Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

Five years ago, I ambitously made a list of the 116 films that I wanted to see during a short break that I was taking from the corporate world. Today, less than half way down that list, I realize just how difficult that task would have been accomplish in a meaningful way over a couple of months. But over the last few years here are some of the incredible 44 films that I have seen from my old list that have also done a lot to change my perspective of cinema.

  • It Happened One Night (1934)
  • Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) – Seen
  • Modern Times (1936)
  • All Quiet on the Western Front (1939)
  • Rebecca (1940)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • The Lost Weekend (1945)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  • Sunset Blvd. (1950)
  • All About Eve (1950)
  • An American in Paris (1951)
  • Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  • From Here to Eternity (1953)
  • Roman Holiday (1953)
  • The Caine Mutiny (1954)
  • Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
  • Marty (1955)
  • Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)
  • 12 Angry Men (1957)
  • Some Like It Hot (1959)
  • Psycho (1960)
  • The Apartment (1960)
  • To Sir With Love (1967)
  • Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967)
  • Oliver! (1968)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  • The Godfather (1972)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • The Godfather, Part II (1974)
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  • Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • Raging Bull (1980)
  • Ordinary People (1980)
  • Terms of Endearment (1983)
  • Amadeus (1984)
  • Platoon (1986)
  • Goodfellas (1990)
  • Groundhog Day (1993)
  • No Country for Old Men (2007)

Each of them beautiful classics, alive and powerful in my mind. But I also realize that unlike in the past, there has been no blog to capture that story. So here’s to the remaining 72 – some among that I have seen in parts or a long time ago – and also another blog that will tell their story and pay homage to that glorious world of cinema that I have always loved.

When I chose to write a book on Aamir Khan, I always knew it would be controversial. Not simply because he is an actor whose work has impacted Hindi cinema, but because he always seems to evoke two extreme responses – adulation or extreme dislike (on the belief that his work is overrated and his positioning pseudo).

So just as I am grateful for the attention this book has received as the Landmark No 1 Non-fiction Bestseller (For almost two months in a row), a Crossword Non-Fiction Bestseller and its debut amongst Nielsen Bookscan’s top non-fiction bestsellers, I realize that I must accept both the criticism and the praise that this book has received with equal grace and humility.

However, there seem to be a few myths doing the rounds and I would like to respond to them as if I don’t set the facts right about my own book, nobody else will :)

  1. “I’ll Do It My Way” is not a biography. It is a filmography – as all the summaries released by the publisher will tell you – and should read/evaluated/reviewed as such. A filmography does not dwell on the man Aamir Khan, it looks at his work. So readers who expect me to examine all the dark rumours around the man will be disappointed. These are not the subject of the book – not because I was too scared to investigate them, but because they were not an area of interest. My passion is cinema – both film-making and the rationale behind it – and that’s what this book is about
  2. Am I die-hard Aamir fan/admirer? Not really… So I can say that I did not care for some of his recent films like RDB, Ghajini or TZP (and many others too!). But as an objective film researcher, I cannot ignore their impact, especially if it has been very clearly documented.
  3. So is the book only “in praise” of Aamir Khan. That is not true – unless one is so prejudiced by one’s own views that one is not able to take a balanced perspective. For instance, one of my favourite interviews in the book is with Mahesh Bhatt – simply because it is amongst the most objective voices. Mahesh appreciated Aamir’s sincerity and commitment, but seemed to find Aamir’s search for perfection exhausting – even as Mansoor Khan provides a different take on the same subject (without any knowledge of what Mahesh had said before this). The debate between the two views is interesting. Then, later, for the first time, directors like Dharmesh Darshan, Indra Kumar and even Mansoor talk about certain filming decisions taken in conjunction with Aamir that were mistakes. So we see that while Aamir has made cinematic decisions that have worked well with audiences in the recent years, there have been mistakes as well. Just as there were many poor film choices in the early and middle phases of his career. This book touches on all that too. Infact, this is more than most existing books on Indian actors have done so far.
  4. A review in Deccan Chronicle insinuates that Amol Gupte was dropped from the list of interviewees because Aamir Khan/his office edited the list of interviewees. That is not true and borders on defamation. Aamir Khan’s office did not suggest that I drop anyone… But they did suggest that I include directors Muragadoss, Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vindod Chopra. As I had begun working on this book much before Ghajini was released, they were not on my original list and it worked well for the book that this was pointed out.
  5. So why was Amol Gupte not included in my list of interviewees? Only because in MY view he was not a director, producer or principal actor in Taare Zameen Par. My interest was in how the film was made, and there was sufficient documentary coverage from the producers in the public domain that allowed me to analyze this aspect.
  6. Incidentally, my modus operandi was to try and get every director whose film was being included in the book to give me some commentary on his/her film. If directors like Ashutosh and Farhan are not in the book, it’s because they were busy and could not give me their time. Ditto with Juhi Chawla! In fact, for the record, the person I tried hardest to reach while writing this book was not Aamir, it was Juhi. But her secretary was unable to put us in touch over a period of two years. Incidentally, Juhi did not interview for the only other book that currently exists on Aamir — “Aamir Khan: Actor with a difference” by senior film journalist Lata Khubchandani. On the subject of interviewees, I would also like to point out that none of the directors I spoke to were interviewed for the previous book by Lata as well. In fact, this particular panel of interviewees is unlikely to be put together again. As a documenter of Hindi cinema, I believe that this makes the book significant — both in any study of Aamir’s work or his films.
  7. Aamir collaborated with the book in some way. No… He did not. This book was an independent research initiative. Aamir’s office was only aware that I was working on it — nothing more. I even paid for all the expenses/travel related to the book on my own, and till the end I believed that I could have to self-publish it. Just because the stance is positive does not mean that it is less independent or researched. Anyone who has read my previous work would know that I am a positive person and I like celebrate the best in people. This book reflects that approach.
  8. Is the book is a compilation of interviews from film magazines? Hardly! The first information source was live interviews, then came film/video coverage, followed by coverage in the national press and then film magazines. Having said that, I think a researcher is striking a pseudo-intellectualist stand if they believe that film journals are beneath them. Film journals reflect popular culture and can be a rich and extremely interesting source of information as they capture nuances that are sometimes missed by mainstream media. Typically, any quote that I have used in the book is not an isolated statement. It is corroborated by other interviews that he has given over the years.

When it comes to my work on creating the book, I am grateful that I got to write this book from a non-film background as this gave me the freedom to write my book without any prejudices. I started with a clean slate, and if at the end, my conclusion was not ‘negative’ or ‘darkly sinister’ enough to suit either the cynic or the traditional film writer, then so be it.  

I also did not have any pre-conceived notions on films like “Dil”, “Raja Hindustani” and “Ghajini”, and responded to them on the basis of both how they were made/how they were received/their impact. It does not matter to me that most people who appreciate “French cinema” better did not find these films appealing enough. In all truth, none of these films appeal to me personally either… But I am ready to look beyond myself and understand that making commercially viable Indian films is also an art that most film critics themselves have never mastered, and these films represent that art and to that extent reflect popular culture.

In fact “I’ll Do It My Way” is a actually a piece of film research, a methodology that I picked up under the Media Studies Department at the London School of Economics. But we also turned that approach on its head to make the book accessible to the lay reader. As I look at the book’s Flipkart journey, I believe that has already happened, and that is this book’s biggest achievement.

Finally, “I’ll Do It My Way” is an Aamir Khan filmography… So this work was begun with the view that Aamir’s work is significant to Indian cinema. The films that were covered in this book were meant to reflect different shades of his work as that was the area of my research. People may have their own views on it, and if this book encourages discussion around Aamir’s craft or even prods someone else to write their own book on the subject, it would have served its purpose.

(This post has also been cross posted on my blog for the book “I’ll Do It My Way”.)

127 hours

Posted: April 26, 2011 in Cinema
Tags: , ,

I watched Danny Boyle’s 127 hours the other day. I thought it was an extremely interesting film, especially because it takes special skill to make an engrossing film, when about two-thirds of the narrative has your main protagonist wedged between two rocks, with no rescue team in sight.

The film is based on the real life story of mountaineer Aron Ralston, and runs with the tag line “a triumphant true story”.

The method of storytelling has some similarities with the style seen in Castaway many years ago. But I think 127 hours was a lot more difficult to make, simply because the plain of action is so much more narrower. Also, Castaway was an actor’s film, and more than just a little of the film’s appeal lay in the complex themes of savagery versus civilization (so reminiscent of William Golding) that intersected with an otherwise linear narrative. On the other hand, even when 127 hours revolves around a single protagonist just like Castaway, it is a director’s film. The actor is important, yet incidental to the larger narrative. We remember Castaway for Tom Hanks. But Danny Boyle could have made 127 hours with any other actor. Then finally, unlike Castaway, the thematic significance here is a lot simpler. This film is simply about the undying human capacity to dream and hope.

In doing this, 127 hours seems to bring together all Danny Boyle’s previous work. Like in Slumdog Millionaire, this is a film about dreams that never die and the human spirit’s capacity to overcome tremendous odds. But unlike Slumdog Millionaire, which also integrated a dream like Bollywood spirit into the narrative, this film resonates with the gritty realism that is Danny Boyle’s trademark style and also characteristic of British filmmaking.

It’s not surprising that this film got ignored at the Oscar’s though. Gritty realism is after all something that neither Hollywood nor Bollywood have completely understood or appreciated.

So I would go with a rating of 4 on 5 for this film. It’s an engrossing film, and definitely a toughie of a story to tell.

The Godfather has been on my ‘must see’ list for the last decade. I finally got a chance to see the film on the big screen a couple of weeks ago when PVR played a re-run of the old classics.

There are many things that make a film a classic. One of them is that the film sets the trends. This is true of Godfather too, which firmly wrote the standards for all gangster films that followed.

But Godfather is not merely to be seen because it puts all gangster films in perspective. Almost forty years later it continues to hold its own as gripping, well narrated cinema.

Yet even as the events move forward at the brisk pace of a gangster drama, director Francis Ford Coppola weaves together a story that has the same intricate richness of the Sicilian tradition on which the story is based.

Excellent editing ensures that Godfather dictates the pace for gangster films for the next three decades. Yet it is not merely fast action that draws the audience in, instead they also feel pulled in to the complexity of situation that Coppola gives his film.

The story is inhabited by characters and not caricatures, brought to life in no small measure by powerful performances from Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. If Marlon Brando’s greatness could be remembered by just one film, that film could very easily have been Godfather.

There is also one of the last times we will see an intense sweetness to Al Pacino, which will soon be replaced by brooding darkness in his later films.

The music does add an extra dimension to the film, and it is not without reason that it is sometimes remembered in isolation.

All this comes together to bring a memorable book to life, while becoming one of those rare instances where I rate the movie to be better than the book.

I first became a blogger five years ago in November 2005. It was a month after I had gotten married, and I think that blogging was my way of keeping in touch with the Christina who always wanted to “create”. It was a part of me that I was not going to let die, as I had seen happen in many of my friends for whom the urge to become, achieve, create had in some way been satiated by the contentment of togetherness that sometimes comes with marriage.

I wrote about many things. But I am sure that most people who have followed this blog for some time now would agree that I spoke with most power in my movie reviews. Then perhaps it was just what I liked to write about cinema more than anything else, and so it seemed to me like my most powerful writing.

But whatever the underlying factors, this was the space that I used to analyse films and shape my ideas on cinema.

Today the journey I began on this blog has taken a new direction. My movie reviews will now move out of my blog to Citizen Matters, where I will have my own column that reflects cinema as it is experienced in Bangalore.

You can have a sneak preview to my weekly column here: http://bangalore.citizenmatters.in/articles/author/4441-christina-daniels

I terribly excited about the opportunities this opens up for research and writing on cinema as it is experienced in Bangalore. It is also the second time that this blog has been a launching board for bigger dreams and wider horizons 🙂

I watched From Here To Eternity Today. In fact I remember watching this film many years ago when I had just become a teenager.

The film had a huge impact on me at that time. But this around, inspite of the 8 academy award nominations and a delicious cast (that includes Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatara and Burt Lancaster), the film was a huge disappointment.

Of course, even while saying this, I know that I could be being a little harsh on the film. Yet I think the film is light both on the treatment of love and the forming and leaving of an extramarital liaison. Deep love that goes against convention does not just happen, it develops… And so it is called “falling into love”. Yet this film gives it a Bollywood style interpretation, and not those deeper overtones of eternal love so famously depicted in Hollywood classics like Doctor Zhivago. So we have a very flippant (one night stand stylish) treatment of a subject to which the audience is expected to feel veneration.

This remains my primary crib with this film that I would give a rating of 3 out of 5. For me, it did not live up to the hype of being a famous Hollywood classic.

The Caine Mutiny

Posted: July 5, 2010 in Cinema
Tags: ,

This film that created a sensation in 1954 was based on the 1951 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Herman Wouk. It was directed by Edward Dmytryk and produced by Stanley Earl Kramer. Among the other outstanding films that Kramer would go on to produce/direct was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Like the novel that it was based on, The Caine Mutiny is the story of a mutiny aboard the World War II U.S. Navy destroyer minesweeper, the Caine, and the resulting court martial of two officers. Riveting trial room sequences are integral to the film’s plot as it hurtles to an unpredictable climax.

The first thing that stands out about the film is that it is so well made that it could have been a 21st century production. Yet at the same time it has depth of substance that is sadly lacking in many modern Hollywood productions.

The most unique aspect of the plot is a story that exists at different levels, and this has not been tampered with in the filmmaking. So The Caine Mutiny is a wartime film that celebrates the best traditions of the US navy. It is also a study in management, contrasting different leadership styles. But above all else, it stands out for me as a journey into the dark places of the human mind.

The movie is helped along by an incredible performance by Humphrey Bogart (as Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg). He gives his character the complexity of the man veering off the precipice as he stands balanced between sanity and insanity. In doing this, he brings a special quality to a film that could have otherwise become a straightforward adaption of a great novel.

The Caine Mutiny is often regarded as the last of Bogart’s great performances. During the shooting of this film, he was already suffering from the throat cancer that would later claim his life.

Not surprisingly, Bogart’s portrayal of Queeg won him an Oscar nomination. But here he lost out to another mighty performance – Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. The film also won 6 other Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Sound Recording, Best Film Editing, and Best Dramatic Score.

I’d give The Caine Mutiny a rating of 4 on 5. If you haven’t seen this film yet, it’s a “must see” great classic from Hollywood.

Click here to watch Humphrey Bogart take you through an entire range of emotions in the trial room sequence in The Caine Mutiny.