Raam Leela (bhansali 2013)

This is the problem with artists. They never tell you a story you want to hear. Their stories are always those THEY want you to see. you hate it , and like burning Raavan in a Raam Leela , you go and condemn them for making a film that wasn’t to your taste….even if the fucking movie is a bloody classic.

Art is a search for relevance. Artists constantly reframe classics for relevance to their peculiar times. If the work works with a contemporary audience, it becomes a pop classic. This film is looking for Pomo relevance in an age where European art is pretty much …copyright expired.

Bhansali makes a film based not only on the Shakespeare classic, but also inspired by both Sirk and fuller. (you gotta see it) for all the guns and the subtext. (men wear the Kuch skirts , women carry guns, often at crotch level) in a way that is Freudian. That’s new. When have I last seen a POMO film with a Freudian subtext ? 🙂

Its all even more interesting because the story teller brings all the voices in his head (including a creative reimagining of Satyajit ray’s Devi (the Goddess)  to be relevant to the remake of the star crossed lovers theme in a way Indians all over the world can understand and appreciate. Some of us grew up on a diet of Ray Freud and Shakespeare. before the world went all pomo on us.

Bhansali’s search for relevance , therefore, is a reimagining of hum dil de chuke sanam with guns. Love , in this film kills, like a post war existential philosophy given to Godard. and more men kill men in this film in unrequited homosexual passion than I have ever seen in ever. there is more hatred (love) in those surma (eyeliner) lined eyes of men in Kutchi skirts than in every last world war II Samuel fuller film..

Having thus established engagement with fellow man Bhansali then tries to unite his sublimated gay-itude theme with the recent trend to hypermasculainize bollywood films into some form of campy south indian- bihari mass consumption film. Ranveer singh (an  iconic performance by him as the jesus-van morrisson-priscillia figure at the center of this Raam Leela ) slips easily between macho southie-camp hero and  barechested broadway show Icon. Deepika Pudukone plays his love interest in the film, and is almost never seen doing a love scene without a gun , stretched to her full height , in mock battle with her lover-wrestler.

As Bhansali films go, this is more Won kar wai  than Zang yi mou. Gone is the Sanjay Bhansali who , in Devdas used his canvas to paint glorious projection of Bollywood…no..Indian  cinema’s greatness.An effort that won him universal disdain in india but ALSO one that took india’s pulp film industry (and sanjay leela bhansali is no pulp film maker)  to Cannes, and to Hollywood and beyond, like some shoestring budgeted mars orbiter that dared to dream interplanetary exploration….here, Bhansali is a Patriche Magnifique in his bombed out second world war cafe, with not much more than his irrelevant dreams, weaving stories even more compelling than before, from all that has transpired to kick Indian cinema back into irrelevance in the world…. mostly because everyone is irrelevant these days….specially the quest for relevance.

Ram leela is a compellingly pointless film made by the greatest filmmaker since Fellini. Thank you Sanjay.

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Ender’s Game (Summit films Orson Scott Card) :Civilizational Cry for Help

This is my confession. My guilty pleasure is watching people be honest about their truth. This is true especially in films because it is difficult to narrate a story without putting a little bit of yourself into it. This is also probably why most Hollywood films these days end up looking like disjointed meth filled dreams of losers.

Which is why I like the trend of pulp/bestseller Phenoms like Orson Scott card putting their vision out , like the innards of their souls, on display in cinematic hermeneutics of  a clinically processed screenplay target markets and all.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ender’s Game. I thought it was a meditation on war and strategy on the scale of Sun Tzu. It was also  honest to the modern anglo saxon (Meaning :America britain canada Australia …and their hangers on) Attitude to war and the reasons for waging it …and the methods of building civilizations around it. These rationales have not changed since Roman times but their modern application has led , often to excesses  such as Genocide vitiating militarism and colonial -racial exploitation in the name of manifest destiny.

The film ed version of Card(producer) ‘s 1985 novel, which is required reading for the US Marines, is in equal measure Gee whiz computer graphics like a Star Wars in HD, Deeply meditative millitary philosophy that takes the vein of clausewitz or Sun Tzu, and Tween Redneck-grunty dialog Aimed at the sub intelligent (white?) army conscript without too many options who’s likely to be cannon fodder in the US millirary soon.

It is to this third audience that the messages are most effective. As Viola Davis the training school madonna figure (and all women in the film are ample breasted madonnas nurturing and reaffirming the borderline sociaopath Ender into a fully fledged killer) says ” You pick them at their most vulnerable and take them apart with what you demand from them and I have to put them back together afterwards.” Thus adumbrating hollywood’s role in nurturing and encouraging the millitary industrial complex into becoming what it is.

The message of the film , directed at its tween audience  of the little Napoleons is clear:

Every war is a potential genocide. in the modern age every 21 year old  in control of a small red button is a general in the scale of Rommel or napoleon with the power to destroy civil societies without a trace. With such awesome power comes the need to write mythology around why we are permitted to destroy Life and Civilization. Historically we have done this (all of us) by mythologizing  the winners into a race of Demigods. In the Greek times demi gods(and Gods) were fallible and subjects of their own immoral flaws. The weakness of today’s Demigods is to be that they are human. This is also the reason that it’s OK for them to commit genocide(because they suffer guilt and compassion…which are ok emotions for 22 year olds to feel after they have wiped out a Pakistani village through the Napoleon like use of the red button).

The film thus hits both Catholic  theology of redemption and the faustian theme of the rise and fall of man . The Christ/Faust figure of the film, Ender, is redeemed , repeatedly by madonnas (the last of whom turns out to be an insect) who reaffirm his divine right to be the killer he is nurtured into becoming. For a Mormon Author  Card’s updated screenpaly is remarkably doctrinal catholic.

The End of the film reminds me of the scene from Gandhi(the movie) where a very different Ben Kingsley tells an anguished murderer from circumstance, to adopt a child from the community he hated so much and raise him as one of THAT community…and that would be the way out of his personal hell.

As a proposed solution for genociding 22 year olds in the US army, this feels like cynical perversion of Gandhi’s message. I would have wanted my ender to surrender to mental health authorities and go through prolonged lobotomizing treatments that suppress the urge to equate the destruction of civilizations and life with victory of some sort.


Long ago it was OK to kill people  for your food.or for a mate. Now,of course  we know better but it seems that one arm of civil society has grown like a cancer in the wrong direction and Hollywood is guilty of nurturing it.

The final climactic battle also draws the viewer in to the big reveal that the Game was really the Killing, and effectively point the finger right back at US for rooting Ender on  and cheering for hs winning the Game , at all costs.

I thorougly approve.

Murder and genocide are “OK” because “it’s either US or them”. to a desperate general  smarting under the insult sufferred by Battle losses, a Dresden Bombing  or a hiroshima bomb  is fait acomplii. it makes Battle sense.

Where it stops making sense is when the arguments that is used by the genocider in THIS war can equally be applied to the argument used by another genocider in another war. “They” were growing without population control  and were threatening “our” way of life. It was either them or US – All tribal powerful and convincing arguments to wipe out the “other” who only matter as much as insects to “US”.

The tropes of science fiction and the Military strategy , apart, Ender’s Game is deeply steeped in Hollywood tradition. This is the code of the lonely warrior you see in spagetti westerns . This is the ethos of how the west was won. It is the John ford western  wrapped in a star wars wrapper. At its core are killers who WANT to be seen – as vulnerable decision makers who have the Terrible Gun and want nurturing from unjudgemental mother figures

If films are a cry for help from minds demented by the times, then ender’s Game is a civilizational cry for help from the empires  that engendered Hollywood.

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Capsule Reviews 2013

Chappaqua (Conrad rooks 1966) is an  avant garde film in the Andy Warhol and Stan Bharkage variety, Also Conrad rooks’s first film, and features a veritable who’s who of the sixties counter culture and beat culture ( Burroughs, Ginsberg, Ravi Shankar ,Robert frank, Philip Glass.. ) The film was originally supposed to be scored by Ornette Coleman, (who actually released recordings of the Chappaqua suite). It’s a stream of consciousness narrative(weren’t all sixties films) about the recovery of a guy who gets into drugs and has his mind expanded. If you can ignore the “important” message in the film you will LOVE the precisely constructed compositions some of which are signature frank (shooting into the sun in cityscapes washed out into black and white.) Silly film tho it looks like much fun was had.

A Highjacking (kapringen) 2012 : Danish film that is the “true” captain phillips story(or one like it) of a Hostage/ransom negotiation between a danish shipping line and Somali pirates that take it hostage. Losely constructed on Von trier’s dogme- well not really but it looks real enough- the film chronicles the120 odd days the crew spent on board with a layered telling that spares us “We Americans were challenged by the agents of the devil on our way to worship the great god mammon, and we triumphed because America is the Greatest” line that seems to be the essential prerequisite of ALL Hollywood distributed (American and foreign made) film these days. **Spoiler** the pirates win.**end spoiler**

Oonayiyum Aatukkuttium (mysskin 2013) : Watched by me off of pirated sources because at least two of the people I correspond with thought I was neglecting tamil films deliberately. Thereview may show signs of being written under duress. A film as mannered and pretentious as the Dostoevsky inspired name of its director, I found it a somewhat pointless refilming of the tamil noir films from Ilayaraja’s golden age( ucchakattam, Sigappu rojakkal, moodupani etc) without the corresponding fresh faced talent. Mysskin has the finesse of an elephant walking through a forest, and doesn;’t seem to have a message either. WHY was the blind family running, again?! Tamil Cinema needs Dostoevski like America needs another shutdown.

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Gravity : (Cuaron 2013 ) fiction cinema.

If you are planning to see the space thriller gravity, make sure you watch it in IMAX 3d.That is probably the only way you will find science in the film, because once you take out the earthscapes and the authenticity related science(water floats like so in space, people spin like so….)the film really might well be about a stalker and Sandra Bullock alone in a big house with a cleaving knife. Is it too much to expect that a science fiction movie will have some serious science in it?

Let me back up for a bit..There are two broad kinds of science fiction ,to my mind. One is the Asimov variety, where you let go of all your current frame of reference and enjoy thestory as pure fantasy. it could equally be about kings and queens in the past as it could about the future and rocket ships. This can broadly be called fantasy. The other is science fiction I call the Arthur C Clarke variety, where the science in the fiction has almost rational extrapolation from today’s science. so , if there is , say a ship flying at faster than light speeds, the fiction explains the science behind the  reason why the ship can fly faster than light. Readers learn a little bit of today;s science and method , if they are in the mood to.


Clarke                                                                 Cuaron

In other words, curiosity is rewarded with information. In liberal arts (such as literary criticism) this is also called insight,  except that instead of intuiting the insight as a flash of a vision that occurs like magic , from human or extraterrestrial sources, there is scientific basis to observed scenes/events.

PURE science fiction film is few and far between , although some of Speilberg’s and sometimes (surprisingly) Lucas’s films have a smattering  almost as an introductory backgrounder to all that stuff that blows up later in the film.  The other filmmaker who consistently impresses me with his science in the science fiction is the fantasy disaster filmmaker  Roland Emmerich whose storytelling is filled with visuals that make for insightful science …and some dry social comment…. but I diagress.

Ordinarily, out of Science fiction cinema, if a filmmaker hits two out of the three (in this case fiction and cinema) that would make me declare a success of the film.  But not here. The lack of science given the overwhelming presence of scientific gee whiz in its visuals and set up leaves Gravity a cinematic document lacking scientific weight to hold it down. Lacking this , the film comes across as a souffle of a crowd pleaser IMAX film where authentically stunning visuals and some genuinely well written cinematic scenes lack a radiating core of energy.

So when you go in expecting 2001: A space odyssey, you see a toned down version of James Cameron’s Alien (Bullock is even a toned down version of Sarandon)  , the terror a toned down version of the terror you feel when you are alone in space with an alien.

Why am I evaluating the film as fantasy and not science fiction? lack of scientific depth to the narration. It is too concerned with manipulating its audience ‘s emotions and does so masterfully, but in the process it glosses over the science of EVERYTHING in the film. Sandra Bullock handles a tool in space. How does it work? how does it fasten to her space suit? she runs out of oxygen. what is the mechanism that keeps the oxygen running in her suit? Clooney flies with a jetpack.what IS this jetpack and what principles does it work on? Once bullock is in side the escape capsules (both the russian and the chinese one) there is NO science, she might well be flying a car…and complaining that the Japanese model has signs in Japanese. And even thoughthere is panic, the effects of tumbling in space which is (reportedly) a terror of falling without direction that overtakes your senses and gives you physiological symptoms similar to nitrogen sickensss underwater are not shown…The film glibs its way back to a boring old “woman alone facing death” format, which will probably fetch warner brothers the 150 million US(350 million international) gross they are looking for , but not because they made a good film….because they made an UNUSUAL film with pretend science.

Perhaps if it were set anywhere on earth , I wouldn’t have been so disappointed with the film’s lack of science. Maybe it’s me.

Gravity: Lacks specific gravity.

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Guest post on Minai’s Blog: Devadasi/Bharatanatyam.

Mr Naidu  in his  Youtube Channel  posted a dance by Vyjaintimala in the film Piya milan (which is the hindi dub of the tamil film Marma veeran 1957) which was quite captivating. The video is replicated here on my blog for people who do not have the patience to click through to Minai’s Blog where I have further analysis and background .

Quoth :  People who lamented in that time period that Sadir had descended into a crass, near-prostitution, salon-dancing style were perhaps oblivious to the fact that great dance teachers and dancers could create the kind of magic you see in the Piya Milan dance which is classy and seductive.


Like I said, Go here! read!

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V.S Muthuswami Pillai’s film choreography..

New post on Minai’s Cinemanrityagharana

“Look beyond the sparkling veneer of these film dances and one finds that they were often the products of economic necessity by the hereditary community whose stigmatized way of life underwent tremendous upheaval during the reform movements surrounding women, temple dedication, and dance in the early twentieth century in India. “



“After trying to view all of Muthuswami’s film choreographies that are available, one thing became clear—he is responsible for some beautiful Bharatanatyam numbers in Indian cinema!  Most of the dances I have featured on my blog previously, but I am especially excited about the devadasi-style one I’ve not seen before.  Here is my research on his film choreographies outside of Sayee-Subbulakshmi and R. Padma whose work willl be the subject of the next post installments.”

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Pacific rim (Del Toro 2013) : Anti Immigrant claptrap

The Kingdom of Hollywood has seen plenty of CGI film in the last ten years. Some have tried to make the genre into marvel comics and super heroes. Others have tried to make Shakespearean drama out of Computer generated story. The earliest films were myth and fantasy made into computer generated green screen images. The most successful films were the empty ones that were thinly veiled US military propaganda (Transformers, Vin deisel films, star wars knockoffs)  with a “human” hero at the center of it all –  a common enlisted nobody who would be expected to perform heroic deeds and destroy tons of enemy equipment and assets but then walk away to his broke life and girlfriend , and still respect his chain of command.

The last genre has now become so successful that it threatens to overrun ALL CGI narratives. films with awesome blow em up equipment .Larger than life imagery has become little more than army propaganda films for the US army. Hollywood is making fantasy and fiction news reels for the US military. Welcome to the new world It is exactly the same as the old world except none of it is true.

By now we have come to expect that “spaceship” really means “US navy ship” , Aliens  really means “Russians” or “Iranians” …or “Indians” and the hero on a mission is really getting his coded orders while on R & R from the Pentagon. Hollywood films that don’t obey this grammar seem to somehow mysteriously fail. Especially the action flics.

It was in this spirit that I went to see the Pacific Rim, a new Robots Vs Alien Monsters film by (no less than ) Guiellermo Del Toro. My expectation was for at least a redeeming feature or two..I was hoping that the maker of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth would bring a sense of humanity to the otherwise mindless giant robot movie. I was mistaken. The film is every bit as bad as you expect a Hollywood military propaganda film to be, To add insult to injury the film is also anti immigrant claptrap (penned by Guillermo del Toro , no less) masquerading as science fiction.

Get a load of this.

The “threat” to “the Humans” comes from “underneath” the “ailens” open up a tunnel of some sort whence they send gigantic monsters to attack the humans. This is because the monsters used to live in the world before (as dinosaurs) and  they want it back, now that we have made the “world” terraformed to their needs.

Tell me if I am mistaken , but does this or not sound like Mr Del Toro is talking about Mexico wanting California back because they once used to rule it, and the “monsters” they are sending are the armies of illegal immigrants?! You are now part of the KLAN- US Army, Mr del Toro. This is Klan propaganda from Hollywood.

Or at least its hateful and divisive, and I didn’t think it was in you to be so about Mexicans….

The unpalatable propaganda detracts from the other (fairly dubious) merits of the film . It looks and feels like early James Cameron/ Ridley Scott films and is full of early human interest stories about its protagonists. The look and feel of the Aliens and Terminator films is unmistakable and the fights between the giant robots and the monsters have a Japanese animated Godzilla film flavor.

But the entire film feels severely traumatized because the message seems dictated by someone trying to militarize the US Mexican border because they want spanish speakers dead in the US. If Mr del Toro is an unwilling participant in this farce war propaganda, then this will be the point he sold out  his street cred to become another M night Shyamalan  making junk and losing his backbone for filthy lucre. I thought you were better than that Guillermo.

Filmmakers CAN recover from their Godzilla sized mistakes but it has seldom happened that one has gone nazi the way Del toro has in this film , and then done a U turn and recovered to make redeeming classics.

That would be a little like Mel Gibson making socialist films about human suffering.

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