A Promise To Stand By…

I ended my 2018 by watching Nathicharami on 31st December. It was one of the best things I did on new year’s eve. 

I must admit, the desire to see the movie was because I heard the music before and Nathicharamiloved  every bit of it. Then I saw the official trailer and my curiosity was piqued. I do not know of other Kannada directors having explored the subject of what two young Indian women go through in a particular phase in their lives. I saw the movie & spoke to some friends who had seen it. Most of them emphasised on the theme as “awakened sexuality of the young widow”. I beg to differ here. 

To me, the entire experience was going through Gowri’s journey after she becomes a widow. It is about how she battles loneliness, sleepless nights, parents who pressurise her to get married again (perhaps for the wrong reasons), a predatory boss and her own desires that make her feel guilty. Salvation comes in the form of two office colleagues & friends who help her with a dating app and connect her to Dr Carvalho, the psychiatrist. He helps her peel the layers of her emotions, and, deal with the mental conflicts. Loved his metaphors and one liners!

A parallel story unfolds with Suma, an educated woman from a village, yearning for her husband, Suresh’s love & affection. I appreciated the unfurling of this marital relationship, where Suresh is always condescending in his behaviour towards Suma and criticises her supposed “village mentality”.  The director, beautifully leads you to question Suresh’s frustration at one level & audacity at another level, because he also displays “village mentality” in the movie.

Yes, sexual desires or sexuality has been used as a subject to bring out deeper issues like guilt, societal reaction & gender sensitivity. Nathicharami is metaphorical, refreshing & relevant. Metaphorical, because it shows Gowri anchored to a time & relationship in the past. Refreshing, because it talks about consent for sex in a marital relationship & sensitively explores predefined notions of morality & desires. Relevant, simply because it opens up a sea of questions that ordinary women today face in the many facets of relationships. 

The movie by award winning director, Mansore, has good cinematography and amazing music by Bindhu Malini. Her unique voice is what you hear in the songs and her ease of combining various musical instruments to create hauntingly beautiful music is testimony to her musical expertise. The use of the trombone, drums & guitar is melodious and it is the kind of music I would love to play while I sit in my balcony or on my terrace, sipping a glass of wine and watch the sun go down & the moon come up with the stars shining. 

I wish more and more directors, producers and actors give us such wonderfully crafted & engaging movies like Nathicharami. We will promise to stand by them. 

 

The Reality of Acting…Actor’s Reality

An article I read in the papers got me thinking about how certain characters in movies endear themselves to us…only because we find them so realistic. I also walked down memory lane on a Sunday morning, sipping my tea, sitting in myPiku-Amitabh-Bachchan-Images balcony…just reminiscing about actors whom I have admired. We so often undervalue the roles that are played by actors in our movie watching. The actor – character divide goes in and out of focus in most movies. However, there is a certain kind of cinema, where this divide does not exist and the character overtakes the actor, or, rather, the actor submerges himself in the role, disappearing completely until you forget about the real life person.

A recent character that had such an impact on me was Bhaskor Banerjee, played by Amitabh Bachchan in the film Piku. Amitabh is one actor who has been immortalised in our minds. Right from playing the character of Vijay in Deewar, to the leather jacketed hero on a bike, in Muqaddar Ka Sikander and now, as Bhaskor Banerjee in Piku, there is something about Amitabh where the actor – character divide becomes a blur. There is one scene in the movie, where Piku is talking to the maid who has a complaint against Bhaskor. He is constantly hovering over her as she works and suspects her of being a thief too. The maid is naturally upset. Bhaskor’s expression when Piku adopts a conciliatory approach to dealing with the maid is priceless. His behaviour is also something most of us see with older people in our homes.

The other scene that impacted me a lot was Bhaskor dying in his sleep. It was very different from seeing Amitabh dying in his movies of 1970s or 80s. Bhaskor’s death felt more real, closer home. It hits me with the reality that in real life too Amitabh Bachchan is 73 years old. Amitabh as Bhaskor in Piku was very different from Amitabh playing the role of an old man in his earlier movies. Bhaskor strikes a chord…reminds us of our own parents, grand parents…

Watching Piku, drove home two points for me. I became more aware of mortality & how some of the reel life characters leave an indelible print on our minds. Some of the older Hollywood movies I watched  have also had the same impact. Omar Sharif’s role as Feodor Sverdlov, a handsome Russian diplomat 13.1-Tamarindin Tamarind Seed, was one such character. Omar Sharif slipped into the role so well that it was difficult to think of him as Omar for a while after that. He falls in love with Julie Andrews, who works for the British government and it is a romance set during the height of the Cold War. The storyline and the roles were extrapolated in real life for me because I was in Vietnam at that time when my Dad was the military attache there. I was witness to a couple of budding romances around me.

I still cannot figure out where Don Vito Corleone began and where Marlon Brando disappeared in Godfather. The larger than life character of Don Vito took over Marlon Brando’s persona completely. The scene where Vito talks to other Mafia chiefs and transitions from peace talk to subtle warning if any harm were to befall Michael, Brando is brilliant. He goes from regretful, sad, to calm and forgiving to powerful and firm but it so subtle, it hard to distinguish between Don Vito & Marlon Brando.  “But I’m a superstitious man…and if some unlucky accident should befall him, if he gets shot in the head by a police officer, or if he should hang himself in his jail cell, or if he is struck by a bolt of lightning (I got goosebumps here), then I’m going to blame some people in this room, and then I do not forgive”

I know a lot of people sideline Brando’s role and prefer Al Pacino’s role as Michael Corleone. Al Pacino, was no doubt fantastic. There is no denying the character – actor overlap there. However, in my mind, it will always be Don Vito Corleone vitowho will send the shivers down my spine and yet, will be an endearing old man tending to his vegetables in his garden. The lines between performance and reality break down with such actors and roles. And I guess age does make a difference…beyond a point there is no faking. Even if it happens momentarily, while watching a scene, where the person is rising from the chair, pauses to balance himself, or, has a faraway look in his eyes while thinking of his life, or, the tone of his voice changes subtly to convey the emotions he is going through, without changing his facial expressions….you continue to wonder,”Was that Amitabh or Bhaskor/Omar or Feodor/Brando or Don Vito?”

The Boulevard & The Screen…Silvery Hollywood

Sinking in a seat as the lights dimmed, the lion of MGM roaring in front of me on the silver screen, I was transported to another world all together. If books help me visualise and let my imagination work overtime, I love the movies for the power they have over the mind and heart. Roman Polanski, a director I admire tremendously, once said, “Cinema should make you forget that you are sitting in a theatre”

Having grown up a staple diet of all time classics like Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Sound Of Music, The Good The Bad The Ugly and few more in the same genres, I did not understand the nuances of appreciating a well made film those days. However, you can never escape the influence of a great movie…and that’s what happened to me also!

This sounds like a cliche I know…but they really don’t make them like that anymore!!! When I look at the kind of Hollywood movies released now, I find them revolving around aliens, autobods, vampires, draculas, witches and wizards. Where are normal human beings? One gets a strong feeling that our planet will be taken over by all the above…that’s why we don’t have movies made about normal people like you and me 🙂

Casablanca

I was reading the tribute paid to Eli Wallach who died recently. And I remembered some of the movies I have enjoyed during my teenage years and later too. The genres that I’m a sucker for – romance (that’s easy to guess), suspense thrillers (Hitchcock variety), westerns (gun slinging, crooked cigars/cigarettes in the mouth), war movies (they always bring in nostalgia, poignancy and a smile). You know something…I still enjoy watching them again now…every once in a while, on a rainy afternoon, with a nice cuppa and some popcorn…I’m willing to be transported to the world of Scarlett O’Hara, Capt & Maria Von Trapp, Eliza Do Little & Prof Higgins and the ever lovely Mrs Campbell. So, who are all these characters? It would make sense to write about some of my all time favourites…

Casablanca 

This remains my numero uno as far as romantic movies are concerned. I can swoon every time I hear Humphrey Bogart say, “Of all the gin joints in the world, she had to walk into mine.” With nearly every line of its script engraved on the collective subconscious, and its central performances of Bogart and Ingrid Bergman defining iconic cool, Casablanca is an exultant classic. “Here’s looking at you, kid”.

Great Escape

Great Escape

The Great Escape

I love a good war movie, especially the Second World War ones. This 1963 American film on the escape and escape attempts of Allied forces prisoners from a German military camp is the right audio visual choice that tickled my palate with intriguing drama and meticulous war and war camp description. The movie has a a classic motorcycle chase sequence featuring the great Steve McQueen. The all-star ensemble includes James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence and James Garner….can one ask for more?

Citizen Kane   

A landmark in the history of movie making. A classic by Orson Welles, this is a brilliant master piece that can resonate with any generation, in my opinion. Surprisingly, it was a box office disaster initially, it generated huge acclaim eventually and continues to thrill audiences even now.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly  

The Good The Bad The Ugly

The Good The Bad The Ugly

Every time Eli Wallach said “Hey Blondie” to Clint Eastwood, I smiled. I loved both the characters…and I think I fell hopelessly in love with Clint Eastwood because of all the westerns. Movies like this and For A Few Dollars More, created a cult following for an entire generation as they depicted typical rough, tough and bold characters, most enigmatically gypsy gang lord like lifestyle and dramatic action. I lapped it all up in the true spirit of adventure. The background scores from most of the westerns are tunes I hum even today and enjoy listening to while driving…yes you guessed right…highway driving 🙂

Sound Of Music

Sound Of Music

Sound Of Music and My Fair Lady

It is unfair of me to combine both these movies…but for me they have always gone hand in hand. The lovely Julie Andrews and the suave Christopher Plummer created a different sense of romance all together. On the contrary, the beautiful Audrey Hepburn and sophisticated Rex Harrison brought such a cute, down to earth feeling to romance. In fact, one dialogue Of Rex Harrison from My Fair Lady, “Where the devil are my slippers?” always reminds me of what my man says,”My requirements in life are simple – my slippers, newspaper, my reading glasses & cuppa”. In fact when the children were growing up, these were two movies I got them to watch a few times…singing along with Maria & Eliza 🙂

Psycho 

Psycho

Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock movies did not allow me to sleep for a couple of nights at least after watching them. For a very long time after watching Psycho, I would be scared of drawing the shower curtain…those of you who have seen the movie will understand why! Hitchcock movies had this quality of making me look over my shoulder whenever I was alone. Psycho is considered a cult movie in the suspense/thriller category, with its rich, dark & enigmatic quality. I will still recommend the black & white version instead of the remakes that have come recently. A must watch…but don’t blame me if your popcorn just falls off and does not go into your mouth.

Some of the other Hitchcock movies I have thoroughly enjoyed – 39 Steps, Vertigo, North By North west, The Birds and Rear Window.

Schindler’s List

A war movie with a difference and a heart. Schindler’s List tops that category for me. Poignant, emotional and incredibly humane – the war crimes against the Jews is depicted beautifully and authentically shown by Steven Spielberg. It is not for nothing that he is called a master film maker. There are movies about the holocaust and there is Schindler’s List…that’s how powerful it is!!!

Once Upon a Time in the West

This is another epic spaghetti western movie from one of the greatest director of the genre Sergio Leone. This 1968 old Wild West tale came with wide screen cinematography of visual splendour that is so intrinsic to raw western lands and most enigmatic actors in the roles of the bandits and cowboys. This film had been a subject of huge cult following in many parts of the world where it inspired great many masterpieces of the same theme.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Oooh, I cannot miss this western gem for its more matured drama. It is set face to face with the modern legal proceeding with the Wild West cowboy heroes in search of a more successful criminal career, that gives the film a large tinge of thrill with other rich eclectic aspects of western movie. This 1969 western classic by George Roy Hill starring great actor Paul Newman in the lead role, won huge critical reception all over the world as one of the finest movies in the genre. And who can forget, “Raindrops keep falling on my head…”

Roman Holiday

A runaway princess meets handsome man and they fall in love…mush story most will say. Of course it is…but what a mushy romantic story. Gregory Peck became the benchmark in romance for a long time for a lot of women. Audrey Hepburn, as the lovely princess is adorable in this all time favourite of mine.

Four Weddings & a Funeral and Notting Hill 

Notting Hill

Notting Hill

Ralph Fiennes once said, “So much of movie acting is in the lighting. And in loving the characters. I try to know them, and with that intimacy comes love.” He, of course said it from an actor’s perspective…I say it from an audience perspective. And I have loved Hugh Grant’s characters in both – Four Weddings & A Funeral and Notting Hill – the same way. British film makers showed Hollywood how to do romantic comedy in a subtle under played way…which only they can do.

There are so many movies that have left me wanting for more and I can say truly good cinema – The Great Dictator, Buena Sera Mrs Campbell, Papillon, Chinatown, The Pianist, Forrest Gump, Rain Man, Pulp Fiction, Apocalypse Now, The Graduate, Shawshank Redemption, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Tamarind Seed, Singing In The Rain…I can go on a little more.

The one film I have to mention in the last two decades after the phenomenal crime suspense thrillers of Hitchcock all of which had a psychological bent, this 1991 psycho thriller is the right one in every aspect of judgement. The film won Oscars in all top five categories including best picture, best director, best actor, best actress and best adapted screenplay and in considering the huge artistic and critical reception of the film all over the world. The character of Hannibal Lector, who brought new meaning to having a friend round for dinner, raised Anthony Hopkins to an iconic status and terrified a whole generation…and cntinues to do so.

Martin Scorsese says, “Cinema is a matter of what is in the frame and what is out”

Finally, a good movie can take you out of your dull funk and the hopelessness that so often goes with slipping into a theatre; a good movie can make you feel alive again, in contact, not just lost in another city. Good movies make you care, make you believe in possibilities again. If somewhere in the entertainment world someone has managed to break through with something that speaks to you, then it isn’t all corruption. The movie doesn’t have to be great; it can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a good performance, or the joy in just a good line. An actor’s scowl, a small subversive gesture, a dirty remark that someone tosses off with a mock-innocent face, and the world makes a little bit of sense. Sitting there alone or painfully alone because those with you do not react as you do, you know there must be others perhaps in this very theatre or in this city, surely in other theatres in other cities, now, in the past or future, who react as you do. And because movies are the most total and encompassing art form we have, these reactions can seem the most personal and, maybe the most important, imaginable. The romance of movies is not just in those stories and those people on the screen but in the adolescent dream of meeting others who feel as you do about what you’ve seen. You do meet them, of course, and you know each other at once because you talk more about good movies than about what you did not see in bad movies.

Enjoy the cinemas and like the saying goes…the show will continue to go on!!!