I’m a movie fiend. When I watch a movie, I very thirstily & feverishly deconstruct its building blocks – Casting, Screen Play, Background Score, Dialog Delivery, Costumes et al. I’m passionately in love with movies. When I was a kid, I yearned to make movies. I used to stand before a mirror & emote, observing what angles worked & what didn’t. I would sit behind the clump of Frangipani trees in the yard & clinically dissect passers-by. Their body language, diction, their clothes. In retrospect, I must have unnerved & freaked people out with my pitiless ogling.
I never entered Show Business. Instead, I became a Software Engineer. I’m not exactly heart-broken, because I’m a philanderer: Film Making is only 1 of my many loves. In turn, I’ve desperately wanted to be an Architect. Cryptographer. Musician. Physicist. Writer. Chef. Astronaut. And curiously enough, Fighter Pilot. In my first year in the Engineering school, I fell inexorably in love with Computers – it had me from “Hello World”.
Those who can’t make movies, watch them. I sate myself by reading about the craft & by devouring truckloads of movies. A good movie is a story on an acid trip – Vivid images hitherto unseen carve themselves on the brains of the viewers, like a hallucination. A bad movie is like a wet dog – it stinks, its messy, it can be shaken off easily & it never makes a lasting impression. I’m very particular about the kind of movies I watch – After all, you devote 2 to 3 hours of your time to watch a movie. Its an immersive medium, where you have to stay interested. I only watch movies that I think are good, whose Rotten Tomatoes rating is high or whose story-line I think will hit the high notes. The rest are simply not worth my time.
I used to watch TCM (Turner Classic Movies) & AMC (American Movie Classics) regularly when we lived in the US. In India though, good movie channels that carry Subtitles are rare. We rent videos from Cinema Paradiso, a store that has an eclectic collection. I hit the mother-lode this weekend – I laid my hands on a Sinhala movie – Pavuru Valalu, with English subtitles.
Now, About Pavuru Valalu
Loosely translated, “The Walls Within” – is set in the 1960s Galle in Sri Lanka. It has a simple story-line – Lovers separated during WW-II meet after a gap of 25 years. The lady is married, has 2 daughters & her husband has abandoned her. When the movie unwinds, the director’s sympathy for the lead pair’s predicament comes thru with lyrical perfection. Without being judgmental, the movie poignantly captures the society recoiling in horror at this state of affairs.
The protagonists Victor & Violet are essayed admirably al dente by Tony Ranasinghe & Nita Fernando. None of the actors spout reams of dialog – their silences, little gestures & eyes convey much more than mere words could. Luckily for us, the Casting Director gave Miss Sri Lankas & Mister Colombos a pass. Instead, actors have been chosen primarily for their prowess & their suitability for the role. The young women in the movie have wide hips or big butts. Young men don’t flash six-pack Abs. Instead of fixating on their physique, the actors have focused on effectively conveying their turmoil thru nuanced expressions & dialog delivery. It is sheer poetry in celluloid.
The movie will haunt me – because it is so raw, so natural. The entire movie is shot in a typical middle class dwelling, with peeling plaster & green algae in the outer walls. Actors wear rumpled clothes when they are at home – not designer threads. And the women are not painted like street-walkers waiting for their Johns. Not a single actor resorts to histrionic pyro-techniques – for they know that over-acting & bad-acting are synonyms.
Pavuru Valalu is a great movie – an outstanding achievement by director Prasanna Vithanage & his team.
My SOS to Fellini
I asked for Fellini’s ghost, but Ingmar Bergman’s or Akira Kurosawa’s ghosts would do equally fine.
For after watching the movie, a paroxysm of rage hit me. A small country, Sri Lanka, with a population of 20 Million people is able to make a neat movie on a shoe-string budget. It makes a handful of mainstream, yet critically acclaimed movies that receive rave reviews from all corners of the world. We are a nation of 1.2 Billion yokels & counting. Yet, the number of decent movies we make every year won’t run into double digits.
When was the last time you saw an Indian movie, where the lead pair is 50 & 45 years old? We are fixated with youth. I don’t understand why. At least 50% of the people in India are 30+. Oh for movies where the theme isn’t romance, revenge, family feuds or a mix-up between 2 people who look alike. Didn’t Shakespeare do that in The Comedy of Errors Circa 1589 already?
Our movies revolve around love, love & more love. Unfortunately, love-making in Indian movies involves booty shaking, heaving bosoms & shirtless men panting like dogs at their women. When Violet’s daughter Lily sees her beau Ranjith – her face glows softly. We can imagine her adrenaline rush easily – Incidentally, we are not idiots & we appreciate subtlety. A fact lost on most Indian film makers. They just can’t resist a song & dance sequence to show-case “tender” love at this juncture. They would have Lily & Ranjith cavorting in Switzerland or New Zealand, writhing like snakes in heat.
When will we stop making movies with people dancing around the trees? For that matter, when will we make movies without songs? Must every single movie made in India be an escapist fantasy? Is reality so cumbersome, that we want to edit it out of our art? I’m not saying we don’t make good movies ever. We make too few good movies amid a zillion very bad ones.
We don’t have to make ponderous, pretentious movies where we try to show the world how bright we are. I once watched a movie by Israeli director Amos Gitai. Nuh-uh. Not my cup of tea. I was dazed, confused & totally disinterested after 30 minutes. The movie opens with a guy walking from 1 end of the street to another – and they show this for 10 yawn-worthy minutes. Maybe I’m just a dummy that doesn’t understand Gitai’s art, but sproing! – the next scene has 2 nude people making violent love on a canvas full of wet paint.You call it art, I call it boooooring 😐
Bollywood AKA National Shame. Bollywood, my ass. Where there is more money than talent. Where an over-emoting Shah Rukh Khan thinks he can step into the large shoes of the talented Amitabh Bachchan. Where the much feted Aishwarya Rai – the most visible face of Indian cinema – is one of its worst actors ever. To my utter misery, she gets plum assignments that were once done with elan by the scintillating Meena Kumari & the effervescent Savitri Ganesan. I lose my appetite every time that happens.
And the film-makers in India send 1 clunker after another for the Academy Awards & wait with bated breath for an Oscar. Good grief. For all their shameless plagiarism of Hollywood, their knowledge of World Cinema is very poor.
In the meantime, I wait for the release of the Malayalam epic Pazhassi Raja later this year, from Director Hariharan. With screenplay by M.T.Vasudevan Nair, Music by Ilayaraja and with veteran actors Mammooty, Sarath Kumar, Manoj K Jayan & Thilakan, it can only be good.