Category Archives: Friday Fundas

Kabali – the subtle and the not so subtle social message

Kabali – the subtle and the not so subtle social message

Kabali has been the talk of the town for the last few weeks. Initially, it was all about the excitement and promotion around the movie and now the interpretation and analysis.  If you have liked the movie you have liked it and if you haven’t liked it you haven’t. There is no right or wrong. Of the numerous of analysis being done, there are discussions on the burning social issue of Tamils in Malaysia. Some say it is all about Dalit upliftment while the director hasn’t clearly commented on any of these explicitly. This might be due to various reasons including commercial success and preventing a potential ban. Whatever be the reason now that the movie is out it is open to interpretation by each of us. The director has also left the climax open for interpretation. In this week’s Friday Fundas I would like to share my interpretations on the Kabali’s social message. Before you read on, this post contains spoilers and I recommend you to watch the movie before you read this. If you have come here looking for review on Kabali read it here

If your house maid walks in one day and asks her tea to be served in one of your favorite mugs, how would you react to it? Although the situation seems so simple the answer isn’t for many of us. Kabali nails the exact problem. The biggest message Kabali leaves is to emphasize on equality. Not just Dalit, not just Malaysian Tamils this would apply to any situation where inequality exists. Right from the teaser, the message has been driven strongly. Kabali is a stereotyped henchman or goon in the Villains gang who is shabbily dressed and does odd chores for the Villain. In the teaser we see such a Kabali in a most expensive suit and style. If you take the Rajini factor out, it would look odd for you. Since the movie was announced, till we got the first look, take a look at the fan-made posters for Kabali you would know what the perception had been. Once the first look was revealed Rajini’s mass factor stepped in. The dialogue in the teaser “Pazhaya Tamil Padangalla, inge maru vachukittu, meesaya murukki kittu, Nambiar dei Kabali nnu thum… Odi vanthu kaikatti sollunga Ejamannu nippane antha mathiri Kabalinnu nenachiyada… Kabali da..” which is now heard in almost every age group modified to suit various situations. If you see in all those modifications breaking the stereotype is the common factor. These stereotypes have become so much part of our life that it manifests itself to be the truth and way of life. Well, Kabali exactly questions this.

In the movie, Rajini’s make up is different compared to his other movies where they have made him look fairer. Here we see the good old Rajini we have seen in movies like Mullum Malarum and Thee. In the movie Kabali wears a gangsters attire until one day his wife asks him to wear a suit. He gets criticized at various points in the movie for his stylish attire. When he comes to Chennai with his daughter he is welcomed by a guy who looks like a goon. His daughter is extra cautious about the guy and his men while Kabali asks her daughter “What is there in the looks? A look cannot determine if a person is good or bad…” A very strong point, although she has come from the family who has fought inequality but since being the second generation gives way for the stereotypes. Basic human nature of having a reassurance of  power and higher social status is in the sense of differentiation. Ranjith has also answered the question if violence is the only way to establish the equality. The climax of Kabali has the answer. Violence can never manifest equality. It is like curing the symptom and not the cause. The cause gets more worse as you treat symptoms. There are much more such subtle gems throughout the movie that hits you hard in the face.

Fighting against social stigma is not new for Rajini. The Rajini movies in the late 70s and early 80s mostly dealt with the social stigma. Mullum Malarum’s Kaali and Raja from Thee fight against this stigma. The stigma of being black, the stigma of being a thief’s son, the stigma against worker class people not having free flying thoughts. It worked well then as Rajini was not a superstar. But now Rajini being the demigod for many, the already subtle message of Kabali became much more subtle in front of his charisma. The sad fact is that Rajini can’t reprise his role of Kaali with the same naivety he used to during the late 70s. His superstardom has taken over this freedom. If you don’t believe look at the stark difference between his relationship with Sarat Babu in Mullum Malarum and Muthu. Although the economic inequality of the character is the same but the treatment is largely different. If not Muthu may not have worked.

Would Kabali’s social message have been more impactful if not for Rajinikanth? –  is a difficult question to answer. I would say that if you watch Kabali in the new light of the social message of equality, forgetting Rajini’s superstardom you would relish it much more.

As a fan of Rajinikanth I wish he breaks much more stereotypes to give us different movies rather than getting caught into a template.

 

 

How Hitchcock altered ideas on Censorship

How Hitchcock altered ideas on Censorship

For the past few days, the movie Udta Punjab produced by Anurag Kashyap is trending for the reason that it is being demanded to make unreasonable cuts by the censor board. Well, Mr. Kashyap said it is his fight and he would fight for it. I sincerely hope he wins. In this week’s Friday Fundas, I would like to highlight how the legendary director Alfred Hitchcock had constantly challenged the censor board in many ridiculous ways, broke many of their rules and in effect changed the idea of Censorship.

Out of the many instances, two of Hitchcock’s movies are still very popular for the kind of controversies they evoked with the Censorship. Notorious released in 1946 starred Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. The signature scene in the movie is the kissing scene between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Hitchcock wanted to shoot a two and half minute kissing scene. But the censor board at that time allowed only three seconds long kissing scene. In order to achieve what he wanted, he had interrupted the scene every three seconds to pass the movie through the three-second rule in the production code.

The movie Psycho which he had made in 1960 evoked more controversies right from the production stage. You could watch the movie Hitchcock or read the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho” written by Stephen Rebello to learn more about it. Out of the many controversial scenes, there was a scene in which the toilet is shown with visible notes being flushed. Till that date, none of the movies had shown a toilet in the movie and censor board initially rejected it and eventually had to give in as there was hardly any logic behind it. The shower scene is the money shot for the movie. Hitchcock knew he would be ridiculed by the censor board. So he had deliberately made it more violent so that he had negotiated with the board to arrive at the output he wanted. The board also had objection over the opening scene of the movie. He negotiated with them that he would change the scene and reshoot it provided they allow him to keep the shower scene. He also had said he would reshoot with the censor board members on the set under their advice. As they did not turn up for the reshoot the scene remained.

Post the release of Psycho the censor board was never the same again. The movie relaxed many of the censorship rules giving more freedom to the filmmakers.

Hope you liked this article. Leave your comments and thoughts below. In case you are interested, you can read more articles from Friday Fundas section.

 

Master class with Mani Ratnam

Master class with Mani Ratnam

I had the extreme privilege to attend the master class with my favorite director Mani Ratnam during Bangalore International Film Festival 2016 in February. As much have been written about it then by the press I had not spent time in penning down my thoughts. Yesterday was his birthday and I thought  this is a right time to share some of the key takeaways from his session. Instead of giving an account of how the whole conversation went I would like to highlight the 3 key takeaways for aspiring filmmakers as shared by the ace director himself.  Here is this week’s Friday Fundas

The masterclass to some extent has been a fanfare more than a discussion for the popularity he has.  Amidst of all that there had been few gems and very practical advice that would be useful for filmmakers.

  1. Assistant Direction vs directing Short Film

Gone are the days where you had to serve as an assistant director to learn about film-making then go on to become a director. He said you learn a lot more in making short films than being an assistant director. The reason is in making of short films you are exposed to the whole project as compared to being an assistant director where you get a partial view into a large project.

2. Character evolves through collaboration between the actor and director

When you write a script you develop a character. This evolves and adds new dimensions as the actor gets into the shoes of the character. The end result of a character is the healthy collaboration between actor and the director to let it evolve and become real. Good actors are key to bring the characters to life.

3. Don’t procrastinate writing a screenplay

Everyone wants to make a movie but they often delay creating the screenplay. As much as this is delayed so will the movie. Keep a daily target for completing the script and follow it religiously.

Hope you found this useful. Leave your comments if you had further thoughts on this.

The Magic of Premam

Magic of Premam

Premam (Malayalam movie) has been one of the wholesome entertainers of the year. Though the usual commercial masala elements with some cliched sequences still Premam had an irresistible run at the box office. Post the success of the 70’s blockbuster Sholay someone asked Sippy the secret behind the success of Sholay. He answered movies like Sholay are not made to succeed they just happen. The same analogy could be applied to Premam as well. In this week’s Friday Fundas I wanted to explore some of the facets that made Premam entertaining.

Sweet Memories 

Premam Memories
Premam Memories

The most appealing element of the movie was about memories. Atleast more than one sequence in Premam would have appealed to you and brought back the memories of your past hidden deep inside your heart. It had some similarities to the movie Autograph by director Cheran. However, Premam was more on a lighter note. The movie is arranged in three phases school life, college life and life beyond college. During the first phase of the movie, more of Macro shots had been used. The movie starts with the shot of a small wall beside the garden which is seen in a typical middle-class household in Kerala. Such type of shots has been used throughout this phase like the jars of the tea shop, close up of the juice in a glass and so on. These shots help in touching one of the five senses in you as I had talked about in Recipe for movies to connect with Audience. The entire gang hanging around in the tea shop, stalking girls, using landline phone to call friends bring back some of the good old memories.

Character Arc

Nivin Pauly Character Arc in Premam
Nivin Pauly Character Arc in Premam

Nivin Pauly’s character George is the pivotal character in the movie. The character arc of Nivin Pauly is done very well across the three phases. A clean shaven look without mustache during the school days, a fully grown beard with a black shirt and white dhoti during the college days and clean shaven with a neatly trimmed mustache look post the college phase brings in a good amount of variation. The innocence in the character during the first scene transitions to a rough and tough look and then transitions to a calm composed look. Nivin Pauly’s body language to depict these transitions is one of the strengths of the movie.

Heroines

Premam Heroines
Premam Heroines

The casting for the heroines has been a big plus. Featuring new actresses who are not from mainstream cinema has worked wonders in connecting with the audience very well. If anyone is planning on a Premam remake, use new faces rather than resorting to actresses who are already well established. This plays a very effective role in connecting with the audience well. A girl next door image helps the audience in associating with the lead character.

Musical

The songs were not added just for the sake of adding songs. Although one could argue it had commercial intentions, I felt the songs were cleverly woven into the story giving a musical tone for the film. The songs were also very pleasing and merged with the tone of the movie.

Humour

The movie had well-written humour which worked well. The absence of emotional melodrama is a big plus for the movie.

The above are some of the points that worked well with movies. Overall if the script connects with the audience irrespective of it being a commercial entertainer or an off beat film it will succeed.

Social Reviewers – Are they killing Cinema?

Social Reviewers – Are they killing Cinema?

This week my facebook wall was filled with funny and sarcastic criticism about the recent Tamil movie Puli. There have been really creative meme’s posted which were definitely rib-tickling and became coffee table conversations and Whatsapp forwards. Equally there has been my friends in the movie industry who felt sad that a creation after so much of hard work is being criticised heavily without any regards to the effort the makers have put it.

In this week’s “Friday Fundas” I decided to share my opinions about the behavior and my humble thoughts on whether to fight it or use it to the strength.

Criticism is not a new phenomenon. It has been in practice for ages. It is like an opposition party in a democratic government. Where the critic’s opinions are targeted to shape the quality of the content. Recollecting one of literature discussions we were having one of them had raised a point that a creation doesn’t belong to the writer once it is published. And the readers have complete rights on expressing their views about it.

While on the other had the writers have a different take on it. Writer/Director Brad Bird has expressed his angst against the critics in the movie Ratatouille in the words of the character Anton Ego as below

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.”

And the following scene from the movie Birdman takes a hit at critics trying define what the artist needs to do

They are two sides of the same coin. One needs to exist for the existence of the other. They will shake hands and embrace each other when there is agreement and turn their backs to each other when there is disagreement.

Off late with the advent of social media the amount of criticism a works get has dramatically increased. When a movie is good it is heavily praised and when it is bad it is heavily trolled. In either case it definitely affects the performance of the movie in the theaters.

Social Media has become a necessary evil in promoting products.  It has provided a great tool for the movie producers to reach their audience like never before. Compared to the era when weekly magazine articles were the only medium to promote the content now it has become much more easier to take the content to the audience to their personal mobile phones. Also they have the option to hear back from them. While this is powerful it also opens a pandora box of hearing non-favorable comments as well.

Assuming that the reviewers on the social media will become ethical and write responsibly is a wild goose chase. But they could be leveraged to the strength of the promotion. If the source content is good it will definitely get a majority of positive reviews than negative reviews. For instance movies like Kaaka muttai and Maya received very positive reviews which helped the movie while movies like Anjaan, Puli suffered from the negative reviews. More hype the movie creates before the release the more it is going to be reviewed. There is no secret formula for an optimum amount of promotion one could do.

Instead of spending too much energy on worrying about the reviews if the makers invest time in producing quality content then the chance of getting positive word is much more. Now one could argue that no one sets out to make a bad movie.  But there certain patterns behind a movie that doesn’t work. One of the major pattern which I believe the Indian movies suffer is screen writing. In India most of the movies are being written and directed by the same person. This is a very diffcult job to do. Unless the director is very talented like Christopher Nolan, Tarantino, Anurag Kashyap, S.S Rajamouli or Vishal Bharadwaj who can write entertaining scripts and also direct good content the quality of the content suffers. In the Hollywood most of the movies have a well established writing department. Or the content is made from literature that is already published. It took Danny Boyle to create a movie based on the book Q&A and not for any Indian director. Spielberg has made movies based on books written by popular authors. His skill has been in directing movies and he does that well. This has enabled Spielberg to work on multiple projects simultaneously. Director Shankar and Maniratnam heavily relied on  writers like Sujatha to create screenplay which worked well. Screenplay is the soul of the movie and if you have a great screenplay the movie would work. Increased production quality makes the movie more appealing to a wider level of audience. But if the screenplay is bad the movie would not work. I hope in the future we have the culture of directors more open to work on someone else’s script.

A good movie would work well with the audience and thereby attract more positive comments from people. There has been no movie which has worked for every one. There would be always lovers and haters for the movie. At the end of the day it matters whose count is larger.

Movie makers should stop worrying about the negative comments and concentrate on building a quality movie and believe in it, it will be healthy for Cinema.

Song of the Little Road: A movie that was 3 years in the making on a shoe string Budget

Song of the Little Road: A movie that was 3 years in the making on a shoe string Budget

All of us are enthusiastically talking about the magnum opus movies like Baahubali that is in the making for a long time. Long time doesn’t necessarily mean the cost of the movie but the common trait is the passion for producing high quality cinema to the audience. In this week’s Friday Fundas I am going to talk about a well-known personality whose obsession to create great movies changed the landscape of Indian Cinema. The name is Satyajit Ray.

All of us know Satyajit Ray created his debut directorial venture Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) that was released in 1955. Do you know when the shooting for the movie started? It started in 27 October 1952. The estimated budget for the production was Rs. 70,000 (around USD 14, 613 during that time). The film took so long to produce due to funding problems and the shoot has to stop and restart many times.

Satyajit Ray had a passion of making cinema for a long time. In the 1940’s when he read the novel Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay he wanted to make that into a movie. When the French director Jean Renoir was making his film The River in India, Ray had a chance to assist him. Jean encouraged Ray to make Pather Panchali. Ray then travelled to London on his advertising company assignment. He watched more than 100 films. He started drawing sketches for his movie Pather Panchali. Based on these sketches he created the initial storyboard with details of continuity. Ray altered the story and characters to suit the narrative of a film. In particular the iconic scene where the children run through the field to catch the glimpse of the train is not in the novel.

Ray had casted new faces primarily to reduce the cost of filmmaking. After many auditions for the casting of Apu; Ray was not satisfied with the people he met. His wife spotted a boy in the neighborhood who she thought would fit the role and thus he became Apu on screen. The Technical team also included many new comers. The Cinematographer Subrata Mitra was handling camera for the first time. He had worked with Ray in the sets of The River. Initially he was given the role of assistant director and later he became the cinematographer for the movie. Subrata Mitra and art director Bansi Chandragupta later went on to become very famous in their respective professions.

Ray had funding problems from the starting. He had to work as a graphic designer, pawn the insurance policies, and sell his gramophone records to raise the fund for the movie. Ray’s wife pawned her jewels to contribute to the fund. But halfway through the filming Ray ran out of funds and could not resume it for a year. One of the most influential friends of Ray’s mother had requested the Chief minister of West Bengal Bidhan Chandra Roy to help with funding the film. The Home publicity department saw the footages of the film and helped Ray in completing the film with appropriate funds. The government is said to have misunderstood the nature of the film to be a documentary on rural uplift and recorded the loan as being for “road improvement” based on the title of the movie.

Rest is history where the movie was welcomed with overwhelmed response all over the world and Ray the master mind director for Indian film industry started ruling hearts of the audience for many years to come. He went onto making two sequels to Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar. This is rated as one of the best Trilogy of all times.

Thus the passion and obsession of a man who believed in his dream went on to realizing it. Also a best movie is not about making it on a big budget but narrating a compelling story through visual medium to the audience.

If you liked this article you might also like this article about the legendary director SS Vasan and the making of his magnum opus Chandralekha.

[Source: Wikipedia]

 

 

 

Nonlinear narrative – Art of script writing from a different dimension

Nonlinear narrative – Art of script writing from a different dimension

It is good to be back with the Friday Fundas section after a while. This week I would talk about a specific style of script writing known as Non-linear narrative.

Nonlinear narrative is the art of telling a story as a list of events that are not in chronological order. The earliest form of nonlinear narrative in India has been experimented in Mahabharata. While this type of narrative has been popular in novels and stories, it has not been so easy to master this in the films. Only in the year 1924 nonlinear film emerged from French the avant-grade in the film “Entracte”, Dadaïst film by René Claire.

Sometimes people confuse non-linear narrative with films that employ flashback sequences. While you could argue them as nonlinear narratives but they may not be equivalent to narrating events in a non-chronological order. Films like Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa used non-linear narration using flashback that was non-chronological in nature.

In a typical three-act play structure a film has a beginning, middle and the end. A nonlinear narrative also has the same but not necessarily in that order (quoted by Jean-Luc Godrad, French-Swiss filmmaker). In the 1990s Quentin Tarantino employed nonlinear narrative structure in his films like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. This made a huge difference to the viewing experience.

In Indian movies director Maniratnam in his movie Alaipayuthe very well exploited this. The movie used flashbacks and flash forwards and converged at a point, which made a difference to the narration and won many accolades.

In the late 90s entered Christopher Nolan whom I consider as a perfectionist of nonlinear narration. Recently I had seen the movie Following by Nolan. This was his first movie and made in a very small budget. But the nonlinear narration has been used very well. He never uses adages like “3 months ago” or “2 days ago” but cleverly used the hairstyle of the pivotal character and facial scar to differentiate between the timeline of the narratives. The story picks up from three points of a linear narrative and travels in parallel. It is just brilliant. He then went on to make Memento and the Batman series, which also heavily utilized the nonlinear narrative style.

A story becomes very interesting in the way it is told even if it is a same old story, which is been retold. Nonlinear narrative if executed well adds that difference and generates interest levels in the audience. Watch some of the nonlinear narratives mentioned in this article and let me know what you think.