Chasing Rabbits

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

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!

On Facebook Debates

Facebook is bad place to express your views. Really. More often than not, it will lead you into a debate because of some asshole just like you, desperate to prove a point and very keen to come across as the rare ‘thinker’. Remember what Ramadhir Singh said – “Jaisa loha loha ko kaanta ta hai, waise chutiye chutiye ko marega na?” (The way iron cuts iron, similarly an idiot will take care of an idiot right?). Their idiocy will suck you right down a vortex of endless debating that the virtual onlookers i.e people who just accidentally came across your status and the ensuing comments, will merely glance over because they have a lot of other shit to glance over, AGAIN, just like you. To be honest, halfway down the line you have even stopped caring about the debate. You just want to go sweet talk that girl you have made fraandship with. Or maybe you want to check the funny collegehumor video that has finished buffering. But you can’t. Why? Because the chutiya is not letting you, or to be precise, the chutiya that is YOU is not letting yourself – you dug this grave on your own accord when you invited the friendly neighbourhood spirited Facebook debater to shit all over your timeline. I mean what constructive effect does Facebook debating have? The train of comments is not just an eyesore but it really ticks you and everyone else off, because remember, Facebook is a fun place to be in, for people to engage in fun (or at least, seemingly fun things to do) and that does not include debating over whether Al Pacino was better than Bob De Niro or why Modi shouldn’t be PM (This discussion I’m honestly tired of. Kill me now). If you want to debate about politics, do it on some political site. If it is about cinema, do it on IMDb, Mubi, etc. Comics – some comics site. Books – Goodreads or some such site. The internet is a nice place because it not only has something for everybody, it has a place for every chutiya to exercise his mental and verbal chutiyappa. Just don’t do it on Facebook. It’s not the place for discourse.

Torso

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Written by
: Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko
Art and Lettering by: Brian Michael Bendis
Published by: Image Comics

I first got to know about Torso when news of David Fincher planning to adapt it hit me a few years back. Finally got around to reading it. The story is about the ‘Torso Killer’ who was active between years of 1934 and 1938. He was called so because all he left of his victims were their torsos. Then Cleveland Safety Director, the infamous Elliot Ness was on his trail along with his team of two very competent detectives – Walter Myrlo and Sam Simon.

The case, to this date, remains unsolved.

Yet again, like the Green River Killer, the artwork is B/W. But while the Green River Killer’s artwork was bland (in a good way), very direct and simple, Torso’s is really trippy and it gets under your skin. What’s more interesting is, real B/W photographs of the crime scene and the investigation are often spliced into the artwork, lending an overall eerie effect. You get the feeling of ‘Whoa, I am THERE right now!’. The artwork coupled with the writing was so intense I felt like I was watching a movie. They just complemented each other so well! The characters are brilliantly written and it is ripe for a film adaptation.

Also, unlike the Green River Killer, Torso is strictly noir. The shadows are dense and dark. There’s a sinister quality to the entire look of the book.

Torso Killer is probably the creepiest serial murderer I have ever been aware of till date and it’s a pity he was never formally charged and convicted. Brilliant work by Brian Michael Bendis nevertheless.

Indie Doesn’t Bake My Cookie

My mental constitution, I suppose, does not allow me to accept and internalize new music no matter how good it is. No matter how much an artist or an album is championed by Pitchfork and my hipster buddies (sorry!), I can go to the extent of liking them but never loving them. I cannot dig this new music that’s around, all under the umbrella term ‘indie music’. I cannot fall in love with them like I genuinely loved U2, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, REM, Brian Eno, Nine Inch Nails, Massive Attack, pretty much every great band of the 90’s, be it grunge or Brit-pop or alt.rock or nu-metal, whatever.

I don’t know where the problem lies. Either it’s just me OR (it’s plausible) most of the new music that I’ve heard is good to hear, yes, but can’t boast of any memorable hooklines. It’s all fancy mixing. A mishmash of genres and styles without soul. 90’s was all about attitude and soul. There was a kind of sincerity in, say a song like ‘Alive‘ (Pearl Jam), that I rarely find in contemporary music. I mean an Indie ‘rock’ band has to ROCK, right? These new bands seem to be more interested in making experimental (and often, batfuck crazy, like Animal Collective’s work) soundscapes than actual SONGS, and even then hardened ambient/post-rock artists like Steven Wilson, Sigur Ros and Brian Eno kick more ass in that department than any other contemporary act.

I mean really if we are fortunate enough to have revolutionary, game changing albums like NIN’s The Downward Spiral (’94) or Radiohead’s OK Computer (’97) release in this decade, I can be more kind and optimistic about the future of the music industry. I don’t really consider Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Arcade Fire’s Suburbs as game changers.

Interestingly, the most enjoyable music right now, to me, is mainstream pop, particularly from the guys who redefined pop in the early 2000’s. I really liked Kanye West’s Yeezus and Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience was fantastic. There’s real audacity working in their music – I think that is partly because these guys are pop music veterans and don’t really have anything left to prove. Among new artists, I really like Lana Del Rey, Gotye, Frank Ocean and Lorde (Note: none of that is rock music). Some other artists are, like I said, interesting to listen to but don’t really bake my cookie.

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story

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Written by : Jeff Jensen
Illustrated by: Jonathan Case
Published by: Dark Horse Comics

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story is a true crime graphic novel based on the infamous American serial murderer of the same name, who was highly prolific throughout the 80’s and 90’s. He was convicted of 48 murders but later confessed to having killed twice the number. All his victims were women, mostly prostitutes. The story follows the gruelling manhunt to capture Gary Ridgway, the killer, for over two decades.

The best thing about the book is how the story is told. The narrative leaps from one point to another between the time Gary first stabbed a young boy to “know what it felt like to kill someone” and the final day at the courthouse. Now, non-linear narrative in both cinema and books can often appear to be just a gimmick, but here it really works. The characters are believable, the violence is ‘measured; there is nothing that sticks out like a sore thumb. The artwork is not all that fancy. It’s black-and-white, very basic and grounded which adds to the documentary like realism of the book. All in all, a good one.

A Wild Sheep Chase

I finished the book exactly four hours ago, after which I wrote two severely soul-sucking articles on top ten Brazilian nightspots and shopping complexes, and so the details are a little fuzzy. My first reaction upon finishing the book was an intense “What the fuck did I just read?”. Since then, that feeling has been subsiding bit by bit. All I can say at this moment, with the book beside the keyboard and my eyes on the cover, is that this is one special book – one of my most magnificent reads ever, as magnificent as the mutant sheep with the star-shaped birthmark in this novel that can ‘enter’ people and control their minds. Yes.

But that’s not all the weirdness of this book. We have here a protagonist who runs a small advertising business, just as cool and jaded as the guy from Norwegian Wood (the only other fictional work of Murakami that I’ve read) but funnier, who loses his wife to his friend (who plays better guitar than him) and then gets morbidly attracted to a picture of ‘ears’. He seeks out the owner of these ‘ears’, and after he finds her, they start dating. The girl is also a bit of a clairvoyant quite possibly because of her magic ears.

Anyway, our protagonist suddenly encounters a strange man in a suit who gives him an assignment to hunt for a particular sheep from a photograph, the one I talked about earlier, and if he fails to find it in a month, he and his business are done for. So he goes out on the search for this one sheep with his girlfriend, and things get weirder and weirder ultimately culminating in, shall I say, a soulful conclusion.

HM-AWildSheepChase(UK)PaperI loved reading it. So much so that I completed it in less than a day in three sittings between which I took two solid power naps. After I finished it, I couldn’t really make head or tail of the plot but I knew I loved it – because of its delicious writing – almost intoxicating, it lures you in and grips each and every one of your nerve and just doesn’t let you go. If not for anything else, the book should simply be read for its beautiful writing; Murakami describes ‘silence’ in at least fifteen different ways in the book, each as vivid, unique and completely original as the other.

Then there’s the philosophical, metaphysical musing. I particularly liked:
Whether you take the doughnut hole as a blank space or as an entity unto itself is a purely metaphysical question and does not affect the taste of the doughnut one bit.”

And the last line of the second paragraph (I have to quote both the paragraphs here or it will seem out of context, the context being a dream the protagonist sees where a cow asks for a pair of pliers):
There are symbolic dreams – dreams that symbolize some reality. Then there are symbolic realities – realities that symbolize a dream. Symbols are what you might call the honorary town councilors of the worm universe. In the worm universe, there is nothing unusual about a dairy cow seeking a pair of pliers. A cow is bound to get her pliers sometime. It has nothing to do with me.

Yet the fact that the cow chose me to obtain her pliers changes everything. This plunges me into a whole universe of alternative considerations. And in this universe of alternative considerations, the major problem is that everything becomes protracted and complex. I ask the cow, “Why do you want the pliers?” And the cow answers, “I’m really hungry.” So I ask, “Why do you need pliers if you’re hungry?” The cow answers, “To attach them to the branches of the peach tree.” I ask, “Why a peach tree?” To which the cow replies, “Well that’s why I traded away my fan, isn’t it?” And so on and so forth. The thing is never resolved, I begin to resent the cow, and the cow to resent me. That’s a worm’s eye view of its universe. The only way to get out of that worm universe is to dream another symbolic dream.

The book is filled with stuff like this. Existential navel-gazing. There are rich, strong, impressionist descriptions of physical phenomena as poetically profound as rain and snowfall to something as commonplace as cigarette smoke disappearing into thin air. Many people claim the book is an allegory and is symbolic of a number of things. I don’t care much about what other people say. The book is beautiful for what it is and to me it is a story of a man’s physical and emotional journey more than anything else (sheep, ears, rats, secret organizations etc.). Highly recommended. I am unsure of whether to read Dance, Dance, Dance after this, which is its immediate sequel or Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which is supposedly ten times weirder. I have a strong itch for the latter.

Knock! Knock! Who’s There?

This was my first James Hadley Chase book. I got it for 30 bucks from a second-hand book store in Free School Street (now Mirza Ghalib Street). I got to know about the place just a week ago and it has the most oddball collection of books I’ve ever seen anywhere, in any book shop. There’s actual Russian Dostoyevsky, there’s Philip K Dick, there’s a bunch of cheap pulp paperbacks by writers I have never heard of. There was even a 1st Edition copy of Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’. Anyway I got this book for two reasons – 1. I was looking to buy a really cheap but good book. Didn’t have much cash but couldn’t really resist going into the place and walking out with something and 2. I got fascinated by ‘James Hadley Chase’ when I saw the protagonist reading a Chase book in Johnny Gaddar. Apparently, the 2007 pop culture pastiche was an homage to cheap pulp crime novellas like Chase’s books (among other things like Johnny Mera Naam and R.D Burman).

jameshadleychaseknockknockSo the book. I won’t say it was gripping. Particularly because the characters were all one-note. They were all caricatures whose only job was to do exactly the things that were needed for the plot to progress and the story to reach its predestined conclusion. They didn’t seem to have a mind of their own and whatever personality they had were just means to an end. But I guess that’s how this kind of books are.

But from what I read about Chase and his style of work from Wikipedia, Knock Knock! pretty much matches the description of a typical Chase tale.
“In several of Chase’s stories, the protagonist tries to get rich by committing a crime” – check.
“But the scheme invariably fails” – check “and leads to a murder” – check “and finally to a cul-de-sac, in which the hero realizes that he never had a chance to keep out of trouble.” – check.
“and the final denouement echoes the title.” – Check! And while reading this part, I was mentally grinning to myself wondering how exactly the man wrote his stories. He clearly thought of the title first and then cooked up a really steady plot that would inevitably reach the conclusion he had in mind, the conclusion which inspired the title of the story – or to be precise, it was the title that inspired the story. Wikipedia also says his books were misogynist which was a big reason the American market didn’t warm up to him. Well, I have no reason to argue. The women in this book are horny and only want to fuck. Each of the male characters, at least once, refer to them as ‘whores’. They are pushed about, threatened, slapped, insulted, even raped (of course, she likes it and praises her rapist for being ‘all man’) – you get the idea. But in spite of the one-note characters and the clichés, I really did have a fun time reading it. I am looking forward to reading some more Chase books.

Oh and I was pleasantly amused by how admirable an homage Johnny Gaddar is to Chase. If you have seen the film, you will know how its story matches Chase’s style to the tee.

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