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.