Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Movie Review: The Artist

The 2012 French romantic drama film "The Artist" is a silent film shot entirely in black-and-white. The events are narrated through occasional lines of dialogues printed on inter title cards. The period and setting makes it obvious that the story is set in the early 1930s at the cusp when talkie films became the norm and silent movies were gradually fading out. 

The Artist begins with a premiere of silent movie superstar George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who is screening his latest film to a rapturous audience. He is in every frame like an actual silent movie actor. Following the premiere, he is clicked with Peppy Miller, who wins  a small role in his next film. George is proud of his fame and tries to get the maximum attention when on stage, leaving behind his co-stars. He helps Peppy Miller (Benerice Bejo), a young lady to enter stardom and on the run, scripts his own downfall with her rise. Sound comes to Hollywood and the industry is transformed and Peppy Miller becomes an overnight star as the audiences cannot seem to get enough of her raspy voice (which, unfortunately, is never heard through the film) and star power soars. 

Meanwhile, George continues to write and direct silent films. The film at this stage provide us with two striking metaphors. First, George meets Peppy on a staircase from where the camera frames three floors, capturing her going up as he's going down and second where his jungle adventure tale called "Tears of Love" ends with him sinking into quicksands. 

The lead actors are witty and affecting and are equally good in support. The film is well executed and the filmmaker explores most of the conventions of silent cinema. The film is a perfect blend of comedy, drama and romance. The writing is splendid and the direction is above average. It is a complete silent movie which goes beyond paying homage to the silent era of Hollywood, but is a dazzling tale of love and loss. Summing up, the film has nearly everything that a viewer looks for in a movie: innocence and weightage to acting. The Artist is one of the finest and the most heart-warming love stories of 2012. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A Flawed Freedom

We inch closer to another 15th August and I think this is the right time for us to introspect on the very idea of "freedom". Theoretically, we are taught to believe that we are free but think of it on a deeper level, are we really free? Hence, it becomes important for us to reflect and debate who is technically free a man/woman and who isn't? Freedom holds different meanings for different people. For me personally, real freedom would when we overcome obstacles such as censorship, manual scavenging, repressive laws and moral policing and to live without being mocked at. 

Our Government loves censoring content. In Iran, we have a talented filmmaker like Jafar Panahi who has been banned from making films till 2030. Closer home, the Government here often talks about censoring online content and filtering "obscene" content floating online. A film like "Paanch" is termed being radical in approach and is accused of having a communal colour hence it is not allowed to be released in theatres. The NCERT textbooks are now devoid of political cartoons because it offends the sensibilities of our politicians. 

However modern and civilized we claim to be, we have a cop who goes around with a hockey stick and of course, not to forget the moral police who invoke repressive laws to keep our society in control and to protect the "Indian culture". A mature society should have the ability to decide what kind of laws protect the interests of the society at large. Invoking repressive laws to keep the society at bay is not a solution as it encourages a negative mindset about the type of people in a society such as this where repressive laws are invoked. As citizens of a free country, we must have the right to choose and party the way we want to without the fear of being thrown out due to a few cops.  

We should be able to drive down home even at 3 am without the fear of being shot at similar to what happened to journalist Soumya Viswanathan without being dubbed as being "adventurous". We should have the right to dress the way we want to without being apologetic and answerable to anyone. We should also respect and be free walk down the roads without being stared or being mocked at. 

It is only when we achieve this kind of a society that we can truly claim our freedom. Perhaps, for the time being, we have to agree with the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said: "Nothing has been purchased more dearly than the little bit of reason and sense of freedom which now constitutes our pride." On that note, wishing you a Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Movie Review: Balgandharva

The 2011 Marathi film "Balgandharva" by filmmaker Ravi Jadhav is a biographical film on Narayan Sripad Rajhans popularly known as Balgandharva. The name was bestowed to Narayan by Lokmanya Tilak after listening to his public performance in Pune while he was very young. The film has been produced and designed effectively by art director Nitin Desai. 

The film is set in a period before the advent of cinema. Hence, the most popular medium for entertainment was sangeet nataks (drama based music). Balgandharva won many hearts in his roles he played as a woman because women did not perform roles on stage then. The film is set in between the real plays performed by the actor-singer. On the opening day of his play "Sangeet Manapmaan", his infant daughter dies. The determination to continue despite his daughter's death is one of the most poignant scenes in cinema I've come across lately. He enthralls the audience with his performance as Bhamini and fully devoting himself towards his passion for drama and singing, he overlooks his family.

As he grows older and cinema is introduced, theatre fails to grab audiences. He acts in the "Dharmatma" with Prabhat Film Company by V. Shantaram as Sant Eknath. Unfortunately, he never likes the methodologies of film production and abandons it after only one film though the deal was signed for six films. When he meets his fan and singer Gohar Jaan Karnataki who acts in his play "Saubhadra", he finds himself at odds playing Krishna instead of Saubhadra. 

The film depicts his obsession with the art form, his lack of commercial sense and fall from grace and his unflinching dignity even as he is on the verge of being declared as an insolvent. The cinematography by Mahesh Limaye is really wonderful. His camera wonderfully captures an era before the arrival of cinema. Subodh Bhave as Balgandharva is wonderful in his role. There are 21 songs in the film of which 17 feature in the film. Many of the songs used in the movie are original compositions used by the Maestro during his plays. The music for the film has been brilliantly recreated by music composer Kaushal S. Inamdar and classical singer Anand Bhate's voice as Balgandharva reintroduces some of the finest songs from natyasangeet to a modern audience. 

Summing up, the film succeeds in opening up the pages of Maharashtra's illustrious folk culture and recreating a period when sangeet nataks were the most popular form of entertainment. On the whole, the film is an engaging chronicle which depicts the golden age of Marathi theatre.