Monthly Archives: February 2006

Chronicles of Narnia

The Lion, the Witch, the Wardrobe

C.S. Lewis along with J R R Tolkein are the two authors who hugely influenced fantasy writing in the 20th century. Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of The Rings (LOTR) has now become the standard against which all such fantasy films will be measured in the near future. This first film in the Narnia series is in many ways more difficult to visualise than LOTR, especially because a large number of live action scenes have to be mixed with animation.
Narnia was released by Disney amid a lot of hype about its allegorical content. But kids unaware of its sublime messages and intellectual baggage are the ones most likely to enjoy the movie.
I haven’t read the book, but some of the background against which the kids’ passage to Narnia is set is in more detail in the film than in the book, apparently. Four children of the Pevensie family of London are packed off to the countryside when Germany begins the bombing of the city during World War II. Jim Broadbent appears early in the film in the role of the children’s professor uncle who owns a large mansion full of empty spaces into which the children move in. Old, mellow and kind hearted, this is a role Broadbent can now perform with his eyes closed. And he seems the only one initially to believe in Narnia ironically when Susan and Peter – the two older kids – are disinclined to believe in Lucy’s tale of the world hidden in the wardrobe. Edmund, meanwhile, is already caught up in the battle between good and evil.
Lucy’s passage into Narnia, the first of the memorable scenes in the movie, is captured in a series of breathtaking shots. A promise is made here to reveal a new land of wonder and magic, but then that is reneged. The children’s search for Mr Tumnus and Edmund, both captured by the White Witch, especially the run through the tunnels and the snow-capped cliffs, is too much like LOTR. Lucy’s scenes with Tumnus are some of best in the movie, the two really playing off each other.
The children finally find Aslan, flowing mane, a deep voice (Liam Neeson) and all, just as he is trying to regain Narnia from the White Witch who has banished the land to an everlasting winter. His death, I thought came too quick, just a few scenes after we get to see him for the first time. It’s a bit like there is lot of talk of Aslan in the first half and then he appears and is almost as quickly knocked off.
Nevertheless, his sacrifice is superbly shot and performed in the scene that Tilda Swinton is really at her evil best and delivers probably the film’s best lines. Compared to that, Aslan’s lines, if I may call them that, are really lame.
Georgie Henley potrayal of Lucy is rivetting. She is not very pretty, but is cute. She tramples on the snow rather than walk on it. It’s a restrained performance far better than any other on screen. The only who actually holds his own against Georgie is Skandar Keynes, partly because his conflict between the Witch’s tempting offer and the good within him is so ingrained into the movie. His weakness for sweets, the gleam in his eye as he yearns for power, his bitterness in being separated from his father, Keynes really bites into whatever potential the role offers. Compared to the performances from the younger kids, the older ones played by Anna Popplewell and William Moseley are trite.
The battle scenes are not much of an improvement from Braveheart. It’s hard to explain what could have been done better though.
I watched the movie in a theatre full of adults who seemed to be tremendously enjoying the movie and ultimately I believe this is the greatest success of the film: To make something which children see one way and the adults another.

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Rang De Basanti

There is an unwritten line that every good director of patriotic movies tries hard not to cross, a line that divides cheap, jingoistic patriotism and the real thing. Rakesh Omprakash Mehra is aware of this line, but nevertheless crosses it a few times over. The success of the movie is in hiding this cleverly from the viewer, opening him up for the message: Get up, get out and save the Nation. It’s my job to point out the obvious: while you are out improving your country, Rakesh and his team are raking in the money.
Had the message been subtle and the implications of the story left to the viewer, Rang De Basanti would have been much better. But that subtlety is lost upon Mehra. He has actually worked in the message into the script so much, that it becomes a part of it. He relies on two extraordinary men to carry the movie with him, Aamir Khan and A R Rehman. Apart from the brilliance of the editing, the production and sound design and the cinematography, these are two artists who hold the movie together.
Aamir is confident enough to let the other actors steal the best lines and scenes from him and then, with all the mastery of a great showman, pushes the envelope to go one up. The other actors, particularly Atul Kulkarni and Siddharth, seem to have good roles written for them, while Aamir seems to pull his performance from pure ether. His mastery over the Punjabi accent; the scene in which he cries to Sue (Alice Payton) as struggles to eat the first bite of his roti; his snarled, angry, almost evil looking face as he performs an assassination, Aamir, in a just few key scenes that he has, infuses the movie with depth.
Rehman is inspired and inspiring. The jingle that begins Sue’s journey in India, is repeated in so many hues that by the end of the movie, it has moved from being a soundtrack to its emotional core. Most of the songs are packed in the first half, but with every song the movie seemed to have progressed a little further. But the cuts in between the songs to dialogue are meaningless and lay bare the director’s insecurity in filming the songs as, well, just songs. Karan’s (Siddharth’s) first meeting with his industrialist Dad played by Anupam Kher is scored in such a way that it darkly foretells the fatal end the characters are going to meet with eventually.
Mehra cuts back and forth between the two main threads of the story: Sue’s attempts at making a film on five Indian revolutionaries, including Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekar Azad, and the second, the film that she creates. The technique of having a film within a film is difficult and Mehra seems to struggle to get it right. The drama of the revolution against Britain is so great that Mehra needlessly shows us too much detail of this. The cursory manner in which the Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre and the “Simon Go Back” protest is dealt with is bad enough, but even worse are the silly parallels to contemporary politics.
The ensemble is so large, that actors like Om Puri seem to be wasted. Kiron Kher is typecast again. Alice Payton, who turns in an impressive performance as Sue, and Soha Ali Khan are entrusted with bringing a feminine touch to what is otherwise a movie on male bonding. The sound design is too rich and the editing too slick.
The different strands have to come together at some point and they do so predictably in an emotion charged climax, beautifully written and enacted. But a little willful suspension of disbelief is needed to digest most of the second half.
The scene, among the last few, in which Waheeda Rehman comes back from coma, is perhaps a metaphor for the slumber of corruption and murky politics that the Great Indian State is awakening from.
Siddharth plays the archetypal Hindi film hero leaving the more refreshing role to Aamir, who seems to be again in a movie that doesn’t on the whole deserve him.

I leave a link to Ekalavya’s rant.

Bob Dylan

I discovered Dylan in 2000. Time magazine had featured him on its list of most influential entertainers of the century. I saw a photo of Dylan and about a year later bought my first Dylan album – Live in 1966. Many songs on the B side were so noisy, I could harldy hear Dylan. But tracks on the A side were superb and I was hooked.
Then a friend played me songs from Biograph, especially Blowin’ in the Wind. We even tried to use the song on a documentary about Naxalites in Kerala that a group of us made together. But that didn’t quite work out.
Then I was gifted a copy of Biograph myself. It is not Dylan’s best collection, but it’s very comprehensive.

Dylan is not a very good singer, in my opinion. But he is brillant songwriter and can emote words really well. Just listen to him on the Jerry Maquire soundtrack. It’s hard to understand Dylan as a rocksinger, because he is anything but one. No rock star that I know of writes songs quite like him. Visions of Johanna, Desolation Row and To Ramona are my favs. I recently began reading Chronicles: Vol One, which is Dylan’s memoirs. One of best books on him, we can say, written by himself.

Btw, Dylan didn’t sing in the Royal Albert Hall in 1966. The concert actually took place in another hall nearby. Why it’s advertised as the Royal Albert Hall concert, well I never did quite find out.

Political movies; Illayaraja and Rehman

Very few political movies get made in Tamil. Only Manirathnam’s Iruvar ( on MGR and his relationship with M Karunanidhi) comes to mind immediately. Even though most actors turn to politics at one time or other – Karthik and Sarath Kumar are again in the news this election year – the film industry hardly takes a serious view at politics. But there are a thousand stories to be told. The rise of J Jayalithaa in politics must be a fascinating story. A story on the death of the Congress and the rise of the DK must be another story waiting to be told. Even the ones that do get made are harldly critical of their subjects – a movie on Kamaraj, in recent years – and lack a modern story telling style.
MK recently wrote the story for a movie – Pasakkili – on two socially aware men saving their town and sister from the baddies. MK took a break from politics, stayed in some resort for a few days and came up with this absolute crap. A poster shows the two men – Murali and Prabhu – looking defiant in chains and the sister begging a baddie with a gun for god knows what. It’s in this absurd scenario, that Hazaron…. gets made and is seen and appreciated. Like Zinda, Hazaron is a movie with a superb soundtrack, some solid acting by KK, and a well crafted script. A trifle long yet highly stimulating movie.
Recently, my friend Eka Lavya has written that Rehman started out in 1993. That seems wrong to me. Roja was made either in 1991 or 1992. Not sure which year, but 93 is a little too late. And there seems to be a marked difference to the kind of songs he made and the songs in Zinda and Hazaron. Besides, Rehman has harldy made a dent on Illayaraja territory, Tamil folk music. Rehman did score for movies of this sort – Kizhakku Cheemaiyile with Bharathiraja and Sangamam – but they are really no match for Illayaraja’s prolific contribution to Tamil cinema. In Tamil Nadu, Rehman is seen a hi-tech, electronic music making wizard, who lacks soul to his music. Not true, in my opinion. In addition to using a lot of orginal instrumental music – e.g Duet for with Kadri Gopalnath work with AR – Rehman has indeed composed some of most soulful tunes even done in Tamil.
But Illayaraja is not dead yet. There is a good song in a movie as recent as Mumbai Express.

On Writing

On an endless night a couple of years back, my friends T, J and I sat in a flat in Adyar (Chennai) and discussed our writing projects. On J’s shelf, amidst his books collected from the city’s second hand book shops and discount stores, were a set of notebooks that he told me were his screenplays, short stories and various other jottings. He was reluctant to show them to me, so I had to leave it at that. T was writing a horror play. A few people meet over dinner at a house and one by one, they are killed. He told me that story, it was quite frightening. Since then, they have gone on to other projects. Last year, I bought a very expensive notebook to begin my own story. It was to be a set of stories on a friendship between two eight year olds, a girl and a boy. I wrote about five pages and it didn’t seem to work. So I stopped. I never wrote again.
Then I began this blog, essentially to write non-fiction, in Jan this year. After hours of labour, the blog seems to be finally taking off. And the links from here, Urban Hymns and Sarpvinash are indeed T’s and J’s. Keep it up chaps.

SF, Horror, Fantasy

Science Fiction is the biggest genre in Hollywood now. Include a liberal idea of fantasy movies (in other words, allow movies based on comics), then there is no genre that can even come close in terms of box office success.
Look at some of the biggest Hollywood hits last year:
Revenge of the Sith (sci fi)
Chronicles of Narnia (fantasy)
Batman Returns (comics)
War of the Worlds (sci fi)
Charlie and the chocalate factory (fantasy)
King Kong (fantasy)
And fans of this genre are so devoted that film-makers working in other genres must really envy James Cameron, Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Lucas and such. Take a look at what one sci-fi fan has to say. Click on the link. Makes for interesting reading.

Cricketing High

Is India on a cricketing high? Has our team finally found the right combination for the next world cup? Have we ever had a better wicket-keeper batsmen than Dhoni? Has Yuvaraj ever looked better?
We lost the Test series against Pakistan 0-1. But that was not too pathetic. The last match was a little too much for us. Besides our bowlers were not very penetrative after the first hour or so. But in the one-dayers there is no doubt that we are looking the better team. Even as we stand 2-1 and series is yet not over, I can clearly say that India is the better one-day player if they are playing like this in Pakistan.
There was a slight worry that the tour might be discontinued after yesterday’s rioting in Pak, but the tour is still on. And I say bring it on Pak, we are ready.

Post script: India won the One-Day series 4-1 but lost the Test series 0-1.