Chasing Rabbits

A place for my thoughts, important and unimportant. Just indulging myself. For my news blog, visit: http://bit.ly/1Xr1tgM

Category: Movies

On Whitewashing

I don’t see why people get their panties in a twist whenever a cinematic adaptation of any novel, anime or TV series is announced, where the makers of the novel do not want to stick with the “right” race or colour of a particular character or characters.

The context being a recent Indiewire article titled ‘Full Metal Alchemist: Iconic Anime Getting A Big Screen Adaptation, With No Whitewashing‘. The writers refer to the discontent of the fans at the “whitewashing” of the Ghost in the Shell movie and Tilda Swinton’s character in the upcoming Doctor Strange movie, that’s supposed to be Tibetian.

Now here’s the thing!

It’s a work of FICTION. The filmmaker has every right to make his own directorial choices, the way he sees fit, and if he decides that, say, an Asian character from a comic book will be white in his movie, because of creative reasons, or most likely because of market considerations, then well and good. For instance, if you are making GITS in Hollywood (US being the domestic market), it makes sense for the actors to be Anglo-American because 1. 78% of America is white. and 2. You need to have saleable, recognizable stars who can cut across markets worldwide, like Scarlett Johansson.

However, strangely enough, people do not seem to have a problem when white characters (James Bond) or characters (who have for long been presumed to be white, such as Hermione) are played by or are announced to be played by Black or Hispanic or any non-white actor. They look at it as Hollywood being inclusive. Okay, sure, Hollywood has to be inclusive — but is the only way to go about it is give off characters meant for white actors to non-white actors? Now, wait. I just said that if it’s a work of fiction, anything goes. By that logic, everyone has the right to play anything as long the casting choice is in spirit of the character in context of the director’s larger vision.

The thing is why are people so selective when outraging about “whitewashing” specifically and turning a blind eye and welcoming casting decisions like Idris Elba playing Roland Deschain in the Dark Tower adaptation (a terrific choice, by the way) or being all-welcoming to the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters (a totally unnecessary SJW-pleasing move)? Then we go into larger questions of “Is it a crime to be white?” and “white privilege”, topics too vast and beyond the scope of what I am trying to say here, which is that, filmmakers have complete freedom to do whatever they want with the source material and the only obligation that they have at the end of the day is to make a kickass movie…end of story.

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In Appreciation of Dibakar Banerjee

My body clock has decided that every night I should somehow wake up at around 2, 2:10 am no matter how tired I am.

Tonight was no different. So I decided to listen to the Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! soundtrack.

While listening to the rip-roaring electronic rap track Chase in Chinatown I made up my mind to write this.

I knew Dibakar Banerjee was a filmmaker who directly spoke to me, more than any other contemporary Indian filmmaker, when I saw Oye Lucky Lucky Oye.
Wikipedia lists it as a “black comedy”. Why the film spoke to me was because it was angry. It was angry in a way few Indian films were. It was both angry and funny.

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OLLO was about class wars and I identified strongly with the protagonist Lucky, who comes from a lower middle class Delhi suburb, to become a master thief to fulfill his upper class aspirations.

The scene where a young Lucky stares at upper class convent educated girls getting out of a swanky car with their boyfriends stayed with me.

Lucky was strongly motivated to make a name as an upper class Indian playboy type in the highly class conscious Delhi and he knew money talked. He was bitter, angry, sarcastic, scornful – exactly like DB’s films that followed OLLO.

In fact when I think of DB, I conveniently reject the fact that he made Khosla Ka Ghosla because that is NOT Dibakar’s language. That is not Dibakar’s soul. That was Jaideep Sahni’s soul filtered through a debutant filmmaker eager to please the slowly growing multiplex audience.

The real DB can be found in OLLO, LSD and Shanghai and with each film, he grew darker, angrier and stopped giving fucks as far as Bollywood conventions are concerned.
With Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’s promos (First, Second, Third) and the spectacular music album, it seems like he has reached the pinnacle of not giving fucks!

Coming back to OLLO, being a small town lower middle class kid thrust into St. Xavier’s, Kolkata, I received a strong culture shock. The liberal, up-market atmosphere…the people…the world of urbane, stylish, self-confident women, overgrown boys with myriad hairstyles with their perfect English accents, with no tinge of colloquial thickness, freely available weed and alcohol and zero inhibitions towards them, the attitude of it all – it was a stark contrast to where I came from. I didn’t realize it then but I do now – a seed of bitterness grew in my gut that probably has a lot to do with my present scorn for liberal, couch-politics today.

And Dibakar spoke to my soul.

Come LSD. Love, Sex Aur Dhokha. DB challenged Bollywood conventions yet again and wildly, outrageously. He didn’t shout out from the rooftops ten times a day about how Bollywood was trying to buy his soul like Kashyap. He never had that fan following. His films weren’t as pen-and-paper ambitious and didn’t have the veneer of classiness like those of Vishal Bharadwaj’s. LSD was a wild child, produced by what-the-fuck-was-she-thinking Ekta Kapoor and the experiment paid off; if I am not wrong, it made 9 crores off a 1.5 crore budget.

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What struck me this time around apart from the anger was his attention to details. To quote Baradwaj Rangan, my favorite Indian film writer (till I find any better) from his review of DB’s Shanghai, “If God is in the details, then Banerjee’s films are certainly sky-scraping cathedrals”. There was the usual “class wars” present and how! Banerjee scratched the underbelly of India’s caste politics, masculine mentality and contemporary media brouhaha with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker and the no-body-left-alive attitude of a SS Jew killer. He spared nobody. Not even Aditya Chopra. The film was a psychological sledgehammer to my system and I, then in my first year of college, had already decided by then that Banerjee is a filmmaker after my own heart.

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Then came Shanghai. DB’s adaptation of Z. When I heard DB was going to adapt Z, I was like “No shit, of course”. The material was perfect for DB to send a Fuck-You to both Bollywood and Indian politics, albeit, in his usual snide and low-key (but not really) manner. The film didn’t make money but any strong follower of DB could see that his films have been seeped of all light. If his debut film Khosla Ka Ghosla was a cotton candy, Shanghai was charred wolf meat fit for medieval vikings. The film was like a Best-Hits-Of-Dibakar-Banerjee. Three-dimensional characters. Even the smallest characters, like the tempo driver or the funny, naive, local goonda played by Pitobash had shades that made them real. The difference between Kashyap and Banerjee is that Kashyap is a wild, reckless train who doesn’t know where to stop with his characters (or films for that matter); his films echo small town India or the seedy metropolitan underbelly as well as Banerjee’s but he seems to be in a mood to parody them. Banerjee shows them exactly as they are without additional embellishments. Banerjee has strong self-control. He knows where to stop with his characters. Shanghai was a master-class in filmmaking. In less than two hours, it said more about Indian democracy than any Indian film had in the last twenty five years. A lot of people didn’t like it, perhaps for the downbeat tone or the so called “twist ending”, but it was more than its individual parts.

The sum of its parts, Shanghai, was a black, pitch black, angry film and I reveled enjoying its menacing madness.

DB is also an exceptional lyricist. To know that you need to get hold of LSD and Shanghai’s music album and listen to the lyrics of Tainu TV Pe, Tu Gandi Acchi Lagti Hai and Bharat Mata Ki.

He is the best of Bangaliyana, the classic Bengali intellectual, without his lazy shortcomings. He is the ubermensch when it comes to the Bengali intellectual filmmaker operating in mainstream Bollywood, a place that could have been like hell to a person like Banerjee if he didn’t know how to operate there.

But he is a sly fucker, the bespectacled guy.

And now, comes Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, a Yash Raj film.
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Banerjee, who made fun of Aditya Chopra’s brand of ridiculous cinema in LSD, got the guy to produce it and what a film he seems to have produced. Everything about the film is a gigantic FU to Bollywood conventions, Bollywood music conventions, but most importantly to the legacy of Byomkesh Bakshi. He has revamped the character, jazzed it u…sorry, punk rocked it up and HOW! Cannot wait for April 3rd. Cannot wait for my master to rub his charm on my belly and make me feel warm again.

If DBB scores well with the Indian audience, Dibakar Banerjee, fingers crossed, will turn Bollywood head over heels in the coming years, mark my words.

Abohomaan/The Eternal (2010)

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Abohomaan [English: The Eternal] 
Year: 2010
Director/Writer: Rituparno Ghosh
Cast: Dipankar De, Jishu Sengupta, Ananya Chatterjee, Mamata Shankar

A Rituparno Ghosh film or even the man himself draws a number of varied reactions. In “intellectual” (doing that finger thing elaborately with a sneer) circles he is 1. revered by the urban Bengali intelligentsia as a demi-God or 2. derided as being “nyaka” (sissy) or a “sontushto shilpi” (self-satisfied artist). Interestingly, there’s truth in BOTH these statements as much as they are BULLSHIT!

Rituparno Ghosh was nothing if not a filmmaker that attracted tremendous discourse; love and ire, both at the same time. Similarly, Abohomaan deals with the utter indescribability of its protagonist and his personal relationships. Does the son love the father or hate him? Does the father love his family or is indifferent about it? Is the extra-marital affair in question right or wrong? Thing is, should ‘right or wrong’ even be a question? I loved this film! I belonged to the group who usually saw Ritu as over-rated. I don’t know about others but honestly it was because of the following reasons:

  • I hadn’t seen all his films; only 1 or 2 and I had formed this theory that he only deals with “fake problems of rich people MYAAAN”
  • This theory was particularly fueled by contemporary Bangla films by Tony Roy Chowdhury, Mainak Bhaumik…those ensemble urban dramas about vacuum posing as people.
  • I just loved to hate someone so popular, I guess.
  • Worst of all, I wasn’t old enough to understand the complexity of the relationships in his films.

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Such as the ones in Abohomaan. One of my friends is a tremendous Ritu fan and has grown up with his movies as much as I have grown up watching Hollywood (and consequently getting my thinking shaped by Hollywood). And we both agreed on the fact that had I seen Abohomaan in my second year of college (which is when he was constantly goading me to watch it and I was like “Fuck that sissy shit”), I would have hated it and made a joke out of it, and I can be very cruel while dissing a movie.

Abohomaan is a movie that must, MUST be watched. The last twenty five minutes is world-class filmmaking. Period. The emotional layers and dynamics of the inter-personal relationships during that time has near-Bergman-finesse. What Abohomaan says is beautiful: You cannot explain anything in broad strokes, least of all a person and his relationships. Life is complex and we should accept it and cherish it with all its differences and confusions and CINEMA, as we know it, cannot define life. Cinema cannot be a definitive statement on life as it deals in moments. The protagonist, a veteran film director lived and breathed cinema all his life, and in the process never really saw life for what it was. He stayed aloof and detached from his loved ones and yet he was a person of love, of happiness, of warmth and it all adds up moments before he is dying in a poignant scene.

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My favourite dialogue comes at the very end of the movie in a  conversation between the director (Dipankar De) and his son (Jishu)

Aniket/Director: What is a film all about?
Apratim/Son: Depends. Moments maybe!
Aniket: Moments. Amra…amra sob fleeting moments ke dhore feli jano? Boli, capture! Not fair, not fair at all. (Moments. We all capture fleeting moments. That’s all. Not fair, not fair at all.)

The Corporation (2003)

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The Corporation
Year: 2003
Directors: Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar

Shaken and stirred by this amazing film. It goes deep into the problem of ‘the corporation’. It is thorough and dispassionate, has interviews from both sides of the debate – philosophers, activists, protesters on one hand with CEO’s and Government people on the other and the best of the lot – the devious middlemen i.e industry insiders, whistle-blowers, corporate investigators etc.

Corporate evil is here to stay and is destined to suck the world dry. In my personal view there is no two ways about it, though the film ends with a touch of hope (well just because it has to I guess, because no matter how cruel the narrative is, what do we have except hope?), that is not the kind of hope I see sense/meaning in. Well what to seek meaning in then? I frankly do not know and I need time to ponder upon this maybe but perhaps the least we can do is to be aware at least, to be dangerously aware of the world around us, of the Moloch that we are up against and somehow in our own ways try to battle it through the way we live our lives and pass on those values to future generations.

Sonchidi/The Golden Bird (2011)

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Sonchidi/The Golden Bird
Year: 2011
Director/Writer: Amit Dutta
Cast: Nitin Goel, Gagan Singh Sethi

So last night, I was discussing with my good friend from college who is now in Jamia doing his masters in mass communication about hinterland cinema. The discussion quite naturally turned to Anurag Kashyap and his work, then to Kamal Swaroop’s Om-Dar-Ba-Dar and his influence on Kashyap and finally to Indian experimental film. Now this bloke is in a very advantageous situation as compared to me because he gets to see a lot of Indian independent films (real independent films, not Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj) thanks to his departmental library. So I asked him to suggest a few names from the Indian indie world whose works I should check out. The first name he gave me was Amit Dutta.

Fifteen hours later, my head is reeling with excitement, thinking about the treasure trove I have discovered thanks to my friend and hamara sabka dost, the Internet! Amit Dutta, Vipin Vijay, Ashish Avikunthak, Amitabh Chakroborty, Kabir Mohanty, Kumar Sahani, Pramod Pati (I had seen some of his shorts on Youtube before) – so many people and their films to discover! It’s like an entire subculture swept under the rug of whatever is passed on as modern Indian cinema. The lack of publicity that these films suffer from infuriates me. Nevertheless, this is not going to be an angry post. This is about my thoughts on Sonchidi/The Golden Bird, the first Amit Dutta film (or the first film of my latest tryst with Indian independent cinema) that I saw. It’s been a couple of hours since I saw the movie and I needed some time to have lunch and quietly gather my thoughts. So here goes…

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If you read the plot of Sonchidi on IMDb, it sounds like science fiction. This science fiction part is just a vessel to carry broader ideas, some of which I admit I didn’t get. In fact, I began watching the film without any intention to make sense of the film. That worked. I just soaked in the experience, and boy let me tell you, it’s one haunting, hypnotic ride. The film is about two travellers who have come to a remote part of the Himalayas in search of a flying saucer. This saucer was apparently made by a mad scientist in a bid to transcend the human form i.e to escape the cycle of rebirth and attain divine status. One of the travellers was familiar with this scientist when he was young and he recalls his memories about the guy, while the other documents their entire travelling experience on his tape recorder.

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There’s a point in the film where one of them sings a song, as if he is having a conversation with God, describing himself to be a wandering soul at God’s door in search of wisdom. He asks the Guru/God to listen to his plea and help him see the light. I am not sure what the film means and honestly, I do not give a shit because the film had me hooked from start to finish. I owe it to its beautiful, minimalist cinematography that captured the silence and the loneliness of the locations perfectly. The huge mountains, the absence of population, and the sight of the two travellers walking up the slopes like two ants – it was really ‘iconic’. The second powerful aspect of the film was its trance-inducing sound design, mildly resembling that of Stalker’s. The film is soaked in spiritualism and one will need some reading to completely understand what is said and showed at every point.

It is a must watch. I am very excited about this guy. I can safely say that I loved Sonchidi, because more often than not I find a lot of films that passes off as avant-garde, utter crap and heinously boring. Next up in my watch-list is his 2009 film Aadmi Ki Aurat Aur Anya Kahaniya/The Man’s Woman and Other Stories. There are times when your internal cinematic imagination and your love for cinema tends to stagnate from watching the same boring kind of films over and over again. Sonchidi was like a breath of fresh air! There is a new kind of voice in the fringes of Indian cinema and I am just too bloody excited that it exists!

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