Monday, January 08, 2007

Popular Cinema - Emerging Trends

A few weeks back I happened to attend a lecture on ‘Popular Cinema in the Indiancontext’. For a south Indian, the meaning of Popular Cinema will be clearer than the popular cinema-goer of the North. Rajnikant has only recently been listed as the second most paid actor in Asia after Jackie Chan. The image of popular cinema is the same anywhere in India. People swarming the cinema halls, high rate of ticket sales in black market, emerging fads in college campuses etc. are associated with our thinking about popular cinema; a phenomenon which is unimaginably simple, if explained with Freudian identification theory. However, in our State the situation is different. Kerala, with a better percentage of literacy, has a different take on Popular Cinema. In the last five years or so, a good number of campuses have witnessed students producing films inside the campus. For me, this is an altogether new way of interpreting Popular Cinema. Cinema is no longer a medium for the actors and producers to get richer, but something which has become popular among the people. Spectator is no more naïve, neither is he at the receiving end of the hypodermic needle. He makes use of his own visual tools and video equipment either to challenge the influence of existing cinema culture or to narrate a story of his own, no matter what it falls into.

When I was in Kerala last October, I met one of my friends from our church going group. He is three-four years junior to me and for the last few years I didn’t have any knowledge about his whereabouts. Trying my luck in different professions I had reached a video production house in Delhi where I was finally appointed as a trainee video editor. I was not receiving any money for the reason that I was supposedly given a chance to learn video editing. With long cherished dream of becoming a film-maker I had always looked at the digital video cameras in the production house with respect though I have never touched them. No body ever bothered to teach camera operations to me and I waited there – there is less work to be done in my area, video editing – for my turn at some time in the future, near or far. I asked my friend, about whom I have come to a preliminary conclusion that a story of financial success is round the corner, what he is doing now. He said he has set up a videoproduction house with camera units and editing software. Family ceremonies are his prime business revenue. “Earlier we had to go to Ernakulam to get the whole wedding video edited and titled with special effects. Now I am doing everything at home. We have also undertaken some projects for music videos, tele-films etc.” He said he is using Sony PDI70 to shoot even wedding; the camera which was considered so great in Delhi is being used for Wedding Videography in Kerala.

The message was clear to me, shooting a motion picture has ceased to be a big task in the modern era. More than that, shooting broadcast quality pictures is also within the reach of common man. Post production process is not restricted to big production houses alone. On the other hand, it has been diffused into society. People use it for making money, for expressing themselves and for fulfilling various artistic and aesthetic needs. But we need a better theoretical model to understand the situation. The theoretical model we have followed to study the influence of popular cinema from a political and sociological angle must also include this emerging situation.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

No Motive...synopsis of ACTOR

No Motive...

Story 1: Actor


Play Director
Director’s assistant (f)

Characters inside Play-within-play

Actors – Shiva, Vella, Nagan
Musicians – Violinist, Drummer, Pianist.

Synopsis of the film

A drama rehearsal forms the immediate context of the story. A drama troupe is trying to rehearse some scenes of their play which is structurally inspired from Anton Chekov’s famous short story ‘The Bet’. The film tries to depict some minutes in the life of the lead actor of the play (glossed as ACTOR). He performs onstage murder successfully (signified by the tandava dance sequence), while he turns out to be an utter failure while enacting the suicide scene.

The drama rehearsal starts. All the actors are dressed in casuals. There is casual banter among the actors about the plagiarized nature of the play, the scriptwriter’s idiosyncrasies while composing the lines and general bitching. The tone is very cynical, sarcastic. Crucially, the ACTOR does not participate in this. At this point a drunkard enters the rehearsal set and interrupts the proceedings. He is a personal friend of the director. From his slurred speech, it is evident that he is the ex-lover of the director’s assistant and the girl has recently walked out of the relationship. The director lends a sympathetic ear to his friend’s predicament. More importantly, the ACTOR intently listens to the exchange and is affected/disturbed emotionally. The director gently coaxes the drunkard into a seat and calls for the resumption of on-stage proceedings. They enact the drama till the the murder-tandava scene in the play. The ACTOR carries on with renewed vigour and tempo and successfully enacts the dance of murder

Now the director calls a drinks break and tea is served. The actors jump off the stage. At this point the director’s assistant moves towards the ACTOR and starts a conversation with him. She is intrigued by the dichotomy between character and actor and how ACTOR copes up with the ethical, aesthetic challenges that a prosthetic, diegetic device like the bet entails. She is interested in knowing the ACTOR’s actual position viz-a-viz the murder-suicide question. On the contrary, the ACTOR sees this just as a problem of histrionics ie, how faithfully can the poseur in him actualize a performance which is successful. The two really straddle incommensurable paradigms. Instead the ACTOR is more interested in the factual details of the assistant’s failed romance. But whatever be the trajectories of the two, there is an attraction between them.

The director now calls for a rehearsal of the suicide scene. The ACTOR walks up to the stage confidently. He is patently unable to bring out a suicide which can satisfy either himself or the director. Even after a second take, it looks as if the task is beyond him. Dejectedly, he climbs off the stage.

The actor in his walk in the aisle throws down his bandana and turns his back to the whole. The other actors are uninterested and wait for the next thing while the director is resigned and tired and turns back to his friend. But crucially there is no banter this time. Now very slowly the drunkard comes on his own and takes the bandana thrown aside by the ACTOR and adorns it. He walks up to the stage slowly and takes stance. The drunkard gives a successful rendering of the suicide in a single take and falls to the floor. The otherwise uninterested supporting cast is dumbstruck by the performance and their gaze is rooted on to the fallen figure of the drunkard. The musicians’ gaze is also riveted to the fallen figure and they have stopped playing their notes. From the gallery, the ACTOR also watches the show and is visibly depressed. The director’s assistant now climbs on to the stage for the first time and stoops down to the drunkard.

Suddenly the director shouts into the silence, “Aree baaaand bajaooo…” and musicians burst forth into a happy chord.

Synopsis of the play within the film

The play deals with an unnatural, incongruous bet which is placed between the ACTOR and the rest of the supporting characters. The question being mooted is: ‘Which is more easy – Killing oneself or killing the Other?’ (The choice being between murder and suicide and the result being death in either formulation). Goaded by taunts on his own virility (namely suicide as the path of cowards and murder as the path of men), the hapless hero accepts the wager.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I Cento Passi

What is special about Marco Tullio Giordana's "I Cento Passi"?

Cento Passi (one hundred steps) is a film which depicts the notoreity of Mafia, an evil of Italia Meridionale (South Italy). While introducing we foreigners to Elementi di Civiltà of Italian life, our professor took great efforts to screen this movie for us. Peppino Impastato, a real character in history, fought against the mafia in Cinisi, a region in Sicilia, and finally became a martyr for his cause. It's a history-based film, no doubt. But what was the appeal of the film? Was the film trying faithfully to reproduce history and to make a judgement on the good and evil of social and political life of 1960s? If the film was trying to show matrydom how's it different from the epocal event of crucifixion of Christ? Isn't it time for us to give a new interpretation to this epocal event?

There is a shot in the film which depicts the summary of the film's objectives: Peppino plans to contest the elections. During the election campaign for Peppino the campaign vehicle enters a street where it was blocked for a moment on the road by a herd of sheeps/goats. The person who was announcing with the microphone gives a spontaneous remark: "andate controcorrente" (go against the flow). The crowd is always like a herd of sheep, no doubt. For Peppino, who tried to motivate the people of Cinisi to speak against the notoreity of Mafia, the people were like animals; without language. But that is all... Going against the societal norms and becoming a martyr - this is an old model. It's time to think about a power with the king's head cut-off (quote-unquote).

One can easily juxtapose I Cento Passi with the 'finally hero wins' movies in Indian languages. They are much more successful in fulfilling their objectives - pure entertainment. After all, which is more convincing: individual heroism in history or heroic struggle in movies?

Postscript: India can be easily stereotyped. Scenes of sexual liberation and mastery over pleasure was intertwined with Indian music (Sitar) in Cento Passi. Sitar is played when a white lady in Indian Salwar, who seems to have explored 'the hidden India', is shown to be leading Peppino to a friend of her's to make a new collaboration with former's Radio Aut.

Friday, August 04, 2006

No Motive... Independent film production

No Motive... (Col/English-Hindi/43 min/India/2005)
Dir: RG

This film was made as part of a M.Phil. (Master of Philosophy) course on "Popular Culture." The central theme of the film is 'death and the Other.' The fulfilment of

one's death is only characterised by the 'being' of the Other. This is how your individual self is constituted in language. Death is always your own impossibility of dying but a possibility witnessed by the Other. But the self and the Other are no separate entities at least in the schemata of language. Language equally resonates both in the self and the Other. 'No Motive...' revolves around this confusion: inevitable inclusion of the Other in language which makes dying impossible.

Though the philosophical argument has resemblance to the writings of Emmanuel Levinas, a famous French philosopher of 20th century, the film is an independently conceptualised creation.

A complete version of 'No Motive...' has four stories. In some versions of the film, I have omitted two minor stories for lack of their technical quality. Please remember that the film has never gained any market value. Actors were students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; editing and sound recording was done with an amateur software and the film was shot with Sony HandyCam (Hi8 format). Our studio was one of rooms in the hostel. Above all, this was my debut as a film director. I have not formally learned film making from an institute.

Introduction to 'No Motive...'

Story 1 Actor: Rehearsal of a play... Which part in the play would be performed better by the actor, murder or suicide? If the theme of the play itself is such a bet... you end up saying “If you don’t ACT, you die.”

Download complete script in English-Hindi here.

Story 2 Dead Man: omitted

Story 3 PIG's life: PIG is a popular word among the hostellers of Jawaharlal Nehru University. PIG means 'Permanent Illegal Guest'. New Delhi is a hub of job-seeking youth from various parts of the country and the campus is no exception. In addition, the campus is also a peaceful place for Civil Service aspirants. PIGs, though actually encouraged and promoted by the students themselves, are always viewed as an 'Other' in the dominant discourse of the legal residents. The story is based on a real incident in the hostel. PIGs never die.

Story 4 The Impossibility of Dying: omitted

A complete script of 'No Motive...' in English/Hindi and in Italian will be available in the blog in a few days. Write to me for further information:

The 'No Motive...' team

Produced by: Rajakrishnan PR
Dialogues: Chaity Das, Vinod KK, Rajakrishnan PR
Cast: Shiva Shanmuganandam, Neha Mishra, Sharan Kumar, Jayakumar Mannel, Jhelum Biswas, Prakash, Shaubik, Pradeep...
Videography, Editing: RG

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Reverse Visuals

While watching movies I have always tried to get out of the influences of narrative sequencing of stories. For this reason, I have always loved those visual presentations which go out of the framework of narrative story telling. We have witnessed many attempts in films along this direction. Abbas Kiarostami's earthquake trilogy as well as his 'Close-UP', for example, has tried to intertwine the cinematic world with the real world (I like to call the latter as 'a world without a camera'). There are other movie experiments too, where we see the visuality of the characters transforming itself to the visuality of the film audience at the expense of losing their own perceiving subject somewhere between the camera and their eyes [eg. Kazhcha (a malayalam movie of 2004; kazhcha means vision)]. All these are human experiences which are beautifully transformed to the screen and which finally made us say that visuals are not merely our objects of perception but our perceiving mechanism itself.

Watching 'Vismayathumbathu' (Meaning: on the edge of astonishment) I am exalted by a different possibility for visuals. The film not only has the potential to challenge the usual patterning of our thoughts vis-a-vis narrative story telling but it shows how visuality has occupied a domain of its own independent of our perceptional sequencing. The film is about spirits, extra sensory perception and enigmatic happenings. But the novelty is that the characters seem to be bewildered by the enigma of the visuals rather than by the incomprehensible powers of human spirit. For anyone who tries to view this movie in terms of the psychological processes which function as the backbone of the story, the film is just a story with a beginning and an end. It's true that unexplained psychological processes are the ones that have given the story its thread. But it would be rather idiotic to learn about ESP through a popular film than from expert practitioners.

Having prepared to give up the 'psychological' of visuality we are indeed faced with the question of 'sense.' Sense is something solid in narrative cinema which makes it mandatory for the events in a film to follow a chronological sequence. Language supplements the visuals by always appearing after them as a commentary to the cinematic time that has elapsed. In short, the possibility of a reverse visual is always forgotten to the extent that sense is considered to rest on the forward
succession, the pointing forward, of language. It is the potential of this reverse visual which is properly utilized by Vismayathumbathu. The spirit of a human who has been in a coma for a long time tries to recall the past events that have led her to this fate. The spirit cannot however recollect whether the person It represents is dead or alive. The characters who mediates this spirit with the outside world
finally summarize that the events have led to her death. For the audience, this is the story sketched by language. Actor Mukesh announcing to the world, "Reetha is murdered. The investigative column (about the disappearance of the former and published by a daily) ends here."

At this point reverse visuals come to the fore and lead the characters. These visuals follow a path of their own which is neither accessible to memory nor to the good sense in language. The usual sequencing and teleos of visuals are questioned by the reverse visuals. They are able to show death first and the actual process of dying the next, not as flashback but as a major reverse in our sense. One may ask what is the effect of all this. But don't you feel that the (a)cumulation of good
sense in language has a lot to do with the sequencing of cause and effect?

Click here or here for synopsis and review of the film.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Nancy-Kiarostami Discussion

I was reading a conversation between Jean Luc-Nancy and Kiarostami...
If you're familiar with Kiarostami films, you'll find the following text more meaningful.

On extreme introspective moments I used to recall a dialogue from Kiarostami's Close Up where the person who was caught, trialed and later acquitted by court for impersonating the famous film maker, Makhmalbaf, says, 'Now I understand everything.' I used to compare this piece of dialogue with the last few words of Pierre, the protagonist in Godard's, Pierre goes wild. Pierre prepares himself for suicide after murdering his lover in a fit of rage about her unfaithful behavior. Before he ties the dynamite round his head he says as if giving explanation to the whole act, 'what i am trying to say is that'. In a few moments we see just a globe of fire and Pierre becomes ashes.

For me the second dialogue is more appealing; bereft of any meaning for events even on the face of death.