Sunday, May 20, 2007


I watched the three movies which make up the Apu Trilogy over the weekend. Initially, I was a little apprehensive if I was ready yet for Ray’s movies. Though I have been watching a lot art cinema over the past year or two (and enjoying most of them), I was not sure if my taste in cinema had reached a level where I would be able to appreciate Ray’s oeuvre.

Thankfully, that was not the case. Pather Panchali took my breath away in the first few scenes itself and Apur Sansar could match any movie for its emotional roller coaster ride. And you cannot help but cheer Apu on in Aparajito as he leaves his drab existence behind to find a new one in the city. My only regret was that I didn’t know Bengali enough to appreciate the nuances in the dialogue more. Subtitles can only do so much. Fortunately, Ray almost always conveys more through his style, music, and motifs than just through the dialogues in his movies. I remember reading in his book ‘Speaking of Films’, which is a collection of essays from the great man that he considered the use of dialogue to convey emotion only as a last resort.

My understanding of art cinema or any good director’s movie has been greatly helped by the resources which are part of the special features contained in the DVD. In this DVD for instance, there are interviews that Ray gave to the BBC on the movies in question. On Apur Sansar there is also a wonderful discussion of the movie between Mamoun Hassan and six students of the Film and Television Institute of UK. It is only when one sees that that one realizes that there are so many nuances in the movie which has escaped one’s eye. For example, what was the need for the pre title scene in Apur Sansar? Why particular scenes are shot the way they are- the wedding night scene, of Apu in his room, of the mad groom in his palanquin? In as much as the tragedy in the movie is supposed to come as a shock to us, does Ray leave hints for the discerning viewer to anticipate what is going to happen?

In some contemporary excellent movies, it is a privilege to hear the director’s scene by scene commentary. One gets an opportunity to look from the director’s point of view and get that additional extra insight into the finer points of the film. I thoroughly enjoyed the commentary in some movies like, ‘The Whale Rider’ by Niki Caro, and Michel Gondry’s ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. I haven’t yet seen a similar feature in the DVD’s of Hindi movies yet. One movie which I would really like to pick the brains of the director would be ‘Eklavya’, which is easily my favorite Hindi movie of the year yet. There are so many shots in the movie which I would like to know why they were shot the way they were because there is so much which the movie conveys at so many levels.

Bristol has been good for me in a couple of ways. I have been able to expose myself to a whole lot of wonderful World Cinema thanks to the DVD collection at the Central Library and also given myself quite a bit of time to hone my guitar skills. There’s still some way to go yet on either vocation and I might not get enough time when I get back home which I shall, hopefully, in July. But I have never yet worried about reaching the end on anything now, have I?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Class Act

I have been hanging around YouTube a lot nowadays. There’s a lot of amazing stuff on that site that I have come across. I had read about Sanjaya Malakar and his tryst at the American Idol show and just clicked on a link which fortuitously came my way. Apparently, apart from a couple of songs, the kid’s performance (he is 17) on the show was quite below par when compared to the other contestants.

But inexplicably, he was a hit in the US and wasn’t getting voted off.

Now this seemed to puzzle a whole lot of people in that country. I don’t think this would have been a surprise to us in India. I mean aren’t our Indian Idol and such shows infamous for partisan voting from the contestant’s states? As contestant after contestant kept getting voted out of the hit show, the jokes on Malakar kept getting louder and louder in all the talk shows across America. The judges kept getting nastier and nastier, letting him know in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t good enough to continue in the competition on the strength of his talent.

Throughout the whole tamasha, he kept smiling.

He made it a habit of appearing with a different hairdo every week. One of them, called the Ponyhawk, raised quite a stir. He became the first contestant to sing in Spanish, and even managed to make a 11 year old girl cry at one of his performances.

The jeers kept getting louder.

On YouTube, one female got quite a bit of publicity when she announced a hunger strike till Sanajaya was voted off the show. At least one video response mentioned that she could do with losing some weight. Websites professing to be a meeting place of Sanjaya Haters came up asking people not to vote for the guy. People who hated the show in the first place exhorted people to vote for Sanjaya as they proclaimed that the show would thus lose all credibility of claiming to throw up genuine singing talent. One of the judges, the famously nasty Simon Cowell declared that he would leave the show if Sanjaya became the American Idol.

Sanjaya was finally voted off the show on the Top Six episode. On his last day on the show, he sang ‘Let’s give them something to talk about- other than hair’. But that’s not the point.

All of us love a few things. Unfortunately, we can never be really good at it, leave alone the best. So we either forget about them or if we are lucky, nurture them in secret. We cloak our passions in the veneer of mediocrity in everyday life and hope that we won’t be discovered for the hopeless romantics that we are. Very few of us have the guts to embrace those things, in the full knowledge that we will be berated, humiliated and eventually defeated. And only a special few can make this arduous journey keeping one’s dignity intact as people all around you are losing theirs. It requires a philosophical and fearless attitude, a hallmark of people, one of whom was referred by Jay Leno as ‘A Real Class Act’.