Paradesi was released to theaters in March of 2013. Many people DIDn’t think it was a bad idea. there were no howls of “Oh what a terrible movie” “Bala has lost his brains making a film full of melodramatic tragedy” in fact people all seemed to think it was a rather good idea. lots of people seemed to think it was an important movie. dudes who spoke polished english in india (peter) called it a “master class in film making” . Anurag kashyap, who fancies himself an art film maker decided not only to put his money where his mouth is , and distribute the film in North India but also said “ the film created an authentic sense of time and space” which seems like the appropriate thing to say for a film that has the resume of Paradesi. So do we have a classic the scale of ghatak or mrinal sen film on our hands? why isn’t paradesi going to cannes and why didn’t it sweep the Indian national awards (it won one for costume design)? is it too early to judge ? should we wait for time to tell?
I can venture some early answers(it has been only a week since the release) . First off I think the film is definitely an important film. I have not seen so many industry insiders agree that a film so contrary to current prevailing entertainment theory that nevertheless is made in mainstream cliché , is something worth watching criticproof, and maybe emulating. Secondly, I think the production value of Paradesi makes it a message film that can be the model for building audiences for bollywood. For an industry that has recently become no more than an appendage of the hollywood studio distribution/ production sweatshop system, the bala film offers filmmakers in the subcontinent a new reason for making movies. To tell stories/ history. I wish this catches on , because there is nothing more fascinating to me than listening to stories from India. and for the third, after the misfire that was kadal, and experiences of some star scions (I’m looking at you aishwarya rajinikanth) who thought themselves rather more important than they really were, Paradesi’s mere existence (success or not, national award or no) is proof that the system has more to it substantively than mere superstar marketing or Baradwaj Rangan’s Maniratnam/Kamalahasan worship. It doesn’t matter that Bala is considered one of the top director talents of Tamil nadu. Tamil cinema has destroyed better directors without a conscience. Mahendran Bharatiraja Balumahendra…Rajiv menon (the director)…mani ratnam (mark I) , or more recently Balaji Shaktivel…. I see paradesi as bala’s fight for relevance in an industry filled by Vallavans. ( I support bala in this, too).
Quite apart from the takeaway for the audience that they should watch “quality cinema” Paradesi also serves a “teri meherbaniyan” effect on the tamil film industry. No star scion made paradesi happen (murali was a flop actor, and doesn’t count) the only HUGE ego the film serves is Bala’s. it still is praised for its “realism”(whatever that means) and its “Truth”. AND THE AUDIENCE STILL WENT TO WATCH PEOPLE SUFFER AND PRAISED IT. Why this doesn’t translate to mega bucks is a different question (and a question you will have to PAY me in percentages for an answer) but its awesome the goodwill this film has generated everywhere it was seen.
SO ..do we have Godard?
not quite. Bala , who plays in almost ALL his movies well within his limitations (and specially so in Paradesi) is no pusher of the cinematic line. his greatest films have still been very mainstream in their treatment. (by mainstream I mean visual/ verbal cliché and corners cut in producing the film) There is an impatience he demonstrates in realizing his directorial vision.
In paradesi, while the concept is high enough, the camera and production design is hurried. many ideas latent in the script, are but potential (for example , the very universal nature of the migration is never exploited or even indicated.this could be equally a story of slavery, of construction labor, migrant farm workers, humans smuggled, or high tech/outsourced shops…or indian migrants to the Gulf or malaysia/singapore). The lost opportunity is mostly because the script is myopic from being too pleased with itself. That prevents a good script and a high concept from becoming a great script and a collectible film.
It feels like bala has never lived in or near a drought prone village in his life. The thing you learn about villages if you have been in them is that there is a class structure (AND a caste structure) to how kudusais (mud huts with thatched roofs) are constructed in a village. The first half of the film seems to be shot in a kudusai disneyland of village egalitarianism. even that would be excusable if they made the village a beautiful memory to contrast with the more stark “new world” squalor. (for example, people that move from a rose tinged village environ to a construction slum full of disease and pestilence but that doesn’t seem to be the director’s vision , either. It feels like production design was let down from the director just not giving them a brief on the details he wanted covered. (to give you a reference, watch titas ik nadir naam (ghatak) for a ..uh..master class in production design and lighting).
The use of the burnt blue black theme is the first questionable choice.Not Questionable…per se, it’s random. why? Shyam benegal , in an earlier era used the tint to great effect in Bhoomika and using a tint is not necessarily a bad thing. But the rationale for applying the theme is not clear. did the team think the film would look more artistic with a tint? why not just shoot it in black and white? surely they didn’t think their film would look more high tech with the blue tint?!
There is an important reason for asking this question. If people are not ALREADY emotionally invested in the story (it’s not MY kids that are being sold into slavery. why should I care?) the tinting cheapens the film to pure manipulation for such people. so instead of separating the audience as “people who care” and “people who don’t” you are now separating the audience as ” people who care inspite of it being a manipulative film” and “people who are put off by emotional manipulation”
Great films need not have a great finish. there are many awesome films that are rough hewn and uncut. But it does make a difference that a film doesn’t come off looking like a mediocrely produced television soap. for instance synch sound is very important for “reality” and “authenticity” dubbing artists having a ball overdubbing the uhhs and sobs all over the visual looks TERRIBLE. I’ had rather listen to silence than to anadi (or someone) moaning and signing her money’s worth just because they have a job. This brings me to director’s discretion.
Means that there is an artistic intelligence intervening and mediating throughout the creative process of making a film. The other term for this is “a director’s voice” THIS is what wins films awards. It means that Bala doesn’t take a few months off after he hands the narrative over to his assistants to direct, after which he merely puts in “master touch” in one or two places. It means he “kannula valakkennaia oothindu patthufies” (checks obsessively) every frame, sequence and sound in the film to make it work , enriches it and deliver messages that he wants in the film. As a talented director , I am sure Bala has much more to say about the subject…and the world. I think it is more hurry and sloppiness from hubris that is keeping him from saying it effectively.
I am not saying that Paradesi would have been a MASTERPIECE if all these faults were corrected. I’m saying that more intelligent people who are into film as a passion would have paid it much more attention. as it is, the film is merely potentially a great film. As it is, because it’s heart is in the right place, I hope it inspires more talented people to make great art that people want to see.