Tuesday, August 29, 2006

No Motive...stills

Shiva and Neha Mishra

Sharan and Neha Mishra

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.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A symbol in Padre Padrone

Padre Padrone depicts a shepherd boy's incessant struggle for gaining education. What I wanted to discuss here is just one symbol from the movie. I'm trying to interpret it my own way. In the movie this particular symbol appears a handful of times and if I'm right, it is also the final shot in the movie. Gavino, the protagonist, has a habit of swinging the upper half of his body back and forth whenever he sits somewhere contemplatively. This swinging is rather an unconscious process in his wakefulness. Young Gavino of 12 years of age or less is shown in the film as swinging back and forth at an abnormal speed. At this age he had not gained proper education. During his educational life, when he was in the barracks, he retains this habit, but at a slower pace. Finally, at the end of the movie, when he overpowered his father in the face of the latter's domineering instructions, Gavino is shown to follow his habit of sitting and swinging back and forth. But there is a difference this time. After three or four cycles, he becomes aware of his unconscious act and controls it. This is shown in the film as happening when Gavino has received a good amount of education and when he is expected to have control over his self.

My interpretation is that, this habit of uncouscious swinging is a symbolization of raw and untrained mind. When individuals receive education, they gain control over themselves and cease to be 'animals'. Education brings in self-consciousness and control over mind. Does this symbol offer anything for the future?

Click here to read the synopsis of the film

Friday, January 13, 2006

Delhi Panorama

It was before CD revolution. We had to update, every now and then, the information on the venues of foreign language movie screenings in the city. It was a method to keep ourselves busy. These films also offered us something to talk about always.

Here are the addresses of some venues which I frequently visit in Delhi.

French movies
Alliance Francaise,
72, Lodhi Estate.
Who is permitted?: One who has taken membership (free) in French Ciné Club. You can avail it by applying in a white paper to the office at this address.
A member of FIRC or French Culture Center, 2, Aurangazeb Rd. is allowed to borrow French Film CDs from FIRC library.
Screenings: Every friday 5.30 pm and 7 pm at 72, Lodhi Estate.

Iranian Film Club is associated, though not a part of, Iranian Culture House, Tilak Marg
Who is permitted?: Get a free membership by writing to iranfilm@rediffmail.com
Screenings: Most screenings are in India Habitat Center. Not on regular schedules.

Italian Culture Institute
Nyaya Marg, Chanakyapuri
Who is permitted?: Get a membership from the institute paying Rs.400/- as an yearly payment. You will also have access to the Institute library, Cafeteria etc. A member will also be allowed to watch Italian movies of your choice individually in the multimedia room of the institute.
Screenings: Every wednesday at 7 pm

Max Mueller Bhavan, Kasturbha Gandhi marg
Who is permitted?: Entry free, no membership required
Screenings: Generally on every friday at 6 pm

Hungarian Culture Centre
Who is permitted?: Members (membership free)
Screenings: Generally on every Thursday

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Il Postino

A walk typical to a postman in a countryside, this is what attracted me the most about Massimo Troisi in and as Il Postino. This image of the postman going uphill, in order to deliver the mails to poet Neruda appears a few times in the movie. The way he pulls along his bicycle to the hilltop where the poet was putting up is a great demonstration of acting with one's entire body. In fact, Troisi was portraying a character who do not know how to act in real life. The poor lad from the coastal village did not come out successful in real life since he did not know how to act and fool people in real life. What he had in him was only poetry.

The shooting at the hillside proved fatal to Troisi, according to the Signora who taught me Italian in New Delhi. Troisi passed away the day when filming was completed.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Itenerario nel Cinema Italiano

L’Italia è famosa per il cinema. In questo paese ci sono stati molti registi che hanno fatto molti film classici. Il mio progetto di viaggio in Italia comprende cinque-sei luoghi che sono i più importanti per il cinema Mondiale. Io comincerei il mio viaggio da Torino che si trova nel nord-ovest dell’Italia.
È la capitale di Piemonte, regione dell’Italia e si trova vicino alle Alpi. Andrei a Torino, in via Montebello per visitare la Mole Antonelliana, dove ci sono i tresori del cinema. Sono sicuro che la veduta sarà meravigliosa.

La Mole Antonelliana, che è alta 167,5 metri è l’edifico di mattoni più alto in Europa. Questa struttura di diciannovesimo secolo è il monumento simbolo della città di Torino. Alessandro Antonelli l’ha costruita nel 1863 per la comunita Ebraica ed era originariamente una sinagoga. Vorrei visitare due luoghi in particolare: il Museo Nazionale del Cinema e il Cinema Massimo. Nel Museo Nazionale del Cinema ci sono diversi settori: l'Archeologia del Cinema, la Macchina del Cinema, la Collezione dei Manifesti, le Video installazioni e la grande Aula del Tempio.
Il Museo ha lanterne magiche, scatole ottiche, fotografie, disegni, bozzetti e molti altri oggetti curiosi. Forse è il museo del cinema più bello, più ricco e più vivo del mondo, sia per la ricchezza del materiale, sia per il luogo. Nel Museo del Cinema scoprirò come è il nato il movimento fotografia e le origini del cinema.

Cinema Massimo è famoso perche ha tre grandi sale di proiezione

La Suola Nazionale del Cinema, Torino

Quando ero bambino volevo fare una professione nel cinema. Perciò il questo argomento mi ha sempre attirato. Visiterò sicuramente la Scuola Nazionale del Cinema. È, insieme a quella di Leningrado, la prima scuola di cinema del mondo. Da Antonioni alla Cavani, da Bellocchio a Virzì, da Loy all’Archibugi, da Maselli a Verdone, molti registi famosi sono passati per questa scuola del Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. Vorrei anche visitare la biblioteca d’istituto: la Biblioteca Luigi Chiarini, che è la maggior biblioteca italiana specializzata nel settore. Vorrei anche visitare la Biblioteca Internazionale Di Cinema E Fotografia Mario Gromo a Torino che ha le collezione speciale di tanti fotografi.

Torino è famosa anche per altre cose. Torino è stata la prima capitale d’Italia. Dopo la mia visita nei posti piu importanti per il cinema, a Torino vorrei visitare il Museo Egizio. È il secondo museo piu grande del mondo per l’arte Egizia. Trovero sicuramente tempo per visitare i Palazzi Reali a Torino. Spero di poter vedere Stupinigi, Racconigi, e il Palazzo Reale in un giornata. Per tutto il tempo del mio viaggio a Torino mangero i cioccolatini di Peyrono, di Ferroro e andro al caffe “Bicerin”, famoso per il suo caffe al cioccolato. E i miei amici mi hanno già detto di portare loro qualche cioccolatino.

Alla fine, visitero un posto molto importante per la mia religione. A Torino ogni cristiano deve visitare la Sindone. La leggenda dice che era il lenzvolo in cui e stato avvolto Gesù nel momento della sua morte. Sara una esperienza unica vedere l’immagine della faccia di Gesù che e stampata sul lenzvolo. E un miracolo senza spiegazione.

Cinecittà (Roma)
La Città del cinema è situata a sud-est di Roma, Cinecittà offre tutto cio è necessario per fare il film: i teatri, i servizii tecnici, un scuola di cinematografia ecc. Fu costruita nel 1937 ed e diventata un luogo per lo scambio culturale. Sarebbe una esperienza meravigliosa per me se potersi andare dove molti registi famosi, per esempio, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini ecc. hanno fatto i loro film.

Ho visto un film sui gladiatori: “Gladiator”. Il loro coraggio e la loro forza sono incredibili. Per questo voglio vedere il Colosseo. È un luogo dove c’erano spettacoli di sangue in epoca Romana. Non mi perdero certo i musei Vaticani a Roma, in particolare la Cappella Sistina. È una meravigliosa opera d’arte di Michel Angelo. Reciterei la mie preghiere nella Cappella Sistina. Visiterò anche San Pietro.

“La Dolce Vita” è stato un film che esprima la filosofia degli italiani verso la vita. Nonostante tutte le tristezze e I problemi, a loro piace molto la vita. Vorrei andare alla Fontana di Trevi che è il luogo indimenticabile delle “La Dolce Vita”. Anche vorrei vedere Via Veneto dove la sera incontravano gli artisti del cinema. E dopo vorrei girare per Piazza Spogne o Trinite dei Marti. A Roma, anche visitero il Museo Nazionale del cinema e della Spettacolo. E un museo piccolo che contene le attrezzatture per fare il film, I costumi, e altri oggetti. Io andrò sicuramente nelle tre biblioteche splendide che sono lì – la biblioteca dei film, della fotografia e delle video cassette.

Questo sarà il mio viaggio nel cinema italiano.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Need for a Better Visual Culture among Children

‘Seeing is believing’, the saying might be true a few decades ago. Today when images everywhere have become mere ‘visual commodities’, one can easily doubt the truthfulness of them. It’s true that we have
infront of us a whole range of images in various media especially the television, films and the internet. These images range from news to entertainment, from costumes to automobiles. But even as we are bombarded with images to our right and left, few of us reflect upon their quality. We are in the habit of taking whatever is offered to us.

Debates about the quality of any form of human expression certainly are never ending. But one cannot miss out the process of mutual reinforcement between society and media: society (read it ‘popular culture’) loves sensationalism, melodrama and those superficial treatments of all human emotions; be it news stories, literature or films. Whereas on the other hand, society is satisfied with them because these are the only tales usually told. I would be interested to say something about the need to develop a better visual culture among school children. However, the topic is also equally relevant for other sections of our society.

Considering the pathetic quality of films (be it Bollywood or Hollywood) and television programmes children usually see, anyone concerned about child development will be of the opinion that something better should be shown to them. However, contrary to what many of us think, research in mass communication has proved that mass media do not have direct effects on humans. But, as far as training of children is concerned, one has to have a pragmatic approach where the question is to base oneself at some point. Thus the ultimate task would be, as I have mentioned earlier, two-faced; first, to produce quality films and programmes which however is beyond the powers of children for the most part. And the second is to develop a good viewing culture among children themselves. As for achieving the latter, our academic curriculum, various student activities, the school atmosphere etc. can help a lot.

While students are familiar with many pioneer poets and writers of our country, they hardly know those film-makers like Satyajit Ray or Adoor Goplakrishnan who have helped Indian films to find a place in the world cinema map. Nor our children have a historical knowledge of cinema; the milestones in its path, the struggles it had successfully fought. At least a brief history of this form of human expression has to be included in the academic curriculum.

Introducing students with some classic world movies can be another step. A conscious effort is necessary in this regard. Language is a barrier. But, nowadays most foreign films carry subtitles in English. With necessary training we can help our children enjoy good foreign language movies other than English.

Finally, organizing photographic exhibitions in schools, training students to visualize different themes, helping them make short films even with the help of some low profile equipment; all these can be planned at school level. It will enable them to reflect upon various societal issues of their time with the help of this powerful tool called photography. Nevertheless, such endeavors also help them to defend themselves against the invasion of those images from the First World.

The article was written in September 2003, when I was working as an Activity Teacher for Photography in one of the public schools in New Delhi.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How Pasolini helped me in interview

Last year in October, I attended the interview for Italian Government Scholarships offered by the Ministry of Human Resources and Development, Government of India. I had completed two years of language learning. There were quite a good number of candidates who attended the interview, and in my category I had to compete with atleast 30 candidates. When I reached the interview venue at 9 in the morning (Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi) a person from Chennai was already there. Our turn came only in the afternoon. Cursing the Department officials for their failure to manage the timings of the interview we actually killed time. When my turn came finally at 3 in the afternoon, I was completely exhausted and mentally tired. Routine questions were asked, “why do you want to learn Italian” etc. All along the interview I wanted to express my interest in Italian Films and cinema as a whole. After asking about my academic interests, research areas and ambitions one of the board members asked. “Who is your favorite director in Italian?” “Pasolini”, I replied. “Why do you like Pasolini?” question from another member. I thought for a while. “I suoi film sono le poesie” I replied. “ Le Poesie!” all of them wondered. “Yes,” “they are poetry.” The interview board found it very difficult to get along with this statement, it seemed. But no one showed it outside. As a conclusion they asked me whether I know the importance of this year related to Pasolini. “It is the thirtieth year of his death, I replied.”

I was proposed by the Ministry of HRD for the award of the said scholarship. I now await a confirmation letter from University of Foreigners, Perugia, Italy.