Monday, March 22, 2010


Who doesn’t like a Hitchcock film? He is one director who will make anyone fall in love with his films. While enough has been written about the king of suspense and his films, this post will consider for review “Rear Window” and throw light on some narrative flaws in Indian cinema.

I just loved Rear Window… for its dialogues and good blend of humour. “Wives don’t nag anymore…they discuss”. It is also not the usual Hitchcockian suspense thriller. One can learn the art of exposition through Rear Window. An exposition in a three act structure refers to the first 15 – 20 minutes of a film where the main characters and the setting are exposed or introduced. I was completely at awe when I saw the opening scene. The introduction shots trigger active viewer participation resulting in closure…a process where the viewers fill in (missing) information, connect and interpret meaning of the visual information in shots.

Typical of a Hitchcock film the camera shows the neighbourhood, houses and apartments of a small town, housing middle income group families, and then enters into the story and life of its characters through the window. Inside the apartment the protagonist is seen sleeping in a wheel chair, sweat covering his face followed by a shot of a thermometer indicating the temperature. It is left for us to interpret the economic strata to which the person belongs. Then the camera slowly pans to his legs, one of which is cast with these words written on it “here lie the broken bones of L B Jefferies”. Interesting way of introducing the character I must say. (I was reminded of Kamal’s “Hey! Ram” where junior Saket Ram and Aparna’s professions are very casually hinted through dialogues.)

The camera then pans to show a disfigured still camera and moves towards a photograph of an out of control racing car toppling dangerously close to the camera that was shooting it. Closure…the shattered camera was the one which took that awesome shot of the debacle and Jefferies is the photographer and his broken leg is the result of a priceless shot. We then see a couple of other photographs followed by a negative of a woman’s face and then a magazine with its cover bearing the positive image of the negative we just see. And this woman, obviously photographed by Jefferies, is more than just a subject for the camera, which will be revealed as the story unfolds.

Rear Window is appreciated for its rare and brilliant execution of point of view resulting in the viewers being privy to something that the characters aren’t. Jefferies, stuck up at home owing to his broken leg is pushed to boredom. His fulltime pastime becomes watching his neighbours and their activities. His telephoto lens also comes in handy when he wants to observe things closer. One night Jefferies is suddenly woken up. ..and stays awake to see some unusual activity in the opposite building where an old man and his nagging wife are living. Jefferies observes the old man leaving his house with a suitcase. An hour later the man returns and goes out again with his suitcase. Both the exit and the entries are seen by Jefferies and we are aware of his observation. However there is a third time the old man leaves with a woman and the camera moves back to reveal a sleeping Jefferies.

The next morning Jefferies wakes up to more action in the old mans house that leaves him in suspicion. Jefferies is almost sure that the old man has killed his wife and disposed her off in a suitcase. He shares his doubt with his nurse and girlfriend who slowly start believing him. Through this whole process we as audience will be dying to tell Jefferies “hey while you were sleeping we saw a woman leave the house”. I will stop here without revealing the rest of the story.

How many Indian films adhere to rules of narrative structure or at least make intelligent modifications. I will take an old Tamil film “Manithanin Marupakkam” starring Sivakumar, Radha and Jayashree (the one who lent her voice for Jyothika in Pachaikili Muthucharam) to highlight a common flaw. This movie is a remake of Malayalam film “Nirakkootu” staring Mamooty, Sumalatha and Oorvashi.

Sivakumar who plays the role of a photographer (another reason why I took this film for comparison but the similarity ends there) marries Radha a middle class girl with some vested interest. Sivakumar wants her to be a model and an exclusive one at that doing it only for him. Sivakumar's friend, the villain of the piece, who has an eye on Radha photographs her unaware when she is changing in the dressing room and ends up blackmailing her and the plot thickens.

The film has a non linear narrative. It begins with Sivakumar serving a sentence for killing his wife Radha. Jayashree a journalist is Radha’s sister, who publishes her findings on the story behind the murder. Sivakumar’s urge to disprove her story makes him escape form prison and takes refuge at Jayashree’s house not knowing who she is et al…the film thus has interesting twists and turns. But here comes the deep nose dive. Sivakumar narrates his side of the story to prove that he is innocent. Flashback begins and we witness what actually conspired and who killed Radha. Sivakumar is not witness to the heated conversation between Radha and his friend resulting in her death. But this portion is part of the flashback narrated by Sivakumar. (Wish this was possible in real life as we would by now have known who killed Aarushi.)

This is a very common treatment in almost all Indian films. Flashbacks are a farce. Point of view is an ignored point. Narrative inconsistency is consistent. There are exceptions though. “Ankur” is one film among others that has a clean narrative with a very apt exposition…a rarity in Indian films.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Double Jeopardy

Picture and popcorn…. one of our favourite pastimes. Weekends and holidays have never been complete without a dose of handpicked movies. We have seen both good and some terrible ones. This post is about four films that Sanjay and I saw almost back to back. ‘Unfaithful’ followed by ‘Murder’, ‘Body Heat’ followed by ‘Jism’. If there’s anyone out there who has seen these films you will empathise with us. Well without much ado for those who have not seen this awesome foursome…Murder and Jism are Hindi remakes of Unfaithful and Body Heat respectively. (Aside: Unfaithful itself is a remake of French film La Femme Infidèle which I am yet to see)

Unfaithful was undoubtedly a very nice film. A simple storyline but powerful execution and there was Richard Gere to add glamour. Murder had only glamour in the form of Mallika Sherawat. Body Heat had a nail biting plot. Jism had scintillating songs. I am not someone who is against remakes…I would infact call it emulation. In any remake there is definitely room for improvisation but in this case it is an impoverish mock-up. What is stopping an aesthetic photocopy? So here I am going to deliberate on the cultural adaptation challenges of remakes.

In Unfaithful, a lonely wife succumbs to temptation and goes astray having a roaring affair with a guy…a stranger much younger to her. In Murder too the plot is the same….but the guy is not a stranger but her ex-boyfriend. And to add more pity, the heroine is married to her brother in law after her sister’s death. And the immoral act is not set in Indian soil but abroad. Lame reasons or plot points to attract sympathy for the heroine even when she is promiscuous. Why were these changes made to the setting? Is it because Indian women and promiscuity are antonyms or Indian women should have some strong reason to go astray? (anything other than strong sexual attraction as in the case of Unfaithful). Is it because Indian women and one night stand and affair with strangers are impossible or difficult to digest? Is it culture shock or comprehension skills of viewers or rather underestimation of reception skills of discerning viewers?

Well one can say that these questions can be raised for any Indian film and not just remakes. (For instance Tamil film Poove Poochudava’s protagonist Nadiya and her grand mother are Hindus whereas in its Malayalam version they are Christians, though the story had nothing to do with religion.) And Hollywood remakes of European originals have also not escaped criticism. Agreed. But aren’t remakes answerable to the ethos of the originals? Maybe that’s why terms like ‘loosely based’ and ‘inspired by’ surface to shield against criticism.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


When I decided to start my blog, I wanted to first write about the evolution of my love for cinema. But quite sadly and ironically I just could not remember the first film I ever saw. As someone who remembers almost all films that I saw as a child most vividly could just not recollect the first film. Was it a black and white film or east man colour…Tamil, Hindi or English….I wish I could remember. But here is a memoir of films that left a lasting impression on my mind and laid the foundation for my unadulterated love for cinema.

Nimajjanam – A Telugu film that won national award for Sharadha. After a short trip to…don’t know where…and returning back to Chennai we decided to spend the night at a friend’s house. While I thought that the decision was to avoid night travel I was surprised when my mother casually stated that the decision was due to Nimajjanam playing on Doordarshan. Here I will digress to give credit to my mother. She is the one who introduced me to books, films and music. Someone who never thought that I am a child, young to understand a complex story but took company in me to watch a film and share her reviews. I clearly remember my mother telling me that Nimajjanam is a movie that every woman should watch…a movie that will educate women that they could also be a reason for their sexual abuse. This she said when I must have been just 4 or 5 years old. Supermom, I wish to salute you for nourishing me with good cinema.

Coming back to Nimajjanam, I remember the movie for Sharadha’s stellar performance and cinematography. Images from the film are still fresh in my memory. The story from what I remember…Sharadha and her husband go on a pilgrimage to Kasi. While taking a dip at the holy Ganges with her husband, Sharadha drowns and dies. While it is seen as an accident by everyone, Sharadha actually lets herself drown as a punishment for losing her chastity.…she is in fact raped by a lecherous bullock cart driver during her journey from the railway station (don’t remember where her husband was then). The driver is tempted by Sharadha’s beauty when she sleeps unaware of her slipping sari revealing her cleavage. Sharadha ends her life by taking the blame on herself for the incident. On his way back to the railway station Sharadha’s husband takes the same bullock cart. When the driver hears about Sharadha’s death he is shocked and guilt engulfs him. And to add fuel to his guilt he crosses the place where he committed the crime. The guilt haunts him further and he dies…a scene which I can never forget. The camera from his point of view looks around and the huge tree that witnessed his crime even scared me. The film according to me was about sin and renunciation. I remember that it is a practice to renounce something after a trip to Kasi and river Ganga is where one takes a dip to wash away their sins. As a child I was wondering and still continue to figure out who the sinner was and what was renounced in Nimajjanam.

The Last Emperor. A film that had world wide recognition was on Doordarshan again. My mom told me that I should watch the movie. She said it had won many an Oscar and the little boy has done an excellent performance. There I was staying awake to watch the late night film while mom and dad were sleeping. The film left me spellbound. It was above and beyond belief. It would be right to say that I started realizing the meaning of editing and background score after my tryst with The Last Emperor! I also have some other fond memories of the film...the live censorship of some scenes. My all progressive mom’s split personality woke up from her sleep exactly at the famous kissing scene and asked me to switch off the TV for a few minutes. I was too young to understand or question why she asked me to do so but obeyed and resumed watching after a few minutes. The censorship popped up at two other scenes as well! Years later, much to my mom’s embarrassment, what I remember the most is the kissing scene.

Antarjali Yatra…a film that made me a fan of Shatrughan Sinha and Bengali films. A bed ridden invalid octogenarian counting his last days has doting sons who will do anything to get their dad longevity! Though they set up a tent and shift their father to the river bank as his death was nearing they don’t let go off any option to keep their dad alive. They fix his marriage to a poor young girl with hope that her mangalsutra will make him live longer. Post marriage the newly wedded couple are left alone at the river bank. The old man with kajal decorating his eyes even tries to raise his head to kiss his bride. Alas he could only aspire! Shatrughan Sinha plays an undertaker in the film and turns out to be the only companion for the new bride. The movie ends without giving a solution to the story with a flood washing away the river bed.

Ninaivugale Neengividu is a Tamil telefilm. I don’t remember the film as a whole but two scenes are deeply etched in my memory. It is the story of two women. One a rich, young and pretty girl and the other a middle class mother of two. The former meets with an accident with the only alive part in her body being her brain. The latter if I am not wrong is brain dead. And then the obvious brain transplant takes place. The mother of two essayed brilliantly by Jayabharathi, wakes up with memories of the young girl…I still cannot forget her scream when she looks at herself in the mirror. She then proceeds to her(!?) bungalow while her husband (of her flesh and bones) stands outside the gate and looks at her with mixed feelings.

These four films among many others, I would say left a lasting impression in my inquisitive mind during my formative years. It made me think that there was more to look forward to in cinema than mere star cast. Thus grew my fetish for cinema…an insatiable thirst to watch films from across the globe. And I would proudly state ‘A film a day will keep me awake’