Rajinikanth on a High

Disclaimer- Well, let me tell you very clearly, I am an atheist and hence i can’t call myself a Rajni fan.
Also, I am my own boss, so it won’t be proper if I called somebody else Thalaivar. I love Thalapathi, not because it is a Rajni film, but because it is a Santosh Sivan and Mani Ratnam film. For me, Sivaji – the Boss was satire and Enthiran was surrealistic imaginations of a person who doesn’t know anything about ceiling fans. The point is this is a totally non-serious and vella article without any intent and motivation. I hope the title will be self-sufficient to understand what my intent here is.

Continue reading “Rajinikanth on a High”

Mumbai Film Festival 2013 Guide Part Four: The Classics

Classics are classics, they define and redefine film language. They are the starting point for many themes and emotions. They are classics because they tell unforgettable stories through visual medium. MFF has always presented classics under various sections. Some are restored films and some are retrospective films.I decided not to crib about MFF for the next ten years for having showed the restored and extended version of ‘OUATIA’ , one of my all time favorites. And that too on a big screen just like what Sergio Leone envisioned. If you are in to classics then some big names in film-making await you this year as well.

All About Eve

 

You name any criteria, awards, ratings, screenplay, acting. Everything is positive about All About Eve.

92nd in IMDB’s all time Top 250.

16th on AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Movies List

Oscar for Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Costume, Best Sound. Best Supporting Actors. A feat only surpassed by Titanic. It’s also the only Film in Oscar history to get four female acting nominations. Winner of Best Actress in Cannes Film Festival and nominated for  what was then Palme d’OrSpecial Jury Prize at Cannes, which was then second only to Jury Prize.
8.4 Rating on IMDB
100% on Rotten Tomatoes
And if this is not enough. The film has the most iconic villain of all time according American Film Institute. EVE HARRINGTON is at 23rd position in AFI’s list of  100 years … 100 Heroes and Villains.

This is a restored version, you wont even find it on #youknowhere. Probably your only chance to see this classic on Big screen.

 

Tokyo Story

A Still from Tokyo Story
A Still from Tokyo Story


British Film Institute’s ‘poll of greatest films (2012) lists ‘Tokyo Story’ as the third best film ever. Yosujiro Ozu is known for his static camera, camera that never moves. It sits like a dead observer. The pacing is slow. ‘neglected elderly parents’ is the theme which we have seen so many time, but all those films essentially started with ‘Tokyo Story’. Ironically enough Tokyo Story itself is inspired by an American film ‘ Make My Way For Tomorrow’ (1937). The best thing about Tokyo story are the emotions. But I found it a little melodramatic at some places.

Z

Poster of the legendary movie Z by Costa Gavra...
Poster of the legendary movie Z by Costa Gavras, about the political assassination of Gregoris Lambrakis. “He is alive!” can be seen in the poster caption under the large Z, written in French, referring to the popular Greek protest slogan “Ζει” meaning “he (Lambrakis) lives”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you think ‘Shanghai’ was a great film, just wait till you watch Z on the big screen. Costa Gavras’s masterpiece won the 1970 Best Foreign film and Best Editing Oscar. It also won the Best Actor award at 1969 Cannes film festival. A pacy and taut political thriller,it has some very interesting characters. If you haven’t seen it already then you should not be missing it

And Costa Gavras is the master of political thrillers, with human emotions affecting lives of common man.

Also check a  World War crime drama, Amen and a hostage thriller, State of Siege

The King of Comedy

It is time to watch a restored film from a man, who is behind the restoration of many great films, one of the most celebrated filmmaker of our times , the one and only Mr Martin Scorsese. If you are a fan-boy of Scorsese, you cant miss this. This is the restored version and probably your only chance to watch it on the big screen, and they way Mr Martin Scorsese wanted you to see Robert De Niro as a comic . Dare not miss it.

The Spirit of the Beehive

From IMDB

“A sensitive seven-year-old girl living a small village in 1940 rural Spain is traumatized after viewing James Whale’s “Frankenstein” and drifts into her own fantasy world.”

And it has a rating of 7.9 out 8000 odd votes.

This must be something indeed.

And other notable classics include Spanish romantic Drama, with a teaspoon of mystery, Lovers of he Arctic Circle and 1983 Oscar winning Best Foreign Film Volver a empezar

Mumbai Film Festival 2013 Guide Part Three :The Dark Horses

I love crime films. I love thrillers. I am not a big fan of horror and action films. But if there is a good premise, I am open to watching it. And usually in festivals we have very few of these. I don’t know why. I don’t know if there is a stereotype. But at least we do have a few options this year at MAMI. And there is going to be a overdose of world cinema. So it is always good to have some films handy.And in case you want to just refresh yourself, its good to watch some pulp movie in between and then get ready for another Palme d’Or nominee.

Autumn Blood

First of all, check out the premise from IMDB “High in the Mountains, a widowed mother dies, leaving her two children orphaned. Fearing being split up they keep their mother’s death a secret. They survive until villagers destroy their innocence when they brutally assault the girl. Now the siblings must come of age to protect each other and survive” Looks dark and I love dark films. And premise point to interesting cinema in offering. Why dark horse? Well it has a 8.5 ratings on IMDB , though less number of votes (40). It hasn’t received any major award and is playing in the ATC section in MIFF. Trailer is ok, the grammar looks mainstream. Whatever it is I am looking forward to it.

Killer Toon

Here comes a Korean film with a terrific premise. “Popular horror web-comic artist Ji Yoon finds life imitating her own work when her publisher turns up dead in a way, precisely mirrors the images in her latest comic.” Rated relatively low at IMDB but still I think it is worth exploring. It is not often we get to see horror films at a film festival. And that too with a good storyline.

The Keeper of Lost Causes

“Police inspector Carl Mørck is put in charge of a department of cold cases, joined only by his assistant, Assad. They dig into a case about a disappeared woman.” It has a standard Premise but looks like a good film to wash of an overdose of world cinema. It has a good IMDB rating and 272 votes. It is good option to consider. The trailer is impressive.

Other good films to check out are.All is Lost and The Major Locke

Coming up next is Mumbai Film Festival 2013 Guide Part Four: The Classics

Mumbai Film Festival 2013 Guide Part Two: Festival Darlings

Well MFF gets best of the films from festivals around the world, especially the big three-Cannes, Berlin and Venice. And this year is no exception. There are a whooping 12 films from the main competition @ Cannes. We all are infatuated with Cannes for sure, may be  because many Indian films are making it into the festival in recent years. Of course none of them have been nominated in main competition. So the idea is to watch best films from the best festival first.

And if you believe festival awards are a definite standard of cinematic excellence, then just watch these films without reading any synopsis, watching any trailer and without knowing anything about them. Awards and nominations are enough. And if you don’t believe in festival awards and nomination, I suggest that you become jury yourself and discover these films as juries of the festivals might have discovered. In both cases it is no point making a shortlist, instead make your priorities.
Four must see films from Cannes,all award winners.
1. Winner Palme d’Or-Blue is the warmest Color . And interestingly it is based on a grpahic novel.
2. Best Screenplay-A Touch of Sin
3. Best Director- Heli
4. Inside Llewyn Davis-Grand Prize of the Jury and it is a Coen Brothers Film
Now come films of  few directors of your liking, in my case they are
5. The Past-It is a Ashgar Farhadi Film
6. Only God Forgives– It is a Nicolas Winding Refn Film.
7. Shield of Straw– It is a Takeshi Mike Film
Now comes genre of your choice. In my case it is crime and history
Now leave Palme d’Or Nominees for a while and lets go to Berlin. We don’t have the winner of the Golden Bear with us but we do have the Silver Bear winner.
10. Closed Curtain– Jafar Panahi
11. Vic+Flo Saw a Bear– Alfred Baur Prize at Berlin Film Fest. Supposedly a post modern Cinema.
Again we get back to some Palme d’Or Nominees w.r.t thier IMDB Ratings
13. Grigris – I am not very sure about it. But still it is a Palme d’Or Nominee.
Now coming to films which were part not of the main competition at Cannes
14. Ilo Ilo– Golden Camera winner. I often found golden camera winning films better than some from the main competition.
15. The Selfish Giant– Label Europa Cinema
16. La Jaula de Oro– Winner of the Uncertain Regards section. I am a little unsure about “Uncertain Regards” Winners. But who knows this one might just impress indeed.
 Ilo Ilo Movie Poster
Also FIPRESCI winner From Toronto
And then comes the Best Narrative Feature Film of Tribeca
18. The Rocket – It is in international Competition at MIFF 2013 too.

The Rocket 2013
The Rocket
And next is the Sundance screenwriting award winner
And then Golden Leopard Nominee @ Loccarno
The only Palme d’Or Nominee I am not sure about is
20. A Castle in Italy- 4.8 out of 56 votes … I am going to miss this, if it clashes any of the above films. Again that’s why this priority list has been made.

Now comes the turn of Golden Bear Nominees, but before that I am going to put a strange choice, just because it’s premise.

21. On My Way
22. In the Name Of
23. Layla Fourie
Finally the Audience Award Winner @ Moscow
24. Matterhorn
Remember when it comes to Festival Darlings, it is about priorities. There is good amount of chance that one might not able to watch all of them.
Next in the Series
Mumbai Film Festival 2013 Guide Part Three: The Dark Horses
P.S Some of the films are available @ You Know Where. If you have a good HD TV, it might be a second option in case you miss it in MAMI.

Mumbai Film Festival 2013 Guide Part One: Documentaries

 Mumbai Film Festival is a kind of  Mecca for film lovers. Once a year we go to this “Haj Yatra” of cinema and wash our all industry sins,renew our cinematic love, meet new emotions, experience a feeling of high and enjoy different cultures. And this year it is even more exciting, with plethora of quality films coming from World over.Continue reading “Mumbai Film Festival 2013 Guide Part One: Documentaries”

Once Upon A Time in Cannes

This year was special for India at Cannes as GOW, Peddlers, Miss Lovely were shown. There was also a film called Kalpana in Cannes classic section. And there was another film in the same program, though not Indian, but definately a special one

I always hated Sergio Leone for imitating Yojimbo into A Fistful of Dollars. And even transforming Sanjuro Kuwabatake into Man with No name. Somehow I watched his films chronologically and it was without any conscious thought. It just happened. The third one of Dollar Triology is a very special film. It was a surprise for me. My hate had already turned beyond admiration.

In my  independent and guerrilla film making days, I always thought that I should be “shooting” and not talking. Watch-out for  Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez aka The Ugly

Thats why Tuco is one of my favorite character from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I am sure Shriram Raghavan thinks the same. In the opening of the film “Agent Vinod”, he quotes Tuco’s as well.  Btw if you get any mail from me, it will have Tuco’s line as signature.

After this one Sergio Leone made another classic “Once Upon A Time In West“.

Slow pace of edit is a trademark style of Spaghetti western. Above opening scene is marked by excessive use of close-up’s and then cutting them to long shots. This is very contrast when compared to Ran , adaptation of King Lear by Akira Kurosawa, where you will hardly find any close-up. And with this film my admiration towards Sergio Leone really tuned into awe. And then he came out with a completely out of the world film. Here he speaks about that special film.

My first film “Dvandva” a 110 minutes film was shortened to 89 minutes by my producers and that too without my knowledge. I was in tears when i saw murder of my creativity. But it was just nothing compared to what happened with “Once Upon A Time In America” . It was originally a six hour film, and was supposed to be released in two parts. But then the studio made Leone to cut down to 229 minutes and adding insult to injury was a 139 minute version which was given an American theatrical release; of course against the wishes of Leone. Add to that film was edited in chronological order and by that time Sergio Leone was already considered as America’s great. For me this film is simply one of the best stories ever told.  Noodles played by Robert De Niro is epic. The film has a sexually explicit rape scene of Deborah which is very crude. How can somebody rape his lover? I will always hate Noodle for that and Leone made me do that just like that chauffeur who stops the car and asks noodle to get out. But then it portrays  life of prohibition era and it does it, like no other film. Personally for me this film is better than “Godfather” any day, which Leone turned down to make this one.

Assistant Director’s, who are right now slogging their asses and their patience is almost on the brink should take some inspiration from Mr. Leone. He worked as an assistant director/second unit director on 32 films right from Vittorio De Sica’s –Ladri di biciclette. And for half those films he was not even credited. He worked under studio pressure all his life and it is not that he worked on his grand film right from the start. He earned it film by film, budget by budget. Here Clint Eastwood speaks about how Fistful of Dollars were made in literally “Fistful of Dollars”.

Once upon time in America was his last film …and he was still manipulated by large studio’s. Even though today rarely anybody watches that 139 minutes version but this year at Cannes further 25 minutes were added to 229 minute version of the film and presented what Leone has envisioned. Martin Scorsese who headed the restoration process quotes

“It is always a challenge, whether you’re making your first film or your 21st. There’s often a conflict between the need to make a commercially viable film and the artistic intent of the filmmaker, and it can become more pronounced the more expensive and complex the project,” he said.

“Unfortunately, Leone was never able to present this film as he originally envisioned and spent his remaining years trying to put it back together. This restoration gets us as close as possible and is a tribute to Leone and a gift to audiences, who can now glimpse the epic he wanted them to see originally”

Sergio Leone might have been forced to copy Yojimbo or may be it was conscious choice  just to woo investors on a safe project as the documentary below mentions that the film was a “Recovery” film. Once upon a time in Bollywood so many new filmmakers made the same kind of debut. May be they were forced like Leone or left with no other option or may be it was conscious choice too. Who knows? But then thousand copies of adapted “Yojimbo” can be forgiven for a “Once upon a time in America“. He is definitely an inspiration for filmmakers like me who had their creativity murdered.

When I started writing this post, i just wanted to mention the influence “Once upon a time in America” had on me and in the process I discovered Sergio Leone, whom  i never considered my inspiration till date. Now that’s another reason for blogging.

Documentary- Once upon A Time: Sergio Leone

… but the morning after he again left as great hero !

Lets Go for Lunch

“I was inspired by the movie but he was inspired by the Music”


“west wasn’t that grand enough for him. so he created his own”

“he invested 12 years … it must have been longest script writing”


“It begins in opium den.may be the movie is a kind of …”

“Ohh you fools I am not talking about me … I am talking about people visiting my grave”

I wish to catch the 245 minutes version soon.

Note- This post was originally written in 2011 but now has been re-edited and published again.

Son of the Solar Deity!

On sacred Jahnavi’s shore I say my prayers to the evening sun.  

Karna is my name, Son of Adhirath the charioteer, and Radha is my mother. 

That’s who I am.  Lady, who are you?” 

Karna and Kunti, Rabindranath Tagore, Spring 1900

I wanted to reply to Ratnakar’s Post … But my reply was getting longer … and i also wanted to add some pictures, videos and slideshows and it was all not possible in a reply. So here is a post about Son of The Sun God, Our Hero Surya, the Thalapathi.

Surya played by Rajni is based on Karna, which was depicted in Mahabharata as child of the Sun God. Throughout the whole film, Mani Ratnam and Cinematographer Santosh Sivan reminds us of this fact with masterly visual treatment.

At the very start of the film we see Kalyani dumping her newborn baby. And When Surya is found in the river, by his foster mother and while she picks him up; he is shown in the silhouette against the sun. Crying. Surya, Child of The Sun God.

Thalapathi 1
Surya is found by his foster mother

And in the next scene Surya and his foster mother stands against reflection of the evening sun, again in silhouette and Surya asks her “Why my mother dumped me ?”

Why My Mother Dumped Me

Santosh Sivan uses this kind of silhouette’s throughout the film, giving it an unique look and feel, which i doubt if  i have seen in any other Indian film before Thalapathi.  He employs Low key and high contrast lighting to bring those dark emotions visually. I won’t call Thalapathi dark film per say. But then it is a film about dark emotions, especially in a country where even today unwed mothers are considered a taboo. Ironically, Mahabharata always mentions such children born out of wedlock as son of the Gods.

Low Key High Contrast Lighting

And while portraying dark emotions, visual artists over the centuries preferred high contrast images and filmmakers are no different. Now, Mani Ratnam surely had few creative choices in front of him. As a filmmaker you have the option of shooting lots of night scenes, when it is relatively easy to create high contrast imagery. In day light anything against the sun is total silhouette. So there is little chance of showing facial expression of your characters. Shooting against sun is difficult because dynamic range of film stock, which is less than human eye. Even for human eyes it is difficult to see against the sun.

When Surya becomes Thalapathi,he is shown fighting against the sunlight, in silhouette along with Illyaraja’s background chanting “Thalapathi”

As Surya is a Modern day Karna, son of Solar Deity, the visual treatment demands creating high contrast situation in day light. And that’s where the challenge begins. It looks like Mani Ratnam surely made a conscious decision to creatively use the sun in conjunction with Surya’s character. Now, once that creative decision of “putting characters against the sun” is made, you are actually committing to use a peculiar style of cinematography, where back light is powerful and key light (the main source light) is low. And inherently it creates high contrast image. Hence It is called low key high contrast lighting, which we see all over in Thalapathi.

In a way, decision to use Sun to signify Surya, which was a risky one cinematically, might have easily looked ordinary.

Even during Surya and Subhalaxmi love affair, the Sun stays strong in the background
Another way of showing soft and yet strong Sunlight

Personally i would always prefer a song or two less in all of Mani’s films. Usually songs often fucks mis-en-scene on the pretext being surrealistic and/or dream like. But not here. We see again the Son of the Sun God, the Surya against the Sun!

Surya in Dream Song

The scene, where Surya breaks up with Subhalakshmi, is visually stunning. Shot against evening sun, but not in silhouette and among the old ruins of some royal palace. If you know where it is shot, let me know. I would like to go there and see how Sivan felt when he shot Subhalaxmi going away from Surya. And it is magical to compose shots like this.

Heartbroken

In this film, we mostly see the evening sun or the sun among clouds. As I said before, it is due limited dynamic range of film stock, noon is out of question. Even then it must have took special effort to creatively use the sun as a light source. You can control a light but with sunlight there is a very limited way to control it.  Yes you can fake it. But it doesn’t look authentic. It is always better to wait for the right moment. And it means while shooting you are totally at mercy of the Sun God. It also mean patience. In commercial film making industry where every second costs you, it finally means tremendous production pressure. And at the same time when it is a multi-starrer, it means your schedule is also at the mercy of stars and their busy schedules. And when everything is ready, few clouds come up and everything is ruined, stars are frustrated, producer is worried, crew is bored. And it is so easy to give up. Producer might have said ” after all it is story which important, what is the heck with low key high contrast chicken shit … Mr Mani I am losing my money, please shoot this fuck and complete the damn thing, even without lighting, after all it is just damn a film”

Had Cinema not been Mani and Sivan’s religion, we would not have seen a visual delight. Yes, it is the story but it’s also cinematography and background score which takes Thalapathi to another level. Mani and Sivan, surely waited for right moment for the Sun God.

The Solar Deity

This is the First scene of Rajni in the film, first scene of grown up Surya, the same Surya, who was deserted by his hapless mother, now a violent and angry Surya, who can’t tolerate atrocities on the poor, kills a tyrant Rammana, in heavy rains.

Surya Kills Rammanna

Above shot is actually a night shot. But it  features a powerful back light again reminding us of the Sun, and it’s where it becomes Thalapathi’s Mise en scène. There is very less light on both the characters (low key) and hence create high contrast lighting, which Sivan employs to heighten the emotions of the scene. To visually match the evening Sun, Sivan uses very very strong back lights during night time.

Again there is another night scene in heavy rain ,which is again shot amazingly, portrays Surya against strong back light, when he confronts Deva.

                             Surya Confronts Deva!

This is a scene which simply takes you to another level purely with cinematographic techniques. Imagine had it had same content and same actors and same dialogues and without such kind of visual. Had it been equally effective? A weak confrontation here would have paved the way of great friendship later?  This Surya never sets whether its day or night. Mind It. Literally. Cinematically. And this film was made 1991, seven years before Satya, a film which I till date had wrongly assumed as a game changer for modern day Indian filmmaking. Any way lets not compare them. Both of them are great films. I just want to say that i can’t believe that this film was made in 1991, it was way ahead, in its vision and it’s execution.

When Deva is lying seriously hurt and Surya opens the door of the hideout, we see him again against a strong backlight and again it is a night scene.

Deva … You Can’t Die!

In the next scene an angry Surya wants to take revenge. He chases and burns the culprit alive and his step father becomes a witness. Surya and others are paraded into the police station. He is asked about his father and mother, he shouts telling everything his stepfather needs to know!

What’s your Father’s Name?

Again this epic scene where for the first time Surya comes across his mother.

Ohh the Solar Deity … I am your Son! Where is my mother?

It is a breathtaking scene, no dialogues and all visuals and just a sound of a train passing by. It was the same sound Surya heard as a newborn baby when his mother dumped him into a train bogey. It was the same sound, which Kalyani last heard when she left her baby and even today she regrets. Kalyani’s husband and Surya’s Stepfather knows everything. Again Surya is lit by a strong sunlight coming from the temple window. It is also terrifically edited and as well acted especially by Srividya.

Although this post is more about the Sun as cinematographic choice, but its brilliance in almost all department which makes this film a true epic. I just feel it is only the action scenes that are a little outdated compared to present day and time.

In a scene, when his step father tells Surya about his mother. And Surya is shocked and there he is shown against an evening sun in silhouette, even though the shot doesn’t match in cuts, but it takes audience to another level. A dramatic choice in cinematography, heightening Surya’s emotions.

Any other director, except Mani, would have shot the whole scene in silhouette, simply may be because continuity issues (as CUT IN’s  doesn’t match partly due to limitation of tech and partly due to bad colour correction) or may be simply because of creative choice. A whole scene against the sunlight in a situation where Surya is told about Kalyani, is not that bad a creative choice. But that’s why Mani is Mani … he never overdoes things … he always keeps restraint as a director … that’s the difference between Ramu and Mani. Many a times Ramu goes over the top. Trying to do too much. BTW I am a fan of both the filmmakers. But in the name of direction, style and dramatic creative option you just cannot fuck your character and their emotions. When it comes to Mani, even if there are continuity issue in the scene, character’s emotions always takes precedence. No wonder he is so popular among the actors. And as IRRANAND pointed out in a previous post, the same thing gave him chance to make Mouna Ragam, despite his early failures.

Promise Me!

Anyway the scene ends with Surya asking his step father not to tell her mother about him. Again holding his hand against the sunlight, in front of his mythical father(the sun)  and his step father, he cries and decides to stay away from his mother, whom he used to hate. Dramatic !!!  I don’t know tamil and I read only subs … but if I can feel power in reading subs … I can imagine what it would have sounded in one’s mother tongue. It is an epic scene … because of its position in the film, its content, its creative and tech choices, cinematography, direction, dialogues and acting. Watch it.

Few more shots which again and again reminds us of Surya, the Solar Deity.

Surya Meets Subhalaxmi and Arjun
Surya secretly watching his Mother!

And finally the scene where Surya meets his mother. I ideally wanted to put a video link , but i couldn’t find one online. So i decided to embed an animated GIF, if it doesn’t play here, in this window. Just open it in a separate window!

The use of movement, use of lighting and use of  composition. I think this is masterly. One of the best scene in Indian Cinema. There is also a cut away, where we see Surya’s wife and stepdaughter watching Surya and his mother. There is no need of this cutaway. But it heightens emotions once again. Actually on Deva’s insistence Surya is married to Rammanna’s widow, the man he killed. His stepdaughter loves Surya a lot. And when she innocently asks those few question, which heighten already dramatic scene. It is where editing and cinematography and acting works in tandem, creating unforgettable emotions.

The treatment of using strong back lights goes up till the climax.

Deva dies in the arms of Surya

And when Surya takes revenge. Btw Amrish Puri’s dubbed diloauges is surely turn off. But Kalivardhan does his job.

Revenge of Surya

Again Image below is an animated GIF of the last scene of the film, where Kalyani decides to stay with Surya and then dissolving into  one last tribute to the Sun God and besides it we read “Written and Directed by Mani Ratnam.” (Click and open in separate window if it doesn’t play here)

Thalapathi’s cinematography is outstanding. It has a unique trademark. A unique style. And all that style goes in sync with the story and its character and their emotions. In fact it takes those emotions to another level. But it is not only cinematography but also the excellence in almost every other department,  let it be screenplay, acting, music and editing which makes it a classic. It is also a classic because of director’s non compromising attitude and demand of perfection. Also because of the technical and creative ability of his cast and crew to execute his vision.

I would like end the post with some masterly compositions we see in Thalapathi!

Going Away
Surya with his sweet stepdaughter!
My Brother .. I can’t … because he is also my brother
The end of an Epic!