-A prize winning entry by Ramana Krishnan
“Nobody tells me what to do. Nobody tells me what to do.”
No Smoking starts off paraphrasing Aristotle, Plato, and Frank Sinatra. That, and what might easily be the most visually pleasing dream sequence in Hindi cinema give the viewer a peek into what to expect.
K., just K., as the protagonist would want us to believe, is more than just that. He is a character straight from Kafka’s set pieces; a character straight from a story of any struggle for individualism and freedom; a character straight from morally-policed India; a character straight from the field of arts and K., just K., probably is Kashyap, the writer-director himself.
K., a business man doing rather well for himself – at least professionally – is a heavy smoker, much to the dismay of his wife. Some marital discord, some emotional blackmail later, K. is packed off to what appears to be a boot camp straight from the Nazi era, only somewhere in the labyrinthine depths below Dharavi’s slums. The overlord of this otherworld, Shri Shri Prakash Guru Ghantal Baba Bangali Sealdahwale – whose dictatorial views and surveillance skills would make Hitler and Big Brother (from Orwell’s 1984) proud – warns K. of incremental punishments which would result in killing of his brother, cutting-off of his fingers, killing of his wife, and the ‘unspeakable punishment’ (Remember 1984?) for each instance of smoking. As the Baba’s methods get clearer and clearer to K. he realizes that the (Fincher-inspired?) Game he has stepped into which makes him question his sanity and the blurs boundary between the reality and his dreams (or nightmares!).
K. is defined by the quote at the start. He starts-off as the arrogant person who doesn’t let anybody dictate anything to him and ends up being a person forced (by family, by society, and by the authority) to stop what essentially defines him, and his consequent way of life. Ostensibly, everybody is out to help him ‘get rid of a bad habit’, but would he remain the same a person after changing? Would he not have ‘sold his soul’ due to the forced change?
Smoking might not be the best analogy of the artist’s right to creative pursuit, and the movie is such a personal reflection of the director, that he is caught showing-off too many times – be it in terms of the infinite homages to cult favourites, or the general abstractness of the movie which ends up showing a proverbial middle finger to the audience.
A one-of-a-kind movie in Hindi cinema, and fitting perfectly into the works of David Lynch or other such ‘abstract’ directors, this movie is a strong metaphorical work in defense of the artist who faces the censor board, or the moral police which takes out demonstrations for arbitrary hurting-the-sentiment-of-minority argument. Overall, the movie ends up leaving a strong taste in the mouth and depending upon the audience’s taste for self-indulgence, it might make for the best or the worst viewing.
– By Pradipta Bohra
A brief look at Christopher Nolan’s oeuvre through the lens of post-modernism
Christopher Nolan has arrived on the Hollywood scene with a bang which can really be named as ‘The big bang’ or the one that started it all. He has cemented his place as the champion of postmodernist cinema with his use of disjoint storylines, rejection of grand narratives and mocking of order and stability.
Post modernism identifies a departure from earlier era where science was held as the creator of values, and order and idealism were the apostles of faith. In today’s chaotic world Nolan’s movies find a ready audience who can identify with the insecurity and instability of the actors. There is no perfect hero in Nolan’s movies and in spite of the hero’s best efforts and conviction in his abilities; he faces the innumerable cracks in his character. Themes of duality, obsession, sacrifice, guilt and secrecy permeate the fabric of the storylines repeatedly. Such themes are a very real reflection of our society and bring home the point that in today’s society adapting and adjusting are the only way out. There is no right or wrong, just situations and actions driven out of those situations.
The sheer inability to follow a set path is repeatedly used by Nolan to weave intricate tunnels and passages in his scripts. He captures the audience’s short attention span through mini-stories that do not necessarily combine to form a whole and leave the audience free to have their own interpretations. It wonderfully establishes the paradox in today’s society- more of power to the individual, yet man is more confused about himself than ever before. No belief works anymore and this theme is repeatedly highlighted in the movie ‘The Dark Knight’. The villain in the movie, the Joker plays off people against each other by attacking their beliefs. Another of Nolan’s unforgettable characters in the Memento has already lost his ability to form any beliefs. He has to believe in things ‘on the run’.
Lights, camera and action – yes Mr. Nolan, we are ready to believe or disbelieve if you so desire.
On a friday afternoon, with the weekend already tugging at my work life, I decided to break the lethargy by heading to the Queens’ library at the basement of the my fifty storied office, in downtown New York. Having decided to watch a foreign language movie, I zeroed in on ʻSeven Samuraiʼ – one of the most celebrated works of Akiro Kurosawa and arguably his magnum opus.
Seven Samurai is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. A village, ravaged by marauding thugs, is awaiting their next plunder, after the harvest. The villagers decide to hire Samurai to safeguard their crops and citizenry and ward off the bandits. In return, the masterless Samurai would be provided food. A battle-hardened Samurai, Kambei, is the first to accede to the villagersʼ request. How he recruits other Samurai and how they go about fighting the bandits form the plot of this enthralling three hour twenty seven minutes movie.
Seven Samurai wonderfully depicts the feudal nature of the Japanese society and the friction among the warrior and farmer classes. The tension is visible when a few Samurai react with anger when they realize how badly the villagers had taken advantage of fleeing warriors in the past. With a long running time, Kurosawa is able to flesh out the key characters effectively. Seven Samurai is also a visual treat. The movie is heavy on metaphors. The symbolism of ʻSevenʼ, the use of the elements of nature (a Kurosawa speciality) add to the allure of storytelling. One of the trademarks of a great movie is, apart from the usual trendsetting aspects of filmmaking, one can extract scores of little nuggets that one can so happily tug at. ʻSeven Samuraiʻ is no exception, spawning an entire range of movies based on its mode of storytelling.
Great screenplay, wonderful acting, haunting cinematography backed by some good music make this a must-watch for anybody reasonably interested in watching good cinema.
-By Soham Bandyopadhyay
Yip Man is a funny name. The Man who was named Yip Man, not so much.
Much in the mould of Bruce lee and all his imitators after him, Donnie Yen plays a quiet, unpretentious guy who kicks ass when challenged in this beauty of a movie. Defeating his opponents with Yip Man’s legendary proficiency in the system of Wing Chun Kung-Fu and his characteristic whippy style of martial arts, Yen outperforms all his previous roles and plays the role that has today defined his own cult image in the western world.
The semi-biographical film focuses on Yip Man’s life from the time he had mastered his art and was living in a large bungalow to the time of the Japanese invasion of China and his subsequent struggles. Yip’s character as an unassuming man is totally in sync with his understated art of Wing Chun. The subtle shades of every character, including even the Japanese commander, are praiseworthy. The North-South regional rivalries of China are sublimely woven into the plot to give both Sinophiles and first-time martial arts moviegoers an equally pleasing experience. The plethora of fight sequences does no harm to the movie either, all of which are superbly choreographed.
But the most pleasing aspects of this movie are the superb conversations between Yip Man and his opponents. Just like Bruce lee, Yen as Yip Man not only is an exponent of his craft, but symbolises it. His calm, composed and unassuming manner is reflective of an art invented by a nun. His politeness and humility are indicative of the future when Yip Man would become the first man to teach Kung-Fu to non-Chinese in Hong Kong. And his refusal to back down, even in the face of weapons, is just plain awesome.
What does take away a little from the film is it’s portrayal of the Japanese as unfair and cruel people who take pleasure in inflicting physical pain. Combine it with a very simplistic portrayal of Japanese Karate, and one could be forgiven for thinking that the huge anti-Japanese sentiment in China was being cynically exploited for financial purposes (even with a Japanese background music director, who has done a fabulous job, btw). The only saving grace in the Japanese characters’ portrayal is the Japanese commander, who seems to be about the only morally sane Japanese shown in the movie.
Finally, in spite of these certain flaws, the film leaves a good taste at the end. If you’re an action movie junkie who likes little bits of nuanced characters thrown in (District Banlieue-13, Matrix, V for Vendetta etc), then this movie is for you.
One last thing, Bruce Lee was the real-life protégé of Yip Man. Thus while the protégé introduced Chinese culture to the wider world, movies based on the Master introduce the complexities of Chinese society. Watch the movie to understand how.