Thursday, May 31, 2007

Metro - Life in Oscar's Apartment

Read an article in some TOI publication today that the script of UTV's "Life in a Metro (2007)" has been selected for preservation in the Oscar Script Library. It is one of very few Indian films to make it. Couldn't find this news on any online forum, so it probably is one of those 'sponsored' news inserts. It better be, because it is too fantastic to believe!

Metro has been one the most debated movies in 2007 (which in itself is an achievement, na?). Everyone I know either hates it or loves it. Even Anurag Kashyap has blogged in favor of Metro's technical finesse. This is ironic, since the only reason I went to see Metro was a misconception that it was an Anurag Kashyap film. By the end of this predictable soap-opera, I was aghast how AK could have gone so weak. Turns out the movie was, in fact, by soap-opera king Anurag Basu. I am still aghast; original Anurag actually liked this movie! Maybe I need to see it again...

My list of disappointments with the movie goes as follows:

1. There were essentially three story lines. The first one was a direct lift from 'The Apartment (1960)", even including minor plot points. I fail to understand how dumb Basu thinks the audience is, that he can pass off a movie made in 1950's as "slice of life in Mumbai 2007". This killed my respect for Basu as a story-teller. I felt cheated since I expected an auteur's original take on contemporary living. This was merely a product from Bollywood Factory-- K.C. Bokadia could have done it better!

P.S. Fans of the movie claim "copy hai, magar acchhi copy hai"; hmmm, did Basu get the pulse right, after all? :-)

2. The second story line was married-woman meets young-man, falls in love, feels guilty, goes back to save marriage. To take the cliche forward, she is trapped in a loveless love marriage, suffers an infidel husband and has a "sirf tum mujhe samajhte ho" kind of relationship with the (predictably) struggling-actor/ loser who is not understood by his ex-wife. Ends predictably with husband coming back, wife feeling ultra-guilty and everyone being forgiven. Do people seriously believe they have not seen this story rehashed a zillion times before? Educate me, what did I miss here??

3. The characters of Kangana Raut and Shiney Ahuja were not built-up well. They took Kangana for her "innocence" and let that be a justification for everything else. Her sweet behavior and suicidal actions did not sync with her gold-digging, back-stabbing, self-centered character. There was a lot of scope here, but the movie fails to develop the "what is a nice girl like you doing in a place like this" theme convincingly.
Similarly, the story does not justify how the angst, lust and quest inside loser-actor Shiney Ahuja transforms into lust and longing for Shilpa Shetty. Basu skipped some chapters from "Art Movie 101 for Dummies" and uses the "samajhdar ko ishara hi kaafi hai" technique half-heartedly. These characters could have worked beautifully had they attempted some uncomfortable, unexpected traits for both and not hid behind tired cliches.

Note: Watch "Hazaron Khwahishein Aisi (2003)" for a beautiful study of undercurrents in licit-illicit relationships and expected drivers behind unexpected actions. Shiney and KK at their best!!

4. Finally there was the Konkana Sen Sharma and Irrfan Khan story. I am sure this is where seed of this movie was sown, this is the story that Basu felt for. It was the only story rooted in reality, peppered with the right amount of tragi-comic sentiments and sharp analysis of Konkana's character. This is what the rest of Metro wanted to become...!
Then suddenly, the climax starts with Konkana declaring her love for the groom DURING his shaadi to someone else. From this point on, the climax was hijacked by Chopra-Ghai camp. Can't believe they couldn't wrap up more sensibly. The only thing missing was fat cops bumbling into the frame before end-credits!!

Metro came with a very 'Page-3' or 'Corporate' style promo and cast, a very contemporary premise and excellent performances. Even the music was brilliant, with new voices and soul rock by Pritam. The 3 rockers popping up every now and then as adhunik sutradhars were an innovative and refreshing touch. This was a part of the movie I found extremely apt, cinematically attractive and memorable. Unlike Bhandarkar's movies, though, Basu did not have the courage to take the story where no man (or horse) has gone before. Bhandarkar's stories are entertaining tippani on his perception of modern society. Basu stays true to his soap-opera roots, simply picking up tried and tested (tired and tasteless?) stereotypes of high-society.

There have been many more original and under-appreciated scripts out of India in recent times. Perhaps I shall list a list in a future blog. What prompted this blog was my sadness that MPAA would deem a plagiarised and cliched script worthy of representing modern Indian film-making!

What I did like in Metro were the production qualities, transitions, scene-setup and delicious locations in Bombay for the breath-taking backdrop of the story. It definitely is a technically well-made picture.

As a piece of Cinematic Art, it has the aesthetic appeal of a Rs.250 Venus de Milo sold at Big Bazaar.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Weaker

Makes me wonder about the huge population of old and alone parents in India. Half the boom in USA's new IT industry is fueled by desi bachchas who left their parents in search of their karmabhoomi. They are doing amazingly well and more than just a job, many of them are impacting our very lives with their innovative work. Yet the life they impact most is two sets of parents. Parents who have large nest-eggs in a large empty nest back home.

The rest of us didn't go that far, still, Lucknow is more than a planet away when calculated from Bangalore. The best of us manage to meet them once or twice a year. Usually it is once or twice a decade. Usually it is combined with a packed sight-seeing schedule. Usually the whole deal is no more than 10 to 15 days, all inclusive!

Oh yes, I have even wondered about the alternatives.
Probably one option is to stay with parents in their city and be limited to the opportunities available out there. Chances are, your "IT" job in such case would be about as fancy as owning the dealership for Creative Sound cards. Of course, the money earned would be enough to lead a kingly life in that city. But yeh dil maange more. So even the parents sacrifice their time with us to encourage us to leave. To see us live the dreams they never dared sleep over!

The other alternative, of course, is to bring them over to live with us. This means uproot them from a comfort zone and bring them to a world where we spend more time on intercontinental con-calls and buzzing blackberry's than on talking to people within 10 meter radius of us. So now they are near and yet not so dear.

Little wonder then, that none of these options are very popular. What is common is just old parents living alone, in a big empty house, far removed from the race to get 10Gbps DSL-at-home and the next 30GB iPod. And there is a whole army of them! So many of them, and yet each one is equally lonely. Equally helpless. Or are they? My dad is quite unwell and I am the one feeling helpless. With all my brains and money, I can not "be there" at his time of need. With all their weaknesses, I am sure mom and dad will manage to triumph over this!

Us "developed" 21 Centurians have destroyed age old family systems in our infinite wisdom to replace it with no system. Somehow we are sure that 20 years of education is enough for us to challenge 2000 years of collective wisdom. We barter strong family support and social structure to root for weekend-couples and latch-key kids. The brains that created a whole new industry for "keeping in touch" failed to offer a single hug for those on the periphery of technology.

Despite being one of the strongest civilizations in the world, haven't we stooped to embrace volatile and fragile social systems from the most infantile civilization in history?

My favorite saying goes: "The best things in life are either illegal, immoral or fattening". We seem to have chosen an ice-cream lifestyle over cereals and fruits.

To live for today like there is no tomorrow and there never was a yesterday...

Sorry Dad.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Moral Science, naah, Art

Outlook has done a cover on the moral police bashing up a Vadodara University art-student for "obscene" religious drawings. It seems the famous Gujarat cops, making headlines becoming The Saint and dispensing instance justice, were more than eager to rush in and arrest the student. Ironic that a journalist called the saffron-goons who called the saffron-cops who were on the run from journalists poking into the encounter affair.

Coming at the heels of arrest-warrants for Gere-Shetty kiss, it makes us wonder about the efficiency of the judiciary. The Supreme Court has, over the past decade or so, filled the void created by criminals salivating instead of legislating in parliament. However, at the lower level, the courts are courting morality cases over billions of pending criminal and civil cases. The devastated undertrials living sub-human lives in jails across India does not ruffle the feathers of these judges. But one peck on Shetty or Sawant's cheek and they find it socially devastating!!

Experts have opined that the student should be allowed to draw obscene graphics as long as art-critics find it tasteful. It is not upto judiciary to rate the obscenity of art, they say. D'uh?! How is it any better for me, whether I face prudery from a judge, hypocricy of goons or the veiled blinkers of an art-critic?!!!! If I am to create art, I need to be unshackled from all limits of society. You may or may not "like" what I do. But true art, by definition, is beyond definition and borders on rebellion. You can hate me for creating it--- but can you arrest me for being a bad artist? Just because I happened to paint a dick?

By the way, how does a campus display for examination purpose constitute public display of immorality? Who will judge these judges?

Thankfully, the artist was not a muslim. At least this remained an establishment versus freedom fight and didn't turn uglier. Isn't it amazing even how easily we are drawn into debates on such manipulated trivialities?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Road Safety - Number plates

For the past few weeks I have noticed a new trend on Bangalore roads-- Kannada number-plates. This is a new high in patriotism.

Far as I knew, it was illegal to have regional script, calligraphy, hieroglyphics and fine print on number-plates. In fact people were made to fork over 500 bucks to change even the color code for "security" reasons, about 3-4 years ago! Same goes for darkly-tinted glasses, driving perpetually on high-beam, lane-cutting and eye-level disco brake-lights. All of these rules are being flouted with increasing impunity on the streets of Bangalore. Traffic cops are too busy lolling about at tea-shops to pull-over anyone for such "patriotic" crimes. Earlier it was just the rowdy call-center cabbies, today I saw high end cars such as a Hyundai Verna and Santro (see pic) with illegible number-plates!

The transport authorities made it clear that the provision of rule-50, sub-rule-2 and proviso-D of Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, specifically states that letters on vehicle number plate should be in English and numerals in Arabic. The Government of India in a notification (No.SO. 444E dated June 12, 1989) issued under Section-41 (6) of the Motor Vehicle Act , 1988, also made these rules mandatory.

Probably this is what goes on inside the "logical" brains of our administrators, when they condone such violations: now that even courts and governments have been directed to conduct all business in regional languages (tamil in chennai, marathi in maharashtra, hindi in UP... and so on), your doomed struggle for justice begins with the license-plate of the hitting car. If you cannot even read the license-plate, you don't deserve justice anyway.

Breaking the law has been a "status symbol" for a while now. That it is also equals patriotism and regional pride, is something I wasn't prepared for.