The Importance Of Being Nolan

That Christopher Nolan is a Genius needs no discussion. One simply has to look at his portfolio of movies to understand why he deserves this accolade, and many more. But more than that, he’s a magician. Because only a magician could have rescued an icon like the Batman from it’s lowest point in cinematic history and take it to stratospheric heights in the span of a trilogy. To understand how he accomplished this impossible feat, you need to look away from ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy and at another one of his mind boggling movies, ‘The Prestige’.

‘The Prestige’ talks about the rivalry between two magicians but that is quite besides the point. During the very first scene, which sets up the tone of the movie, Michael Caine explains that every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. ‘The Pledge’, ‘The Turn’, and ‘The Prestige’. That’s it. If you understand this, you understand it’s manifestation in ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy.

‘Batman Begins’ was ‘The Pledge’. Nolan adopted an icon that was nothing but dead. After the disaster that was the George Clooney starrer ‘Batman and Robin’, the caped crusader was written off and no one dared go down the path of resurrecting and flashing the Bat Signal again. Nolan dared. He also made a solemn promise to the Batman faithful. He would keep the movie true to its character. Batman would be dark, gritty, brooding, and the criminals’ absolute worst nightmare. The first movie would do what ‘The First Year’ did. It would establish Batman as the giant bat in Gotham who struck fear in the criminal mind with so much of a flash of the Bat Signal. Nolan made sure Batman’s legendary status in superhero folklore as the greatest detective was also revived in the process. Nolan showed us the original Batman. The Batman movie that should always have been. He asked us to check if this was correct and that he was faithful to the comic character.  He kept things basic and concentrated on building the foundations. Simple things like the tumblr jumping from roof-tops, the ‘back-up’ in Arkham asylum. Nothing that was NOT in the comic. He kept things ordinary, simple till the last scene.

The last scene in ‘Batman Begins’ truly defined his pledge – that he will take it to the next level and bring back The Clown Prince of crime. Gordan handed over a playing card in a ziplock plastic packet to Batman. He turned it over to find it’s a joker. That one moment was enough to send shivers down the spine, with your mind already fantasizing over the countless possibilities that hell would break loose in the next part of the series.

Nolan kept his word. And how! Heath Ledger’s Joker exploded on the scene and made ‘The Dark Knight’ his own. He unleashed anarchy without pride or prejudice. He turned Gotham upside down. He created doubts in the minds of the bravest and strongest believers. He took a city with a fearless D.A. and turned him into a psychopath murderer who decided a man’s fate on the flip of a coin. He took away hope and replaced it with despair. He took away law and replaced it with chaos. He made Batman doubt himself and  almost give himself up to save people, such was the brilliance of his schemes. He pushed Batman to go to the extreme step of illegal surveillance of the entire city, all the while teasing him to break his one rule, safe in the knowledge that Batman will never break it. By the time he finished with the city, he almost blew up half the population, created a monster and forced Batman to become a fugitive wanted for Dent’s murder to save his identity. In the span of two and a half incredible hours, Nolan turned Batman from the one ally Gotham’s bravest could trust to the most wanted criminal, answerable for Dent’s murder. He turned Batman to a hero that Gotham deserved, but not the one it needed. Nolan had just executed the most brilliant Turn in the history of magic.

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ was always going to be ‘The Prestige’ in Nolan’s magical trilogy. Simply because the next antagonist to step into Heath Ledger’s Joker had to be more than any ordinary goon. It had to be someone who knew Batman more than Batman himself. Someone capable of turning the tables on the Bat and beating him to pulp. Enter Bane. While the Joker was Ledger’s creation, Bane was Nolan’s. Tom Hardy just played that part to perfection. Not only was the character well written, but Hardy’s expressive eyes (remember that most of his face was hidden behind his ominous mask) and his beefed up physique took Bane to a whole new dimension. And he broke the goddamn Batman’s back. He fucking broke his back! If you didn’t feel all hope deserting you when you watched a crippled Batman being dragged away, you were just watching moving images on a screen. You never connected with the magic. Nolan took everything to an epic level in this movie. In TDK, Gotham was held hostage. In TDKR, Gotham was under a siege counting down to it’s death. In TDK, Batman had to come to terms with people dying around him just because someone wanted him to show his true identity. In TDKR, Batman had to come to terms with not only death, but loneliness, betrayal, bankruptcy, and near complete mental and physical breakdown. Batman had to start from scratch, resurrect himself from the pit of hell and take the fight to Bane, no matter the cost. He did just that. In the most epic way possible. And then just you felt like you were in a vacuum created by a mushroom cloud on the horizon, Nolan played a masterstroke and restored everything back to normal. Despite the inevitability of the end of this trilogy, enough seeds were sown for another one to sprout, if someone cared to nurture them.

I believe ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy was one the most spectacular things to happen to cinema in a long time. And in hindsight, I don’t think any other director could have done the caped crusader more justice than Nolan.

He became the magician Batman deserved, and needed.

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Ambassador

No sooner did Aamir Khan’s ‘Satyamev Jayate’ air, all sorts of opinionated blogs and articles came out of the woodwork. Cynical eyebrows were raised. The usual questions were thrown around. Is Aamir’s motive truly altruistic? Is this really going to help? Does the team only care about TRPs and advert money? Are they really talking sense? Is this really a case of the proverbial and cliched ‘old wine in new bottle’? Did Aamir really seem genuine in his approach? Did the whole setup of the show really connect with the common man? Will things change? A very no nonsense friend of mine tweeted asking if the difference between Sony’s ‘Crime Patrol’ and ‘Satyamev Jayate’ only the packaging called ‘Aamir Khan’?

I haven’t seen ‘Crime Patrol’, though honestly from the looks of it, I always thought it to be another ‘C.I.D.’, and you can see where it logically leads one. But coming back to the point, sometimes packaging IS what you need to get the message across right? There was an extensive sting operation by two journalists exposing rampant female foeticide, but nothing came out of it. None of us watched it. None of us recoiled in horror at this heinous crime being committed, which MUST be punishable by death. The yearly topic of sex ratios and the falling number of girls against boys is a favourite one for the mainstream media to intellectually masturbate over. However, in the span of just one 1 hour show, India woke up. Social media was abuzz, twitter trends went worldwide. Feminists found another reason to hate men. The in-laws were condemned once more. But above everything else, IT MADE PEOPLE TAKE NOTICE. It was a show that brought out the emotional and physical hell women go through, the social implications, the filthy commerce behind it, the government apathy, and the public inaction due to an indifferent attitude. It went a step ahead and promised action.

What more should we expect from a show? In an article on firstpost, the author references an article Aamir has written. My first reaction to the critique the author has offered was that of exasperation. Aamir’s article was nitpicked, his personal opinions countered by more personal opinions without any shred of facts or references and no comment on what the real issue at hand is. In this article in TOI, the author just tries to point out how artificial he and the show were. Honestly, I stopped reading after the first few lines.

Does the end justify the means? Or does it always have to be about the journey as well as the destination? Watching this show, I never felt it was about Aamir or his aura or star power. It was about an issue we choose to neglect because we smugly believe it won’t happen in our homes. ‘Apna kaam banta, bhaad mein jaaye janta’ sorta thing. What I saw was a superstar putting all his weight behind an issue and really trying to get people to do something about it, starting with himself. Isn’t that commendable? In times like these, when mainstream media colludes with politicians, edits interviews which are then broadcasted as ‘Live’, cuts and pastes words from an uttered sentence to completely change the context and intent, isn’t this perspective a bit better suited to the needs of this nation? If you answer in the affirmative, do we really need to judge the messenger? Is it really important if he fails to appropriately display depth and emotions? Isn’t it more than enough that he’s stirring a slumbering nation into action? If even 10% of the husbands watching that show grow a pair of balls, and oppose their parents’ wishes for a grandson, won’t we achieve something? If even 10% of the in-laws become aware of the fallacy of their demands, won’t we be better off as a society? If this really happens, will the messenger and his actions, methods, the set, the number of tears he shed really matter? Will they be responsible for the change, or will they just be a necessary part of a show that was a catalyst?

I’m not kidding myself thinking that the team doesn’t want commercial success. They do. Roping in a star like Aamir Khan would definitely not be cheap. And I’m not sure if they’ve declared at the beginning of the show that this is a ‘not for profit’ show. If their success lies in more people watching it, giving the better ratings and advert revenue, I’d be happy. For it would mean that the show is reaching out to more people, making them aware, enabling them to think and hopefully, do what is right, what is NEEDED. I couldn’t care less if the producers and the actor make a ton of money trying to clean up our mess.

For me, the end DOES justify the means, this time around.

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The Embers After An Inferno.

‘Vijay Dinanath Chauhan…poora naam. Baap ka naam, Dinanath Chauhan. Maa ka naam, Suhasini Chauhan. Gaaon, Mandwa. Umar, Chattis saal, nau mahina, Aanth din…solva ghan chalu hai…hain…’

The Agneepath of ’90 may have flopped when it released, but Amitabh owned the movie as soon as he uttered this iconic dialogue. 21 years, some months/days and 3 hours later, I still yearned for something iconic to take away from the Agneepath of ’12. It’s wrong to compare re-makes, I know. But isn’t it inevitable? Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker’ was always going to be pitted against Jack Nicholson’s. There is no escaping it. Shall we, then?

To be honest, I went into the movie hall expecting Hrithik to overact. I’m not a big fan of his, so sue me. He didn’t convert me into one, but thankfully he didn’t totally live up to his reputation in my mind. So that counts as sort of a pleasant surprise. The story remains the same, but subtle tweaks are added to really make it look and feel different. It doesn’t necessarily make it better, just different. Vijay’s father’s death has got to be one of the best shot scenes in recent times, the NGC themed JNMD scenes in Spain notwithstanding. That scene looks like it’s been taken straight out of a Frank Miller / Batman graphic novel and rendered by Zack Snyder. Vijay’s path of fire begins as his father’s ends. He moves to Mumbai, meets Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor) and plans to see further than any men by standing on the shoulders of this giant. Some murderous politics and songs later, the climatic showoff arrives. Kancha Cheena (a monstrous Sanjay Dutt) and Vijay face off. A big fight, knife stabs and slashes, and Hrithik finally finds inner peace, albeit in his dying moments, at the very tree where it was taken away from him.

The best thing that works for this movie is not the colossus of a cult movie that looms over it’s head, nor is it the way it has been treated. What works for the movie is it’s music, for starters. Ajay – Atul, after rocking the marathi movie scene for quite some time, are slowly and surely finding their feet in Bollywood. The percussion heavy songs are awesome, and percussion is always the hallmark of Ajay – Atul brand of music. Mark it, I said ‘hallmark’. Don’t confuse it with anything that implies ‘repetition’. And if music is something that shines out in this movie, it’s star cast is what nails it.

I loved Sanjay Dutt in his role as Kancha Cheena. He’s a absolute monster in the movie. He is as primal and devilish as Danny was slick and sophisticated. His monstrosity is wonderfully established at the beginning, at the expense of Vijay’s father, whereas Danny was just, well, he was just shown to be in complete and utter control of his world, and nonchalant while being at it. Rishi Kapoor as Rauf Lala is wicked, what with his surma in the eyes n all. He’s done all the justice in the world, and some more, to his role. But in the end it remains just a convenience for the writer – director to make the story their own, a means to an end.

That brings us to the protagonist. Hrithik is good here. Subdued, weighed down by the events of his past, and breathing every moment just to get that weight off his chest. Every bullet, every kill, is one step closer to his conclusion and he knows it. And yet two things fail him. One, he’s not good at dialogue delivery. Not that there are many dialogues worthy of being written in the history books of movie quotes, but still, his Hindi is too polished for a boy who’s lived in a red light area since he was 12 and has killed more bad guys than he cares to remember. Amitabh’s Vijay, on the contrary, was just awesome. With his arrogance, swagger, absolute control over his destiny, comtempt for the society and the system written large on his face, he made Vijay larger than life, an unstoppable force on course to collide with what seemed like an immovable object. Hrithik, or rather the director / writer fail to recreate that persona, and sadly we are worse off for it. The second thing that I absolutely hate abhor about him is when he makes his face and cheeks tremble / shiver / quiver during an intense display of emotion. It’s ridiculous and frankly for me, has now begun to border on the comical. It’s his signature expression it seems, but makes his acting one dimensional. For most of the movie, he’s tried to let his eyes do the acting/taking, with mixed results. It sort of gave me an impression that he was trying to pull of a Ryan Gosling, but doesn’t succeed.

I saw Priyanka Chopra after a long time on the big screen, and loved her, even in her limited appearance. Katrina has danced her heart, hips, and ass off in ‘Chikni Chameli’, and loved her to bits too. Rohini Hattangadi and Tinu Anand were sorely missed.  But the most I missed was the beloved ‘Krishnan Aiyer Yam Yay’, played to the letter by Mithun. This movie needed some comic relief, a character that believes that someone is bigger than his LIFE, and all it got was a mentally challenged Deven Bhojani. Sad.

Sure the original Agneepath flopped when it hit the screens, but since then it has gone to make a place for itself in our hearts. Amitabh’s iconic scenes like his self introduction, telling when he has an ‘ap-pint-ment‘ with death, his fight with his mother at the dinner table, him telling the ACP to click a pic of his family and frame it, him walking through a blaze at the end – giving life to the entire theme and his father’s poem in that last walk, Mithun straffing the open sky with an entire magazine of his carbine after Vijay dies, Vijay telling his mother ‘Paar kiya maine woh Agneepath!’ as he breathes his last make the original a movie for the ages. After 3 hours of this one, all I got was the classic KJo treatment of emotional overdose, and I was left struggling to call anything remotely close to iconic.

There are some fires that metamorphose into infernos, thanks to the legends that fuel them. The Agneepath of 1990 was one such fire. The Agneepath of 2012 tries to burn everything down, but doesn’t because someone cut off the oxygen. All that is left are glowing embers that promised something more but were left to seeth and crackle and fizzle out.

And while embers hiss and crackle and fizzle out, infernos rage on.

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NO FRIGGIN’ WAY!

Reasons why Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara doesn’t deserve the ‘Best Film’ Filmfare award, in no particular order except the 1st –

Raping a fond and nostalgic tune we grew up listening to #DoordarshanMusic; Hritik’s entry scene, where he’s overdoing the whole LSE stock broker / analyst / god-knows-what bit; DCH for the next generation, where Goa is not enough, and so go to Spain and promote #SpainTourism ala NGC / Discovery / any-other-lifestyle/nature-channel;The one line advice given to Abhay Deol about his marriage decision, even though the whole trip is planned for him; Hritik’s general and liberal overacting especially when he say’s ‘Let it go’ before jumping off a plane; the whole crazy father son situation between Farhan Akhtar and Naseeruddin Shah, I mean was that really needed?; That Doordarshan music scene AND it’s rendition really REALLY pissed me off, I means seriously, what the fuck?!

I didn’t see it ever once it was released on satellite tv, and I daresay it has been shown quite a number of times. Had I seen it before, this list would have been considerably long. Ah well!

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Of Foxes and Fanatics

Now that the hoopla around the SRK Vs. Sena is subsiding, let me share my 2 cents.

Lets go a bit backwards in time, the IPL 3 auctions are over, and there is a controversy about the Pakistani players not being favoured by any teams. The official statement from the GOI is that they didn’t interfere, but the low down from teams’ strategy rooms is that they were discouraged from bidding for Pakistani players. Lalit Modi defends the IPL by saying that it was left to the teams to decide who they wanted. Preity Zinta defended the auction process by saying that a lot of Australians were not picked either, and thereby begging the media to be more responsible while reporting news. Shilpa Shetty raised the security issue to defend her selections.

At the auction, KKR (SRK’s team) bagged NZ pacer Shane Bond in a silent bid at an undisclosed  amount. They emptied their available funds on a single player.

SRK then came into the picture and made a statement. This statement ruffled the feathers of the Maharashtrian regional parties and Shiv Sena became active in condemning him and all hell broke loose.

Now that we’ve collected the data points, let’s try to analyze.

1. The Shiv Sena is seen by many to be a party past it’s prime. I watched a live interview of Uddhav Thackrey on Saturday the 6th and somehow I got the feeling that there is an ace up his sleeve. He was very cool and surefooted the way he responded to the comments and criticisms targeted at him over the last fornight. But I fear I’m digressing. Anyway…

2. Anyone who thinks that this issue will help Shiv Sena recover lost ground is a bit naive. The next elections are 5 years away (if the Congress – NCP) coalition holds, and the public memory falls WAY short of that timespan ( I mean agree or not, we’ve even managed to move on from 26/11, even if the intellectuals like Des and Bedis would love to shout otherwise). So my point is that the Shiv Sena won’t count of this issue alone to try to gun for power and prominence.

3. The Shiv Sena is also smart enough to know that all this ruckus notwithstanding, the awareness, education and exposure of the population of Maharashtra and the permanent negative sentiments of the media and the intellectually elite ( again read as De, Bedi and co, self proclaimed, really!!!) means that people are moving away from divisive politics and want accountability from the political leaders towards the real development issues. So no matter how much the Shiv Sena shouts, it’s voice is still fading.

Lets look at the SRK camp now.

1. SRK doesn’t need a hit at the box office to establish himself. He’s already done that, again and again. His PR and promotion skills can be the subject of discussions and workshops in the best of B Schools. But looking at last year’s records, his competitors’ movies have had more limelight ( Wanted, Ghajini, 3 Idiots).

2. His movie ‘My Name is Khan’ is just round the corner. Remember his US visit when he was questioned for about 2 hours at a US airport?

3. There was no real need for SRK to make that statement about the auction in the first place. No one had forced him to empty his pockets on a single player. He could have gone ahead and bought whoever he wanted. Like others, he too perceived an underlying issue about certain players and choose to play safe. He says he believes in the Constitution of India and in India’s inclusivity, then why didn’t he defy the other team owners and go ahead and do what he thought was right? having a herd mentality and then talking about fairness and honesty is not my idea of being righteous.

If you think the points I’ve written about the Shiv Sena and SRK above are rational and objective, just try and find the answer to the one question that’s disturbing me.

In this whole issue, WHO BENEFITS?

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Night Falls, Knight Reigns.

Dear Christopher, Christian, Heath ( rest in peace man),

My memories of watching Batman on TV or in the movies prior to ‘Batman Begins’ were mainly of Batman saying something witty, fluorescent lights and bright scenes, a dramatic and theatrical ‘Two Face’. But the more i read Batman comics, the more I hated those movies, because they failed so miserably to capture who Batman truly was. All they knew was that Batman was just another superhero fighting on the side of good and winning against evil. But the essence of being Batman, being a hero who stood steadfast in the face of the greatest challenge and defeat, of being the world’s greatest detective, was still nowhere to be seen in those movies.

Had Batman been real, he’d probably watch this movie sitting in a lofty corner of a dark multiplex, unnoticed and would study every scene as it unfolded. He’d definitely study the games the joker plays and would be prepared for them. This movie, for the Batman, would be like looking in a mirror and coming to terms with what is. I daresay he’d have learnt a few tricks from this movie.

Had the Joker been real, he’d probably get a complex watching Heath Ledger play a joker so convincingly it makes the real one look like a fake. Being a sadist, and yet the will to find humour in others’ suffering, is something only a villain like the Joker can enjoy enjoy doing. Heath perhaps set the records straight by creating the best ( or worst) villain ever to play on a movie screen. (I’ve watched some movies, but have never come across a villain so intense…).

So thank you. Thank you for finally placing Batman where he belongs, as the greatest superhero ever created. Thank you for treating him with the intensity only Batman can have. Thank you for creating his arch nemesis, and locking them into an eternal battle. Thank you for creating a Joker that truly is a “clown” “prince” of crime, and making people shiver with the working of his convoluted mind. Thank you for showing Two Face the way his creators did, and not a Tommy-Lee-Jones lunatic and crazy wannabe.

Thank you for a wonderful movie experience and the satisfaction of watching my favourite superhero the way I like him to be.

Batman forever,

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Dead Poets Society…

Perhaps the most extraordinary ability of movies is that they make us dream. They give us hope, that things can be better and that there is something called as “good” which prevails relentlessly, infinitely and undoubtedly. I recently watched “Dead Poets Society”, starring Robin Williams and Ethan Hawke. It is about a preparatory school, rigid in its ways of imparting knowledge and where Tradition, Honor, Commitment are the pillars of life. John Keating (Williams) is an English teacher who takes it upon himself to teach the boys how to think for themselves while their minds can still be molded.

 

To say that the film is a beautiful piece of art would be a gross understatement. It is powerful yet simple in its message and Robin Williams is scintillating. The elegance with which he plays the role of John Keating is a treat for any movie lover. You end up wishing you had more teachers like him. The students have also played their part very well and are an integral part of the movie.

 

Movies like this tell us to follow what the heart says, do what you like the most and find happiness in your work. I wonder if this is really possible in the world we are living today. We are trying to squeeze in 48 hrs in a day and derive more benefits in doing so. This leaves us no time to smell the roses, to say colloquially. We don’t think a lot about our heart’s desires and needs then. But movies like this make us do so, and we really become hopeful that perhaps one day, maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to do what we really want to do and be satisfied like anything. It might be seeing a sapling planted grow into a tree or a business flourish. But we are again infused with hope, the adrenaline so vital for us to be alive.

 

The most amazing part of this movie was watching it in the solitude of my room late night, with a perfect veggie cheese sandwich to savour.

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