Tom Alter: Real Life imitates Reel Life

Mysteriously in my case real life imitated reel life. Tom played the character of the enlightened grandfather in my film “The Path of Zarathustra” where I played a young woman seeking true wisdom and understanding the world as it really is. My experience of enacting these scenes with Tom and interacting with him on the sets of my film was like gaining wisdom on and off screen. I feel blessed that he agreed to play the most important role in my film and feel fortunate that all the other Parsi actors I approached before him said a big ‘No’. He may not be a Parsi but epitomizes the spirit of the character (which is beyond belonging to any religion) with every gesture, word and look.  He had an aura of something pure which makes the film come to life.Continue reading “Tom Alter: Real Life imitates Reel Life”

Freedom of Expression And The Genius Of Iranian Cinema: RIP Abbas Kiarostami

If there was a Satyajit Ray in Iran then that could be Abbas Kiarostami. Considered one of the best not only in Iran but world over, Kiarostami breathed his last on 4th of July in Paris. With his passing away this could be the end of an era of terrific film makers from world cinema which carried the likes of Akira Kurosawa, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Satyajit Ray.

Like any other acclaimed film makers Kiarostami wasn’t devoid of accolades in his career. The prestigious Palm de’Or for the film ‘Taste of Cherry’ (1997) and the FIPRESCI prize for the movie ‘The Wind Will Carry Us’ (1999) at the Venice film festival are among myriads of honours received by the director from across the world. Also, in his last few films Kiarostami wandered in the territories outside his country making films in French, Italian and even in Japanese roping in some of the mainstream actors of those countries like the French heartthrob Juliet Binoche.

Abbas Kiarostami (1940-2016)
Abbas Kiarostami (1940-2016)

Abbas Kiarostami is one among the earliest directors who felt the ire of the Iranian Government of post Islamic revolution. All hell broke loose in Iran when Kiarostami received a hug and kiss from the presenter while he was awarded for a prize at the Cannes film festival.  Kiarostami had to stay away from his home country for a week till the troubled waters in Iran was settled. Apparently, any physical contact with an unrelated person of opposite sex in public was banned in Iran.

Kiarostami’s movies lingered around the concepts of spiritual beliefs like life, death and after-life and imparted them with a mystical angle subtly, leaving the audience to ponder over what he is trying to convey. His way of storytelling sometimes didn’t go well with a minority of western critics and often accused him of not revealing any dialogues at important junctures of his movies. However, in terms of harsh criticism Kiarostami has attracted only little away from Iran. In Iran he only faced ban.

All of his movies are still not allowed to be screened Iran, where the leaders believed that there were refined references in his movies that acted as propaganda against the government. A perplexed Kiarostami had this to say about his movies being banned:

“The government has decided not to show any of my films for the past 10 years… I think they don’t understand my films and so prevent them being shown just in case there is a message they don’t want to get out”.

Another insult this genius film maker faced later came from the far west in United States when he was denied a visa to attend the New York film festival that came right after the 9/11 terrorist attack. This made some of the American directors in an embarrassing position and few of them even boycotted attending the festival in protest.

Screengrab from the film ‘Taste of Cherry’ which won the Palm d’Or at Cannes
Screengrab from the film ‘Taste of Cherry’ which won the Palm d’Or at Cannes

Jafar Panahi, another popular name from Iran among the world cinema stage is a protégé of Kiarostami and followed his school of film making isn’t bereft of the fury of Iranian Government. Panahi is banned from making any films for whopping 20 years, a fact that is condemned by the film maker’s world over. Panahi’s crime includes making a movie which revolved around few girls who masquerade as boys to watch a football match between Iran and Bahrain live at a stadium in Tehran. This gem of a movie is aptly titled ‘Offside’ (2006) and was banned as it shows, well, yes girls at a stadium which is a no as per the law. Panahi was even arrested and sentenced to 6 years in prison citing various other reasons which later was reduced to house arrest and a ban on making any movies further or going outside Iran.

The much debated freedom of expression which the Indian filmmakers enjoy to a great extend comes with a hefty price for the Iranian film makers. They are to work within the ambit set by the Government. India indeed had films that were banned mostly because of the ‘sanskari’ or ‘sentiments hurt’ reasons but never had it banned a film maker itself from making a movie. In fact some of the films that didn’t show the government or the state in a good light like Haider (2014) or a rebellious Rang de Basanti (2006) were highly acclaimed and had even won national awards.

It’s not that India has achieved all the freedom it needs to make the movies a filmmaker wished for; which the country still needs to work on preventing a movie made by Anurag Kashyap or Deepa Mehta getting banned but at the same time should also remember that with all the problems faced by the Iranian filmmakers, they are still producing gems. This is something not just a filmmaker but people from all walk of lives needs to learn from the life of Abbas Kiarostami.

When Kiarostami was asked on why he didn’t flee the country like some of his peers, he had the following to say:

“When you take a tree that is rooted in the ground, and transfer it from one place to another, the tree will no longer bear fruit. And if it does, the fruit will not be as good as it was in its original place. This is a rule of nature. I think if I had left my country, I would be the same as the tree.”

The spirit of this extraordinary filmmaker and his musings lives on.


Aswin Ram


Robin Williams: Gone Too Soon

Death elicits a strange reaction in us. We find a state of reverence for some, a state we wouldn’t have imagined while they walked with us, made us smile, or saved us from our own bottomless abyss. We also forget about them as time flies. And then there are few who have been responsible for what we are today, people who’ve shaped our tastes, our understanding of life and these are people we tend to worship and celebrate while living and their death brings dirges, poems and long tributes from every quarter. For some, we weep. For Robin Williams, I wept.Continue reading “Robin Williams: Gone Too Soon”

Tribute to Late Bhupen Hazarika-Siangore ga'hlong, lohitore khamti…

[It is not unusual to find a director’s wife becoming a part of a film unit, mostly to kill time. But in our case, we are working together for close to 16 years. And we are married for the last 8 years. Whether it is to edit my documentaries or to do art direction/ costumes in my productions, time and again I use her. Both for the belief that she understands closest to what I have in mind and the fact that I can give vent to the frustration without thinking twice when things does not go according to my plan…Here she shares her experience of ‘Guns & Guitars’ ]Continue reading “Tribute to Late Bhupen Hazarika-Siangore ga'hlong, lohitore khamti…”

Frost/Nixon: A Film which never got its' due recognition

Frost-Nixon PosterBritish broadcaster David Frost, best remembered for his post-Watergate interviews with former US President Richard Nixon, died of a heart-attack on Sunday. Frost secured his broader reputation with the Nixon interviews of 1977, three years after the president retreated into silence after quitting in disgrace.Continue reading “Frost/Nixon: A Film which never got its' due recognition”

Rituparno Ghosh: The Artist, The Maverick…

It is indeed difficult to bring yourself to write a eulogy – especially for a man whom you have not only admired but also emulated. More than anything, it takes time for the information to be a part of your system that someone whom you idealized has passed away, untimely and undeservingly. As I sit down here today write this panegyric, a fanboy in me weeps solemnly at the demise of his master – who held a beacon for many others to pave the way beyond the drudgeries of commerce, into the pristine realms of art.

rituparno-ghoshI was introduced to Rituparno Ghosh when I was barely 8 or 9 years old – when I saw “Unishe April”. The filmmaking bug had not bit me yet, I was not mature for it then, but I distinctly remember savouring the mother-daughter conflict drama and being absolutely mesmerised by the performances. My father walked off in the middle of the movie, calling it “intellectually slow”, but I was hooked on to the conversations between Sarojini (Aparna Sen) and Aditi (Debasree Roy), and the see-saw between their love and hatred, hope and despair, friction and reconciliation. The film ends with Aditi picking up the telephone receiver and saying a stern “Hello” to her boyfriend (played by Prosenjit – in his one among many roles in Ghosh’s films). Frankly, I found the end very abrupt then and I remember asking my mother “Why did it end like that?” She had pursed her lips and expressed absolute lack of cognizance of the implication of the “Hello”. Years later, when I saw the film again, the culmination revealed itself with an astonishing significance – the stern “Hello” comes after an entire day through which Aditi continually cries over the phone, begging her boyfriend to marry her. However, the latter denies it on the grounds that his family objects to Aditi’s mother being a dancer. All this while, till the end, the tears that rolled down Aditi’s eyes were as much as of heartbreak as they were of her ire at her mother’s ignorance of the date the story is set in – 19th April – the death anniversary of Aditi’s father. However, by the end of the film, Aditi and Sarojini reconcile their differences and Aditi’s sternness is only a result of Sarojini’s support. The understanding came with a renewed deference for the man whom I had started revering for his films.

Continue reading “Rituparno Ghosh: The Artist, The Maverick…”

Goodbye, Mr Ebert

A movie is not about what it’s about; it’s about how it’s about it.

As you’ve probably heard, the sweetest old man of American film criticism died yesterday, at the age of seventy-one, due to the jaw cancer he’s had for years, and inspired a great horde of affecting memorials (particularly good are those by Jim Emerson and Andrew O’Hehir).

(In good news, he got to watch the latest Terrence Malick film last week; and in good news for us, he’s written about it.)

To illustrate what sort of a person he was, let us go back to December 2009. Roger Ebert got a mail about a reviewer called Dan Schneider; Schneider had some pretty dismissive things to say about Ebert, mainly based around the assertion that he was a great writer but not much of a critic. Ebert put up the whole letter he’d got, all the pieces in which Schneider had mentioned him, and a short answer on his blog, and asked his commentariat to judge. What Roger said:Continue reading “Goodbye, Mr Ebert”

Another Legend Departs-S.Ramanathan

Veteran director-producer S.Ramanathan passed away in Chennai on Wednesday, January 9th. He was 83 years old. Starting off as an A.D to the popular Tamil filmmaker, A.Bhim Singh, he went on to turn director with the Malayalam movie Naadodikal ( 1959 ) and followed it up with films like Shreekovil ( 1962 ) and Shree Guruvayoorappan ( 1964 ). Continue reading “Another Legend Departs-S.Ramanathan”

Thanks For All The Laughs, RIP Jaspal Bhatti

Serial banaane wale, kya tere mann mei samayi
Kaahey ko comedy banaayi tuney, kaahey ko comedy banaayi

Kahan se miley tumhe nakli se actor
Kahan se laya ye flop director
Kaahey ko kiya tuney serial ka halwa
Prime time ka tuney kiya hai malwa
Gup-chup tamasha dekhe, waah re teri chaturayi
Kaahey ko comedy banaayi tuney, aahey ko comedy banaayiContinue reading “Thanks For All The Laughs, RIP Jaspal Bhatti”