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What’s the point of this teaser? The visual/ video aspect is absolutely useless. A teaser shouldn’t reveal too much, but it should reveal a little something that makes one look forward to the film- and that tiny bit of audio alone is not enough to build anticipation. In recent times, Talaash had the most effective teaser IMO.
Speaking of new singers, there is an informative piece in the latest issue of the Caravan (“The Ladies Sing the Blues”; February 2013); the complete text isn’t available online, but I will post it here when it is. While it, like many media stories, goes a bit overboard about the “newness” of contemporary Bollywood (aside: it is interesting the extent to which the addiction to a romantic reflex — “we are alone, alone and heroically struggling against the odds, I tell you, all two million of us!!!”), it was nevertheless good to see singers like Shefali Alvars, Shilpa Rao, and Rekha Bhardwaj profiled. The other interesting thing was the extent to which so many of this crop have one of the following: (a) a classical background; (b) a family industry connection; or (c) a Rahman moment. There’s also some interesting historical perspective on the Lata/Asha dominance…
haven’t been able to hear the album. still not available at my end. As I said I heard the youtube snippets but prefer getting introduced to a major Rahman on CD. But from what little I’ve heard I think this is a major work and one that sounds fantastically good.
Love the album. I don’t know why but it reminds me of Alai Payuthey and Iruvar, although there is no similarity. Adiye and Moongil Thottam are my picks besides the 2 tracks released earlier. In fact, Magudi Magudi is the only track that I haven’t fully warmed up to.
the really annoying thing at my end is that the album hasn’t released on iTunes even today (released on the Indian store earlier). And since I can’t get my hands on a CD right away this is even more frustrating!
having said that and even as I like or really enjoy a lot of IR soundtracks over the past 15 years or more in a way most of these seem obsolete after Rahman. Not because IR doesn’t do them well but because he now seems behind the curve whereas in the 80s for instance he was defining things. When the chapter is turned on a history it suddenly becomes anachronistic to keep repeating it even if it’s IR we’re talking about here. Which in some sense was also the RD problem in 1942. A good soundtrack for sure but overrated and certainly not comparable to RD’s past glories in any sense with the possible exception of Kuch Na Kaho. But you sometimes here strains on this soundtrack very much from RD’s past and these come across as anachronistic.
A lot of people love Rahman’s Tamil 90s more than anything else he’s done and this includes myself. however if he were to become that very same composer again he’d seem beside the point. Which is why he hints at that history here and there, sometimes he even gets close to it on a lesser Tamil soundtrack but he never loses the sense that it’s all been done before. In fairness IR too has not produced an ‘ambitious’ work for the longest time. It’s clear he too understands the Rahman revolution and realizes that he can only produce ‘minor’ pleasures now. Again after RD a whole rich sequence of 60s Bombay film music became ‘history’.
To be clear the older episodes are always accessible on their own terms but these can’t be ‘repeated’ once that turn in the history comes about. Much as we can read Dickens today but we can’t read people who write like Dickens! Or rather we can and some in fact do but they’re historically unimportant.
The song in this teaser seems heavily inspired fro Syd Barrett’s song “Bob Dylan Blues”
This is actually my favorite in the album. On the whole I haven’t quite fallen in love with the soundtrack, but I expect time to remedy that. Having said this, this is a terrific piece. Also really like Elay Keechan…
I too am not completely sure where I come down on this. It’s definitely a strong album but also a much mellower one than I expected it to be. In some ways the Ratnam/Rahman album it reminds me most of is KM. But the latter had a key song that I think is one of Rahman’s greatest compositions. Not sure whether Kadal has this and much as I really like both love songs and a couple of others as well. But in each case (both soundtracks) the energetic moments are not real breakout ones (by Rahman’s standards).
It could also be a question of expectations. So with a coastal subject I thought there might be more percussion here. And though I don’t mean this as anything more than personal taste the gradual waning (if not vanishing) of this element in Rahman’s work over time is something I have missed a great deal. There have been a few moments here and there but not enough and certainly not at the level of ambition of the earlier stuff.
Ultimately Rahman doesn’t just repeat himself on a major album and certainly this has a very different feel to it. You certainly couldn’t confuse it with anything else he’s done. I also concede the Rangan point that some of the moments here hearken back to early Rahman. I’d go further and say some of it even seems reminiscent of IR. Moongil thottam could have belonged to an IR soundtrack. The gospel stuff clearly seems more situational.
I probably like pretty much every song here at some level or the other but I was hoping for an AP-like moment. This is a love story, has that coastal flavor to it. I thought this might be an absolutely sensational album for some of these reasons. But it doesn’t seem to be all this though it clearly has some instant classics on it.
“In some ways the Ratnam/Rahman album it reminds me most of is KM. ”
Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that, but that’s completely true. Kannathil too had some instant classics (the title track for one) and a good bit of quirky, interesting fusion. I’m thinking of Sundari and Signore. Agree with the rest of your note here too, especially on the IR bit.
[Can’t wait till the release date! As I’ve said before my most awaited film. The other two are the Shankar-Vikram project and Paradesi in that order. There’s no Hindi film I’m awaiting as much. It’s not even close.]
Really wish Kamal was directing something that looked remotely interesting because if that were the case his would be second to Ratnam in my book. Unfortunately those images from Vishwaroopam look rather atrocious. Agree with the rest here. I’m quite interested to see what Shankar does post-Enthiran. As I’ve said before the 3 Idiots remake I’ll consider an aberration.
The only Hindi film currently in production that I’m looking forward to is probably Rohan Sippy’s next even if this seems like Sippy-lite.
Love the images here, (For some reason a coastal movie always interests me, Not a swimmer, but love beaches). BTW does anyone know what Kadal means? and is it releasing in US and if it does does it release it with subtitles, Would love to check this out with wifey in the theaters (have to introduce her now to some regional films – hopefully that doesn’t put her off from watching Hindi films going forward..haha)
I am actually afraid of that. I realized after I posted my comment, that hey this is a Ratnam film after all. I still have to show her Yuva, Dil Se, She has seen GURu and its her absolute fav. (FYI – She was born and brought up her, so doesn’t know much about Indian Cinema, Heck she barely speaks our language)
Thanks for the suggestions Alex, She did see Rockstar, Didnt like it too much (Her words – Has too many holes in the script, doesn’t define the characters etc). She usually does not like the cocktail type of films (neither do I ) She feels after Dil Chahta Hai they all just want to be a wannabe’s on that front. ZNMD I have seen bits of it, Both of us want to see it though, (But I am sure its a hangover of DCH).
i was kidding—-i hope shes not an ‘auteur’–depends on her ‘tastes’…
does she like ‘coming of age’ genre–ok, will stop there ! hahah
nowadays im a bit scared of auteuristic gals lol…we have a few here as well
Nothing of the sorts, She has watched almost all of Aamir’s films so I guess her expectations are way too high with other cinema that come out. Having said that, She didn’t like Talaash too much. (I did). She didn’t think Aamir should do a movie like a supernatural (Just not him). etc.
about your usage of “auteur” below… reminded me of something Inigo Montoya said once about words and meanings..
kash–btw u seem obsessed with your wife/gf !!!
cmon whats happened to YOU, YOUR LIFE ??
lemme stop now–im sounding like aamir in DCH talking to saif…
hahaha just joking m8 –continue to be a nice buoy and keep it up
and your wife seems to have a good taste (unlike some here who just watch stuff like magic mike!!)
lol@inigo montaya–yeah some words are mis-spelt/misused due to ignorance, and some due to pure laziness and some deliberately …lol
@Alex – Haha, Good one bro. But remember I told you way back when. Happy Wife, Happy Life. Simple as that brother. LOL.
But you know I’ve often noticed that people who grow up outside India and have no real exposure to any kind of Indian commercial cinema growing up and only discover it relatively late tend to be far more open to cinema from the South or elsewhere. In other words there is no Bollywood ‘priority’ in their minds. It’s all the same to them — an Indian film with subtitles. And the reason this appeals to me is that with most ‘North’ Indians (using the term more generally) it is harder to get people to watch even the very best of Tamil cinema than make the proverbial horse drink the water! It really gets absurd when people watch the very same directors when they do Hindi and refuse to turn to their Southern stuff!
Having said that things have changed dramatically over the last decade. The awareness among Hindi audiences is greater than ever before, certainly those who belong to the youtube generation. There isn’t even a comparison in this sense (between the way things were a decade ago and now). It’s been the technological factor (again youtube much more than DVDs) and of course a larger cultural one (the South just started becoming more cool with Bangalore — IT — and so on..). In terms of the directors actually making films in Hindi or Southern actors going to Bollywood this isn’t necessarily new. Because there was a lot of this in the 80s. Kamalahasan still did more in Bombay than any other Southern star I can think of. Even Rajni did not beat him on this score (though he did have a cult following in various quarters). Among contemporary stars Madhavan has tried the most but in his case he isn’t linguistically more ‘Tamil’ than he is ‘Hindi’. In fact having grown up in Jamshedpur his Hindi is far more authentically inflected than that of most Bombay stars.
Agreed on all counts there Satyam sir, Some of my friends who have watched Hindi Cinema for long and not born and brought up here, have always stayed away from south cinema. If there was a movie I have seen and even if HIGHLy recommend them to watch it they wouldn’t, But when they see guru or yuva they praise ratnam to the skies. But I question, that you have not even seen his Nayakan or his other southern efforts, Heck they praise Bombay and Roja but refuse to watch his other south films. They say that South cinema is strictly for south indians we can’t digest their culture understanding of things. Man I tried so much for my friends to watch veerumandi but to not avail. I personally feel Veerumandi should be watched by every Indian, though it has Southern cultural elements to it, but its one of my fav films (same goes for Hey Ram – people loved it ) but they refuse to watch Kamal’s southern efforts. Just stupid.
“They say that South cinema is strictly for south indians we can’t digest their culture understanding of things.”
The next time you talk to them ask them about all the 100 crore grossers which in almost every single case are remakes of Telugu films. And by the way films that no one would define as cutting edge cinema even within contemporary masala!
Those who don’t watch Virumandi deserve their regular Houseful doses! Of course they probably don’t mind the latter.
Haha, True dat sir. Yup, seriously though, these movie goers do deserve to watch Houseful’s and Khiladi crap. And that’s one of teh reason I am so glad that I have found this Blog, atleast I can speak about cinema with like minded people.
Coming to Veerumandi, It was really sad that it did not get the national recognition that it deserved (not saying its as great as Nayakan, but it deserved more eyeballs).
Don’t remember much about virumaandi though I do remember liking it when I saw it. Still, what exactly makes it so great/memorable? other than the Rashomon effect… maybe I’m just forgetting… can someone remind me of some of the things that makes it as great as it seems from some of the discussion here…
Rahul, I have seen it quite some time ago myself. Yes it had the Roshomon effect (which was shot for the first time in Indian cinema if I am not wrong). To begin with the performances were really above par, and I personally loved the fact that the whole beginning of the movie was shot in gureilla style (almost a doc of a prison fight). Even the movie works at the script level, it didn’t leave the audiences attention (mind you I was watching it subtitled). And the Political overtone and the cultural clash that brings to the fore. Also, some great camera work especially the bull fight. Loved that whole sequence. Not sure if I can say much on it. I would have to revisit it.
havent seen it–is veerumandi available in dubbed version–dont think it has been remade into hindi though…yet
thankfully it’s not been remade. Kamal directed this. It’s a more even film than Hey Ram but I still like the latter more. Virumandi has a Rashomon-like narrative but with the gaps filled in.
Hmm… don’t remember much about the bullfight, but you are right about the prison riot. I do recall being impressed with that. As for Rashomon effect, wikipedia mentions a Sivaji Ganesan movie that was an almost-remake of Rashomon itself.. though I haven’t seen it obviously (not easy to find legal copies of old Tamil movies here in the US!). However, it makes me think of Suraj Ka Saatvaan Ghoda thought that isn’t exactly Rashomon effect… just the unreliable narrator thing makes it similarly interesting…
Speaking of Virumaandi, not only is it a fine film (I am indebted to GF for offering a great pathway into this film via Pasupathy, who is really the star of the show), but it also features the best of Ilaiyaraaja’s soundtracks over the last several years, at least of the ones I have heard: “Unna Vida” is simply perfect, and I think it’s my favorite Shreya Goshal song…
On that note, the Neethane En Ponvasantham album is eminently forgettable; I’d read good reviews and really expected more from IR here…
will check this if/when the dubbed/hindi remake comes out for kaadal
revisited this mani/rahman/gulzar/ash track—
Kind of a sloppily-cut trailer but this looks fantastic and I’m happy to see my suspicion confirmed on this being a more serious Ratnam film than some of the promos and press pieces have let on…Arjun (who I’m neither here nor there on) looks to have a scene stealing role here.
I think he’s going in for a much more pan-TN attempt with this one. This is the sort of trailer that will get everyone in. And yes I do agree this seems to be a more ambitious film than something like AP. Wonder if it has a tragic ending.
I’ve never been a fan of Arjun but he seems to have the best role of his career here! On the other hand it’s a bit painful to see Arvind Swamy this bloated!
“On the other hand it’s a bit painful to see Arvind Swamy this bloated!” Agreed sir, I maybe in minority here, but I really liked him in that priyan movie with Juhi “saat rang ke sapne” I could never make it if his voice was dubbed or it was indeed his, (haven’t seen many of his south movies, so couldn’t differrentiate between his original voice)
Never really found him to be a particularly strong actor but he does have a nice, almost comforting presence. I think Ratnam uses this aura of his to solid effect in the movies (Roja, Thalapathy, Bombay) where he’s essentially playing the inoffensive everyman.
Yeah, You found the right words for me, he is a very comforting presence, I guess makes you feel good when you see a calm face on the screen.
This seems to have much more masala tones than I’d expected – not sure whether that’s good or bad. Arjun and Arvind Swamy also seem to have larger roles than anticipated. So far, the kids look quite meh…. Thulasi especially.
Yes, she looks utterly out of place in more ways than one.
I’m really pleased that this seems to be skewing towards serious masala. Seems like a picaresque sort of deal with obvious religious undertones. Can’t wait for it personally. Ratnam returning to Tamil and that too with a serious film? This is the most interesting-looking film on the horizon anywhere in India right now.
I really like this latest, full-fledged trailer: it has more blood n’ grit than I’d hoped for. Who’s the guy playing the baddie? He seems really familiar, and looks to be one of the film’s strong points…
A R Rahman is full of surprises: Mani Ratnam
Indo-Asian News Service | Wednesday, January 16, 2013 (Chennai )
Southern filmmaker Mani Ratnam has had a two-decade association with music composer A.R. Rahman but says he still hasn’t figured out quite how the Mozart of Madras works.
Mani Ratnam introduced AR Rahman in his 1992 Tamil romantic-drama Roja and has since used him as composer in all his films.
Mr Rahman has also composed the music for the forthcoming romantic-drama Kadal, written, produced and directed by Mr Ratnam. It releases on February 1.
“In my 20 years of association with Rahman, I still haven’t figured out how he works because he is full of surprises. For ‘Kadal’, he composed a song a called Moongil thottam when I was out of town. He made me listen to the song after I returned and I was stunned,” Mr Ratnam told IANS.
“Sometimes he has played few compositions to me which he claims to have composed on flight. I wonder how did even manage to compose a tune on flight with no instruments,” added the filmmaker.
Kadal features debutants Gautham Karthik and Thulasi Nair. It tells the story about the lives of Christian fishermen.
The cast also includes Arvind Swamy, Arjun, Lakshmi Manchu and Thambi Ramaiah in important roles.
The interesting thing about this song (moongil thottam) is that there’s some Buddhist imagery here in the East Asian sense (the bamboo forest, some of the other imagery here), at least initially. I said somewhere earlier that this album reminds me most of KM in terms of its ‘mellower’ tone. But the Buddhist tropes carry over too (second version). of course KM had a more obvious subject for this kind of thing but in any case that second version of the title song has the overt imagery and once again a forest.
I also think this song might have an odd connection with Yakkai thiri (fanaa) in Ayudha Ezhuthu. That’s a much more philosophical song but it has the same economy of lyrics (in terms of the very short meter and the elliptical quality more generally) and I think could be juxtaposed with Moongilthottam. The Ayudha song is more ‘metaphysical’ but this current one also strives towards a certain transcendence. But in any case these three songs could probably be stringed together — same musician, lyricist, director.
That’s an interesting point — plus, in general, I think Buddhist imagery has its role to play in Dravidian thought (you see this in a completely debased view in 7 Aum Arivu), but the difference with Vairamuthu is that he uses the Buddhist sign to clear some space, a personal space, with room for intimacy. The Buddhist “sign” in Vairamuthu’s lyrics for these ARR songs (and I don’t mean to suggest it is devoid of politics) enables the self to be with itself (or with an intimate other), if that makes any sense — I felt that with Kannathil Muthamittal, and the same thing seems to be at play here.
In general (and following up on the idea that the Kadal album is reminiscent of Kannathil Muthamittal in some ways), in both Ratnam is perhaps interested in the idea of the “shore” more than the “coast” (the former suggests, to me at least, not just a boundary but one where things can wash up, on the other side as it were — most notably the orphan in Kannathil Muthamittal), and the shore as a meeting point of two realities. In Kadal, this looks to be on the populist terrain of the traditional fishing community, and its (I suspect rapaciously capitalistic) “other”. The Christian setting would thus not be coincidental, as Grace (perhaps symbolized in the figure of Thulasi’s character) is endangered, and must be salvaged… I have a feeling that the film has a “hero risks losing his soul” arc as well…
Leaving Buddhist imagery aside, I felt a similar kind of cool-yet-intimate aesthetic (that itself brings to mind Japanese art) in Narumugaiye as well. Vairamuthu often characterises these sorts of songs (he certainly did Moongil Thottam) as an attempt to keep classical Tamil literature alive (the media conversations often center on his use of archaic words) but I don’t think that gets to the heart of the matter…
I haven’t had a chance to write on Kadal, but even by the standards of ARR/Ratnam albums, this is very fine — although it is more of an album, ie a whole, than some others (conversely that also means there are fewer tracks that call attention to themselves by standing out). But Moongil Thottam, Nenjukulle (so much of the magic here is in ARR’s choice of singer) and after them, Elay Keechan, are my favourites.
I wouldn’t compare it with the very finest Ratnam/Rahman combos but that’s no discredit to the album. AP remains my favorite here (it’s my all time favorite Rahman even otherwise) but I’d put Iruvar, Dil Se, Thiruda Thiruda above this. One could debate some of the others. But to my mind some of these albums have more sustained brilliance whereas Kadal might be in the category of those with one or two standout songs and a number of good ones. Again KM is I think such an album (though Kadal might have more ‘good’ than KM.. whether even moongilthottam matches the title song of that film remains an open question in my mind..). Within this group I have a great weakness for Bombay and Ayudha Ezhuthu. Also liked Raavan(an) a lot, specially the extended soundtrack with that final song. Getting back to kadal Moongilthottam is a sensational song. There’s no doubt this is a classic album from Rahman. But I might take Enthiran over it. Because it contains more traces of an earlier percussion-heavy Rahman, something I’m more partial to. Still think D6 is his strongest album in a number of years.
Interesting thoughts. It’s the Christian themes I’m most interested in seeing explored here. That appears to be new territory for Ratnam who in Dil Se’s exquisite Ladakh portion (that film’s most gorgeously mounted and serene moments occur here) began his use of Buddhism (later repeated in Kannathil) as a device to lend his narratives a moment of pause amidst greater conflict. Dil Se’s objective in offering a “top-to-bottom” snapshot of modern India in the geopolitical sense allowed it to introduce this trope, while Raavan couldn’t because it zeroed in on a specific conflict in a specific part of the country. But even here Ratnam gives us a moment of respite from the central political conflict, during the scene where Beera confronts Ragini mid-prayer. The moment is staged in front of an enormous idol that’s cast, in surreal fashion, out on a natural landscape. There’s even a beautifully framed moment here that has Beera mirror the idol’s gesture, a move that very directly connects with Kannathil’s title song sequence where we had those tall Buddha statues and at the end Amudha mirroring the statue’s stance and gesture in the foreground.
The difference is of course that in Kannathil the idol that Amudha emulates is erect while Beera’s god has capsized, which, as I’ve said elsewhere, might attest to Ratnam’s sense that in Raavan’s world the idea of an “upright” God is impossible.
This is a wonderful comment GF.. I remember you made the idol juxtaposition from those two films earlier but these images really bring it home. And yes Dil Se is very important to this phase in Ratnam’s career.
Wonderful comment GF — I’d only add that the “samurai” moment on Thalapathi serves as a harbinger of sorts for much of Ratnam’s work to come, and again here we see that the moment, and Rajni’s sighting of shobhna, is a kind of suspension of the film’s or song’s normal time…
and your comment once again illustrates how with someone of Ratnam’s caliber it’s very important to follow the images. The common criticism here that these are beautifully shot films where nothing else happens or where the story goes wrong etc is completely misplaced and in fact superficial. Because the images ‘are’ the story as much as the rest of the narrative. Which of course doesn’t mean one can’t criticize these films but the terms have to be more serious.
I should add Ratnam has said elsewhere that this was an attempt at Kurosawa-homage. Most similar to this gesture is perhaps the “Raathri Nerathu” song from Anjali where you had moments taken straight out of Lucas/Spielberg classics like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Cheesy stuff, and part of Ratnam’s “film school” phase, one might say.
Thanks GF for posting this. I have seen Thalapathi but never remembered the Samurai connection. Speaking of cheesy Ratnam I loved the graveyard scenes in Geethanjali where Geethanjali tries to scare people by dressing up as ghost
It’s obvious that none of the previews so far have suggested the more ‘auteurist’ Ratnam. But we shouldn’t be too surprised. It’s true that Ratnam doesn’t reveal too much in some of his trailers but it’s quite clear this isn’t a Raavan. It’s not even remotely close looking at both the stills and the trailers. On the other hand why should one expect this? I certainly never did. I do think there might be an interesting religious/political subtext but clearly Ratnam is attempting his own twist on a well-established genre in Tamil cinema. Could one really compare AP to Iruvar?! I love the former but there’s no comparison between the two films as ‘artistic’ products let alone in terms of the larger themes and so on (even accounting for a dazzling video like pachchai nirame). With kadal though I think Ratnam is going more universal than even AP. This is clearly intended for all markets. It’s not a major city multiplex deal like AP or something aimed at that demographic. Ratnam has taken these detours from time to time, whether for commercial reasons or as breathers or as both. Once again one can’t expect something along the lines of Iruvar or KM or Raavanan or Ayudha Ezhuthu or that scale of ambition. We might even ironically enough get a film (Kadal) that is closest to Ratnam’s 80s self in some ways. All of this doesn’t at all lessen my interest in the film partly because I never had those grander expectations from this one but also because I do want to see what Ratnam does on more regular terrain. Some of my favorite films of his take place on such ‘regular’ terrain. But in any case I suspect that with the trailers he’s trying to really embrace the largest cross-section of the audience. and there’s some history here. For many years even as his prestige has remained undiminished the charge on him has sometimes been that he only makes films for Chennai if not not Satyam (KM ran for months in this theater). But this has not always been true. It’s just that over the past two decades he’s often moved away from very many obvious commercial registers and by choice and and this has quite naturally shrunk his audience. Here I should add that even within the key urban demographics all of his films have not been embraced. So it might be that with a film that could benefit from a certain kind of advertising Ratnam’s trying to speak to ‘everyone’.
Is it me alone that is getting tired of Mani Ratnam’s song picturization that is becoming formulaic , do-it-by-numbers numbers that is killing any chance of anything new in terms of film making ? Why does he need these songs? All those calisthenics, all those camera angles , all those scenic backdrops? If he had to have songs at least let him be a little more creative in terms of music and their picturization ( like Barfi or Gangs of Wasseypur) . and why does he need these choreographed songs at all…when films like rajneeti can do 90 cr and Kahaani 60 cr on the strength of their scripts alone ? Time to ring out the old and ring in the new, Mnai Sir!
Utkal, leaving aside the question of Ratnam’s videos, what is your problem with choreography itself? That is, I certainly don’t believe in the tyranny of choreography, but I also don’t believe in the opposite, namely that the way forward entails the abandonment of choreography.
Waht I find problematic is the sameness of choreography in Rtanam’s films, over the years, which in a sense is becoming like Yash Chopra’s Switzerland picturization. And these days I have problem with his use of songs to start with. While earlier , songs were integrtaed into the narrative, saying cogent things, establishing moods in sync with the narrative, starting with Dil Se, his songs have increasingly become item numbers, attracting attention to themselves detached from the film. the Shukrya Meherbani song in Yuva or the Ajay Devgan-Esha Deol or the Fanaa song did nothing for the film. They did not illuminate the emotional landscape, establish characters or take the narrative forward or even provide any kind of satisfactory puncntuation to the narrative. . It is far more exhilarating to see song picturizations of directors like Anutag Kashyap, Anurag Basu or Imtiaz Ali today. It is high time Mani made that songless film he has been threatening for years, if only to get his narrative mojo back.
Disagree with every single thing here. At least one post Dil Se movie–Kannathiil Muthamittal–had songs that in every single instance was near-perfectly cut and photographed.
From the names you mention, Kashyap is the only one whose eye is worth highlighting. But even he directs song sequences like someone who dislikes song sequences. The fact is that Ratnam’s approach might be a bit old-school in certain ways (the use of background dancers in locations outside of a club, lip-synching where others might go ambient) but in an age where this approach is something of a dying art, I find his way refreshing. Hindi cinema audiences these days are given movies with protracted music montages. Your advice to Ratnam would be better offered to the directors you mention. Because I guarantee those guys are far more interested in directing a songless movie than Ratnam.
People dramatically misunderstand Ratnam’s aims in this sense. You make exactly the right point. Many contemporary directors would like to and do make films without those kinds of videos. But Ratnam isn’t one of them. If anything his later works opens up an interesting problematic. How much can one venture into a certain auteurist direction without compromising the traditional Indian commercial film format completely? This is a tension that is perhaps unresolved in Ratnam’s work (in some films he integrates the songs perfectly, in some not as much) but it is also mirrored by another narrative tension that emerges in the same period. How much can one graft onto traditional Indian narratives an auteurist or at least much more restrained set of aesthetic values? Thalapathy is the classic example here. Can one pay homage to a whole set of registers but also tweak things a bit differently at every turn? At what point is the vitality of the original lost. Or if one doesn’t go far enough does the auteurist exercise fail altogether. here I’d argue that his rather commercial ‘diversions’ among more ambitious films are necessary in a way. He has to keep returning to simpler genres and formats to think through the entire problematic once more or by starting out at the source. So yes AP is a more modest film but perhaps there’s no KM without AP!
And to the extent that this tension might be considered ‘unresolved’ it forms a very interesting template for a global understanding of cinema. Because isn’t this what many directors are contending with what Hollywood to East asia? The chief feature of our contemporary age (over the last decade and a half or so) is precisely the ‘auteurization’ of commercial cinema. The Paul Haggis or Chris Nolan figure if you will. Directors who make some very commercial films (for the most part) but who bring to the table a set of registers that one otherwise would not have encountered outside a festival circuit once upon a time. I don’t mean to overstate things. This tension has always been part of cinema. But it has become the central in our times. And so commercial cinema all around the world increasingly relies of such ‘high art’ values far more than ever before. Once there might have been a few directors like Ford or Hitchcock attempting the same in commercial cinema but the vast majority of directors were just doing their own thing. This is sort of the Scorsese model. Not that of an art-house filmmaker but one who establishes a strong auteurist signature within mainstream cinema of some kind. But this isn’t the contemporary model. Katherine Bigelow isn’t Scorsese. Haggis isn’t Scorsese either. But there are very many like Haggis or Bigelow who make some very impressive works at that same formal level but who aren’t auteurs in the most authentic sense.
Ratnam’s ‘tension’ is then the Indian version of this larger global dynamic within cinema. Though there are some others struggling with the same, specially in Tamil cinema (with the new wave there and so forth) Ratnam is almost singular in sticking to the grander elements of an older tradition or recognizing a unique value in preserving these. Even as he downsizes things in certain ways at another level he preserves the very same.
In general the criticism that Ratnam’s approach is repetitive is also an unfair one, revealing a certain blindness to the stylistic flourishes that are really unique to him, as well as a nearsightedness with respect to examining his career and how his signature has evolved.
Some interesting pints by Satyam & gf here
But must agree with utkal uncles-” It is high time Mani made that songless film he has been threatening for years, if only to get his narrative mojo back.”
–I’m not aware of manis recent efforts down south–but don’t think he occupies the same ‘special’place even there currently
And I’m talking critically & commercially
Obviously I will be willing to change my views since not coversant with his recent southern works –Satyam plz opine
Also I think the way the other southern makers and even up north are ‘embracing change’ Mani doesn’t seem to be at the same ‘distance’ from the rest (assuming one believes he is presently ahead on CURRENT form–many won’t believe that!)
Though in this case his stature record and signature should be taken into account
He can’t /shoulnt be viewed in isolation to his ‘glorious past’ (totally!)
GF: Agree about Kannathil Muttamithal. In Guru too he managed to use the songs evocatively. But songs like Kata Kata in Raavan wre just there out of lazy habit. And in general I wish he ttried a doffeent stylistic flourish.
And to those who say Mnazi would never want to make a songless film, he is on record, saying he wanted to make Alaypyudhe songless. But Rahman gave him such great songs that he could not resist. That’s what I mean. Rahman has become a habit. And he should snap out of it. For a change. It is true he developed his unique style of song picturization and left us breathless, but doesn’t mean he cannot do it again to us with something different. There can be Toy Story after apple Mac. And iPod after Toy Story. There can be Schindler’s List after ET. And Goopi Gyne Bga Byne or Sonar Kela after Pather Panchali and Ashani Sanket.
I have actually heard that “it was going to be songless, but then we decided to have them” thing for a lot of his movies. Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t just someone recycling news from old days. I have heard this for AP, KM and Yuva/AE!
yes I was surprised when you mentioned AP… hard to imagine this one without songs.
On the rest I’d say this. To all such criticism there is a certain Hollywood overhang. In other words there are lots of people who now bring up this charge against Indian commercial cinema. Whether consciously intended or not there is a colonized set of terms lurking somewhere in the background. The idea that the ‘normal’ film is one without songs and the Indian tradition is some sort of aberration in this sense. Now admittedly when India starts making more and more Hollywoodized films there’s a case to be made that one might as well go all the way. But Ratnam doesn’t belong to such a grouping.
Secondly even if I accept for a moment some of your examples and agree that some songs seem less well-integrated into some of Ratnam’s narratives this itself is not remarkable. Because one could think of many important films and directors from an older tradition where the same thing happens. This is something I’ve reflected on elsewhere but the point is that the song or music video is never a very ‘natural’ part of the narrative. It always interrupts the time of the latter. This isn’t like a Hollywood musical where everything happens at the level of those songs and these in effect form the ‘controlling’ narrative. Here there are always two distinct narratives. And so to produce a film where things are perfectly integrated is always an improbable result and one not often achieved, even by great directors. What does happen though is that the ‘interruptions’ in time these songs introduce are taken as the ‘norm’ by those already housed in the tradition. So when we watch films we don’t find it odd that there’s suddenly a song video. But Ratnam at least in his later work is also interested in tweaking this bit of the equation. In other words he knows very well the usual cues that introduce songs. He can repeat them. But he wishes for a different sort of dynamic. Here again consider the great example of Awara. India’s first dream sequence but also the first double song video as far as I know. This entire segment exists almost independently in the film. It is extraordinary in every sense, it certainly offers a riff on many of the film’s themes but it could as easily not be there. But Raj Kapoor simply stops his narrative to let this entire sequence play out. A lot of times (and not only in this context… how long does it take Sholay to actually get started with the main narrative? You have all those comic jail sequences) important works provide examples that are sui generis. Sometimes these are embraced by people, sometimes they’re not. When they are they become ‘acceptable’ experiments. And vice versa.
And on Ratnam I’d make this point once again. With his kind of mind and art one has to play closer attention to the images (not just in terms of the song videos). Because the storytelling is taken forward by the images as much as by the more obvious devices. KM for instance has some crucial spacial cues that crop up either in the title song or in some seemingly casual scenes in flashback. These aren’t just formal choices made by the director to create that instant effect. Or take Raavan. The Ranjha song which among other things disappointed many by the way in which it was used not on the lead couple but as part of the background score elsewhere. However the actual song nonetheless shows up on the leads in a very ‘distorted’ form. Here one must ask why this song migrates across the film in this fashion. Or the images that are used to accompany it. These choices are important. It doesn’t mean everyone has to like Raavan or Dil Se or any other Ratnam film. But this is precisely not a Yash Chopra film where the Switzerland video is pure titillation (in ‘scenic’ terms) and is otherwise completely banal and unimaginative. In Dil Se the Satrangi song is meant to convey the seven stages of sufi love (Ratnam talked about this in interviews at the time). The lyrics attempt the same. But why this choice in this film with that subject? These are the sorts of questions that are forced upon the viewer when it’s a certain kind of director. One can certainly argue with the film in many ways but one can’t simply use old, predictable categories of criticism.
Rahul Tyagi: The songless rumours were heard about AP and KM too. But with Yuva I have actullay read a Mnai interview where he said that he asked Rahman to compose Yukka Bukka song to be used in the background. But he ,liked it so much that he wanted to picturize it and wanted more songs..pr something to that effect.
I’ve heard that story about Ratnam not wanting songs for a number of films. Besides taking such stories with a grain of salt I think that if there’s truth to this, it attests to two facts about Ratnam. The first is that he probably spends more time wrestling with the usefulness of songs and their specific place in the narrative than most directors do, and so probably really needs to justify the decision to bring them into the film. The second is that if Ratnam has suggested the possibility of directing a song-less movie it’s probably because as a true pop-auteur, he is always negotiating his own artistic interests with the demands of the form. What’s clear in watching his movies is that he’s trying to push the envelope with the commercial format when and where possible and there’s no director who thinks along these lines, and who is otherwise very cinema literate, a regular film festival name, who wouldn’t consider doing away with the song sequence as it’s perhaps the most defining or identifiable trait of this cinema’s mainstream efforts. But I think what reins him in, time and again, is that, mainstream as the use of song sequences is, it’s no longer as in vogue among exciting young filmmakers, who now with some regularity either escape from it or approach it with a touch more in line with a Western filmmaking sensibility–appearing either as slickly shot pop music videos or as classical Broadway style numbers. In a scenario like this, it’s precisely the Ratnam approach that seems oddly revolutionary.
Satyam: “Yash Chopra film where the Switzerland video is pure titillation (in ‘scenic’ terms)” as against a song like ‘ Chhaiyan, Chhaiyan’ or ‘ Maiya Maiya’ which are very germane to the narrative of the film? I don’t see how songs like these are any less titillating in ‘ scenic’ or any other terms.
Songs like Maiya Miaya or Nila Nila Oodiva are obviously ‘ item songs’ without a trace of doubt. The sad fact as I I have mentioned earlier , is that even a song like ‘ Chhiayan Chiayan’ too is also is just an item number, devoid of any narrative function, inner reflection of the protagonist, or a heightened expression of the character’s thoughts., or a commentary on the happenings. ( These are some of the use to which songs are put to in the traditional school of Bollywood film making) It is 100% arbitrary, out their just for titillation.
In fact, it can be argued that Mani’s narrative was far stronger before he got seduced by the pop appeal of Rahman’s music and gave in to the easy lure of attracting audiences with hip music videos.
GF: If songs like Chhiayan Chhhaiyan, Shulriya Mehebani and Dil Se Re, are not slickly shot pop videos then what are they?
On the other hand, I wonder if anyone thinks of the way Anurag Kashyap picturizes Oh Womaniya, or I am a hunter , or Jiya o Bihra Ke Lala, or Emotional Atyachar as ‘ slickly shot pop music videpos or classical Broadway style numbers’.
Satyam : And while dream sequence songs like ‘ Ghar aaya mera pardesi’ interrupted the narrative , it wasn’t inserted arbitrarily and did illuminate the inner mindscape of the protagonist. (Here is now a tug-of-war for Raj’s soul, brilliantly expressed cinematically in one of the best dream sequences ever — in the twin songs Tere bina aag yeh chaandni and Ghar aaya mera pardesi. In a surreal recreation of heaven and hell, Raj tries to escape the hell created by Jagga and climb the steps that lead him to Rita and salvation. : Dinesh Raheja)
In fact almost every song in a traditional Bollywood film interrupted the narrative. But they did meet one of the following: Illuminate the inner thoughts of the characters, intensify the emotions in a lyrical format, create appropriate mood for the ensuing drama, provide a sutradhar / chorus-like commentary on the goings on, punctuate the narrative through comic or sensual relief. The alst bit is tricky… they are nothing but item numbers. But in the hands of good filmmakers like Gurudutt, Raj Khoshla, Vijay Anand or Yash Choora even a vamp’s ong like ‘ Mood mmod ken a dekh’, ‘ Kahin pe nigahen aur Kahin pe nishana’ or ‘ Aage bhi Jaane na tu’ had a underlying meaning related to the main narrative , just as a comoc song like ‘ Sar jot era chakraye’ did.
In fact every song in a Mani Ratnam film like Bombay lived up to this canon. ‘ Kehna hai kya’ described the process of falling in love with a stranger at first sight and the resultant epiphany captured in the rapturous sargam, ‘Tu hi Re’ is the plaintive cry of separated lovers, ‘ “ Humma’ captures the stirring of erotic passion in the hearts and bodies of the newly weds, ‘ Halla Gulla’ maps the discovery of conjugal bliss among the happily married, as they go through the natural course of loving, having children and loving the children and rediscovering their love yet again through them, ‘ Kuchi Kuch Rakamma’ showcasing the playful passion still at play in the couple as the man pleads ‘ Let’s make another baby, and the ‘ Bombay’ theme hinting at the tragic times against the backdrop of which the couple’s story is unfolding. So much more convincing than the ‘ seven stages iof sifi love’ that exists in Gulzar’s mind rather than the minds of the protagonists’ in Dl Se.
In the same vein ‘ the ‘ Chinna Chinna Asai’ song in Roja beautifully captures the earthy innocence and connectedness of the Roja character. But the ‘ Barso re’ song in Guru is just an item song. It does not in anyw ay reveal Sujta’s character. In fact her meeting Guru in the train does a much better job of it. How one wishes instead of the Barso re song we were treated to some narrative sequence giving us a further glimpse into her half-illumined character. What we have instead is a totally irrelevant display of beautiful choreography and scenic titillation.
And that’s my whole grouse with the outdated Bollywood grammar of songs. Sure some filmmkaes in the past used it well. But it has passed its sell-by date. Most good filmmakers of today from Kashyap to Dibakar Banerjee to Farhan Akhtar to Rakesh Mehra to Hirani have realized that ( Hirani uses lip-synced songs well , but even even he wont use a fully played out love-duet between the male and female protagonists in a film like 3 Idiot, and he isn’t into pretty choreography or pop music videos with calisthenic chorus dancers). Only Mani seems to be caught in a time warp.
I mean Shakespeare did great with the form, but Becket or Anouilh or Brecht don’t have to use blank verse. MGM musicals are part of the great Hollywood tradition. But that does not mean Baz Luhrman have to make Gatsby a musical. Even Luhrman reinvents the musical in Moulin Rouge as Kashyap reinvents the use of songs in a tragic love story in Dev D.
Lazy habits only make uninspiring films Mani Sir and are better kicked off at the first opportunity. ( You missed that opportunity in Yuva, you redeemed yourself to some extent in Guru, where you concentrated on the narrative for the most part and mood creation through songs, a couple of item numbers notwithstanding, but seem to have fallen into the rut once again in Raavan and now in Kadal.)
some good points here utkal uncle esp
“What we have instead is a totally irrelevant display of beautiful choreography and scenic titillation”
but what IS cinema if not ‘titillation’ of one way or the other!
Even the’ intellectual masturbation’ indulged by many cineastes is basically not much different from the front row Tom dick n harry throwing coins at the gyrating katrina!
These are different forms of consumption of the cinematic form
Why/how some of us define one to be ‘superior’ to the other needs re examination..
Mani has a good knack of storytelling esp in the guise of songs. He has been exceptionally lucky in having a talent like rahman at his ‘disposal’ (no pun intended)
Why would he/should he NOT use that strength called rahman to who he gave a break himself!
As for the ‘style’, yeah it has become ‘predictable’ but not that even in this predictability, mani ratnam does come out with some cunning imaginative imagery…
my bigger concern is his lack of ‘success’ recenlty (both critical and commercial)–something that cant be hidden under the carpet for long–hope it doesnt have to!
There’s not much to respond to here, at least not without going around in circles. A few things though. There’s a difference between a sequence that’s shot very well, and that dovetails with a filmmakers intentions in the work at large, and what guys like Kashyap are doing (I won’t even approach your mention of Dibakar Banerjee because I literally can’t think of a filmmaker less useful in this discussion) which is basically doing poser videos in the style of hipster filmmakers in the US and Europe. These guys shouldn’t even be putting songs in their films in the first place and in doing so more often than not fall between two stools. Kashyap for this and other reasons has always struck me as a very confused filmmaker, despite his obvious strengths. Anyway, it’s clear that your problem isn’t with Ratnam but the tradition he emerges from. Finally on “lazy habits” I do think that audiences have these too, particularly when they develop a fairly rigid set of rules that a filmmaker then has to live up to . What that viewer loses in this bargain, (which fortunately for me has not been the case in my sense of Ratnam) is the ability to meet the filmmaker on his or her terms. And to be honest, (and as much as “the audience” is this hallowed term in Bollywood) those viewers don’t deserve a Ratnam.
Utkal, you’re confusing two different issues here. No one said Ratnam doesn’t shoot ‘item’ songs. That is not what I’m referring to. In any case this too is a long tradition in Indian cinema and my thesis (or GF’s) is precisely that Ratnam doesn’t want to leave that tradition behind in very many ways. But when I referred to the Yash Chopra example my point there was that such a song has nothing to recommend it in any formal sense nor does it add to the narrative. Here your definition of what constitutes a useful video is far too restrictive. There is no requirement that it should ‘advance’ the narrative or that it should add to the psychological depth of the characters concerned. Very few songs at any point in the tradition do this. Even some of the best songs are full of ‘stock’ lyrics that could be applied to a variety of situations. Some of the greatest love songs for example are not ‘particular’ to the films they inhabit. There are certainly lots of situational songs in the history but as many or a lot more that are not. Similarly the video that actually advances the narrative or forms that sort of connective tissue is really a strain that emerges with masala cinema. It’s not that common before this though there are certainly examples. In any case the quintessential cinematic song, the love song, is fundamentally not anchored to any particular film, by and large. On some of the examples you’ve provided saying that Chaiya doesn’t add anything to the narrative or whatever is true but one could say that about Mehbooba in Sholay as well. And there are tons of other such examples. actually you could take out every single song on Sholay. You could take out every song in very many films and the ‘narrative’ wouldn’t suffer nor would the characterizations. But this is already to completely miss the point of what these songs mean within a film and how they work given a variety of situations. There is not only one logic for applying a song but that doesn’t man there ought to be ‘no’ logic for doing the same. with Yash Chopra my point isn’t that the songs are item numbers or something within their narratives but that they’re often used ‘pornographically’ which is to say as pure effect with nothing more to them. A set of aesthetics which are then found elsewhere in the same films (over the last twenty years or so). But Mehbooba isn’t pure effect, the director introduces an item number where the situation can hold the same. This is what Ratnam too does whether it’s Thiruda Thiruda or Dil Se or Guru or whatever. Dil to paagal hai has songs every 10 min but this isn’t my criticism here! You could take out most if not all the songs in this film based on your standards but that’s not my objection either.
Once again you just have an extremely restrictive sense of these things. First of all your sense of cinema is too character-driven. As if any narrative is just an excuse to flesh out character. Or it’s about the ‘story’ to that everything in the film must somehow justify this. On Awara it isn’t my view that the song doesn’t mean anything. I’ve put up a number of comments and posts on this. The issue is whether the film can do without it and it it assuredly can. Because everything that song refers is available otherwise in the film. Of course I don’t see the double video as simply enhancing the narrative in this sense. I see it as repeating the narrative with a twist. In other words the video has themes that can be easily linked to the film but when they appear in this form everything is different. Much like you can tell the same story in theater and in opera but the form makes all the difference. Or you can elaborate on the same themes using graphic art or the written word but once again the form makes everything different. There isn’t a common sub-stratum of meaning that is immutable beneath every conceivable artistic form. Because the form changes meaning or more precisely even when the very same ‘meaning’ is attempted the difference in form is a profound one that has to be accounted for. So when in Breathless Godard takes a story that has been told many times in noir cinema but provides a twist on it with his editing choices one could say ‘hey it’s still the same story’ once you account for the formal differences. But that would be completely missing the point. Because those editing patterns introduce a difference in the ‘meaning’ of a what is a fairly traditional noir subject not least because there is a sensual dimension to this medium as well and these choices can completely alter one’s experience one way or the other. The music video (item song or not) when it is done well adds to the film but not because it somehow deepens ‘emotion’ already present elsewhere in the work.
and since you’ve quoted Dinesh Raheja let me return the favor by quoting from a well-known piece on Dil Se:
” Similarly, A. R. Rahman’s brilliant, hypnotic score melds folk rhythms, Indo-Persian ghazal imagery, and rap-style declamation into another parallel plot, here a portrait of obsessive and doomed love. The dreamlike song “pictureizations,” brilliantly choreographed by Farah Khan—from the spectacular opening song Chala chayya chayya, set atop a train speeding through the mountains—seem dissociated, even by Hindi-film standards, from the screenplay, further heightening the overall sense of dis-location, and suggesting the impossibility of realizing romantic fantasy in the midst of oppressive contemporary realities.”
So ‘dissociation’ here becomes the very point! Of course it’s fairly easy to compare Dil Se with other Ratnam films surrounding it and see how the same does not hold for those others. But again notice how the reviewer considers ‘dissociation’ to be characteristic of Indian music videos.
Nicely summed up, Satyam. On the other side, barring Dev D, I fail to see what is so great about Kashyap’s use of music– certainly nothing in gangs of wasseypur is (even compared to other non-choreographed songs) as resonant to me as Rakeysh Mehra’s work in Rang de Basanti. In that film, the whole movie was saturated with Rahman’s music, and that music formed an inseparable whole with the film in a way that is rarely seen. You don’t see a comparable impact in the work of most directors from the “new” generation.
I mean, for sheer emotional resonance, the “moment” of Tu bin bataaye, or Lukka chupee, or Roobaroo, and let’s not even get started on the background score (an abiding peeve with me, that no one releases these) — wow.
On Ratnam, it is easy to fit him into one of two common artistic types: the sort who self-consciously sees himself or herself as “at the end” of a long line, as summing up a tradition; and the sort who sees himself or herself as breaking the mould and as constituting a radical break from the tradition. It is fair to say Ratnam sees himself as belonging to the former category…
…but there’s a catch: the first kind cannot simply be reduced to a kind of conservatism, and the latter to some kind of radical departure. The history of art is full of people who’re retrospectively recognised as far more radical than they themselves might have imagined; conversely, more than one enfant terrible is obsessed with the tradition, to the point where one can sometimes hardly figure out where to slot someone (e.g. James Joyce is both arch-modernist and clearly part of a tradition; even more so T.S. Eliot). Heck, from our vantage point, literary modernism seems precisely about tradition! With Ratnam too, some of his innovations have become so commonplace, like the air we breathe, that we forget the newness, the difference Ratnam made (watching a Tamil film that is “pre-Ratnam” is disorienting to those of us who have not grown up with the tradition, and in a way that has nothing to do with how good or bad the film is). Certainly, not every film is equally intent on pushing the envelope (and Ratnam is hardly unique there: consider how much more safe a production Gangs of Wasseypur is relative to No Smoking; Shanghai with its pandering to bourgeois prejudices, relative to the director’s own Love, Sex and Dhoka), but frankly, the insistence on “newness” divorced from a work’s context and aims strikes me as potentially juvenile, a desire for the sensation of newness rather than for the experience of meaningful cinema. The former is more closely tied to the rhythms of consumerism than to those of engagement with cinema or other arts.
“the insistence on “newness” divorced from a work’s context and aims strikes me as potentially juvenile, a desire for the sensation of newness rather than for the experience of meaningful cinema. The former is more closely tied to the rhythms of consumerism than to those of engagement with cinema or other arts.”
You put it better than I could have. Excellent comment.
utkal uncle–im a bigger fan of sneha khanwalkar than u are –but lets not compare her with ar rahman
Also manis songs are certainly not ‘music videos’, to be fair
As i said–the man lacks true blue success recently–somethign that his apologists & detractors both (should) understand.
Otherwise mani ratnam is THE premier living auteur in india!
ps–this statement is based on his past works and needs updating/confirmation from time to time—a recent ‘update’ is more than due though since one cant survive on past glory (for too long)
aa: utkal uncle–im a bigger fan of sneha khanwalkar than u are –but lets not compare her with ar rahman.
And let me assure you that I am a bigger fan of Rahman than you are. I have compared him to Mozart in this very blog. I have picked up my Kadal CD from a shop in Coimbatore when the Flipkart delivery was taking its time.
The wonderful thing about creative field is that no one is greater than the other in any absolute terms. It is like a rose is arose and a lotus is a lots, one cant be the other.
I strongly belive that rahman could not have done what Amit Trivedi has done in DEv D, or Sneha jhas done in Gangs of Wasseypur and what Ram Sampath has done in Delhi Belly. (Or for that matter what Pritam has done in Barfi or Cocktail ) Three recent films in which the use of music was far more exciting than ant hung Mani has done recent times.
The problem with being stuck to Rahman is allowing yurt films to be coated with a a kind of sameness which Mani can ill afford with so many exciting new talents vying for our attention. With Kadal, for the first time, I am not excitedly looking forward to a Mani Rtanam film. And I am not playing Kadal on my car stereo as much as I played Cocktail, Gangs of Wasseypur or Talaash ( I did not even buy Jab Tak Hai Jaan, a first with Rahman for me. )
“It is like a rose is arose and a lotus is a lots, one cant be the other.”
thats true but with rahman one is talking about the ‘fragrance’ itself (atleast till now)
but yeah–agree to your point of ‘sameness’
I note how u (rightly) rate cocktail so high
thats the difference between being truly objective & supporting agenda/personlaities
Cocktails music WAS quite good
Snehas music in gow was a new genre in bollywood somewhat–rural pop ethnic edgy ..
ps–satyam, utkal uncle & others —what are the top ten films (bollywood/hollywood/worldwide) u r looking forward to in 2013 (& why)
Satyam : “the insistence on “newness” divorced from a work’s context and aims strikes me as potentially juvenile, ” But the insistence on ‘oldness’ divorced from a work’s context and aims is even worse and that’s what I find in use of songs in some of Mani’s recent films Yuva or Raavan.
The Republic Day holiday gives me a little time to elaborate on some of the points and to reply to some of the points raised by Satyam, GF and Qalandar.
Reacting to some of Satyam’s points first. I cant agree that my perspective on use of songs in Indian films is any sense too restrictive. In fact they cover the widest possible spectrum one can imagine. “…Illuminate the inner thoughts of the character , intensify the emotions in a lyrical format, create appropriate mood for the ensuing drama, provide a sutradhar/ chorus-like commentary on the goings on, punctuate the narrative through comic or sensual relief’. You can add to this : Summarise the theme of the film ( Many title songs like Muqadar Ka Sikandar or Amar Akbar antony do that), Add texture to the narrative and define the language of narration. ( Songs of Delhi Belly do that. As do many songs of Gangs of Wasseypur or Dev D). Songs like Mehbooba Mehbooba from Sholay or Aisa Jadoo Dala Re ( Khakee) function as punctuation marks , at the same time creating appropriate mood for the ensuing drama. I can assert that any successful use of songs In Indian films fall within these objectives.
Coming to the next point , while it is true many songs in films are generic love songs that can be shifted from one film to another, let me assert quite strongly that they are never the best case of use of songs in films. Frankly I generally don’t give a damn about such songs. And only lazy or incompetent directors put in such songs in their films. May be one song in a film for commercial reasons. More than that and I will show you a director who does not know his job. In fact in any Hindi film that has got any kind of universal recognition as a classic or any film of any director known for his flair for picturizing songs will never have too many of these generic love songs. Let us take the celebrtaed classics. Awara. Themost celebrated song from the film ‘ Awara Hoon’ is an aloquent description of the protagonist and his philosophy. Take Mughal-e-Azam. The song ‘ Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya’ is declaration of the ideology that is the driving force of the lead pair’s rebellion. Take Pyaasa. ‘ Yeh Duniya Mil Jaaye To Kya’ is the lament that captures the essence of the angst of the film’s hero. Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haden sitam’ from kaagaz Ke Phool or ‘ Aaj Phir jeeni Ki Tamanna Hai’ from Guide speak the heroine’s mind. ‘ Jeena Yhan Marna Yahan’ ‘ Kehta hai Koker’ from Mera Naam Joker, ‘ Zindagi Kaisi Yeh Paheli Hai’ from Anand, ‘ All Izz Well’ ‘ Give Me Some Sunshine’ from 3 idiots, ‘ Mitwa’ from Lagaan , ‘ Yeh Jo Desh Hai ‘ from Swades all delineate the protagonist’s and the film’s philosophical belief. In best of musicals like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun or Lagaan , every song is specific to the situation. It is the generic love songs like ‘Sawariyan Sawariyan’ and ‘ Ahista Ahista’ that are a drag and drag the film down.
“The dreamlike song “pictureizations,” brilliantly choreographed by Farah Khan—from the spectacular opening song Chala chayya chayya, set atop a train speeding through the mountains—seem dissociated, even by Hindi-film standards, from the screenplay, further heightening the overall sense of dis-location, and suggesting the impossibility of realizing romantic fantasy in the midst of oppressive contemporary realities.”
This is as lame excuse of the song as I have ever seen. It is true, as I myself have argued, that the picturization is totally dissociated from the screenplay. That does not mean that heightens the hero’s ‘ sense of dislocation’. Rubbish. Mere sophistry. Any song of David Dhawan or B Subhash can be give a sheen of respectability through these kind of interpretation. It is like saying about a particular bad film that this film is so meaningless it heightens our understanding of how meaningless life is. Ask any viewer what he took from that song he or she will talk of the wonderful sight of dancing on the train, the delicious booty-shaking of Malaika , the demonic energy of Shahrukh…but never of a sense of ‘ dislocation.’ This is the kind of writing that give critics a bad name.
The fact is Gulzar was ina sufi mood and he wrote these songs, Rahan was in a sufi mood and he composed these songs, and Mani just our them in the film without bothering to ponder whether they really went with narrative or the inner flow of the film. The language of the song is Urdu-Punjabi, the mood of the picturization is exuberant rapture, the dance form is ethnic Gypsy… none of this has anything to do with the characters of Shahrukh and Manisha or the mood Sharulh is supoosed to be in..no sense of mystery, curiosity, or even dislocation.
Compare this with a song like ‘ Kya Kare Kya Na Kare ‘ from Rangeela. “ Aaj humko woh agar miil jaa’e kahin, To aisa bolega saala vaisa bolega, Khulam –kula us pe dil ka raaz hum kholega, Who saamane chamkafi hai, saans hi atakti hai, aur zaban jaati hai fisal, Kya kare kya naa kare yeh kaisi mushkil haai.” This too is picturized in styled choreography , ina dreamy locale. But the thoughts are what Munna is thinking. The language is the language in which Munna is likely to think or dream. The dance is the kind Munna is likely to dream of dancing. This is expressionistic, but authentic. That is why it connects with the audience and is effective. With Chhaiayan Chhiyan the connect is simply missing because it is done all wrong. Which was not the case with Mani’s earlier films like Naayagan, Roja or Bombay or later films like Kannathil Muttu Mittal.
To the point raised by Qalandar, I agree hundred percent with his assessment of Rakesh Mehra’s use of songs in Rang De Basanti. Without using any sort of dance choreography, indeed without any lip-sync he uses some 9 songs in the film with masterly effect. The picturization follow the grammar I have outlined. From Masti Ka Pathsala to Khalbali to Luka Chhupi to Tu Bin Bataaye are in sync with the mood of the scene and the lyrics evoke the content of what is being narrated.
But the most creative use of songs have been done by Anurag Kashyap in Dev D and Gangs of Wasseypur. If mani and Mehra are the Monet , Manet or Van Gogh with their impressionistic and expressionistic depictions Kashyap is the Picasso and Dali with radical new expressions, in total departure from the past. There is black humour in the way he picturizes ‘ Emotuinal Atyachar’ or ‘O Pardesi’ or ‘ Jiya ho Bihar Ke Lala’. The straight-linear correlation between the lyrics and the meaning to be conveyed is no longer there in songs like “ Jiya ho Bihar Ke Lala’ or ‘ I ama Hunter’. The connection is much more abstract. But the connection is unmistakably there as anyone who has been hit by the sledge-hammer impact of Jiya Ho Bihar Ke Lala coming on after Manoj Bajpai’s blood-soaked body looming in the horizon will testify. Here is the new master waving goodbye not only to Gurudutt and Raj kapoor but also to Mani and Mehra. Bye bye sentimentalism and prettiness hello grittness, black humour and irony. Having co-conspirators like Amit Trivedi, Varun Grover and Sneha Khnawalkar is a big help for Kashyap. Now there is music of pure musicianship and there is music of cultural resonance…even in pop music. Abba are great melody makes second to none, but someone like The Beatles, Dylan or punk bands like Sex Pistols are significant in the way they go beyond the music invading other cultural spaces. Now Rahman is great as a pure musician. But what Kashyap, Amit, Sneha and Varun are collaborating to create are cultural products that have ramifications beyond pre music. Phrases like Oh Womnaiya, Frustao nahin Moora or Mera dil bhi Fake Leather are cresting new language of film song..at once intelligent , entertaining, socially conscious and rebellious . The scenes of tenderness and eccentricity captured during Oh Womaniya or the subversion of folk ribaldry in a song like Electric Piya puts Kashyap in a different bracket of iconoclasts and pioneers beyond the ken of most critics and commentators.
There is not an iota of doubt about the kind of pioneer Mani was in song picturization when he started put. But today he is stale and a pale shadow of his earlier self. He simply does not excite me any more with his new work. I would like to believe he is capable of a second wind, just as Picasso did with his cubism after his Pink and Blue period , only if someone told him where he is going wrong instead of providing him lame justifications. .
I can’t say I have anything to add to what I’ve stated. But most of your comment provides a perfect example of what I was trying to illustrate. You fundamentally see song videos as ‘supplements’ to the narrative.
The larger problem Utkal that you continue to demonstrate in just about every debate is the sheer impossibility of finding perspectives different from your own valid. You don’t have to agree with me. But one cannot act as if there is simply no other side. The correlative to this is that you should also accept that there are things of value in entertainment or the arts that do not appeal to you. Everything that is worthwhile cannot appeal to everyone. Speaking for myself I always find it inspiring to discover new views on films that I think I know very well. A reading by someone that provides a completely new window into that work. I don’t like these ‘closed’ perspectives on any worthwhile work, where one is sure that the work is good or bad or something in between but in any case the view is set in stone for all time. Works are re-assessed and re-invented and re-interpreted all the time in every art form and in every age. When it’s a director like Ratnam one should certainly have the humility to entertain alternate viewpoints. The idea that for instance the ‘file’ on Dil Se is closed for all time is a rather strange one. One can have all kinds of strong opinions but this humility is very important. I wouldn’t dare to judge Ratnam (let alone someone greater) ‘for all time’. I have certain views on his work that are constantly subject to change. I just hope to provide a coherent reading in the same sense in different discussions. But I don’t argue for anything more than this. So I actually have a lot of doubts and these begin with my own perspectives on very many things.
Satyam & utkal uncle–u both make good points…
But why do u feel it essential for folks to be in complete agreement with each other–
Firstly it’s not humanly possible to agree on everything, and if it happens, it should raise eyebrows bout the ‘authenticity’ & motive of that agreement….it’s simply unhealthy with /without mani …
One can agree to disagree as long as one doesn’t get disagreeable
“I’m into music,” he said suddenly, in what turned out to be a very big understatement. This single line led us—like the sound of one man’s hum segueing gradually into a full-blown orchestral performance—to a two-hour conversation that covered such disparate material as Banerjee’s own childhood career as a tabla-player (he would play it while his mother and sister did their riyaaz), European techno and French North African protest music, Jamaican dub reggae, RD Burman’s use of the tabla in the scene in Sholay where Basanti is chased by the dacoits (“no one thought such a delicate instrument could be used so menacingly”), and the possibility that Burman might have got the idea for this by listening to the soundtrack of Dirty Harry.
One of Banerjee’s most vivid childhood memories is of resting with his mother in the afternoons while she listened to folk songs on the radio, taking down notes for her classes. Later he developed an interest in Western classical music—“I went from khayaal and Rabindrasangeet to Bach, Haydn, Schubert, I have no idea why”—and after that, Richa introduced him to “another river of music”, including Dylan, Cohen and Joni Mitchell. I struggled to keep up as he talked about the history of film music, from Pandit Ravi Shankar (“he was touring so much in the West, we lost a fantastic film scorer—look at how he reinterpreted Meerabai’s bhajans for Gulzar’s Meera”) to Salil Choudhury, and from Bernard Herrmann to Lalo Schifrin to the avant-garde jazz musician Don Ellis. Pulling his laptop out, he played the soundtrack of the Samurai classic Sword of Doom on YouTube (and typically, this led us into another detour about that film’s climactic swordfight and closing freeze-frame). “I am intensely influenced by Japanese incidental music—by Masaru Sato, who scored Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, drawing from western influences as well as Noh and Kabuki.
”To watch Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! is to know that it was made by someone with an excellent ear for the use of narrative-enhancing music; with lyrics and rhythms continually commenting on the hero’s changing fortunes. “I used to think Punjabi music mainly meant bhangra,” the film’s composer Sneha Khanwalkar said, “but Dibakar was tuned in to nuances of Punjabi folk music.” According to Banerjee himself, the idea was to use a musical structure that would mirror the repetitive storytelling traditions of the katha-vaachak, with certain motifs coming back constantly into a narrative. (“The story is like The Rake’s Progress—the hero is not changing or intended to change, he is reflecting the foibles of the society around him, and the music goes with the circular nature of such a narrative.”) After Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! he hasn’t had the opportunity to do a film with music used as a storytelling device—Love, Sex aur Dhokha and Shanghai had minimalist scoring—and this is something to which he wants to return. “I’m waiting for a screenplay to go back to the roots of Indian musicography so to speak, to bring out new ways of scoring for a scene.”
Thanx: love all of divakars films -(haven’t seen shanghai which had a subpar musical score I think -wasn’t by sneha)
On the rest of his films, on the evidence available the niceness of that music is more due to sneha khan walker than dibaker..
In this context one director , who while staying within the mainstream grammar, manages to scintillate each tome with his songs and song picturization. And his name is Shankar. Right from his first film Gentleman to his last Endhiran / Robot, I have enjoyed every film of his for the way he picturizes songs ( I havent seen the 3 idiots remake.) He to has used Rahman for all his films except one, but his styling has always been in tune with the narrative context and characters . if Uslam Bati is sensuously rustic, Naina Mile is sensuously techno. If Rukhi Sukhi Roti is rustic and rambunctious , Saka Laka Baby is o in the urban mould. But waht really wins me over each time is his chldish enthusiasm to conjure up someting new from the invisible head in Kadhalan to the seven wonders in Jeans to the computer animated girls in ‘ Boys’ to the morphing in Kastiyan mil gayi in ‘ Hindustani’ to the robotic Ash and Rajni in Robot. Oh , he is an absolute delight!
It’s not often that one sees Mani Ratnam in Hyderabad. He was here in the plush HICC for the audio launch and the trailer release of Kadali, the Telugu dubbed version of Kadal. He had arrived early and was supervising things for the event when he agreed to spare a few minutes for a chat regarding his new film, Kadal
interesting as always.. note how he calls Raavan/Raavanan his most rooted film. Of course I don’t necessarily agree that this absolutely tops the list. He might be falling prey to a certain idea whereby the authentic rooted can be equated with the non-urban and a more ‘elemental’ way of life and so forth. Still I bring this up because there has been the charge at times that he hasn’t been as rooted in his recent work.
The only reason this doesn’t excite me as films like KM, DIL SE, YUVA, RAAVAN is simply because for me, he has set tremendously high standards when he does such films.. I know the films I mentioned, barring KM, have not been met uniformly across the board with glee..but I actually find them fascinating enough..they are tremendous gems..but they may be having some minor rashes or cracks..
I might be IN a very low minority, but his supposedly ‘flawed’ pieces have always impacted me bigger than his cinematically perfect ones like AP or as even the present one…KADAL might turn out to be a perfect entertainer, but I don’t think it will add anything significat to his repertoire..I know he is a MASTER when it comes to capturing the intricacies of man-woman relationship…as a film-maker he has the right to go to basics and to a familiar and comfort zone time and again..and I cannot grudge him that..
Unfortunately he doesn’t talk anything about his next project..I sincerely pray that he returns to Hindi and takes up an even more complex subject..and for God’s sake work with the baap.. AB Sr..enough of the son now..he still has time…Amitabh in a Mani’s film is something we haven’t got; he has experienced Rajnikanth, KH, Mohanlal,..& if he can work with child objects like SRK, he definitely should work with the baap…
If I had any power over Ratnam I’d urge him to release all the ‘deleted’ stuff on Raavan. I’m convinced there are a couple of alternative films in the edits if not indeed a director’s cut.
Agree that I would take his more obliquely effective works (like Raavan, like Dil Se..) over a more effectively ironed-out narrative like AP. To be honest though I’m firmly expecting something more serious than AP here, and I think the trailers have done a good job of keeping expectations balanced. Because there is the obvious, box office friendly angle of the young lovers that Ratnam has done well time and again, but some of the teasers and certainly the longer trailer have given me the sense of something more expansive and substantial than a simple AP-like romance, with the possibility of exploring big themes in a pretty unique setting. So while we may not quite have an Iruvar on our hands, I also don’t think that this is AP in a fishing village…
And much as one would love to see Bachchan work with Ratnam (the former has expressed this desire several times, I believe) don’t think it’ll happen or if it does I don’t think Bachchan would get a central role because Ratnam really opts for young(er) protagonists. Don’t think there’s a single exception on this…
I’d also argue (and probably have before) that oddly enough Bachchan (certainly a post mid-70s one) is probably not a star who can be easily incorporated into Ratnam’s worlds. The latter’s choices even when he works with legends often err on the side of restraint. The only exception being Thalapathy but here too he did tone down Rajni greatly. Bachchan after the mid-to late 70s was simply too expansive (to borrow your word) and grand a star. Which is why Abhishek works for him. He gets the signature but in its much older (or younger) Zanjeer/post-Zanjeer ‘moody’ manifestation, a Bachchan who hadn’t yet become the totally authoritative star. In the same sense the leads in Nayakan and Iruvar are really more in keeping with Ratnam’s instincts than Rajni. Or the same could be said for Mammootty in Thalapathy. Differently still. Ratnam’s protagonists often require a degree of pause and even hesitancy. This luxury is not very often afforded to the full-formed star in the Bachchan/Rajni mold.
But you’re certainly right in terms of the age of Ratnam’s protagonists.
It’s true that Bachchan at his peak probably wouldn’t slip very easily into a Ratnam film (at least today’s Ratnam, an important distinction) but I do think that Ratnam would use a star with that powerful a signature in a way that’s, if not completely playing by the rules of that star’s game, is consonant with the magnitude of his event, as he did with Kamal in Nayagan and Rajini in Thalapathy. Ultimately important collaborations with certain director’s in a star’s career shape their signature as much as anything else, and a young Bachchan under Ratnam’s direction is an attractive fantasy as much for the prospect of where it might have led that great star when he was operating at the very height of his powers, how it might have contributed to the aura of the time, and the subsequent legacy.
I don’t disagree with anything here which is why I marked out that time period in Bachchan’s career. I was just coming at it another way which is that once a star becomes that authoritative it is hard to go ‘before’ the event. and then rather than shape the star in the ways you suggest the director has to respond to what already is almost as a brute fact. Ratnam might have done other things with Rajni in the late 70s but by the time Thalapathy got made he could do not more than offer a certain twist on the entire package this great star signified by that point. With Nayagan he didn’t face the same sort of challenge. Because Kamal was in any case doing a lot of different stuff. Or even with Mohanlal he was putting him before a Tamil audience for whom the same star resonances did not exist. Now I in any case think that Mohanlal’s persona and style make him much less vulnerable to over-determination in this sense but a Keralite audience having seen enough larger-than-life roles from him might have perceived things differently (though for all this Lal always retained the ability to credibly take on the meaningful).
But again you’re quite right. I would have loved to see Ratnam take on Bachchan at that point. On the other hand the Ratnam-event much like the Rahman-one presupposes the end of a long legacy. It’s hard to imagine these talents arriving in earlier eras because they would have been totally different. But hey this fantasy beats most others!
I see what you mean everywhere. I guess it’s actually because I see Lal and Bachchan as very similar in their range (if not in many other ways) that I think peak-season Bachchan would have worked credibly in very many different kinds of movies and authorial visions. But yeah it would have been a difficult thing for any filmmaker to attempt.
Satyam: I was just coming at it another way which is that once a star becomes that authoritative it is hard to go ‘before’ the event. and then rather than shape the star in the ways you suggest the director has to respond to what already is almost as a brute fact.
But didn’t Hrishikesh Mukherjee do the exact thing quite successfully? When AB was belting out supposedly ‘meaningless’ but entertaining cinema in the form of DON or SATTE PE SATTA or MUKADDAR, I think he did manage to not let AB’s superstardom corrupt him one bit..Hrishikesh just didn’t care about his image and went ahead with JURMANA/BEMISAAL/ALAAP/CHUPKE CHUPKE…So I feel AB was pretty much mouldable till almost 1984/85…
And even now, with age, there is of course limitation with respect to how Ratnam would approach it..unless he has a special story in mind with the protagoinst being ‘over-the-hill’ or a special ‘May-December’ romance (distant from Balki’s or RGV’s take); but I think Ratnam will have to go the whole nine yards with commerce really being the last thing that he will have to think about with AB at helm and this age and stage of his career…
not really. Jurmana and bemisaal were not really successful films, the former did reasonably well but Alaap was one of the rare Bachchan flops in that period. Everything else pretty much happens by 1975 from Namak Haram to Abhimaan to Chupke chupke. Mili is part of this group but again didn’t do much. And actually Jurmana and Bemisaal in different ways both account for Bachchan’s stardom. They don’t try to pretend that it’s still 1974. Despite this the grosses of these films are relatively limited.
The tragedy of overwhelming stardom is that the subject at the center is also eventually overwhelmed. The logic of the event is always greater than even its greatest co-signatory..
And also Mujherjee ( or Chatterjee)very slyly incorporated the ‘star’ in the ‘character’- so we get to that excellent intro scene of AB in Jurmana, variant of the ‘angry young man’ in Mili, the ‘kisi baat or Mai kisi se khafa hoo’ song in Bemisaal and finally that excellent guest appearance in Chhoti Si Baat
By the way this even happens with someone like kamalahasan where for a number of years he does the different much more spontaneously but eventually it’s about this great star-actor taking on yet another ‘never-before-seen’ part. It becomes then about the selling of a legend much more than incorporating a fine talent into a spontaneously written script. Bachchan’s Black and Paa were in different ways part of the same dynamic. Not to say that the films cannot be worthwhile otherwise but the larger motivation behind them is not the most ‘organic’ sort. It is not about a great script or important film that incorporates the great star but the exact opposite. A script that will somehow pay homage to the great star’s signature. I always have less interest when the latter happens.
“Pointing out that Beatrice was the name of the angel who takes Dante to heaven in the epic work Divine Comedy, he says that the movie’s theme is about how it takes just one step or action to turn man into God but it takes several steps to turn a man into the devil. ”
Could one imagine this sort of reference made in a Hindi movie interview of any sort? even the minds who could do so avoid these allusions as portraying any kind of real literacy is dangerous before a Hindi audience!
Actually it is. why? Because in one case it’s ethnic stereotyping. In the other instance it’s about a cultural space that has no use for anything more profound as a discourse. In other words I don’t believe that no Hindi viewer is interested in this other stuff or is more informed in this sense or what have you. My claim however is that such a viewer is irrelevant for the Bollywood paradigm. More important there isn’t a an organic connection in contemporary Hindi cinema between those involved with the medium but also feeding off larger cultural trends in other art forms. As was very much the case for a number of decades after Independence. And as is still the case in Tamil cinema in very many ways.
Dibakar Bannerjee in a way proves my point. Because the Bollywood intellectual posture in these matters is very much about the film festival scene. I have nothing against Bannerjee, he certainly strikes me as being a more thoughtful person that most in his industry, but once again he very much belongs to a model that is celebrated in Bollywood. You talk about a certain kind of director, you refer to a cliched Bengali novelist, so on and so forth. I have never come across someone like Bannerjee talk about Adoor. Why not? If I can get my hands on some films of his surely Bannerjee can do far better. Kashyap in a conversation here once said he hadn’t seen any Adoor and wouldn’t known where to get them. This seemed like a very easy response at the time. It’s not just about Adoor and not just about cinema. A whole heritage of Indian arts and letters is simply absent for these people. Bannerjee admits as much when he talks about his orientation being primarily Western. There’s nothing wrong with this on its own terms but it is an attitude very common within certain Indian social classes. Notice how in that Kadal interview the writer goes from Malayalam cinema to Kadal to Dante but he’s really only talking about a certain set of themes and tropes relevant to Kadal. This is the kind of organic connection I’m talking about. He doesn’t just get up and say ‘hey I read Dante’! Bannerjee’s films very much like Kashyap’s are about the film festival circuit coming to Bollywood. Making a remake of Z is the sort of thing that excites the likes of Bannerjee and those who lionize him.
But once again I’m not simply criticizing Bannerjee or Kashyap. At least not in any specific sense here. I am just skeptical as to the degree of which a genuine movement can flourish in any art form when it is untethered to a cultural pulse. It doesn’t have to be one’s own (though it helps when one has grown up with that culture!). I am not persuaded that there can be an authentic questioning even in the loosest sense can come about when the subject is not really keyed-in to his larger socio-political contexts besides the more obvious cultural ones. And it’s not that one can simply be ‘Western’. Because one needs to have a profound connection with this other space as well. It cannot just be about watching great films in a vacuum. You can actually come up with interesting films this way but not necessarily important ones. For the record I consider Shanghai quite banal in terms of its political commentary. I’m happy that it got made but there’s nothing very extraordinary being said here. In fact the instant lionization of the film by the media proves this very point. It didn’t disturb anyone!
The sensibility that is ‘at home’ in these larger contexts in very different from one which ‘uses’ the same as a cultural or political boutique. there is a great deal of significant stuff being produced in Indian letters, in every language, not to mention other visual art forms. But the ‘natives’ of those languages are by and large disconnected from these (barring to a large extent those in the South and that too not universally) when it comes to a certain socio-economic segment. These very same folks are however huge consumers of Hollywood or the film festival superbazaar. Those are their principal cues. They might be readers otherwise as Bannerjee seems to be, they might have other interests but that vital connection is absent.
Once more this is not meant to be a critique of Bannerjee. Just one on a larger set of contexts that produces people like Bannerjee. By the way this massive cover story on him in Caravan is symptomatic of all this. He certainly deserves attention but he’s being lionized like Ray here! This kind of reception itself imitates various Western models. And this is evident everywhere. All of this leads to a cinema that is superficially interesting, well-shot and so on but otherwise has nothing very important to say and nor is it ‘for the ages’ even in that more limited sense. This entire dynamic is really about a multiplex audience or some sub-section of it congratulating itself for being ‘with-it’ in terms of ‘world cinema’ and no longer feeling embarrassed about the old crude heroes who used to beat up ten guys or the actresses who never worked out and so forth. Not surprisingly Bannerjee claims to have missed the Bachchan wave entirely, something that even surprises the interviewer!
“He recalled laughing nonstop through that tacky tribute to testosterone, Manmohan Desai’s Mard, and there was ambivalence in his attitude to even the “Middle Cinema” directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterji—he liked their films for the songs, “but I can’t remember a single case of good art direction in them”. He didn’t take it as an unqualified compliment when Khosla ka Ghosla was likened to the “simple”, “grounded” cinema of the 1970s”
But I really liked this-
“And then, just when it seemed he had nothing interesting to say about the Bachchan era—you know, the one he barely registered—he came up with a startling suggestion about the superstar as comedian. “Many of those drunken acts, in films like Naseeb, might have come from his memories of watching Bengali box-wallahs in the Sixties when he was working in Calcutta,” he said. “Bachchan had a very Andy Kaufman-like quality, like a human installation: he would climb out of his character and do a completely different character under the guise of being drunk. And in those scenes you can see him sending signals to the directors around him, saying ‘I can do THIS, give me something like this to do!’ But he mostly got lazy directors and films”
But overall a very good interview by Dibakar. And Jai Arjun Singh himself is one of the few insightful movie critics in India
Don’t agree at all with that Andy Kaufman reference (I suspect that sort of reference has more to do with Banerjee articulating his interests than anything else) because those moments were not to my mind instances where Bachchan “popped out of character” but rather part and parcel with the vision of a given masala film as a whole. Comic relief moments such as Bachchan’s drunken mirror scene in AAA certainly operate at a remove from the tone of the more serious parts of the film, but it never feels “other” to anything else Desai is doing.
Banerjee in any case strikes me as the most overrated filmmaker working today.
not a big fan of brevity, are you? (on a related note, I’ve always been pretty curious about what you do for a living, Satyam. There are times I want to comment on something here but there is never any time to think and write anything more than a couple of sentences. you seem to conjure huge essays about 20 times a day. surely, this blog can’t really be making enough money to sustain this. what exactly do you do for a living?)
anyway, all you had to say was “oh! I didn’t really mean that ‘real literacy’ comment only for the Dante reference even though it might’ve seemed so from my comment. I do agree that just the Dante reference doesn’t say much on that count, at least when one wants to contrast it with the Hindi directors. My opinion is based on other things too, which I should probably have made clear in the comment.” voila! done under 100 words!
The blog isn’t monetized in any way.
I’d say this as a general matter about my comments or at least the most polemical ones that often target something like a ‘multiplex audience’ and so on. I am always criticizing an ideological posture or cultural attitudes that have much more to do with temporary conditioning rather and are not about any ‘essentializing’ aim. If Tamil cinema displayed all of these traits I’d say the very same about this audience. I often talk about the riches of the tradition. Obviously there hasn’t been any genetic mutation between the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 90s within the same urban Hindi-speaking classes! It is about the political choices an audience makes or is complicit in.
As for the length of the comments here I am guilty. I aim to be as comprehensive as possible! I actually don’t spend all that much time on the blog. Spent far more once. even then it wasn’t a huge bit (barring certain periods). As for what I do otherwise believe me you don’t want to know. It’s even more scary that what I do here!
Curious George- you don’t seem to be a big fan of civility. why take your frustration of not being able to , or competent to , or not having the time to write essays , on the owner , the reason and the driving force of this blog.
yeh toh wahee baat ho gai ke Tu kaun, Main Khaamaakhan !!!
As for what I do otherwise believe me you don’t want to know. It’s even more scary that what I do here.
Aanken bhi kamal karti hain, personal sey sawal karti hain!!
Palko ko uthati bhi nahi hain , parde ka khayal karti hain !!
Yeah that passage stood out to me, affirming my sense that there will be Christian ideas and themes explored here which is again a first for Ratnam, even if otherwise the whole examination of good and evil as outlined above is something close to what Raavan was getting at.
Anyway Ratnam referencing Dante is enough to get me all the more pumped for this..
agree… but the subject itself is the kind of topical deal that might give Ratnam a shot in the arm after his two recent releases. Of course he’s increasingly unlikely to make an ‘uncomplicated’ film on any given subject unless he starts off with the express purpose of making a hit. Which is again where I find it laughable when people think he’s lost it and so on because when he really wants to he can go for box office gold. The last two occasions when this was a key goal (if not the only one) were AP and Guru.
The other thing I’d say here is that, and again from the same box office perspective, Ratnam isn’t best suited for a subject (a Partition epic) where audiences in the North tend to expect a lot of melodrama and ‘high voltage’ stuff. Leaving this aside though I’d love to see him tackle this even if ideally I might not have minded him giving the KM terrain another go and form a diptych. With the recently defeated insurgency (at least for now) another film could easily be fashioned.
Yeah, I said this years ago with all the Laajo rumours and stories (this one at least is coming from Rensil himself), but even with the Partition setting I don’t see this as being Ratnam’s terrain. I suspect this won’t be apartition epic so much as a smaller story set against a partition backdrop…
Re: “Leaving this aside though I’d love to see him tackle this even if ideally I might not have minded him giving the KM terrain another go and form a diptych. With the recently defeated insurgency (at least for now) another film could easily be fashioned.”
Perhaps (and admittedly this is a bit of armchair psychoanalysis here) Ratnam needs that distance to approach the still-so-raw and painful terrain of the Tamil/Sri Lankan state conflict (in the years since Kannathil Muthamittal, that terrain only got bloodier) — whether Bombay or (the mediocre) Roja, while the national media has always understood those films as Ratnam’s commentary on various hot button issues of the day, perhaps these are all simply ways for him to talk about the real conflict and fracture so close to home — and it would be fitting that his two most ambitious Tamil films: Iruvar and Kannathil Muthamittal, are in some sense about, respectively, a fracture, and home.