Tuesday, 1 November 2011


Usually my postings are brief because the hope is that the reader will see the movie. Hence I do not want to reveal too much of the plot. However, this post is longish. Because it is about Rashomon. The film has so many dimensions that it is impossible to overemphasize its beauty. Also, it is a famous film. So, you have probably seen it. So the purpose of this post is to publicize my take on this film rather than making the viewer aware of the film.

On a rainy day, three men stuck in the rain in a temple, break a conversation about a bizarre story that two of them have seen unfolding for the last three days. There are three characters involved in the real life story. One of them is dead now. We come to know the story from all the three characters involved, including the dead man who appears via a medium. Lo and behold. The three versions are different in crucial places.

It perhaps takes great many years for us to learn that in social happenings - in human interactions - there is often no such thing as the absolute truth. All of us can recall circumstances involving several people where each one perceived the situation differently. This is natural. It is human to do so. Now introduce dishonesty. That is natural too and that is very human too. Now a given situation, if narrated later by one of the characters involved, will be very narrator dependent. There is no way of knowing what actually happened. Sometimes, the question of what actually happened might not make sense. We, the bulk of human beings, are a game playing bunch. We often play games with our own minds, let alone with others'. Thus a happening is not always absolute, we perceive it and narrate it later according to what we would have liked to happen. Often the narration is suited to make some material gain possible. This is very simple. However, often the narration is changed to suit our game playing mind. Then there is no immediate material gain in sight.

A man Takehiro Kanazawa and his wife Masako Kanazawa were travelling throught a forest. The infamous bandit Tajomaru was resting idly under a tree when a sudden cool breeze ruffled him. He decided to have the woman. As simple as that. Straightforward simple desire. Tajomaru is a skilled fighter, a brilliant swordsman and has a matching cunning. Hence he does not see any problem in fulfiling his desire without killing the husband. So he waylays him. Takehiro was stupid enough to fall in Tajomaru's trap. Then, although Takehiro is an agile fighter, Tajomaru effrortlessly ties him with a rope. Tajomaru returns to the wife Masako and tells her that her husband has been bitten by a snake. He sees in the eyes of Masako a concern that makes him at once envious of the husband. He wants the wife to see her husband's humiliation. Very bandit-like, very negative, very gloomy. However, Tajomaru is enjoying himself. So he takes her to the place where her husband is helplessly tied. On reaching there and seeing how Tajomaru has deceived her husband, she gets furious and attacks Tajomaru with her dagger. Tajomaru is amused, plays cat and mouse with her for a while before overpowering her to submission and finally having intercourse with her. This far is undisputed in all three versions.

The final shot of Tajomaru overpowering her shows that she is beginning to enjoy this forced physical interaction! We need to remember that this is shown as narrated by Tajomaru.

The question is who killed the husband. Takehiro was found dead afterwards. And this phenomenon is narrated in three different ways by the three characters concerned. Tajomaru says he killed. But why? To begin with, he wanted "to have the woman even if he had to kill the husband", but he himself declared that it would be all the better if he did not have to kill. Successfully executing his plan, he had the woman anyway, by his cunning. So why kill in the end? Tajomaru blames it on Masako. She is the one, according to him, who coaxed him into killing. She did not want two men to witness her disgrace and continue to live. She says she would go with the man who manages to kill the other. This is Tajomaru's version of events. However, Tajomaru does not seem to be a man to fall for such instigation. He has had many a woman in his life. Nevertheless, he considered Masako special enough so as to kill another man for taking her along. In the end, Masako gives him a slip. So does he repent? No, Tajomaru is not the kind of man who repents. He just concludes that she was like any other woman. Is Tajomaru telling the truth? It is hard to believe that Masako, who was so concerned about Takehiro would pitch the two men against each other knowing fully well about Tajomaru's sword-fighting skills. After all, Tajomaru was about to leave after the act. Did Tajomaru really kill him even though he himself says he did?

Curiously, each of the three characters - Tajomaru, Masako and Takehiro - wants to shoulder the responsibility for the killing as if each of them finds it too demeaning that in his or her presence someone else manages to kill. The killing of a harmless albeit somewhat not-too-smart a man seems to be such a tempting honour that no one is able to let it go. The next person to testify is Masako. She is full of self pity, the exact opposite of Tajomaru. Masako claims that she accidentally killed her husband. And this accident happened because she lost control of herself. And she lost control of herself because her husband hated her for having sex with the bandit. She does not own up anything. Every event is blamed either on fate or on another human being. She had sex because Tajomaru forced her, she felt miserable because her husband Takehiro put the responsibility squarely on her shoulder, she fainted because of Takehiro's neglect. Her dagger killed Takehiro because she fainted. According to her version, nothing was in her control. Why is she painting herself as such an object of play in the hands of destiny?

Takehiro, since he is already dead, gives his version through a medium. His version too starts after the intercourse has taken place. He had to tolerate that in front of his eyes because he was tied up. As if this is not enough, he witnesses the bandit telling his wife to go with him and his wife responding in affirmative with dreamily beautiful eyes. He says that in all their years of togetherness, he has never seen his wife so beautiful. Is this really true? Is this a figment of imagination arising from male insecurity? Whatever it is, that is not all that she said. She implored the bandit to kill Takehiro and according to Takehiro this inhumanity surprised even the coarse bandit. Tajomaru kicks her for this, she somehow manages to get away and Tajomaru just releases Takehiro and leaves. Takehiro is left on his own exactly like the protagonist of a Greek tragedy. He chooses to kill himself with the dagger.

This is not where the movie ends. Surprisingly, there is a fourth version. But then this movie is full of surprises. It is best to stop here so that the few of us who have not seen this movie yet are intrigued.

This is a tale of human virtues and vices. One of the characters that proclaims throughout the movie that such and such people are lying, is himself caught lying in the end for something very mundane. But then he also does something that is supremely humane. That is how we all are. A bit of this and a bit of that. A bit of goodness and a bit of baseness. Some virtues and some vices. A mixed bag. That is how the world is what it is. 

Friday, 2 September 2011

Peepli Live

Peepli Live is a 2010 satire by directors Anusha Rizvi and Mahmood Farooqui.
This is the story of a family in a village called Peepli somewhere in the hinterland of north India. This satire easily compares with Jaane Bhi Do Yaron. The film starts with the protagonist asking someone what will happen if his land which he mortgaged to take a loan - a loan which he could not repay - is after all gone. There is no answer and the land indeed is lost by the family consisting of Nathadas, his elder brother Budhia, Natha's wife Shalini, his mother and his children. Then one day Natha hears that somewhere an impoverished farmer took his own life and then his family got as monetary compensation from the government a sum of money that is considered a good amount in a village. That sparks an idea. Natha, by way of talking, expresses that he might do the same as well. News spread like fire and the real fun started.

The film dissects the political class - both the rugged, dusty village type and the suave, urban type - to the core. Nasseruddin Shah  once more gives a superlative performance in the role of a central minister. With minimal fuss, he handles the media, in a manner, which should be called brutal. He is a smooth talking, easy going chap and has no respect for human lives as he demonstrates his knack of turning any given situation in his favour. The media is of course no better. They sniffed news as Natha's intention became somehow public and that is it. Hundreds of channels descend on the little village - not to save Natha from his poverty, which was the cause for his intention - but to raise their own rating, so that they get richer. This puts the politicians and media in the same boat, they are no different. All they were trying was to get the most out of the situation for themselves. The approach was not very different than those of Neandarthals. Thousands of years of civilization has done nothing to us.

The character of Nathadas Manikpuri is played by Omkar Das Manikpuri who, as far as I know, has acted only in this film. The expression of confusion that he manages to maintain on his face throughout the film is extraordinary. The character Natha is indeed confounded by all that is happening, he has no idea why such a slew of journalists, netas, police etc. is unleashed on his native village. Omkar Das portrays his character very well His elder brother's role is played by Raghuvir Yadav.

Such a subject matter, unless dealt  with subtly - with a lot of humour thrown in - has the potential of making a very unpleasant film. This is what the directors have been very successful in avoiding. They hold the audience captive till the end. Sometimes there are elements for riots of laughter. However, this is not the kind of film which leaves you soothed. It is not an esoteric film either. It is a raw portrayal of what we have reduced our democracy to. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, that is what the film intended to do anyway.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Things fall apart

Chinua Achebe's novel Things fall apart has not been made into a film as far as I know.I am writing on it because I felt like seeing the events unfold in front of my eyes when I read it recently, although I have been only once to the continent where it is set and I am truly unaware of the traditions and customs there. Or so I was till I read it.

It is a touching tale of the protagonist Okonkwo. Nested in a cozy corner of lower Niger, the village of Umuofia  has everything from the old world - bonhomie, camaraderie, friendship and also supestitions, fear, some horrible customs. In this village and indeed in several villages nearby, Okonkwo  is a hero - brave soldier, caring father, ruthless judge and like all men of action, sometimes going overboard. He will invariably remind you of Oedipus.

However, unlike in the Greek tragedy, Okonkwo's destiny is made by himself, not by fate. He plays a bigger role in shaping his destiny than fate does. The challenge comes in the form of the European invaders and missionaries.

Sublime satire, superlative description of cruelty without the blood and gore and thoroughly non-judgemental narrative make the book an unforgettable experience.

Saturday, 8 January 2011


According to Samsad Bangla - English dictionary, abohomaan means "existing or continuing since the beginning". All of Rituporno Ghosh's films (may be with the exception of "Shubho Maharat") are about human relationships, hence he always deals with this eternally relevant issue. So I am not sure why he chose to call this particular one eternal. Whatever the reasons may be, this is a movie of high quality. Let us first mention the technical aspects. Often there are scenes of large depth of field, where you see something in the background, happening may be in another room. The primary action takes place in foreground while perhaps through a window, one sees a distant room. These are very well planned to give the viewer a deep feeling of the ambience. Then there are close-ups. One almost feels like being in a theatre watching a play live when these close-ups are shown. So far so good. The one thing that I did not like is the trick of going back and forth in time too frequently. This is a trick resorted to by some directors when the content in the film is not enough to captivate the audience. This film has enough content, drama, relationship issues, intensity of emotions to please the audience. It could do without such cheap tricks. A plain straightforward narration a la Ray or Truffaut is truly pleasurable.

Aniket, a world renowned film maker, falls for an actress of his son's age. Aniket has a well established family comprising of his wife, a son and his aged mother. Aniket's wife herself was an actress who chose the home over work. Her contribution to Aniket and his film-making is tremendous. Ideal picture of a happy family. In comes Shikha, a budding actress - the exact antinthesis of Deepti, Aniket's wife. Shikha is uninhibited, raw, unsophisticated, truly a flame. You might wonder what made an well extablished Bengali "bhadralok" fall for this young woman. The answer lies in the comfort factor that Aniket had with Deepti. Aniket and Deepti were really inseparable - not just to the outside world, but in their own minds. Aniket's comfort level was so high that he drifted without thinking, without wondering for a moment, without the slightest fear or discomfort. His subconcious mind imagined that Deepti will expand to include this activity of his as she has done with everything else in his life. Deepti has always been there and will be there. Deepti of course was shattered. Her world crumbled on herself. She maintained a dignified profile - she had made many sacrifices for her husband, she did that one more time. She did it so that her aged mother-in-law does not come to know, her husband's worldwide reputation does not take a hit, her son does not suffer. Classical Indian wife, strong to the core, wise enough to know that life itself is bigger than an Aniket falling for a Shikha. Brilliantly portrayed by Mamata Shankar. I suppose, in real life situations, many a woman (and many a man) has done this role playing of an ideal wife or husband knowing that her husband (or his wife) chooses to share intimacy with someone else. Many do not do this sacrifice. Either way it is not easy when such a situation is thrust on anyone.

The film does not stop there. It evolves to portray how Aniket's son grows to take it in his stride. He thinks of making a film on this. A non-judgemental one. He shares a lot of frankness with his father. One such incident happens when Aniket tell his son Apratim that Apratim is not the only son to be cheated by his father. Apratim immediately enquires whether Aniket is trying to justify himself. In reply, Aniket says no, he was only trying to give Apratim tips about how he would be able to sell the idea of his film to a producer.

Brilliant performances by many, but Ananya Chatterjee truly tops them all. She had to play the role of a rustic, uneducated character. Not easy, especially beside Mamata Shankar who is grace personified.