God In Our Midst

What defined ‘Man of Steel’ for you? What scene, sequence or dialogue summed up the movie and the character? For me it’s a sequence. General Zod has served his ultimatum to humans, and Clark Kent has decided to surrender. It’s a cold bright day. A small company of the Army has been deployed to bring him in. They’re waiting for him in the desert. It’s eerily calm. There’s no wind blowing, no dust. Superman is just levitating in front of the soldiers. Unlike many such cliched scenes from the past, this time his cape doesn’t flutter. He doesn’t float. He just remains fixed at that height. Unmoved. Immovable. As if he wants to let them know their firepower has no effect on him. The whole stillness in that scene is deliberate, enforced, yet subtle. It’s the calm before the storm. They walk him to the holding room in handcuffs. Louis Lane points out that he let them handcuff him. He calmly says it makes them comfortable. It’s the beginning of the history of things to come.

It’s been epic. It’s been hypnotically epic. Trust Nolan to pull out superheroes from the confines of cold storage, thanks to the efforts (or lack of) by lesser mortals. He did that for Batman and having satisfied himself that the Dark Knight has now been firmly embedded in our consciousness, he turned his attention to another superhero who deserved, and needed it. The Superman of the ’70s was well received. The beginning was true to the comic book origins and the movie character remained loyal to the creator’s vision. ‘Superman Returns’, the previous attempt to revive the last son of Krypton also didn’t quite hit the sweet spot. It was a financial success ($400 million) and also received positive reviews, but it wasn’t quite the Superman movie that they thought it would be.

But this time, DC got serious. They saw what Nolan did with the Batman story arc, and they saw what Zack Snyder was capable of with ‘300’. They also hired David Goyer, just for good measure, and also because he seemed to understand what direction DC was taking with The New 52. Like their previous tryst with the superhero genre, they went back to the drawing board and turned the Superman storyline on its head. The beauty is they still kept it true to itself.

They got the casting just right. Atleast where it mattered. Henry Cavill looks every bit the part. They’ve also given him a sexy makeover. The physique looks just perfect. The suit is slick and just plain awesome. There is a seriousness to him, a screen presence that is essential for any actor to play such a colossal superhero because let’s admit it, they don’t get any bigger than this. Russell Crowe is intense as Jor-El. Michael Shannon’s fanatic General Zod is the perfect foil and every bit as larger than life as Superman. Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent ably brings out the simple farmer who has this responsibility called Kal-El thrust upon him. His struggle to be a father to a child who has the potential to be his world’s saviour or its worst nightmare, his genuine efforts to make his son self-aware of his powers and abilities is beautifully captured by Costner.

And then there’s the story. Krypton’s dying hours. The clash of ideologies. The despair of hope. The non-linear storyline, switching between the past and the present. Clark Kent’s pursuit of anonymity and yet his inability to hold himself back in a crisis. His reluctant and unsure metamorphosis into the superhero the world needs him to be is stunning. The film has been criticized for the insane destruction at the end, but I believe it was necessary to show the sheer strength and level of the hero and villain and to firmly impress upon Earthlings that they’re witness to powers they cannot harness or control. It was important that an entire city be demolished as Superman and Zod ravage through it without so much as a hair ruffled or a scratch or bruise to tell humans how powerless they are, and how naive to think they’re the “superior” species on Earth.

I just love the direction the new wave of DC films are taking. Marvel is good entertainment but it cannot hope to match the cerebral, dark, gritty and serious nature of DC movie. Marvel doesn’t quite engage with its audience in the same way that a Dark Knight movie did, or Man of Steel did for that matter. While entertainment rules the box office, DC movies truly make me feel content yet longing for more cinematic brilliance.

Man of Steel was just an example of how would we react to a God in our midst.

There’s more to come.

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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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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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Rajneeti – A Politician’s Promise

There were many reasons why Rajneeti could have been one of the biggest and most powerful films of the year, if not the decade. It had the one of the best directors at the helm, had veterans and stars to pull it through, had already generated enough interest ( I am consciously avoiding the word ‘hype’ here because it’s reserved for films like ‘Kites’ and ‘Housefull’), was based on a topic very dear to us Indians. But inspite of all these advantages, it wound up as just another frivolous story of bloodthirsty  ambitions, politics, backstabbing, and political one-upmanship.

I’m not going to delve into the intricacies of the story here. I’m more interested in the plot and characterization. It has borrowed heavily from Mahabharat and The Godfather. And I don’t think that was a very good idea. It enabled the knowledgeable audience to know where the story was heading next. And some of the scenes were so straight out of the epics that it was unbelievable. Like the scene where the SP slaps Ranbir in the hospital lobby, or the scene where Arjun Rampal dies are textbook Godfather scenes. Imagine if Chetan Bhagat wrote ‘The Godfather’!!!! (not that he could have, even in his or our wildest dreams!!!) he’d be laughing his way to the bank on copyright infringements and royalties. Other scenes reminded one equally of Mahabharat. These two epics are mammoth in their own rights, and to combine them just to make the movie more imposing didn’t work. The result was a movie where the story is lost in tactical maneuvers and never achieves the intensity of either of it’s parents.

Of the performances, I felt only Nana Patekar , Manoj Vajpayee and Arjun Rampal were the true performers. While Ranbir Kapoor had the best role in the film and for most it was an out and out RK film, I humbly disagree and honestly think he needs to work on his dialog delivery badly.Once it was established that RK was Michael Corleone and Arjun, all he had to do was watch Al Pacino a couple of times play Michael. Naseer was only meant for the birth of Ajay, and again Ajay himself delivered a hallmark performance we have come to know him for.

Two of the girls I know were surprised that there were no songs in the movie, even though it has a soundtrack. And I was surprised at their surprise. Why would a movie like this need songs? It was not a love story, it was not a sitcom comedy, it was not a patriotic movie, then why? Songs were not meant to be a part of this story, and were wisely kept away. And if at all they wanted to have a proper song sequence, the only place they could have put it was when Ranbir agrees to marry Katrina.  And that brings me to the two most ridiculous scenes I saw in the movie. The first one is immediately after Ranbir agrees to marry Katrina. The next thing we see is the couple hitting the dance floor in a club and a ‘wink-and-it’s-over’ dance number. What the hell was that about?!! One moment I was watching an intensely manipulative Ranbir wooing Katrina, with Nana watching with an approving smile, and the next moment everything is blanked out and we have girls in skimpy clothes (I don’t mind 😉 )dancing!!! and before I can adjust (no pun intended, don’t mean it in the physical sense), we’re back to the politics of it all!!! I mean WTF!!!

The next scene is after some major event occurs. There is a close up slow motion shot of Ranbir running wearing a bandana. Very Michael Bayesque i must admit! and the next frame cuts to the terrace where a worried Sara watches him sprint away!!! My first reaction to it was the memory of countless scenes in comic situations where the hero and heroine run towards each other in slow-mo (real or faked) and then as soon as they are about to hug, they switch from slow-mo to real time, cross each other only to stop some distance away!!! coming back to the particular scene in Rajneeti, it made absolutely no sense to me. Ranbir had shown enough intensity in some previous scenes already. This scene was not required to establish how focussed and intense that character was. Again, WTF!!! One thing’s for sure, Prakash Jha has many talents as a director, but artistic rendition is not one of them.

I went to watch Rajneeti expecting an intense, power-packed political drama. Even if Mahabharat was the mould for it’s plot, I was damn excited because it touches on every subject, every emotion under the Sun, and remains the most powerful epic ever written. What turned me off was the rip off of The Godfather, minus the intensity. For movies based on the novel,  I really found the Sarkaar duology more intense.

Rajneeti started as a modern day Mahabharat, morphed into The Godfather but dissolved in their shadows without leaving any imprint on my mind.

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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,

DELTA1

 

Miss Misery

I just love this song by Elliot Smith. It’s from the movie ‘Good Will Hunting’ starring Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Afleck and Minnie Driver. Somehow I relate to this song, and it’s sung beautifully.

so here goes…

MISS MISERY

I’ll fake it through the day
With some help from johnny walker red
Send the poison rain down the drain
To put bad thoughts in my head
Two tickets torn in half
And a lot of nothing to do
Do you miss me, miss misery
Like you say you do?

A man in the park
Read the lines in my hand
Told me Im strong
Hardly ever wrong I said man you mean

You had plans for both of us
That involved a trip out of town
To a place Ive seen in a magazine
That you left lying around
I dont have you with me but
I keep a good attitude
Do you miss me, miss misery
Like you say you do?

I know you’d rather see me gone
Than to see me the way that I am
But I am in the life anyway

Next door the tvs flashing
Blue frames on the wall
Its a comedy of errors, you see
Its about taking a fall
To vanish into oblivion
Is easy to do
And I try to be but you know me
I come back when you want me to
Do you miss me miss misery
Like you say you do?

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Mavericks…

I wrote earlier about how Bollywood cannot match up to the creativity and freshness of hollywood, try as we may. I am glad I was proved wrong, though I wish I am proved wrong like this more often. I say this because I saw ‘Taare Zammen Par’ yesterday. And I’d be a humanoid if I say that it didn’t move me.

We really are self centered, aren’t we? I mean, we just refuse to look at something from the other person’s perspective. ‘If he has difficulties, it’s his fault, not mine. My way of doing things is the most feasible way, and If I can do it, why can’t he?’ We just refuse to  accept the fact that ‘individual’ is not just another word in the dictionary, meant to be used  in essays, it means that every person has his identity, and we cannot impose our perspectives on him, just like that. So all we do is try to convince everyone else how and why we are right and righteous, while seldom trying to grasp what the other’s perceptions are.

So here’s this kid, living in the shadow of his genius, but caring and loving big brother, and who has to face the wrath of everyone who expects him to do as well as his big brother. He is the quintessential Calvin, but while Calvin and Hobbes is only about how a first grader looks at life, and what marvelous things keep happening inside that tiny brain, Eshan has to face the vagaries of life, and the expectations levied upon delicate shoulders. All pseudo expectations superimposed on a mind that’s way ahead of it’s time, imagining the universe vividly, moving planets, talking to animals, all the wile absorbing these shocks from people who it believes should love the kid the most.

And what expectations they are!!! The conformist in everyone speaks, the kid should be competitive, ready to face the world, take every challenge head-on, be a man, when all the child needs is some change in the way people look at him. A classic case of what happens in our country, isn’t it? “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, we are asked, and the parrot inside us replies quite instinctively about the glamourous professions that are Medicine, Engineering, and Business. How many sport stars have we lost because they were too busy trying to study when all that was going inside their head was about the football practice they missed that day? In our schools, creativity is like our lunch boxes, to be taken out only during recesses, and then kept inside, whether we want to have more of it or not.

There is this notion that there is security and stability in these professions, which the sport world does not offer. While this is true to a large extent, all the proponents of this argument should understand how the corporate world works today, where a large number of engineering graduates end up, and what is the condition of an M.B.B.S pass-out. They’ll be disillusioned big time!!! I really wish we all can think a little off the track and let the young explore uncharted waters. Let them break free, do what they feel they’re the best at, at least in their formative years. I do believe that this will do them a lot of good when they end up in any profession, because their minds won’t be boggled down by structured theories and preconceived notions about everything. I hope ‘Taare Zameen Par’ is able to achieve it’s purpose. But then again, I’m reminded of a great quote I read somewhere,

‘The most futile cry of man is his wish to be understood. His attempt to understand, perhaps, even more futile.’

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