Archive for January, 2010

My drifter’s bucket list

Posted: January 28, 2010 in Life and Living

Technically, a bucket list is a list of things to do before you kick the bucket, an idea made famous by the film The Bucket List

So as I take a break from the corporate world for  awhile, here’s my bucket list for some of the things that I’d like to do while I let myself drift a bit… The things that I would like to have done if I were to kick the bucket at the end of this period of drifting…

  1. Spend some time with my mum, without losing it
  2. Quality time with Jessie
  3. Revisit 18B Trimurti in Bombay – one of the places where I grew up
  4. Travel to my old schools – Kimmins & Wynberg Allen
  5. Cook many nice things for Manoj 🙂
  6. Read the books that remain unread
  7. Watch the films that remain unwatched
  8. Write letters to all the friends that matter and tell them how much they mean to me
  9. Have an exhibition of my photos
  10. Complete my 3 unfinished books

It would be nice to also…

  1. Learn to play the guitar
  2. Learn to swim
  3. See the Taj Mahal
  4. Build a world and Indian cinema collection
  5. Work on making my home look like the beautiful place I’ve always wanted it to be

So join me on this journey as I try again to find myself and let’s see how I fare 🙂

My first thoughts when I read Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone eons ago was that it was a badly written book that could be re-written to make Hindi cinema’s next blockbuster. Simply because even in a book full of grammatically incorrect sentences, the action made theatric and cinematic sense. So I was amongst those who liked the idea of the combined talents of Rajkumar Hirani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Aamir Khan coming together in a film based on Five Point Someone, even though I wasn’t extremely impressed with the book.

The final result is now out in theatres, under the name of 3 Idiots – a film that translates the idea of Five Point Someone into the idiom of Hindi cinema, even while taking the film far beyond the experience of the book.

Where the film succeeds brilliantly is in its ability to create moments, softly coated with Hirani’s comic touch. In this, the film like much of Hirani’s work is unique. Moments that stand out in my mind are Silencer’s Balatkar speech, Raju’s interview and Rancho’s “do you know who my father is” moment at the examination hall. The Balatkar speech in particular already has a huge fan following on the Internet.

While doing this, it even manages to challenge the Indian educational system every step of the way, combining entertainment with an intelligently articulated message in trademark Hirani fashion. This is by no means a small achievement.

In fact, the film stops short of being a world cinema classic only in its inability to string together these many wondrous moments without an immersion into cinematic cliché, sometimes bordering on the incredulous.

Coleridge once justified the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements in literature as the “willing suspension of disbelief”. Many great works of cinema and literature survive only because they succeed in achieving that “willing suspension of disbelief” in audiences across the ages.

In Lage Raho, Hirani succeeds in achieving that “willing suspension of disbelief” as he combines the incredulous with comedy. Even at its most incredulous moment, developments only seem as if they are in keeping with the larger absurdity.

This works well in 3 Idiots too, until Hirani combines both the incredulous and an assortment of often used cliches with serious dramatic moments. After all, dramatic moments shorn of comedy must above all else be believable. Amongst other things, silver wires instead of umbilical cords are not!

But that solitary failing notwithstanding, 3 Idiots remains amongst Hindi cinema’s finest releases of 2009. Not only for its ability to entertain, but also for its attempt to question and shake the box office while doing that.

When it comes to the performances, Aamir Khan and Boman Irani deliver as expected. Madhavan backs them up with a performance that adds depth and credibility to the film. But the touch of brilliance is Sharman Joshi, perhaps because there are so few expectations. Following close behind is Silencer Omi Vaidya, the final ace up Hirani’s sleeve.

In the context of Aamir’s evolution as an actor, the film seems to take off where Taare Zameen Par left off. Not only as another example of cinema with a message, but also because there are many in the audience who view Rancho as the story behind the making of a teacher like Ram Shankar Nikumbh in TZP. Interestingly, I find similarities in Aamir’s potrayal of the two characters as well.

Whilst Aamir’s legenadary approach of donning a new look for each film is not visible up front, it’s still making its presence felt in every frame through the loss of the muscular frame of Sanjay Singhania of Ghajini to give the slender physique of a twenty something credibility. In doing this, he creates another persona in his evolution as an actor. Here, the significance lies in his transformation.

Hirani brings all of this together to create a film that speaks to young urban India in a way that few films do. First to laugh along with him, then to make them think and finally to question. So even if there are moments when it fails to become a classic of world cinema, it succeeds in a way that few classics of world cinema do. Herein, lies the film’s greatest achievement.

What would you expect from the director whose repertoire of work includes The Terminator, Aliens and Titanic? The answer quite logically is Avatar – a film that is in more ways than one the culminating point of all James Cameron’s past endevours.

However, it must be said that I have not been a huge James Cameron fan over the last decade, and so the only thing that first interested me in Avatar was the film’s name. All the hoopla surrounding the film further helped to arouse my scepticism around the release. But on the other hand, going for the film was an opportunity for the experience of viewing cinema through the 3D lens, a first since Chota Chetan. It also helped that most respected critical opinion spoke highly of the film.

Having watched Avatar, I must agree that the film is definitely a highpoint in the making of cinema as created in Hollywood. In its own way, it even pushes the boundaries and possibilities for the ambitions of world cinema. For the first time in recent memory, cinema is indeed what it should be when it inhabits the world of fantasy – a glorious surreal visual spectacle that enthralls your senses.

Yet, lest you enter the cinema hall with unrealistically high expectations, be warned that the film is backed by an ordinary plot, script and dialogues. In fact some of the conflict situations seem slightly stale and one recollects similar moments in a number of Hollywood films from Planet of the Apes to Braveheart to Eragon to Apolcalypse Now.

But here, the thematic background of Aliens meets the pace of The Terminator in a roller coaster ride, laced with a touch of the romance of Titanic. As in Titanic, Cameron balances a wafer thin plot against a fantastic eye for visual detail and a background that is larger than life. But if Titanic was an attempt, Avatar is an achievement.

It becomes this because of the manner in which the film combines technology and slick editing to create a film that is not merely cinema, instead it is a cinematic experience. In this it extends the boundaries of the science fiction epic, making past classics of this genre like Star Wars seem merely aspirational. The use of 3D technology is an important master stroke, contributing to the larger than life quality of the film.

Performance, when non-existent, is rendered irrelevant. In this, it is both a director’s film and a triumph of the technology of film making. It is also to Cameron’s credit that he does not blast his way through your senses, instead he enthralls you and then draws you in.

Most significantly, in an age when classics of world cinema are beamed into our living rooms at will, the greatest achievement of films like Avatar are that they make the glorious tradition of cinema halls still relevant. Just like Ben Hur, Sound of Music and Jungle Book, this too is one for the big screen. And may the cash registers at the box office keep rolling!