for months, how his eyes have grown weak and how it has left him completely restless. I guess, the pre-indepence lack of glamor in writing did make this business a self-sacrificial one, especially since most writers were driven by a desire to serve the society. I do, however, wonder how it affected their writing.
Meanwhile, I'm completely hooked to the music of Saawariya. This is surprising because I usually don't get so hooked to anything not composed by Rahman. But Saawariya has done it. The effect is almost magical. I cannot help but keep humming and listening to the songs over and over again. And the most spellbinding is the leitmotif that plays in the beginning of 'Pari'.
I'm on Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon these days and am using Amarok to play my songs. Amarok uploads all my song information to Last.fm which is an audioscrobbling site. It then downloads music suggestions fome Last.fm and plays appropriate songs from my library. I can't even begin to describe how awesome this whole process is. I mean, I start listening to Saawariya songs, some of which are sung by Shreya Ghoshal, and Amarok picks up other songs by Shreya from my library and adds them to my playlist. Not only that, it also adds Alka Yagnik, Shaan and Sonu Nigam songs to my playlist. I begin playing Pink Floyd and after a while the playlist is playing Led Zepplin and Radiohead too. Awesome!!
Thursday, November 15, 2007
A Celebration of Indian Cinema
Om Shanti Om is a celebration of Indian cinema. It does not analyse or redefine Bollywood in any way. It does not try to criticise or elevate it. It accepts it for what it is and takes pride in it. Thus we have the stylish stars of yesteryears with their quirky body languages and also the chic, metrosexual stars of today with their six-pack abs and titillating cleavages. The bring to light the cliches and superstitions of Bollywood – reincarnations, revenge, peotic justice and happy endings, mahurats, obnoxious mothers of starlets, importance of appropriate last names, and the struggle of thousands of junior artists who roam the alleyways of Bollywood and dream of becoming stars one day.
But it does not pass any judgement of these things. It says yes, we do have stars and star directors who are at that position only because of their fathers, we have movies which make no sense at all, we have hyper unrealistic style of cinema but we like it and we are proud of it. If it makes us happy, what's the harm?
The movie is deeply metafictional. The movie is about a movie of the same name and the same plot that is being shot within the movie. The whole linking up of the story within the story to the overall plot has been very nicely done. Om Shanti Om is about Bollywood, its quirks and characteristics. But despite that it is a typical Bollywood movie. It has a love story that ends happily with poetic justice. That is the strength of the movie – that it manages to deliver its content while remaining within the generic boudaries of a Bollywood movie. And in one way it also shows us the potential of the Bollywood movie format. There are things that you can do with it.
The Bollywood Philosophy
Bollywood film-makers have always seen themselves as showmen and entertainers. They do not concern themselves with abstract themes or profound thought. As long as people get entertained, they are happy. As Sandy, played by Deepika Padukone in the latter half of the movie says – “I believe it when you jump from fifty floors and still stand on your feet. I also believe it when you single handedly fight a hundred men to save the actress.”
This is precisely the spirit of Bollywood and OSO is not embarrased by it. Why should it be, when it manages to deliver three hours of happiness to its audience using the same formula. It takes up a formula that is almost as old as Bollywood – that of reincarnation – and turns it into a marvelous tale that is almost as timeless as this legendary industry.
I think the kind of innovation and finesse has been shown in the making of this movie by Farah Khan ought to be applauded. Be it the creation of the '70s environment or the decision to use a '70s film-like artificial language in a present day movie – all these decisions would have taken a lot of courage to make. I liked the way she made the movie symmetric. It begins with credits in the '70s style in the beginning and ends with credits again in contemporary style. The computerized make-overs of the '70s songs in the first half was also done very tastefully and flawlessly.
Any discussion of OSO will be incomplete without the mention of Deepika Padukone, the next Bollywood sensation, I'm sure. Not only does she manage to look ravishingly beautiful, she manages to do it in the tight salwar suits and bell bottoms of the '70s on one hand, and short skirts and bikini tops of the present times on the other. Very few bollywood beauties can boast of that. No wonder then that every young man who's seen OSO has, openly or secretly, fallen in love with Deepika.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Old Town in Sin City is a section of the city reserved for prostitutes. In Saawariya we see Old Town inscribed in blazing letters on a signboard behind the bridge where much of the action in the movie takes place. In Saawariya too, Old Town is the place where the prostitutes, including Gulabji, live. Both in Sin City and Saawariya, Old Town becomes the abode of the Prostitute with the Golden Heart, a stock character that Sin City pays homage to and Saawariya subtly redefines.
Prostitute with the Golden Heart
The colors of Sin city are Black and White. This is because in keeping with the noir tradition, the moral framework of Sin City is divided into two – good and bad, happiness and sadness. The prostitutes in Sin City are into the business to earn their livelihood. On the outside they are tough and ruthless. But inside they are kind and just, even noble. The same color symbolism is used in Saawariya but it is Raj who is Black and White and who lives within a simplified moral framework. The prostitutes, on the other hand, represented by Gulabji, are indeed tough on the outside and kind on the inside, but the colors they were are a stark profusion ranging over the entire spectrum. Their moral framework is not Black and White, it is multicolored and very superficial. It is deliberately constructed to protect themselves from the kind of choices that Raj and Sakina find themselves to be making.
Therefore it is that Gulabji wears Red and sells love but she does not feel Red and remains very careful not to fall in love because the one time she falters – in the case of Raj – she has to make the choice of turning him away from her door and getting him beaten up by her bouncers.
Bhansali’s Saawariya is an amazing take on the Film Noir tradition. While it uses the same play of light and shadow to wonderful effect, it also subtly examines and redefines the language of film noir.
From Monochrome to Multicolor
Like his previous movie Black, Saawariya also relies heavily on its visual language to deliver the parable that it sets out to narrate. (Incidentally, I wrote a lovely analysis of Black that has now miraculously disappeared. If anyone has it please mail it to me.) However, with Saawariya, Bhansali is going several steps further. The visual language of Black relied just on the use of Black, White and a dash of Red. Saawariya, on the other hand, is multicolor. The tone of the movie is Blue, yet there is profuse use of Red, Green, Pink, Purple, Yellow and yes, Black and White.
While the use of elaborate sets and costumes is typical to Bhansali’s style, Black did use real (albeit heavily decorated) locations, outdoor sites and natural landscapes. However, Saawariya is shot completely on a set, no real locations have been used and the landscapes that have been used in isolated scenes are clearly computer generated.
Not only does Bhansali use color in this movie, he also uses the play of light and shadow. He is going back to the noir tradition in his use of stark shadows and redefining noir in novel ways.
Black and White
In Saawariya, the colors black and white can be seen to denote simplicity of emotions. It is human nature to divide life into simple dichotomies. There is happiness and there is sadness. There is good and there is the evil. This is the way our hero, Raj, defines his world. We see Raj clad in black and white because his world is black and white. He believes that there are only two feelings in this world, happiness and sadness and he seeks to bring happiness to everyone he meets. He brings happiness to Gulabji, a prostitute, and to Lillian.
His world is like a game, with well defined rules. When Gulabji first meets Raj, he is carrying a football with him. On his first day out with Sakina, he tells her that when you see sadness, you have to battle it like in a boxing match. But as Raj soon realizes, and this is the conflict this character has to face, life isn’t Black and White, it isn’t simple and well defined, it is complicated and it’s Blue.
The city that we see in Saawariya is introduced to us in a breathtaking long-shot at the beginning of the movie as a City of Dreams (khwabon ka shahar). From this first frame itself the fairy tale like, unrealistic mode of the movie is set. The city, as we see, is Blue. Blue, in this movie, is the color of life. It is a color of sorrow. Notice that I do not use the word sadness. Blue is sorrow which is a melancholy feeling that is both bitter and sweet. It is sorrow that arises because life’s isn’t simple, it isn’t Black and White, and it presents to you choices, choices that are not easy to make, yet essential to make and choices that lead to sadness even though you didn’t want them to.
It is just such a choice Sakina is faced with in this movie. She is in love with Iman who left her almost a year ago. Meanwhile she also begins to like Raj. And when Raj comes to know about it, for the first time he feels the complicated slew of emotions that real life forces us to face. After he burns the love-letter that Sakina writes to Iman, we see him clad in Blue himself, a color that he’s wearing for the first time in his life. He is faced with difficult choices himself, just as Sakina is when Iman comes back. No matter how much Red you might want to color your life with, life remains blue.
Red is the color of sensuality, it is the color of love. We see Gulabji donning elaborate Red dresses. We see Red at the tips of Lillians fingers and on her lips, indicative of her love-starved life. But most importantly, we see Red briefly on Raj and Sakina as they run around Oldtown, now frolicking, now despairing, searching the meaning of their lives. This Red is brief and furtive, like the love between Raj and Sakina, but is it strong and it stands out.
Pink, Yellow, Orange and Purple
Unlike Gulabji’s Red which branches out into Pink, Yellow, Orange and Purple because it is artificial. Her Red is superficial applied deliberately to hide the Black inside her. She and the other prostitutes use color as a mask to hide their sorrow.
The reason for an almost half-a-month long vacation from blogging is Diwali. I was away from the second to the twelfth of this month and hence – no blog.
But Diwali was fun. I first went to Indore, my hometown, and spent a few days meeting school friends and running around for my mother. Then we went to Chhatarpur, where my mama lives for Diwali. My entire maternal family had gathered and there was a profusion of children. There were eight of them ranging from one-and-a-half to sixteen years of age and you can imagine the chaos in the house.
Will be away again next week for a conference so there will not be many posts this month. But let’s see how many I can manage in the little days that I have. Meanwhile, here’s wishing this Diwali brings lots of happiness and prosperity to your lives. Happy Diwali!