Masala Mad Men!


The point is often made that contemporary television in the US is going through one of its golden ages and possibly its most interesting one ever. HBO spear-headed this ‘revolution’ more than a decade ago and the networks have followed in turn. The more interesting facet about this entire cultural episode is the extent to which (and this has been commented on by many) the iconic appeal of television now far exceeds that of cinema. This isn’t so for the usual reasons of home access and the diminishing of cinematic aura. Television has always been a critical part of popular culture since its initial appearance but for the longest time it could not occupy the space of cinema and technological change that deconstructed ‘the movies’ over time is only part of the answer. The much more relevant factor here, and one which cultural critics have been acknowledging for a while, is that Hollywood in its quest for globalization increasingly produces ‘generic’ cinema which necessarily neutralizes local registers of meaning. In other words once upon a time Hollywood made completely ‘American’ films that were then consumed all over the world. What people fell in love with was the very particular ethos represented in these works. Today it is just the opposite. Hollywood tries to make its products (really the best word for these films) much more ‘basic’ and hence ‘readable’ across different cultures with minimal ‘translation’. And so it has evolved into a cinema (which is to say on its major productions) that is simply not interesting enough. It is more or less disposable entertainment that provides the ‘obvious’ for a couple of hours and consequently leaves no residue of any sort. It is often enjoyable and equally often instantly forgettable. Television on the other hand is helped by its format (no limits to length and so forth) but it is this conjunction of factors that makes this medium not just iconic in the usual sense but in ways where it occupies the space of cinema. People discuss television shows today the way they once did movies. For good reason. Put crudely the best television shows offer much more to chew on than most Oscar winning productions.

A rather instant parallel with the ‘economies’ of Bollywood instantly asserts itself. The impoverishment of Hindi cinema over the last few decades is something I have constantly lamented. It isn’t about changing trends etc but once again the evolution of a much more basic cinema that is only interested in providing those obvious ‘stimuli’ that can sustain an audience for a few days. It hasn’t been for the most part and for the longest time about the ‘writing’. Even with directors who seem much more aware of ‘international’ technical values and standards and who are informed by a ‘film festival’ grammar (not without its own problems!) of filmmaking the works in question are still rather banal if not soulless. Not surprisingly Bollywood too has been on its own mad quest over the same period to cater to a global diaspora and here too it has found it useful to empty out the ‘local’ to various degrees. I have often commented on the political underpinnings of this entire set of decisions and at both ends of the screen (the production side and the audience one) but here I am much more interested in drawing out the Hollywood to TV analogy and approaching my privileged topic of ‘masala cinema’ through this lens.

Before I get to that however let me add by way of an aside that even though there has been a lot more ‘rooted’ cinema over the last decade or more, at least terms of its geographic coordinates, this too is a more ambiguous move than might seem so initially. When the norm is about a plastic cinema that is not firmly anchored in any kind of specific ‘local’ references (‘native’ or otherwise) the other side of this dynamic often involves a ‘museum’ look at ‘rooted’. You see for example Delhi’s old city or small town Northern India (completely interchangeable in this paradigm) representing a kind of ‘hyper-reality’. An excess of the ‘local’ with all its human and non-human paraphernalia. The rooted on steroids. A native experience which keenly tracks a ‘colonial’ imagining of India which is always about ‘too much’. To get to the spiritual heart of India or more prosaically ‘Indian family values’ one must pass through its hyper-reality. And so there were the ‘set in London or NY or…’ movies that over time gave way to the ‘Delhi or Amritsar or..’ film. Note how Yashraj was able to straddle this split rather easily and profit on both sides. Much as with Johar’s recent Agneepath a similar mind-numbing excess defines Bombay. RGV of course began this whole phase for the city but his cinema operates with a very different charge. When Johar attempts the same it is part and parcel of his older brand of cinema. On these terms there is absolutely no contradiction between Dilwale Dulhaniye Le Jayenge and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. It is the very same continuum. The very same gaze that defines first the ‘normal’ coordinates of the former and then the frenetic ones of the latter. The mundane of the first is supplemented with the anthropological museum of the second!

A connected point must be made here to make everything even clearer. When Amol Palekar missed the bus, when Anthony went to a rundown bar, when the newly married couple constantly struggled for privacy in a chawl, the function of those films wasn’t to highlight the cultural specificity of those worlds. These were the backdrop against which a story was constructed. The backdrop shouldn’t be understood in the passive sense of the word. It was very much an active part of the proceedings but moreso because the story emerged from it in very organic fashion. As opposed to this we see films in the present where the entire point is to represent that specificity of Bombay or Delhi or what have you. It is a tourist’s gaze in many ways. When we visit new places this is precisely how we access them. We never take those local specifics as a given. These sites dominate our ‘sense’ of these newly discovered places. This is exactly how much of contemporary Bollywood ‘relates’ to its ‘native’ environment. There is hence no ‘normal’ Bombay or Delhi that can be engaged with in an ‘unconscious’ way (as was once the case). These names (of cities) are actually ‘signatures’ for much larger ‘problems’ or confusions for those who make these films and the vast majority of the audience that consumes them. So it is not that one watches a rooted film set in Delhi but that rootedness here is synonymous with a hyper-real representation of Delhi. The latter ‘is’ the point of the film and (in an exact reversal of what happened in those older movies) the story becomes almost incidental.

Why have I always insisted on masala cinema? Not as a naive ‘nostalgist’! I’ve said this elsewhere but the questions that were singularly raised in masala cinema in the 1970s have not found an easy equivalent in any age since (or indeed before… with the possible exception of the 50s). Ideologically I might favor certain answers to these questions or for that matter certain formulations overall but I am much more interested in a deeper level of interrogation coming about to begin with. This is not an argument against cinema as ‘mere entertainment’ but about fostering more meaningful entertainment that can at least hint at the medium’s artistic potential even when it does not seek to become high art. All of this does nothing to dislodge the ‘mere entertainment’. Those kinds of films can still be made though they do not set the terms of the debate as has unfortunately very often been true over the last two decades or so. Theoretically, if a very different brand of cinema could address some of the very same socio-political or economic or cultural questions with equal force I would have no objection. But this has not happened so far and I don’t think this is simply coincidental.

The epic registers of masala cinema were not simply an understandable historical feature or did not just represent the ‘plumbing’ of tradition for obvious commercial gain. Were this true it would not have taken till the 70s to fuse these epic resonances with a politically programmatic cinema. But these were useful for the ferment of the 70s (one needn’t recount all the histories here) because the political and cultural institutions of the state and much received memory connected with these were being seriously de-stabilized for the very first time. The epic and especially its overman heroes offered the guarantee of both transcendence and historical continuity. In other words the hero could rise above the limitation of his circumstances, derail the ‘history’ of the nation-state, all the while relying on older epic archives for this questioning and potential re-fashioning. Note how this move was radically different from the later TV one of ‘literally’ recreating the epics. Those were conservative operations aimed at using the past to justify the counter-reaction of the present (which is always the right-wing fascist move par excellence.. you pretend to simply resuscitate tradition when in fact you are reinventing it dramatically) whereas the ‘angry young man’ was the latest in a line of epic heroes seeking to overturn everything for the sake of a greater (and older.. hence timeless..) truth. Again it isn’t a coincidence that the ‘angry young man’ was never actually named after a famous epic hero in any of his iconic films (rather late in the date this happened in Aaj Ka Arjun but by then the BJP revolution was already in full force.. of course even here there was the perverse twist that the character was actually named Bhima in a film with that title!). Because ‘Vijay’ was ‘like’ his epic forebears; he wasn’t simply ‘repeating’ them. If the assumptions of the nation-state had to be questioned in the most profound sense it was necessary to go around this entire structure. The angry young man in his principal films never found all the existing political, social, economic arrangements less than impediments. His idea of justice could never quite be adjusted to the latter. Hence even when many of these films end ‘happily’ (which is to say with conformist angles) these resolutions are often somewhat forced if not totally unconvincing. In any case case the epic register offers this chance — a hero not constrained by the existing power apparatus and at the same time for the very same reason also not completely nihilistic either. Compared with this masala tradition (and in fact even the middle cinema of that great decade performed similar moves in far more gentle ‘comedies’) the films of the 60s (to take an example) are hopelessly comfortable with the world as it is. This is not an argument about actors or genres and so on but about an archive that cannot even think of approaching the framework of the state. Again in contrast with the preceding 50s where for example and most notably in the cinema of Raj Kapoor the state (including its institutions) is always a problem to be addressed. Similarly in most of Dilip Kumar’s key films over that same period the protagonist has a very anxious and even neurotic connection with his surroundings. As I’ve said before most of the iconic films of the 50s are anything but celebratory. One cannot discern any euphoria in them about a newly independent state.

For all these reasons it has not been easy to ‘repeat’ the masala configuration in a different guise. Unlike the US (at least at this point in its history) the ‘idea of India’ is still too ‘contested’ by various political groupings for its nationalist contours to be hegemonic in quite the same way. Put differently the institutions of the US nation-state are not at odds with its larger mythologies. But in India (and this is one of the system’s strengths) there is often conflict between the two. And it is here that those epic registers often provide a ‘controlling’ framework. If one wishes these away one is not left with an obvious alternative or some other structure that allows one to raise the same questions with equal force.

Incidentally Rathnam’s Raavan is a crucial film for this entire discussion…

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220 Responses to “Masala Mad Men!”

  1. There are certain lines of argument that I would have liked to develop more or at least complicate more. I am also not completely satisfied with some of the formulations here. Nonetheless I had to stop somewhere! Perhaps I will be able to clarify things in the thread.

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  2. omrocky786 Says:

    Great Piece – will have to read a couple of times- but the line of the day is -“The rooted on steroids” LMAO…
    Aside-
    1. US TV has been inspired by British TV a lot of late – office, Talent etc.
    2. MBKD and TWM – are rooted on Steroid but BBB or DDC showcased actual colonies of Delhi…
    3. what was Raavan if not Kerela Tourism?

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    • thanks Rocky.. with Raavan my point is that it uses the epic/state dynamic to launch its subversion.

      I don’t agree with the Kerala tourism bit. Because Rathnam does not bring a tourist’s eye to the proceedings. If anything the whole jungle and its surroundings seem rather natural here. Dil Se’s Ladakh is different in this sense but note how SRK is in fact a ‘tourist’ in this world and we only see it through his eyes, not through Manisha’s (who remains an enigma through the film because we never have access to her world.. in this sense Raavan inverts things..). Along the same lines the film’s Delhi is ‘surreal’ but it serves the purpose of ‘estranging’ the city from us. It is present as this claustrophobic, disturbing ‘model’ of state power.

      On your BBB point (I always separate Do Dooni Char from this) many of the films I have in mind as ‘bad’ examples are shot in these cities. They are ‘authentic’ in this sense. But my entire point is that these cities are treated as anthropological museums. Authentic but ‘hyper-real’.

      Finally on US TV don’t think (though I’m hardly an expert in this area) that the very iconic shows one way or the other have British influences. From the Sopranos to Mad Men to the Wire and so on I don’t see the British angle here. Sure there are a lot of British ‘imports’ for sure but the HBO wave cannot be defined as a British phenomenon.

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      • omrocky786 Says:

        TBH in Dil se, I was paying more attention to the plot whereas in Raavan I was looking at the scenerio in amazement..( may be I was the only one here),
        on your BBB point, not just the setting but even the spoken language was very authentic Delhi , which i really really liked, ( I should know, I lived in delhi for several years).. wheras in MBKD and TWM it came accross as fake..
        In Oye Lucky Lucky Oye- they got the language part somewhat right but the setting IMO was very fake…
        I agree HBO is entirely a US wave..
        I agree with your larger point however that everyting including the Violence, the poverty, the Pain etc. has all been really really dumbed down these days. wheras the happiness, the richness, the togetherness has been blown out of proportion….

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  3. omrocky786 Says:

    love this picture, Kala Pathar is my absolute Bachchan Movie…… had so many masala scenes…….

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  4. kalapather was released way back in 1979,I remember watching this movie in late 80s ,the film was very good,infact Amitabh & shatrus fight was right before interval,shashi comes to rescue but somehow never got to know who actually won the fight..the film did average bussiness but expectation were very high..

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  5. masterpraz Says:

    Sattu-a remarkable piece here as always. Hope everyone has been well. Been HECTIC with work since my last update but got a few things brewing around the corner…..

    Will be sharing this post on my site as well….

    Q, Satyam and everyone else at Satyamshot…hope you’re all keeping well

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    • thanks Masterpraz.. fantastic to see you here after a long time.. hey don’t work so hard! All the best with everything..

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      • masterpraz Says:

        Always keeping with SS even if im not replying/contributing as much 🙂

        The technology, data & comic book scene has been keeping me busy but I do have a few things I plan to get onto and will be in touch for your input for sure 🙂

        You seen KAHAANI or PAAN SINGH yet? I plan to catch HF2 tomorrow.

        Great to see everyone still all gears go on SS….and keep up the excellent work as always 🙂

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  6. omrocky786 Says:

    was trying to search for my fav scene of Kala Pathhar ( where Amitabh stips Prem Chpr’s car) could not find that , but found Akhshay Shah’s aka masterpraz’s brilliant review of Kala Pathhar at NG-
    http://www.naachgaana.com/2008/03/13/akshay-shah-reviews-kaala-patthar-hindi-1979/

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  7. A splendid piece. Ddint want to comment before reading it twice.
    It is indeed remarkable how you view things and films.
    Rocky,
    Agree BBB was ‘rooted’ but somehow I felt they tried too hard andmade it too obvious and somewhat intrusive. It was like screaming – look at me. Am so ‘rooted’ in Delhi. The vada-pav scene was particularly jarring. Didnt mind the film on the whole tho.

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    • thanks Rajen.. since Rocky brought this up earlier I’m going to list once again my very favorite Bachchan films:

      1)Trishul
      2)Kaala Pathar
      3)Deewar
      4)Don
      5)Jurmana
      6)Mili
      7)Lawaaris
      8)Suhaag
      9)Naseeb
      10)MKS

      Not sure about the entire order here but Trishul is definitely on top followed probably by KP.

      Note what’s odd here. The absolutely iconic is rarely my absolutely favorite. So I’d take Trishul and KP over Deewar as a personal matter, Sholay doesn’t make it to the top ten at all, with Desai’s oeuvre I’d again take the two I’ve listed over AAA. Similarly Zanjeer, the movie that launches the angry young man is absent. Trishul is my answer to the island question. The one film I’d take over all others (any kind, anywhere in the world). In the same way if I could have just one ‘iconic’ moment from cinema it would be Bachchan’s introduction here.

      Hopefully Alex is getting introduced to some films here!

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      • omrocky786 Says:

        I will continue urging you to replace Jurmana with Bemisaal in the above list…..LOL

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      • Satyam, curious to know your view on “Sharaabi ” n Namak halal

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        • part of a comment I once left on Bachchan’s blog:

          [And speaking of the ‘angry young man’ I introduce Sharaabi here because it’s a film I revisited just the other day. Though this film has the flimsiest of narratives your performance here in an improvised sense is one of your two most remarkable 80s moments (the other being Namak Halal). Of course there is a dramatic peak like Lawaaris in that decade or a much overlooked Pukar performance but I am really referring here to films that might as well be called ‘The Bachchan Show’ owing to the fact that in such films the directors switch on the camera, place you in front, and then essentially take a vacation! Sharaabi has you in truly extraordinary form (something that must be underlined.. because your ordinary day as an actor is still miles ahead of the competition.. because you were singular even when less than brilliant it is hard for people to adequately appreciate your accomplishment when it is seminal.. it’s like Sachin hitting centuries all the time but one has to pick the real standout ones in terms of strokeplay and so on). Not one misstep, every bit of your performance here is pitch perfect. Watching the film now it also seems to mark a kind of coda to the peak phase of your career in the sense that the Sharaabi character exhibits a certain elegiac streak and perhaps completes the arc begun with Zanjeer. Beyond this there is the ‘darkness visible’ of Agneepath.]

          To add to this there’s an interesting link with Trishul in that almost every line uttered by Bachchan here means something else. In other words there is always that deeper level here. He’s always alluding to something else. In Trishul it’s the more obvious reference of his traumatic past. In Sharaabi things get properly metaphysical.

          Namak Halal has never been one of my favorites though I cannot disagree with the opinion (heard this from someone once) that this is one of the greatest improvised acts in all of cinema. It is assuredly a masterclass in this sense. And here I’ll repeat something I said recently:

          [To quote that famous line ‘the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’! Bachchan is that rarest of stars who was both fox and hedgehog. People have often read him as the latter but this is to miss the ‘fox’ in him.]

          But again neither Namak Halal nor Sharaabi is a personal favorite though I have started liking the latter far more than I used to.

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          • Thanks Satyam 🙂

            My dad is great fan of Raj kapoor, his movie outing ended when RK stopped being leading man of his own films… He is also not a TV watcher but as its, everyone knows AB, so he used to say along with my Mom, “who is this Lambu and what has he done” and one day, say by luck or coincidence both my mom and dad ended watching Sharaabi On TV and AB got 2 more converts, RK is still his 1st love. My father has seen sharaabi more than 10 times and he still loves and utters its dialogue and my mom when she sees new breed of actors, she only says one thing with smirk, They cant do What lambu Does 🙂 or to put it bluntly in local dialect, she says that cant even come close to his nails( foot) 🙂

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      • No problems with your list but I would definitely find place for Bemisaal and AAA, probably at the expense of Mili and Suhaag.

        On a related note, its funny how Don2 is a hazy memory already, while the original Don remains fresh in our minds!

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  8. Glad to see KP getting love here. One of my favorite AB and Yash Chopra films. AB eats everything and everyone here. Shot Gun had a good turn here but cant imagine how he thought he could trump AB.

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  9. My favorite Shatrughan moment on the screen in KP
    Mere taash ke tirpanve patte, teesre baadshah ham hain

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  10. Alex adams Says:

    Have never found shatru impressive
    He always carried this ‘load’ on his shoulder to beat bachchan. Never realised it and still carries the load
    He didnt learn from the likes of shashi, rishi, sanjeev etc to gracefully accept certain facts
    In many films his buffoonery irritated me somewhat
    Dharmendra never indulged in this one upmanship mostly and didn’t get overshadowed either

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  11. Alex adams Says:

    Unrelated on Dharmendra
    But came across this song
    Which is good no doubt
    But was a bit surprised by the ‘dress code’ here given that olden era
    I’m a bit surprised @ saifs mom here

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  12. Re: Trishul is my answer to the island question.

    The whole film? Gosh, AB fans are so greedy!
    Ask any SRK fan and he will be happy with a snippet from Dard-e-Disco and a bottle of hand lotion. Some self-gratification for the fans of the self-made star!

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  13. Alex adams Says:

    Bachchan films-an updated list

    A good list here but
    Has some films which have been a bit
    ‘overexposed’noe in media/satellite /net etc

    So if ihave to do a current list, it will be slightly different and won’t contain soemof the these names but not bcos these aren’t good !!

    A few bachchan films/performances on current flavour-note that they will be somewhat different from the prevalent ‘done thing’
    But there u go—
    In no specific order –

    Aks
    Akayla
    Alaap
    Manzil
    Khaki
    Black
    Don
    Majboor
    Bemisaal
    Jurmaana
    Do anjaane
    Kaante
    Do aur Do paanch

    (All the notable biggies not in the list are deliberately not there due to one reason or another not necesarily due to lack of liking )

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    • alex, this is quite an interesting list. especially liked the fact that u put akayla, majboor, alaap(luved the chemistry between om prakash and bachchan)and do anjaane(my fav romantic film alongwith kabhie-kabhie). manzil also was very good(perhaps only film where a k hangal had negative shades). wish basu chatterji would have worked more with bachchan

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      • alex adams Says:

        Akayla

        Yes minor
        all these films listed by satyam are greats and infact like them as well
        Just that with time and moods, these lists change somewhat

        Now Akayla doesnt figure highly on anyones list
        and rightly so- as a film, it was quite average
        But just adore the bachchan persona of an over-the-hill cynical cop who carries the whisy in his coat pocket

        check out this example
        thge crucial bit is at the v end– the bottle was given to hold not to take home !!!!
        and let me know how u feel about akyala –satyam and minor…

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        • alex adams Says:

          There are ceertain phases of a star where he/she doesnt have to do anything and u still love em
          This is one such inexplicable moment in bachchans career
          DOnt think even bachchan/salim/ ramesh sippy love this film as much…
          To me Bachchan is effortlessly sublime hereMy style

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          • alex, regarding akeyla and ur comment abt it, i will put it this way-sumtimes an actor reaches a crest where ‘the screen starts adoring the actor so much that even his mistakes(in terms of his act/performance) look good on screen.’ u know regarding this ‘effortlessness’, after bachchan i only see ranbir kapoor having a bit of this trait

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          • alex adams Says:

            Warning–this is only for hardcore bachchan fans
            others may feel–heck whats the big deal wiht this crap movie

            v good point minor above
            actually dont consider Akayla a ‘mistake’
            for me, this whole film and the parapherenelia is just incidental to allow bachchan do this movie for me lol
            Nothing is above par really including bachchans performance
            Its just that his looks and styling here, persona and a certain “feel” is what I love
            When i watch this movie, i do it only for that

            Bachchan in this movie is already 45 + and is already a bit over-the-hill
            But certainly clicked for me–watch this
            and satyam–what do u feel about this film

            satyam and minor—Check out the beginning bit and that around 4:00- onwards where bachchan wonders if his eyes and mind ahve started failing him

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  14. alex adams Says:

    also to add–due to bachchan performances
    Eklavya
    Armaan–the role was v small and the hairdo wierd but was quite good

    Bachchan in trishul vs shakti

    I know satyam will protest but imo bachchan owned sanjeev here. The latter was v good but bachchan overpowered him.
    Something bachchan couldnt really do in shakti…(inspite of being v good there as well)
    hahaha

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  15. alex adams Says:

    and yes–
    missed out
    Silsila (will always be in my list)
    Agneepath and Hum

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  16. satyam-an extrodinary piece like always from u. thankfully found it more relatable than ‘a shot in iruvar'(which my radar just couldn’t catch). and u were spot-on on the ‘hyper-realistic’ presentation of towns/cities in india- this is even more the case with small towns/mofussil- our films usually define these places simply by peculiar ‘accents and mannerisms’ of people and nothing more- ishqiya, sahib biwi aur gangster etc none of these films have been really able to understand the heartland.

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  17. satyam- i also believe that bachchan’s ‘adaalat’ is a very important film in context with this piece. it was a rare where the so-called ‘small town’ played an important role in actually shaping the lead character ‘dharma’ and how that character transforms from a simpleton to a dreaded don. will want to know ur views on this

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  18. An older comment (left on Bachchan’s blog) that touches on Yaarana, Akayla, Agneepath and also to a degree Adaalat:

    [[And so on to Yaarana or ‘Friendship’. But allow me an aside first. Not unrelated. I find this word ‘friendship’ preferable to all notions of ‘family’. The latter is too biologically pre-determined. Even beyond this it seems to me that all the best relationships in life are touched by friendship. You like the word ‘family’ a lot. I have always been a little less sure of it. It already suggests socialization. Whereas even before there was ‘family’ in the bourgeois sense or any mode of ’society’ there was nonetheless still ‘friendship’. In Yaarana, this ultimate tale of friendship, it is precisely the family that is compromised for the sake of friendship. By Bhishan, the character played by Amjad Khan. Another great friend of yours and for longer (and here I speculate) perhaps a singular ghost in your memory. One day there must be something said in detail about all the films in which you and Amjad Khan starred together. You really made a wonderful pair whether he played your nemesis or your father or your friend. There was always great chemistry between the two of you on screen. To my mind he was also the greatest ‘villain’ of Hindi cinema because he was always too intelligent an actor to simply be one in the stereotypical sense. And yet some of his greatest roles also came about elsewhere. When he was not a villain from Qurbani to Lawaaris. Such friends and such traces must be kept alive. I am glad the blog allows you the opportunity to do so for so many you have known over the years. Where else does the media culture today allow for such memorializing?

    Yaarana is about friendship and I have already suggested that friendship quite probably pre-dates any notion of family. Or socialization. Interestingly both questions are at the heart of this film. The title gives away the central theme in a rather obvious way. But the other theme of socialization is also very much at the center of this work. If I can I will summon up your friend, in this film and otherwise, by way of a detour a bit later. Yaarana of course involves another canonical ‘rustic’ portrayal on your part. It goes without saying that you are phemonemally fluid here, as always, in representing this type. From the dialectic to the gesturality. I always blink a bit in amazement that you were able to manage this so successfully. This is that “greater mimesis” on your part. As opposed to being natural or ‘immitative’ the brilliance and force of your portrayal makes those parts seem utterly mimetic. Whether such people exist or not, whether they speak like that or not hardly seems to matter. The rustic types encountered in real life could not be more persuasive than your roles! Here too lies a Shakespeare correspondence. The son of a writer who translated Shakespeare has something of that Bard’s extraordinary gift when it comes to making his representation the very equal of ‘life’. It must be so if Amitabh Bachchan portrays it thus! This could be a useful formula.

    In any case the first half of this film offers a certain experiment in socialization. How your character is to be acculturated. He is taught everything from formal education to lessons in dance. In the city this character discovers the world anew. Here I like the film very much. Because the comedy that results is not just a consequence of Kishan not knowing the ways of urban cosmopolitan culture or being alien to them but also the extent to which urban life is itself wryly treated by being submitted to his gaze. The elevator scene is an inspired one where Kishan perceives it to be a chamber where people age (!). On the other hand there is the superb dance moment where the character immitating certain disco moves in a very exaggerated way leads to another comical result. This whole first half of the film then involves the process by which Kishan acquires culture.

    And of course this was the case in so many of your films where to become successful in an urban environment one had to unlearn the native ways of one’s rural or small-town home. But then this path often led to disappointment and tragedy. There was Adaalat where your character loses his innocence in the city and becomes an underworld figure. The language was always the principal marker of this shift. The exuberant dialect would give way to more measured standard Hindi. But also sometimes to settle a vendetta one had to become acculturated in urban ways for a little while. Here Kaalia offers a classic example. The Mukhtar Singh jokes occur at the beginning when Kallu relates them and then at the very end when his business is complete with the hint of a return to his Kallu self. Here too there was Amjad Khan. The nemesis who forces Kallu to learn a certain urban swagger much as the same Amjad Khan also forces you in Yaarana to do the same, even if as an act of love. The twist to this entire dynamic is offered by Namak Halal because here the character keeps switching between the two modes. And when he’s not the authentic rustic self one gets the strong sense that he’s ‘performing’. Unlike those other examples he does not simply become refined, even if temporarily so. He always seems to be acting out a part. But it is only in Yaarana where that whole process of socialization/acculturation is properly depicted. In most of those other examples the urban experience involves a trauma. Either something from the past has to be addressed or a newer reality comes about that results in a different trauma. In Yaarana the same path leads to the asylum. An unusual choice on the writer’s part but a suggestive one. Madness is not unrelated to language. And Kishan has to ‘perform’ to gain admission into the asylum. Later at a key moment (in the latter) a song is repeated allowing Kishan to reconnect with his older self and start resolving the film’s crisis.

    And of course within its fine soundtrack Yaarana had that cult Saara zamana number (part of a double song following Choo kar mere man ko.. a tradition inaugurated by Raj Kapoor in Awara with tere bina aag yeh chandni/ghar aaya mere pardesi.. as far as I know..as with so many other things Raj Kapoor was never to be surpassed even here..of course that second song was also the first dream sequence of Hindi cinema..) which then brings me back full circle to BBuddah and some of the sentiments I voiced in yesterday’s comment. There is a profound distance between that video in the original film and its repetition in the BBuddah music video (it was weirdly excluded from the film’s end credits) which also opens onto many other things I’ve said in this regard. As someone who’s seen BBuddah three times my bona fides in this respect are arguably safe. Nonetheless it is always a bit distressing to see people equate it with some simplistic repetition of the past. It isn’t. Yaarana is hardly among your greatest films but it still lies within the orbit of your event. Bbuddah on the other hand is about survival and longevity. In a characterization which you will undoubtedly find a bit harsh the latter is usually achieved at the expense of the former. One can earn interest on the event and its effects for a very long time. Always by betraying it a little bit every day. I called Bbuddah a bitter-sweet film initially. This was brought home to me most dramatically when the Naseeb song plays in the background. It is precisely here that the gap between your history and your present seems absolute. Paradoxically it is by running closer to your event and your history that the distinctions are highlighted even more. And it is not principally a question of age. All of this does not cancel out anything I have said on Bbuddah before this. It just adds another perspective to it.

    One can never go back. But how does one learn the art of always going back by never going back? This is really the question. Years ago you perhaps had to learn this lesson somewhat rudely with Agneepath. This great effort (and it is extraordinary in so many ways) to repeat Deewar. I remember a piece at the time that quoted someone as saying this film would put you back where you were with Deewar. Not really. And it’s not about how much the film worked or did not. One cannot go back. Least of all to the event’s foundation. The moment the event comes about it starts vanishing. One cannot hold onto it. One simply has to keep following it. As you did so monumentally. Bbuddah bears some traces, I should say following a favorite thinker that these are in fact ‘embers’. There is something still burning in you, something that can still be (re)kindled. We see this in those climactic moments of Bbuddah. But there cannot be a return. This is not granted to us. Paradise is always lost…

    Akayla is a work which is often not ambitious enough when it needs to be and makes a vice out of its modesty. One could be critical about certain aspects of a film which had essentially the right script in place but one which was handled in a very functional way by of all people Ramesh Sippy. Nonetheless there is much that is ‘right’ here. The moodiness and melancholy that always hangs over this film principally through your perfectly pitched portrayal. In fact if I think about all the films that you did between Shahenshah and Khuda Gawah (when you then left for five years) there is perhaps no more affecting performance in this period. Agneepath is rightly the more challenging performance to ‘interpret’ even as it is also one of great risk (there is no other work of yours I can think of where you are always so much in danger of exceeding a certain ‘measure’ even if it all seems attuned to this quasi-operatic work) but Akayla might not be ‘lesser’. In a certain sense it offers a striking contrast with Agneepath. The latter a grand performance pitched consistently a scale or two higher, the former is much more restrained, much more in sync with the twilight feel of the film. But both performances are about the ‘end’ of a history, an era. One might term this your ‘peak period’. If Agneepath doubles the bet and unleashes Vijay with a much more ‘monstrous’ intensity, Akayla is akin to a fadeout. Your performance here is perfectly keyed into everything I’m suggesting here. You are tired at that point and Vijay here exhibits that weariness. If Agneepath’s Vijay descends from the deep lacerated Heera of Lawaaris universe Akayla’s character owes something to the late romantic commentary and ironies of the Sharaabi protagonist. But Mukul Anand still frames a world where Vijay’s resistance is literally possible and where his gestures still animate the sign system of that universe. Akayla though operates with the sadder realization that it isn’t anymore as it once was. And therefore Vijay here is also suffused with that melancholic truth. He is some sort of survivor in a world where the myth of Vijay has perhaps receded.

    All of this you bring through in your portrayal. It perhaps required you to have taken a few hard knocks yourself. Just those notes couldn’t have been struck years earlier. It is not easy to represent ‘defeat’ if one has never known it in any true sense in life. Sippy does not allow this character any grandeur but even as you respect the economy needed here the character is for all this deeply individualized and as I said earlier remarkably affecting. I rue the fact that this prortrayal did not get a greater film from Sippy. It might have been one of your singular ones. Even physically I would say that other than Agneepath I do not like you more in any film of this entire period (barring the grand look of Khuda Gawah.. i.e. the younger look here). But it is a film to revisit. It doesn’t get as much attention as it should but I would certain pick this Vijay to Agneepath’s.

    In many ways the films of that four year period after your return from politics illustrate a certain tonal uncertainty (from your directors) more often than not. On the one hand the pressure to feed your megastar image. On the other hand the need to recalibrate things to adjust to newer realities. This is not to say that many films in those period weren’t poor or that the industry at that point and almost ever since has been astonishingly capable of using your gifts in any remotely adequate sense. But at the same time it is also true that it was just too late for ‘bread and butter’ fare like Khuddaar or Yaarana or Barsaat ki ek Raat or Kaalia or what have you. From Shahenshah through Khuda Gawah this struggle continued and manifested itself in very different ways in different films. I cannot say even from this late vantage point that a better path was possible because the industry certainly didn’t have the talents to do so. It would have required great re-invention on your own part and perhaps a turn to other sources (Southern or otherwise) but you never really had the best abilities in this sense.

    Akayla though needs to be defended.. I hope those here who have not seen it will rush out to do so!]

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    • Enough of Masala..Some of us are still waiting for what was intersting in 2010, 2011 🙂

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      • I am behind by more! I should probably do a combined thread! To be honest I haven’t been as prolific a viewer (hard as this might be to believe!) over the last couple of years or more as I was before this.

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  19. Alex, like yourself I’m an admirer of the Akayla characterization.

    Saurabh.. quite like Adaalat but it’s not among my favorites.thanks for the response..

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  20. Alex adams Says:

    Akayla-the definitive piece by Satyam

    Now after a while, I will APPLAUD this write up and infact will give it a STANDING OVATION
    I resume it is by Satyam but just checking
    Now this is what I have always felt about akayla and it’s significance but have neither had the energy, inclination or even wherewithal to attempt to put it to paper
    I think this particular passag needs to be FRAMED atleast in the sidebars here!!
    A BRILLIANT analytical piece and something that trumps every single commentator atleast on this blog IMO
    Now this is ONLY for hardcore bachchan fans and even there, many would find this obsession weak
    Have always felt this ‘twinning” of akayla with the the much celebrated agneepath but never bothered to present it to people since it is a bit abstract and deals with a certain ‘indepth’ understanding of Bollywood and bachchanism coupled with awareness of certain ‘traditions’ as well as ‘ageing realities’

    Now here goes the piece by Satyam
    That I feel deserves not only a separate thread but needs to be in the sidebar somewhere permanently
    Non hardcore bachchan fans or non-fans–plz dont mind this and u may find this an over exaggeration though…

    Akayla is a work which is often not ambitious enough when it needs to be and makes a vice out of its modesty. One could be critical about certain aspects of a film which had essentially the right script in place but one which was handled in a very functional way by of all people Ramesh Sippy. Nonetheless there is much that is ‘right’ here. The moodiness and melancholy that always hangs over this film principally through your perfectly pitched portrayal. In fact if I think about all the films that you did between Shahenshah and Khuda Gawah (when you then left for five years) there is perhaps no more affecting performance in this period. Agneepath is rightly the more challenging performance to ‘interpret’ even as it is also one of great risk (there is no other work of yours I can think of where you are always so much in danger of exceeding a certain ‘measure’ even if it all seems attuned to this quasi-operatic work) but Akayla might not be ‘lesser’. In a certain sense it offers a striking contrast with Agneepath. The latter a grand performance pitched consistently a scale or two higher, the former is much more restrained, much more in sync with the twilight feel of the film. But both performances are about the ‘end’ of a history, an era. One might term this your ‘peak period’. If Agneepath doubles the bet and unleashes Vijay with a much more ‘monstrous’ intensity, Akayla is akin to a fadeout. Your performance here is perfectly keyed into everything I’m suggesting here. You are tired at that point and Vijay here exhibits that weariness. If Agneepath’s Vijay descends from the deep lacerated Heera of Lawaaris universe Akayla’s character owes something to the late romantic commentary and ironies of the Sharaabi protagonist. But Mukul Anand still frames a world where Vijay’s resistance is literally possible and where his gestures still animate the sign system of that universe. Akayla though operates with the sadder realization that it isn’t anymore as it once was. And therefore Vijay here is also suffused with that melancholic truth. He is some sort of survivor in a world where the myth of Vijay has perhaps receded.

    Like

  21. Alex adams Says:

    Akayla to agneepath -two sides of a coin-different scales of brilliance

    “The moodiness and melancholy that always hangs over this film principally through your perfectly pitched portrayal. In fact if I think about all the films that you did between Shahenshah and Khuda Gawah (when you then left for five years) there is perhaps no more affecting performance in this period.”
    Exceptional point there about the “moodiness and melancholy that hangs over the film …”

    ” Agneepath is rightly the more challenging performance to ‘interpret’ even as it is also one of great risk (there is no other work of yours I can think of where you are always so much in danger of exceeding a certain ‘measure’ even if it all seems attuned to this quasi-operatic work) but Akayla might not be ‘lesser’. In a certain sense it offers a striking contrast with Agneepath. The latter a grand performance pitched consistently a scale or two higher, the former is much more restrained, much more in sync with the twilight feel of the film. ”
    Again-the perfect reading of the difference in “scale” and the “feel”—“bigger than life” vs “twilight”

    “But both performances are about the ‘end’ of a history, an era. One might term this your ‘peak period’. If Agneepath doubles the bet and unleashes Vijay with a much more ‘monstrous’ intensity, Akayla is akin to a fadeout. ”
    And finally —about the “end of an era”–of the peak
    One culminating towards “monstrous intensity” whilst the other “fading into twilight”

    Now all this is illustrative in the few links above
    Note in the above song link of akayla–the thing to note is “bachchans walk down the stairs” at the start of the song where he actually does zilch!,
    But that entry is not an “ordinary” one–there is a full fledged history and quite an eventful one behind it and it shows!!
    The ‘aura’ is incandescent and the style understated but full of panache

    Watch the link of the “interrogation” scene
    Cut towards the end wherein bachchan says —
    “I gave u the bottle just to hold not to take home”
    Again, not just an ordinary quip but one full of cross referrences from the past!!

    And the point mentioned above about bachchan getting suspicious about his own ‘eyesight’ and “mind”—the slow “fade out”

    And finally–cut to the very beginning of the film
    Why even the beginning -let’s start from the title credits
    Bachchan just walks into his home where he lives alone
    Does nothing really except mundane stuff
    But that only amplifies the “extraordinary” essence of this personality on the screen and that too at the opening credits with NO need for ‘buildup’ or character introduction !!

    Brilliant

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  22. Superb piece. Really a lot of mull over here.

    Since we’ve been down the masala road once or twice (!) I’ll concentrate a bit on your point(s) regarding TV. One of the many reasons why American television shows are (rightfully) really stealing the thunder from American cinema is that these shows, at their best, are often more essentially “cinematic” than what one finds in the movie theaters nowadays! Aside from impeccable visuals and sets (Mad Men is a strong example, Boardwalk Empire an even better one) the best of television in the past ten years – shows like The Wire or Breaking Bad – have utilized the seasonal structure to fashion chapter-like episodes that build to a rather awesome totality of vision. It really relies on a novelistic approach to storytelling which readily beats most movies for breadth and depth. There simply is no comparison. The universes some of these shows build over a number of years is simply staggering and they really do feel lived-in, and most importantly, substantial. Of course even comedies (Arrested Development, more recently the wonderful and experimental Louie) do this more and more, shows have veered away from the functional, procedural, and less-character driven stuff like “Law & Order” (even if these are enjoyable in a different way and still somewhat ubiquitous on network television) and they are engrossing and involving in ways that movies can’t possibly be simply because movies (unless they’re directed by Bela Tarr!) aren’t afforded the time to consume one like a good television show can these days. This is not to say that the relative “brevity” of the movies can’t accomplish similar results but the viewing experience of television involves inviting that show into a viewer’s home. It’s far more personal, particularly with all the technologies at play now, and the sustained, non-disposable narratives, to watch television than it is to go to the movies. Scorsese himself mentioned in an interview about his directing the pilot of Boardwalk that in the 70s, filmmakers he knew were very interested in the possibilities television presented to sustain narratives over a huge span of time. This hope or prophecy has come to fruition today, more or less, and should be seen as a kind of next step in cinema’s evolution.

    In a post-Wire universe (though The Sopranos really started this, The Wire remains the single greatest show ever executed), these days I find myself and a lot of people I know watching television shows in rather non-traditional ways. Instead of tuning in every week (something that feels archaic now) I’ll wait for an entire season (or two) to go by before catching up with a show and then digest it in huge chunks. Because really these shows are meant to be seamless–like a movie that plays for 16 or so hours!

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    • This is an extraordinarily rich comment GF and really there’s nothing more one can add to it. The ‘novel’ comparison is most apt here because these shows function like the old serialized novels of the 19th century where the authors had to make things interesting in each new chapter and yet keep the story moving forward. Your comment also makes me think that this kind of television solves the problem that cinema has always struggled with. The ability to remain true to the script because ‘time’ isn’t an issue. Kurosawa would have loved to film the Idiot with this kind of latitude! But in cinema we’ve seen more often than not superficial literary adaptations. There just isn’t time enough to do more. So there have been some classics on this score but not many serious adaptations. But I’d also add here that cinema perhaps should have never gone down this path. The sound revolution robbed cinema of that vast treasure of aura and gesturality and even mystery that defined its silent period so profoundly. It was always problematic ‘filming scripts’ when time was an issue.

      The interesting thing about these TV shows is also the fact that so many cinematic genres and even eras can exist side by side. The Scorsese-like effort of the Wire to a more classic kind of ‘filmmaking’ in Mad Men where the period element also allows them to re-introduce a certain gesturality which would otherwise have seemed archaic. So you get for example in the lead couple ‘classic’ yesteryear Hollywood stars.

      And again you’re absolutely right in that it isn’t just about the novelistic impulse but also the cinematic visuals where too there is more time to gradually produce a template that resonates as opposed to the more frenetically paced grammar of many contemporary films.

      Didn’t find a chance to say this in the piece but one wishes that Hindi cinema had an HBO equivalent. I wouldn’t complain so much!

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      • Adoor Gopalakrishnan once said that he lamented the route Indian television has taken because to his mind the medium provided an opportunity to create more cinema-literate audiences, and it wound up doing exactly the opposite. I haven’t seen much of Indian television beyond the dreck of soap operas which really represents a devolving in every sense. But there remains a waiting opportunity here and especially if it’s not as dominated by the more insular “clans” of Bollywood.

        David Simon, the creator of The Wire and to my mind one of the most important voices in American media, recently mentioned that he was a bit weary of the kind of praise television shows get while they’re in process because it’s a bit like offering an opinion on a book before one is through reading it. Simon of course endorses the whole novelistic approach to storytelling to some great extremes. His new show, Treme, is one I hope to more fully catch up to once it has had a couple of seasons in the can.

        Your point on re-introduction of certain tropes through television is on the money, and in light of the “literary” trend in television, a rather interesting case is the recent spate of BBC series and miniseries that have adapted certain staples like Jekyll and Hyde and more recently (and impressively) the “Sherlock” series which sees the Holmes character in modern London. Of course there’s also the acclaimed Downton Abbey which isn’t an adaptation but nevertheless represents the kind of “look back” that the new approach to series television has provoked…

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        • The British chapter on all of this also confirms your ‘cinematic’ point on contemporary TV. While BBC traditionally was doing this sort of thing (though in much more period settings.. and hence susceptible to the nostalgia charge, which of course in Britain was always linked with the loss of empire..) in earlier decades in recent decades they’ve gone in for revamps that have been very cinematic but have also focused a great deal on contemporary subjects. So yes we’re definitely in the age of ‘cinematic’ TV. The same is true for France and other parts of Europe where of course many important directors produce 5 hr versions of their films which are privileged over the shorter theater releases (Bergman in some ways heralded this move with his Face to Face, though sadly the longer version here has never been available on video, and of course Scenes from a Marriage).

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        • The other thing to say here is that leaving aside the TV competition it perhaps is really true that we have reached the ‘end’ of cinema. Godard famously said that the train that pulled in at La Ciotat and began cinema’s grand journey reached its ‘death’ or end with Taste of Cherry. Which of course does not mean that profound works are not possible anymore but that there might not be the chance for a genre-defining one or something that totally revitalizes the tradition. And here Godard’s own Histoires du Cinema is the ultimate funeral procession. A Finnegans Wake of a film if ever there was one but this sort of enterprise can only signal the end of something. My own sense here is (and of course this is a retrospective view) that once cinema lost its ‘silence’ it was only a matter of time which is to say that the end perhaps becomes ‘forseeable’ in some sense. Clearly the aura and mystique associated with the medium lasted for quite some time after silent cinema was a thing of the past but it became a matter of filming scripts or making images follow the logic of the written word as opposed to the vastly more subversive move (often evident in the silent form) of following in a purer sense visual grammar. In other words the silent history of the medium at its very best offered cinema the chance to be more like music in some ways. Become that which would not be simply reduceable to language. But the Hollywoodization of the sound era went in exactly the opposite direction. Specially given the political conservatism of the post-war period fashioning an industry that became almost a statist tool to foster ‘American family values’ meant that the global cinematic template was deeply flawed. Or more precisely Hollywood was this great enterprise to curb the subversive potential of cinema and police its boundaries. There were auteurs who developed in many parts of the world over time who nonetheless (and necessarily) responded to this basic Hollywood grammar. There had to be some compromise in this sense for the movies to be minimally viable. And so the entire history here was about ‘normative’ Hollywood and the ‘foreign’ auteurist reaction to it. The latter could in turn be recycled as a minority pleasure for purists whereas Hollywood was of course ‘normal cinema’ for everyone. Again over time an art-house ‘economy’ developed which for all its strengths was reliant on a certain ghettoization. Which is not to deny the enormous influence of these alternative traditions. But Hollywood could incorporate these influences in bits and at a gradual pace all the while essentially keeping its conservative ‘frame’ intact (barring an exceptional period running from the late 60s to the late 70s when the most iconic films were more subversive than ever before) and remaining the guarantor of the American ‘moral’ hegemony. and we see this even today where the interesting Hollywood film, even the one that’s only meant to play to more limited audiences, is so only in terms relative to the rest of the industry’s functioning and not in any absolute sense or in a way comparable to what’s happening elsewhere.

          So the point I’m trying to make is that partly as a set of political choices and partly for reasons of succumbing to the low hanging fruit of sound era possibilities cinema never really brought out the full promise of its ‘gestural’ silent history. In our own age extraordinary technological resources have simply taken the medium closer to a ‘virtual’ future. It’s more about ‘shock and awe’ than anything else. Cameron is perhaps the best representative (in the artistic sense) of this reality. But it’s really about overwhelming the viewer or disabling the ability to truly judge a film by forcing instead the viewer to capitulate to the technology. This too brings back the discussion full circle because those important TV moments follow a very different logic (not in all cases.. 24 for example is very much about taking the tension of a 2 hr movie and stretching it out indefinitely over the course of a season.. one is always on high alert.. not surprisingly this is the emblematic show for a post-9/11 security state..). They are much more about ‘experience’ in the old-fashioned sense.

          On a related note when Indian cinema whether in Hindi or in Tamil or in Bengali has been subversive it has been so far more than Hollywood relative to the respective cinematic and cultural histories. This is partly because Indian cinema for all the Censor Board problems has never been as profoundly policed (once you stopped the kiss from occurring or nudity from not taking place everything else was pretty much ok!) but also because being far less professionally managed and certainly not reduced to the model of a business science Indian cinema could never establish that perfect a match with consumer desire. Of course things have been moving in this direction over the last couple of decades but by and large Indian commercial cinema at its best (the Tamil new wave is really the best example) is not really poll-tested cinema. Even the big names in Hollywood have to reason things out with their studio executives whereas in Bombay if you establish a name you can start doing D6, a film no one in Hollywood would have agreed to! Still it has been going the Hollywood way for a while and not surprisingly this too matches the conservatism of the period. You see in a similar sense the smoking warnings and people not smoking on screen and so on. Hindi cinema today lags behind the ‘society’ it serves in very many ways. This wasn’t always true. But it’s a very Hollywood sort of dynamic.

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          • Great comment Satyam.

            While I haven’t seen 24 in more than pieces here and there, it’s easy to see the validity of what you say here. And in terms of movies reaching their logical end I’d say that this might be true on some level even if there is something of a resistance in the commercial studio pictures. Jack Nicholson said in an interview I’d read some time ago that Hollywood was basically more interested in making circuses than anything else these days. He was talking about the effects movies, of course, but this can in some ways be seen as a logical move for an industry not only because of the obvious commercial gain but also because these effects bonanzas are in a way the only way to argue “against” far better cinematic models in television and even the internet. Because (cue Alex’s grin) size matters! The films that I find people really talking about or even attending these days are either arthouse movies where you only have a certain window to access the work or, by and large, the big budget Hollywood films that in every way (and here your point on Cameron is on the money) “force” you to see the thing on a big screen. One can see the nobility in type of move by major industries precisely because the trump card of cinema is always the visual aspect of things. There is a loss in storytelling though because ultimately irrespective of how visually overwhelming a work can be, they remain tethered to their scripts (something you note rightly in your comment is the loss that came with sound) and a movie like Avatar is the best example of this. No matter how astounding the visuals, the storytelling doesn’t offer something you can’t find in a number of other works.

            Television has thrown down the gauntlet in some ways and while I don’t see movies coming back with a substantial enough answer it will be exciting to see the kinds of responses we get over the next decade…

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          • I saw most of the first season of 24, eventually gave up on it. Not my kind of thing. I have started watching Breaking Bad recently and this deserves all its great reviews. On that note someone was making the point recently that because of DVRs and DVDs and other technologies for the first time ever people were watching entire seasons at very different points in time. One could just pick any show one wanted to and watch all of it at one go. Again this gets to the whole novel analogy where initial readers often encountered the books in serial form but of course later readers always read the complete thing. Similarly today one can just start with the pilot of any show (and give up if one loses interest at some point in the seasons). There’s almost something surreal to it. It could be a show from the 50s or a contemporary one but either way it can be accessed in the very same way. But again it is only the novelistic format of contemporary shows that really rewards this exercise. I have certainly tried a number of times to watch old British and American shows systematically but it’s hard to keep one’s interest maintained (assuming a show of a certain length) when it’s purely about the episodic. So if you pick up something like MASH it’s fun for a while but you can’t keep watching tons of episodes. Not saying one has to because here too having the DVDs means one can just dip into them as and when one likes.

            It will certainly be interesting to see how cinema responds though I don’t know if the challenge will ever be met on this side. Because the ‘economies’ of cinema are constantly pulling it in the other direction and meanwhile important directors elsewhere are just producing TV versions of their movies. It might well be that the latter set of choices takes over in the US too. So for example Soderbergh had his roadshow version of Che but many directors might not be so lucky to get financing for such a project. TV would then be the only logical option.

            I must confess that I have been an extremely late convert to this renaissance age of American TV. Absurdly enough and even though I was living through it and watching these shows become big I somehow never quite started watching them. Always felt that there wasn’t enough time with all the movies available and so on. But I’ve realized by now that this was a mistake. Luckily with DVDs and streaming it’s not hard to catch up.

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          • “So for example Soderbergh had his roadshow version of Che but many directors might not be so lucky to get financing for such a project. TV would then be the only logical option.”

            Yeah, and getting back to the Scorsese example, he recently mentioned that he was considering the possibility of converting the Sinatra biopic he’s been working on for some time into an HBO miniseries.

            Yes with DVDs and streaming services it’s easy to play catch up and infact as I said this is often the way I prefer to watch certtain series.

            Glad you picked up Breaking Bad! By far my favorite show right now. People say this about a lot of shows but I especially find it true with Breaking Bad that each season is better than the previous by a stretch. Every chapter just raises the stakes and of course this is also a marvelous show to look at. The final season starts airing in July I think, so your timing is also great.

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          • Sinatra on TV sounds like a fantastic idea..

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  23. Excellent post Satyam. And great comments from GF. There is nothing more to say really. As mentioned before, novelistic approach that The Wire started is the single most important factor in the success of these shows. After The Wire, this is especially true of Mad Men. I’ve asked so many people who label Mad Men as “boring” or “slow” to be patient with the first season. Also, thanks to the forced patience that is offered by the medium(when you’re not watching marathon like we do here!), people are more receptive to these compared to cinema. I guess this really distinguishes “movies” from “cinema” in larger sense of their meanings. Why can’t this be “cinema”?

    I also like the payoff from the recognition these shows get from all quarters. It’s a films universe that is frustrated with decisions by Oscars and other Awards shows. I know these are based on opinions but it is true that the Academy and most other organizers have hardly experimented with the winners or been unpreditable. So it is good to see when Mad Men wins, or Boardwalk Empire wins and when a true performer like Peter Dinklage wins the Emmy/Golden Globe. Of course, it might well be due to the numbers involved in the two mediums, but it’s nice.

    Like

  24. masterpraz Says:

    Just shared this: http://socialwizz.com/?p=6750

    Thanks for a very insightful read (and the followup)!

    Like

  25. By the way did anyone see the Mad Men episode this past weekend? I thought it was one of the best of the entire series.

    Like

    • Missed it, have it DVR’d it and plan to catch it this week at some point. I actually think this season as a whole is pretty fantastic, and a contender for the best season in the entire series’ run.

      Like

      • I say this especially because I found Mad Men somewhat hard to digest in the first couple of seasons. Immaculately produced but also felt a bit like an overcooked soap opera at its core. What salvages it from the domestic melodrama is the stuff that happens with the agency, the world of advertising and the period in American history. In fact, when Draper starts to shake off his family, the show really hits its stride and becomes about more than who’s f-cking who. Not that it’s not fun to watch the latter!

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        • those are all fair points but my sense is (and this is still a concern) that the show’s themes were all exhausted by the first couple of seasons. And while the plot developments are all interesting with something as good as this you don’t want the soap opera to completely take over. I was skeptical about another two seasons but there have been some surprises in season 5. Ideally though a 4 season thing with everything compressed into this would have been even more remarkable. Still over five seasons it’s hard to think of another show with less ‘fat’ than this.

          Like

          • I don’t completely disagree but I will say that for me while the first two seasons had more focus they also lacked some of the thematic heft of the later seasons. For example the whole thing about Draper’s double identity was never all that shocking to my mind. It only became more interesting as Draper evolved later on. And I actually liked season 4 a lot. In general the later seasons (and I include this current one) seem a bit more plugged into what was happening in the U.S. historically in both overt and subtle ways. The show has never been unaware of things in this sense, but it feels less on the nose and more inventive lately. A prime example was a few weeks ago when they played “Tomorrow Never Knows” (which they reportedly paid 250,000 for!) over that very memorable montage. The way the song ends with Draper abruptly killing the player had more to say about the world of Mad Men and who Draper is than whole episodes of the first couple of seasons.

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          • these are all strong points.. you’ve forced me to revisit my assumptions here!

            Like

      • my favorite seasons are still the first two though I’ll have a better sense of where this stands once I revisit it on DVD. The thing is I caught up the first four seasons all at one go and it was a very ‘novelistic’ way of doing it. Now I’m suddenly watching it once a week. But I might agree that this is better than season 4 and maybe 3 as well. And of course it isn’t over yet.

        Like

    • It was a fantastic. I loved Peggy and Joan’s contrasting character arcs in this episode- incredibly well done.

      Like

    • Just saw it. An excellent episode and a very important one in the history of the series. I’m especially pleased with the Joan development even considering the circumstances surrounding what happened. She’s always been one of my favorite characters on the show, and this moment for her seems to connect to that moment earlier in the series when she was helping Harry Crane with script reading but was ultimately edged out for a man. Finally with Peggy leaving this could have easily been a season ender! It should be fun to see the mentor and the disciple duke it out in what might be the final season.

      Like

      • and that entire very unpleasant angle really gets to the heart of what the advertising business and by extension consumerism is really about. Much as Don’s reaction to all of this defines his character more profoundly than many other significant moments have. He’s supposed to be a kind of hollow man but he also has important moments of generosity (as when he pays Pete’s share for the firm in an earlier season) and character. And this is the most extraordinary one. But yeah I agree with everything you’re saying. One of the great things about this series is that even when you think you know the characters there are always little surprises that reveal more about them. For example Roger Sterling just comes out looking awful here after having constantly professed love for Joan and relatively recently spoken about the baby and so on.

        Like

        • Absolutely agree on the Roger thing. I like that character a lot and the show seemed to hint that he might be “enlightened” this season partly because of his realization that he’s largely useless to the agency he inherited. But this development only cemented the deal for his character. For now anyway. As you mentioned this show has a way of surprising you about the characters you think you know.

          Like

  26. I have seen Sherlock- found it riveting and much better than the guy ritchie films- the best adaprarion after ‘sherlock junior’. had also seen ‘dexter’ an yr back and loved it- the lead actor is really good (he payed the villain in ‘gamer’)

    Like

  27. I’ve been watching episodes of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ lately. It’s not a great sitcom, but it is about geeks. I would loosely consider myself one and even though it does enforce stereotypes, it’s somewhat funny.

    Howard Walowitz reminds me of our own ‘Alex Adams’ LOL!

    Like

  28. Saket, digressing a bit here but during my childhood a fantasy based sitcom which had completely enthralled was DD’s Chandrakanta. don’t know whether u have seen but i have never been a bigger fan of a tv serial than Chandrakanta. And Pankaj Dheer as Shivdutt was arresting. Also Irrfan Khan played a character called as Badrinath in the show

    Like

    • Never followed Chandrakanta but I remember watching Irrfan in it. I think the guy who played ‘Mirchi Seth’ in Sarfarosh was also in it.

      My reading habits, sadly, did not lead me to this particular tome.

      Like

  29. Yes, u r talking abt Akhilendra Mishra who played a memorable and a very quirky sort of character called ‘kroor singh’. on the tome, i have read the devakinandan khatri’s novel “chandrakanta santati” though the series takes a lot of liberties.btw which were ur favourite tv shows?

    Like

  30. Re: And Pankaj Dheer as Shivdutt was arresting

    never found Dheer arresting tho have often felt he should be arrested for pretending to be something he is not i.e an actor!

    Like

  31. LOL but i have always liked Dheer. i thought he was fantastic as Karna in Mahabharat as well and in sanjay khan’s ‘the great maratha’. In films i liked him in Sanam Bewafa and Soldier. I believe he has a very good personality and an impressive dialogue-delivery.

    Like

  32. Alex adams Says:

    gud points –btw is chandrakanta a film or a telly serial ….

    Aahaa
    Btw Saket is that real cool gravatar your ‘actual’ pic 😉
    We suspect ‘yes’ eh

    Like

    • That is young paul newman!! I prefer Redford though….

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      • Redford cannot act, he was a debonair but that’s it though he is a fine diector. Newman took him to school in Butch Cassidy. And Leo will easily overshadow his performance as Gatsby

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        • Alex adams Says:

          Like redford a lot-irresp of acting capabilities
          A class act and has a certain debonair charisma
          Btw suggest check out ‘ all the presidents men’ if not done already ..
          Ps-Di- your choice in men also seems good

          Like

          • Alex, thanks for the suggestion. i myself like redford- inspite of his limitations as an actor found him effective alongside Newman in “the sting”. but comparing him with newman is blasphemous.

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          • Paul Newman has to be the most charismatic, talented and attractive actor of all time. Redford is great- but he doesn’t hold a candle to Newman.

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          • @Alex: Lexy do watch Redford on “inside actor’s studio”…if and when you can. I love Redford as actor but love him even more for starting the Sundance.

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          • @Ami: Between Paul and Redford, I love Clint Eastwood. I think he was my very first love 😉
            What an awesome careerograph these people have! Paul is very handsome as well (love his blue eyes and all that machoism) and I always buy Paul Newman pasta sauce. Redford takes a cake for me because of Sundance-indie movie movement.

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          • You have good taste Di. 🙂 Personally I’ll rank them in this order: Newman, Redford, Eastwood.

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        • “Redford cannot act”
          yes…he is a trained theater actor and unfortunately for you he doesn’t do “overacting” for you to “see” his talent!!!! The SAME scene where our Leo (BTW I love Leo but love Depp wee bit more) is all frowing, trying to be all intense….and compare THAT scene with Redford, and you will know subtelty kya cheez hoti hai aur “silent” aankho-hi-aankho mai ishara kya hota hai.

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          • And Paul Newman didn’t have any sort of training in acting. He was natural. Maybe the comparision would be like Smita-Shabana here…both are good. One is all method and other all natural (talent).

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          • “he is a trained theatre actor and doesn’t do overacting for you to see his talent.”

            Haha- Di- I think that Leo is an excellent actor- but I’m a little bewildered by anyone who says that Redford cannot act.

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          • Di, i may not have seen as many films as u may have seen but i have seen films of both Redford and Newman and i do know a bit (again not as much as u) abt what subtlety is. Anyway i far prefer Smita to Shabana.

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          • Alex adams Says:

            Agree Di – again, I sense a ‘subtle’ actress in u 😉

            Like

          • “but I’m a little bewildered by anyone who says that Redford cannot act.”- Ami, don’t worry that ‘anyone’ will keep bewidering u.

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          • I too must agree that saying he can’t act is really going too far!

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          • Sorry if I offend you Saurabh- I didn’t mean it in a bad way. 😦

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          • Ami, what r u saying sorry for, i was not offended at all, i had also remarked in a lighter vein. u have always been sweet to me and these ‘apologies’ make me uncomfortable..LOL. anyway what i meant here was that redford can be effective but for me he does not ‘act’. But now if someone like u and Satyam r saying, i must be wrong in my reading of him

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          • your brevity sattuji made me faint….

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        • Don’t think it’s fair to say Redford “can’t act” but I do think he’s a bland actor who can be effective, but who a better actor (namely Newman, twice) can put in his shade.

          Like

          • It is this “blandness” that allows you to be versatile and not get branded into say angry-young man or some other typecasting like DeNiro or Pacino. I would take versatility over sameness anyday!

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          • Only someone who has not seen enough of either De Niro or Pacino would make such a daft comment. No offense. But comparing Redford to De Niro or Pacino is like comparing Vinod Khanna to Om Puri and Naseer.

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          • “It is this “blandness” that allows you to be versatile”- LOL what does this mean? “angry-young man or some other typecasting like DeNiro or Pacino.”- ROFL- u find redford more versatile than de niro and pacino? leave aside their great roles, redford cannot even do the comedic roles of de niro like “meet the children”. and let’s not even go to Pacino. completely agree with GF. just see Butch Cassidy and u will realise the difference.

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          • “De Niro or Pacino is like comparing Vinod Khanna to Om Puri and Naseer”
            Love is blind…no?

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          • Chalo…iss bahaney, I got you to confess that Om Puri and Naseer and in same league as Deniro and Pacino. And you didn’t say Bachchan. Maybe Bachchan is Paul Newman 😉

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          • Some of more recent movies of De Niro…cringe worthy to say the least. I felt he acted just to make a quick buck…so lost respect. Pacino (for me) hasn’t aged well ( I don’t feel that way when I see Naseer) and I don’t like to see him anymore (may be too much smoking has impacted his voice and his face is so ugh…that I can’t believe he is the same handsome dude of Godfather). On the other hand, Redford in say a lesser movie like indecent proposal is still fantastic. Or Clint Eastwood has done really worthwhile films even in his old age. I don’t have same opinion on D.N or Pacino, in their later works. It is like Dali. I hate the later Dali and “his” later work makes me lose all respect for the man, even if the younger artist was a genius!!

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          • No Bachchan’s not Newman. Bachchan is vastly better than Newman. As for the rest, I’m not going to respond because I’m fairly certain if you’re judging these guys on their recent works you pretty much don’t know what you’re talking about.

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          • Di, Pacino in the last decade has a Merchant of Venice and Nolan’s Insomnia- both better than any role of redford. Indecent Proposal, a mediocre film at best, was released in 90s. Eastwood has not acted since Gran Torino.Eastwood, on his terrain is amazing, he is an effective ‘performer’ but to say that as an ‘actor’ he is anywhere near De Niro or Pacino is a baseless statement.

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  33. Alex adams Says:

    Oh I see
    I thought it was dear Saket himself
    Ps-Di, u shouldn’t have told us ignoramuses 😉
    Ps2- I’m missing your ‘lexy-isms’ 🙂
    Have u been ‘stopped by someone’ –also heard your Internet connection has been put on ‘surf alert’
    U were missed by those here 🙂

    Like

  34. Alex adams Says:

    Di-

    Di-u seem to be in form after a ‘long’ time
    Ps- anyhow as mentioned earlier, sense a ‘budding’ actress in u-may have to do some auditions.. An extra role perhaps–hmm..

    Like

  35. Alex adams Says:

    C’mon lemme bail out minor 🙂
    He just got ‘carried away’ and didn’t really ‘mean’ it that ” redford can’t act..”
    It’s not ‘illegal’ to say that anyways lol
    So relax, folks

    Ps–Dimple-do think about that role offer though–which sort of role would u be ‘comfortable’ in doing-lemme know- will add it in my cocktail spoof 😉

    Like

  36. For G.F and Saurabh, enjoy your favs and chillax with some icecream.

    Like

  37. Really liked the finale on Sunday. It was low key but very effective in the sense that we really see Draper’s history haunt him. Not only in the form of his brother’s specter (obviously invoked as a result of the guilt he feels over Lane’s suicide, particularly in the bitter irony of how he did it) but also in the form of a marriage that up until this moment seemed incapable of the kind of weaknesses that afflicted him in the past. The last moment of the episode of course hints that Draper will go back to his old ways, and it’s as if this season were some kind of an aberration in his history, a non sequitor of sorts. The mental “reset” that Pete Campbell’s mistress faces at the end hints at this idea too – as if what he got a taste of had never actually occurred. For Draper, these specters that re-emerge might clue him into the fact that his marriage and his overall happiness has been a kind of dream he might have been “selling” himself on, which is of course the central goal of his profession. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s recognized this and what he might do if he has.

    Like

    • yes these last 3-4 episodes have been quite extraordinary. In some ways Draper has been a bit out of it throughout the season. Pete of course becomes his ‘double’ in some ways. He’s the hungry guy, the one who gets the suburban home, who seems dissatisfied with his domestic arrangement, who seems to be moving down the path of casual affairs and so on. Of course he isn’t Don but through him we get a sense of how perhaps Don became Don in some key ways.

      I must say I now find myself agreeing with you that this is one of the best seasons ever. Much less about basic plot-lines and setting up things and far more about drawing out all the ‘consequences’. What I also like about the show is that each season always ends on a dark or at least deeply wistful note. This one was more ambiguous than most on that level.

      “The mental “reset” that Pete Campbell’s mistress faces at the end hints at this idea too – as if what he got a taste of had never actually occurred.”

      this is a very shrewd point.. the entire note is wonderful.

      Like

      • “Much less about basic plot-lines and setting up things and far more about drawing out all the ‘consequences’.”

        Agree completely with this. Everyone including Pete, Betty, Peggy, Joan seemed to be spending much of this season basically dealing with the dark side of the dreams they setup for themselves by the end of the fourth season. And this is why the entire season felt so unique in the history of the show because it wasn’t simply about advancing the narrative but about really allowing some of the events that were previously setup to unfurl and change course and show their shape. The whole season really felt more like a meditation of sorts, which might be why we had those scenes with the Hare Krishnas and the LSD trips and what not!

        Like

        • The whole electroshock element of the finale, of course hearkening to what was so common in that age, also offers very dark commentary on the while notion of the American Dream. Because of course the reinvention that is always celebrates also involves in a sense wiping the slate clean. Often people compare America with Europe favorably in this sense and this is of course justified for the obvious reasons. At the same time the very ‘roots’ that cannot be forgotten in Europe in terms of class and ancestry (though this is much less true now) and which complicate the entire idea of the ‘immigrant’ are what have to be checked in at the doorstep to really enter that hyphenated American identity (African-American, Asian-American, Italian-American.. absurdly ‘Native-American’!). So yes one can always begin anew in America, or so the myth goes, but the other side of this is a deep forgetting..

          Like

        • Also think that this season Pete became a far more sympathetic character than he ever was before. Or perhaps there was a bit of this earlier (season 4?) when he saves Don from the whole Defense Dept deal.

          Like

          • One does pity Pete. Just suffers a lot this season, even if he’s still kind of a jerk. And you’re totally right that he’s in some ways become a shadow of the earlier Draper.

            Like

  38. bachchan1 to 10 Says:

    Finally got around to reading this, very insightful piece here satyam sir, How do you do it? lol. Amazing comments that followed up as well. Just started watching Mad Men (2 Episodes), Found it a little boring but some here suggested that have patience with season 1 so will do that. Finished first 3 seasons of Breaking Bad, Agreed here with many, One of the best shows. Can’t wait to see what happens next. Have not seen The Wire or 24. (Hope to pick that up at some point).

    I have read the interactions between Satyam Sir and GF (and few others). How come there was no mention of LOST in any of the TV shows? It was one of the important shows of our times, Granted that it was going a little in circles in between, But by far it was the most intriguing mystery shows (or a movie) that I have ever seen. The characters were so well written that at the end of the show it didn’t matter about the show/plot, it was all about the characters and where they were headed. Did anyone find this show interesting? Where you satisfied with the ending/finale?. Satyam sir/GF? “Others” ??

    Like

    • I never actually got into Lost. I may at some point but I’ve heard varying things. Some friends were huge fans and actually hated the ending so much they advised me to not invest the time in the show. Even otherwise can’t say I’m all that interested in the subject matter.

      Like

      • bachchan1 to 10 Says:

        Thanks GF, Yeah thats what happenned with lots of fans, I was one such that was happy with the ending. I find subjects like these very interesting (it had time travel, the big ol question about who we are etc). Do check it out on wiki and read up the outline, It might interest you. And if for nothing, watch it for a few great performances, especially by Mathew Fox, Terry O Quinn and Michael Emerson.

        Like

      • bachchan1 to 10 Says:

        Also, with all due respect to your friends. The ones who hated that ending may not have actually picked it up on what was they were trying to say, Will not spell it out for you here cause you may watch it at some point. Have to tell, that shit is deep man.lol. Check it out at some time.

        Like

    • I started watching Lost at one point. Saw a few episodes but didn’t quite get into it.

      On Mad Men it might not be your kind of thing. To be honest I found it quite addictive just a couple of episodes into it.

      Like

      • bachchan1 to 10 Says:

        I see, Not that I am giving up on the show already. I love the whole 60’s setup, and importantly based out in NY. I was speaking from characters perspective. (Just waiting for more characters to get introduced here). Again, I am sure I may change my opinion once I see a few more episodes.

        Like

    • Bachchan, watching “lost” is and I am not hyperboling here, is truely spiritual experience for me…there is no other way to describe or explain it! And yes, it HAS to be watched when it was on T.V. when it was on. If you were to sit with dvd and watch back to back episodes, it may not have the same impact that it had when it was on T.V. We had a whole week of debates, discussion and water-cooler conversation on it.

      Like

      • bachchan1 to 10 Says:

        Yeah, Ageed Di. I watched the first episode of Lost, Went back to BlockBuster and watched the whole Seaons 1 and watch all seasons there on live (as broadcasted on TV). It was an amazing experience. As you rightly put it, one of the spiritual shows without intentions of being preachy and all. The characters so rich that some of them shows such deep insights to life in itself.

        Like

      • “watching “lost” is and I am not hyperboling here, is truely spiritual experience for me”

        Fortunately or unfortunately I don’t get spiritual experiences that easily!

        On the show though I’m sure it’s just me, as I said I only saw a few episodes.

        Like

        • bachchan1 to 10 Says:

          What even ZNMD didn’t do that to you? Hrithik seemed to have got it just by deep sea diving. LOL.

          Like

        • “Fortunately or unfortunately I don’t get spiritual experiences that easily!”
          yes comrade Satyam…I know…lolz.
          The show (LOST) has many-many layers to it…it spoke to me in spiritual way, same way as Matrix did. But maybe because I have spiritual glasses on at all times 😉
          If you are freud expert, you will see ego-id-superego everywhere…whether it is meant to be or not. So I guess our intellect actually limits us!

          Like

          • The guy who designs planes is not ‘limited’ in any sense because he doesn’t talk about car designs! He understands where his ‘knowledge’ lies.

            The Freud ‘expert’ similarly chooses a whole body of thought as his (or her) access to the world. Regrettably this body of thought entails a bit more than what you’ve suggested. But in any case one can have a different approach. We’re all limited anyway since there is not ‘absolute’ access to ‘mystery of everything’ anyway!

            But why get all metaphysical here? The movie critic knows his stuff or has a certain handle on cinema. What’s so hard to follow here?

            Like

        • Agreed. i for one, have never found anything spiritual. though watching Azhar bat could have becum one such experience had i been a deepak chopra follower!

          Like

  39. Kash, i have seen some episodes of Lost and it was very engaging. Some friends of mine in my college r crazy abt this show. Also liked the bit i saw of Prison Break. But 2 shows which i loved r Dexter and Sherlock

    Like

    • bachchan1 to 10 Says:

      Yeah. watch the first season of lost and you will be hooked Saurabh. Yeah, some friends have highly recommended I pick up Dexter. Once I finish up Mad Men & Breaking Bad will start that up.

      Like

  40. Thanks Kash for recommendation, will try and check it out. But definitely see Sherlock

    Like

    • bachchan1 to 10 Says:

      Yup, Sherlock is also on my list along With The West Wing, 24, Lie to me & Sopranos, Has anyone seen these shows?

      Like

    • Benedict C. is amazing…superb actor…loved his interpretation of Holmes (or director’s modern vision).

      Like

  41. Di, this is one of the rare occasions where i completely agree with u. Cumberbatch is the real deal

    Like

  42. i had missed this satyam. just read it after saurabh pointed it out.
    great post and agree with pretty much everything. even though i still don’t think much of raavan 🙂

    Like

    • thanks Anu..

      Like

      • here is something i wrote for the start of season 6, feel free to delete if it’s too much
        Refined Retro Repression: The Mad Men Phenomenon
        SPOILERS
        The return of Mad Men has me as excited as the next dork. All those years spent reading classics, watching Faerie Tale Theatre and later BBC period dramas, I have always been fascinated by trying to imagine the world as it once used to be, whether real or fantastical. And classic movies already had me hooked on that slice of American history, when Hollywood did some of its best, or at least some of my favorite work. Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock. What’s not to like! So when AMC decided to produce Matthew Weiner’s show about a bunch of advertising executives working on Madison Avenue in the early 60’s, complete with cinematic level of gorgeous detailing, beautiful clothes and decor, not to mention an amazing cast; this series seemed to be made for me. Especially since as befits a dork, it’s only fair that I watch another TV show that was at the time, being watched by only a handful of people.

        Of course, nobody expected a somewhat lesser known TV show to become the cultural phenomenon that it quickly turned into. Critical acclaim, awards, rapidly increasing audience, all started pouring in within a couple of seasons. It was being talked and written about more than any TV show in recent times. Its depiction of historical facts, period detailing, social issues – discussed and dissected, acclaimed and criticized incessantly. Mad Men had audience, critics, social analysts, historians and pop-culture enthusiasts hooked. And it did this without pandering to rose-tinted nostalgia. In fact, it peeled off the glamor of the 60’s, exposing all the ugliness underneath. It wasn’t the good ole times, after all. This was a time when segregation was still alive. A time when women either stayed in bad marriages or worked as secretaries where they were treated despicably, or both. And gay men better not even admit the truth about themselves to themselves.

        Season 6 has opened almost a decade later than when the series first started. And the season opener has been a little bit of a jolt. Even before we get into the story, even just visually speaking. No to put too fine a point on it, but wtf?!!! Who are these people? What’s with all the ugly facial hair? What happened to all the pretty clothes? Why is everything so…..tacky? Then you realize, we are standing on the brink of the 70’s, a decade that doesn’t have the best sartorial record. 70’s also signified a cultural revolution, the advent of the ‘free-spirit’ movement, when people broke out of the traditional shackles and fought for the rights of the individual to carve his own path. Which is all technically good, but also confirmed my life-long suspicion that the human spirit is probably a tacky, ugly, bright-colored thing with out-of-control hair.

        At least Don Draper would agree. The complex central character of the series, who often vacillates between being a decent human being and a barely contained sociopath, has spent a lifetime keeping his spirit, his identity, his real self hidden from the world. He has worked hard to not let people know who Don Draper is. It’s a miracle that this show did not leave majority of people feeling cold and alienated. We have always been told that people need to identify with important characters in a story and to root for them, in order to stay invested enough in them to keep watching. But Draper is a difficult man to identify with, let alone root for. Yes, he is handsome and brilliant, pretty much a genius at what he does. At the beginning of the series, he has an aura of mystery surrounding him and that’s what keeps us hooked. As the truth about his dark past is revealed little by little, we struggle with our feelings too, feeling sympathetic and revolted in equal measure. We don’t know what to think of Don Draper. Or Dick Whitman. The hugely successful ad executive with an office on Madison Avenue and a wife and two and half kids in the suburbs. The son of a prostitute with a dysfunctional childhood spent in a brothel, a depression era ex-soldier and a used car salesman. It’s hard to know which one is real. At the end of the day, he is an impostor, somebody who has spent most of his adult life being someone else, so much so that even he has difficulty knowing his own truth. So he lies and cheats, constantly. In order to achieve this, he has had to repress his feelings, which has also become second nature to him. You only realize to what extent, when he tells Peggy who is going through a terrible period of personal turmoil, “This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.” Don Draper has turned repression into an art form. A repression so deep-seated, the woman he is married to has no clue about his past, not to mention his constant infidelities, throughout their marriage. And in his dapper suits and fedoras, he makes repression look good, all retro chic.
        But despite his best efforts, there are times his real persona bleeds into his pretend life. A used car salesman, he lies his way into his job at the ad firm and sells false dreams and half-truths to gullible people with flair, resulting in his astronomical rise at Sterling Cooper. But we haven’t come to know Draper, or his alter ego Whitman, any better as the series has progressed. He has had moments of insight, and clarity, and regret; and you think something will stick. However, just as happens in real life, people have a hard time with real change of any kind. So we see him slipping into old habits time and again.

        On the other hand, the rest of the world is changing rapidly, making Don seem more and more like a relic from the past. When Don first made his secretary a copywriter, he didn’t do it to be a feminist rebel. He just saw potential and decided to take advantage of it. He also admitted to his discovery Peggy that he sees himself in her. And Peggy, the most obvious feminist icon on the show, has come a long way in the process of finding her own version of Draperesque success. The other major female character on the show, Don’s ex-wife Betty, has built a new home with a man who is the anti-Draper and is in the process of rediscovering herself through accepting the imperfections of her life. While Joan, the symbol of the 50’s working woman, trapped forever in the mistress and secretary roles, found herself in the position of using her body to climb up the ladder in the firm under some horrible circumstances last year and is trying to settle into her new position while she comes to terms with how she got there in the first place. For a man who uses and discards women with alarming frequency, Don’s life and choices have amazingly come to be defined and highlighted by the lives and stories of the women around him, as well his relationships with them. Take away his mentor-protege relationship with Peggy, his sensitivity and respect towards Joan and even his ability to have a decent co-parenting relationship with Betty, and the character of Don Draper won’t even be remotely likable any more. Unsurprisingly, the man who worked hard to bury the shameful secret of his birth, has a complicated relationship with women, constantly struggling with his madonna-whore complex. His sudden wedding to Megan highlighted his constant need to be nurtured by a woman.

        Unfortunately for Don, women are moving away from being just the nurturers of men, into becoming whole human beings on their own. The rapid transformation of the institution of marriage is one of the most noticeable things as the show progresses through time. Don’s own marriage, as well as that of Pete, Roger and others reflect the struggle of men and women to maintain, or break out of, traditional gender roles while attitudes and expectations change.
        Race is never discussed much on the show, but even sitting in their ivory tower, the folks at SCDP cannot stay untouched by the happenings in world outside. These events are more subtly included into the proceedings, in the form of reactions to one employee’s black girlfriend, or hilariously in one instance, when the agency’s effort to seem ‘inclusive’ in a game of one-upmanship with another agency, end up in Don getting a black secretary.

        The show has brought to life these fascinating characters, against the backdrop of tremendous social and political change. The Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of JFK, the death of Marilyn Monroe, all were used to reveal truths about these people that we have become invested in despite ourselves. So as we move towards the 70’s, I’ll be watching to see where they are headed. And to see how the chain smoking, hard drinking, harder womanizing creative genius of Don Draper will fit into all this. Unless they put him in bell bottoms. Then I may have to kill myself.

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        • SPOILER:

          Fine note Anu. I’m a bit wary of the direction this season is going in, especially coming off of what was my single favorite season in the series’ run. Only because I’m not sure I’m terribly interested in seeing Draper go through the whole Betty deal once again with Megan…it’s a disappointing story thread in the show for me, mainly because it’s in those moments when this otherwise brilliant series verges on becoming, as I once feared with the initial episodes, a really well-produced soap opera. The show does seem self-aware in this sense if one considers the way they’ve integrated Megan’s current acting gig into the show. It’s still early on, though…hopefully this latest affair has purpose beyond what we’ve seen before. The show certainly appears to be skewing more towards exploring the sociopath in Draper at this point. And in using the Whitman childhood flashback at the brothel there is the sense that Draper is a relic (as you suggest) who is clawing for a lost past even as the world around him hurtles towards dramatic changes. This compulsion may “explain” Draper’s actions in the bedroom and workplace more than anything else.

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        • this was a great read Anu. And though I have liked the show a lot so far I too share some of GF’s concerns. They are running the danger at this point of really making it much more about the personal stuff. And there’s nothing new to add on this score. However it is also true that the energy of the 60s ended in the malaise of the 70s (Vietnam et al). And so as we get closer to the end of the decade the contrast with where the show started out (the 1960 election) is a rather dramatic one. Don has clearly been moving into this winter stage of his life for a while. In a sense he’s always on such a path but through Season 5 and then so far in 6 that ‘slide’ seems constant and continual. Actually looking at how things have been progressing I’m surprised that they’ll do one more (final) season with this show. But again the impending breakup with Megan should mean something different. In this sense I was disappointed to see his latest affair because it seemed to be too much of a piece with his past encounters. If he is in a different place his relationships should reflect this too. Of course it must be said that all the male characters in this world, certainly the principal ones, come off in less than flattering ways. Nonetheless Don has have some very genuine moments throughout and my favorite one in this sense was the late Season 5 episode where Don wishes to stop Joan from doing that one night stand trade on that Jaguar deal. I think this is possibly the show’s single best episode anyway but it neatly reverses things. Because Joan ultimately takes the deal that she so resents initially and confirms the sexist stereotypes that all her male peers operate with while Don at this key moment doesn’t want it to happen. So perhaps Season 6 will throw up some surprises on this score. And of course Don’s trajectory continues to highlight the souring of the American Dream in one of its ‘heyday’ moments. For which reason one hopes the gloomy focus on the personal stuff doesn’t continue. Or is better integrated with other stuff the way it has been so far. Still can’t say I have any serious complaints yet. But I will be watching the latest episode tonight.

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          • The interactions of Don with Peggy, Joan, Betty & Megan are interesting indeed(to me) and have been presented in keeping with the changing mores –well analysed …

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          • i am hearing these complaints a lot, and i understand where people are coming from. but it’s also the case where you hear these at the beginning of every season now, mad men has a reputation for starting really sloooow and usually ending with a bang, so it kind of feels familiar.
            in contrast to gf, season 5 was my least favorite, at least as far as don’s story is concerned. but we knew the moment he proposed to megan, that he was trying to do over his disaster of a marriage with betty. so a whirlwind not-a-courtship followed by a proposal and we end up with walking around in a haze season 5 don. who was lame, not very involved with his job which has always been a big part of who he is and just not very interesting. the only interesting moments he had in season 5 were as satyam pointed out, the one with joan where he seemed more human than he ever has and the other one with peggy when she tells him she is leaving. in a season where he seemed stagnant and almost comatose, those 2 moments were worth it for me to sit through 13 episodes of his sitting on his ass. and it’s funny that people were complaining last season that he did not seem like the character we had been watching for 4 years prior to that. however, the other characters had some interesting things happened to the others, more importantly the women mentioned above. both joan and peggy moved into a new phase of life.
            i do think this marriage with megan was a bad idea, may be interesting as conceived but not executed that well. and has become a bit of a dead weight for the show. part of it is that megan’s character is not interesting and pare is a terrible actress. this combines to make her seem callow and superficial. she should be the woman on the show most young female audience should identify with but almost every other female character has more depth than her. so she is just a cipher that don wanted to make over his life with. but the shine having come off her after she begged him to get her that part last season, don finds himself not enamored any more.
            of course, the affair seems to be a retread, and it should come across as such. don has always been caught in a vicious ever-repeating cycle of self-destruction. but we are talking about someone who has a messed up relationship with women and sex, so i don’t see it as soapy. but i think this season don seems as tired of his cycle of infidelity as the audience. in the beginning, he was more cautious and compartmentalized. and he didn’t get much of a blow-back, except the end of a bad marriage, only to find a young hot new wife. there have been no real consequences. now he is getting off the elevator in the middle of a conversation with the husband to go up a floor and schtupp the wife. the man is a bundle of self-loathing and is begging to be caught. that shot with him at the end of last episode, sitting on the floor outside his apartment, too tired to go in, while “just a gigolo” plays in the background, was very telling. he wants “to stop doing this” but can’t and he is sick of it. i get a sinking feeling this is going to end in a much more horrendous fashion than any of his previous affairs. don has always been a tragic figure, there is also speculation he is the “falling man” in the credits. but in any case, he is headed at least for a figurative fall, there is no happy ending ahead for him. this has always been a bleak show, for all it’s humor and entertainment value. but we keep coming back for more.

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          • “of course, the affair seems to be a retread, and it should come across as such. don has always been caught in a vicious ever-repeating cycle of self-destruction.”

            No one watching Mad Men in season six needs this lesson! So my problem isn’t that this season is starting out “slow” but that it might be risking redundancy. Again, early on, so I’ll hold off judgement. But I also think it’s easy to underestimate season five precisely because Don comes across as very different. Which is not to say I agree with your estimation that his character is uninteresting in the past season (not at all actually – seeing him in a weakened, “neutered” professional state, especially compared to the upstart Ginsberg, was one of the real pleasures, and, more importantly, surprises of the season) and more than anything the “haze” you mention Don walking through is precisely the consequence you think the show doesn’t get to. I said this elsewhere on this thread regarding season five:

            “Everyone including Pete, Betty, Peggy, Joan seemed to be spending much of this season basically dealing with the dark side of the dreams they setup for themselves by the end of the fourth season. And this is why the entire season felt so unique in the history of the show because it wasn’t simply about advancing the narrative but about really allowing some of the events that were previously setup to unfurl and change course and show their shape. The whole season really felt more like a meditation of sorts, which might be why we had those scenes with the Hare Krishnas and the LSD trips and what not!”

            Do agree that this season does seem to have a very pronounced sense of foreboding. Couldn’t help but think that the phrase that follows the part of the marriage liturgy constituting the title of Megan’s soap (“To Have and to Hold”) is of course “Till Death Do Us Part”.

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          • Thanx for this really interesting discussion.
            Mad Men is basically an immersive experience and not meant for casual viewing. Have been doing the latter a lot and hence haven’t watched it regularly-infact only in bits n bobs!
            Telly that demands complete attention and that too for episode after episode is difficult for a multitasking enthusiast!
            However its never been difficult to understand its pull, it’s appeal.
            Today I would even say that it has a lot of snob-appeal. In many circles, u find people discussing about it though haven’t watched it-obviously dont mean folks here by that!
            I left it bcos of the sheer demands on time n attention and involvement it demands –& above all it’s addictive potential
            I try to steer away from all things addictive beyond a point.
            The essence of mad men isn’t the history, dress, customs, social norms which keep changing imperceptibility and subtly.
            Finally–
            It’s the mystery, the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of personality
            It’s an entire series on personality.
            The ‘high points’ are moments of silence …

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          • At the heart of mad men lies the brilliance of Hamm & even the pacing of the director Weinberg or whatever the name is.
            The ability to create and depict such a complexity laden character and pulling the viewer along inspite of the contradictions is an achievement.
            Due to the ‘intense’ nature of the material, I haven’t followed them in entirety and unlikely to do so in the sixth season either.
            The minutiae it captures in human behaviour is the key to its niche appeal.
            Whenever I see mad men ( in bits n bobs) all else fades away except Jon Hamm …as don

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          • I’ve seen the entire show (first 5 seasons) twice! LOL!

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          • Twice already Satyam…another Joan Holloway fan 😉 🙂

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        • GF, I know you were talking about the redundancy factor, I agree it’s a little early to decide. I just think this particular affair may be heading for a specific kind of disaster rather than just ending like the others, we’ll see.
          The idea of Don be passive was a good one and ultimately important because it brought about the most important events in season 5. Joan deciding to accept the Jag guy offer which came about because Don left the room, leaving Pete in control. By the time he decided to let Joan know what he thought, it was too late. His passivity also led to an unhappy Peggy leaving and he didn’t ‘get it’ until the last minute even as she made her speech, it was again too late. And most importantly, his refusal to do anything for Lane led to his suicide. But outside of these events, watching a whole season of him walking around was just not interesting for me, it was kind of a drag.
          I really think they should have let him continue the downward spiral he was going into after the divorce, rather than have him latch onto Megan and us having to watch another one of his marriages go downhill.

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  43. Wow that’s a brilliant critique of the mind of don draper-many thanx
    Worth a read
    “And to see how the chain smoking, hard drinking, harder womanizing creative genius of Don Draper will fit into all this”— now I’m in as well 😉

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  44. masterpraz Says:

    Fantastic reading into one (if not THE) most interesting series of our times…

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  45. Liked the 4th episode a lot. Might be the best one (of the season) so far.

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  46. ^ ok thanx for that somewhat tempting brief …
    got the season 6 episodes on my ipad–may check stuff along..
    But what i ;pve about draper (hamm)
    after a long gap, the series returns -in betweeen hamm stares, smiles, smirks….& it takes him 10 mins to utter a word!
    ummm megan & oh well, joan….

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  47. at the insistence of folks here, did skim thru th first two episodes of season 6 (along with having noodles and doing some paperwork)
    Well,
    i LOVE hamm
    and am finding megan a distraction
    as for joan -christina hendricks..hmm
    may catch another episode tonite …any1 tuned in

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  48. aaah haha
    well, the role of hamm and his ass-hollery–love it (infact identify with it somewhat partly, to tell u the truth!)
    the show is all bout hamm for me–thats what i meant
    infact im getting tempted to do a spoof on it
    first telly show to be spoofed here
    obviously i play hamm…
    will have to see the episodes bit more tfor the rest of the casting.
    ps-maybe seeinf ‘to have ot to hold’ shortly?seen it?
    cant see whole of the prevuious episodes-=have to jump n skim due to time n attention issues

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  49. caught bits of ep 4–perhaps the best ep this season !
    well hope hamm is not slowly entering my psyche—am slowly preparing for true ‘method acting’ for the spoof 🙂
    Its a much older role for me–but think i can manage..
    btw the scene where don sees megan kissing on stage is quite good
    Felt sorry for her–how bad she cant even enjoy being kissed on stage as ‘part of her job’–such ‘hypocrisy’ by Don!!
    man, even joan…!!
    ps–think this may blow into a separate ‘new mad men’ thread…

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  50. Not a fan of Terri Gross but this is a valuable, lengthy interview with Matthew Weiner:

    http://www.npr.org/2013/04/25/178832854/matthew-weiner-on-mad-men-and-meaning

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    • thanks, will check it out later, always find Weiner illuminating.

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      • Here he talks about, (among other things) the influence of Hitchcock on the show. I have to admit that when I saw this I had a smile on my face because one of the primary pleasures I get from the show (and I’m sure this is true for many people) is in fact how evocative of Hitchcock’s “surfaces” it is in very many ways. This is also cool for the David Simon bit in it.

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  51. as much as i resist the ghost of don draper keeps entering me…
    btw the scene with megan in ep 4 was awesome.
    What is happiness but the moment before you need more happiness?
    To keep the balance, I need to do song spoofs like ‘dilliwaali girlfriend”
    cmon amy 🙂

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  52. got another episode on my ipad –hope to skim thru later this evening–‘the flood’..

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  53. Thought I could wait calm and watch this series after its complete telecast but fortunately or not, went astray to find this. Just read the little dissections in the comments and succumbed to the latest. MM is like one long movie and one could watch 5 to 6 hrs of runtime at one go without a glitch and it is completely justified.
    Have to read this main post though…sooon…

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  54. “went astray”-dont worry u r not alone…
    Tell u what-i had a similar situation..but I try to watch intermittent random episodes than one complete block.. Done till ep 5 in bits n bobs –been good (till now)–ep 1 & 4 were good.

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    • Yeah can’t say I agree with the grouse but this was a good read , especially because it’s as if the writer works her way through her central complaint by the end of the piece, and lands on this nugget towards the end:

      “That’s the part of “Mad Men” eager to explore new ideas about human personality. Then, there’s the other part, which, two episodes ago, seemed like an attempt to reignite that old fantasy Don Draper, the one the audience fell for, early on.”

      That first part is what the latter half of the series, (so far) seems more interested in. The last four episodes have been exceptional to my mind. Not that I thought the beginning of the season was as bad as some of the week-by-week commiserations have suggested, but these last several have been really great about presenting both of the “parts” outlined in that excerpt. And leaving this aside, the show’s centre is still, as always, Draper, but by now it’s gotten to be about a lot more. Or, if it has strayed from Draper’s side, it hasn’t strayed far from his inner life, even if this is felt only in echoes within scenes involving other characters.

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      • “And leaving this aside, the show’s centre is still, as always, Draper, but by now it’s gotten to be about a lot more. Or, if it has strayed from Draper’s side, it hasn’t strayed far from his inner life, even if this is felt only in echoes within scenes involving other characters.”

        agree with this. I think that to the extent the Don Draper of early seasons was a character much more at the peak of his career his charisma seemed all-conquering. But there were always demons he kept at bay and which now often seem to get the better of him (though I don’t mean this negatively). A lot of critics succumbed to this charisma and have a somewhat sunnier view of even those early seasons. Yes there was a certain energy to them, a certain engagement with ‘process’ which made the show hugely entertaining and so on but those other elements were always there and it always was apparent as the season progressed that there would be such a ‘turn’. So the ‘inner’ Don Draper was as far as I’m concerned always a promise of the show much as the ‘falling man’ is always announced in the credits.

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        • “Draper of early seasons was a character much more at the peak of his career his charisma seemed all-conquering.”

          True. In a sense Mad Men is really “about” stripping the varnish, erasing the sheen from the American dream or the very specific set of American dreams that Draper represents in the most superficial ways. Draper is so effective at his job because he seems, in the beginning, to have stepped out of the very dreams he regularly helps to sell. An authentic emissary of the American ideal. In these later seasons, we see him as a perennially fallible, broken icon, lost and battered by changing political times. And we’re seeing not only the collapse of the man but by way of this collapse, a corrosion of the dreams he helped to shape. In the credits we see a falling man but we also see a cityscape composed of his dreams. A world he helped to create and that will, in all probability, cease to exist when he does.

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  55. Thanx for that update Satyam –haven’t been able to catch up with the last few episodes….just slipped my mind-will aim 2catch up.
    Btw ‘mad men’ reminds me–hope ‘mad men’ co-fan anu( who reminded me of this season) is fine…he/she’s just totally disappeared after some folks’ intimidatory comments to him/her….
    C’mon anu–.don’t get scared so easily…u r surely tougher than that.

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  56. One notable feature of this season (Season 6) has been the “drone” of politics playing in the background, to a far more appreciable degree than in other seasons (earlier, we saw that when events happened — e.g. the assassination of JFK — but this season there is a general sense of the bitterness of politics seeping into people’s homes. And all via the television, the very thing that, in the recent episode (“A Tale of Two Cities”) Joan and Peggy tell Avon’s Andy enables companies to forge a relationship with viewers and get invited into their homes). And by now — i.e. the now of 1968 — no part of the American dream is unsullied: thus, in earlier seasons, Draper’s visits out West served to remind us of the American Dream’s promise of re-invention (his “wife” lived there), but now the “two cities” are seeping into each other, and are both rancid (weed doesn’t bring comfort to anyone in this episode, whether Pete or the NY crew; or at the Hollywood party). Of course, even in earlier seasons “going West” did suggest death in some sense (Dick’s wife is terminally ill in California, she isn’t just enjoying the sunshine), as it has in so many mythologies, but Season Six has stripped death of transcendence: my favorite moment is when Draper asks the soldier why, if he’s dead, he doesn’t have his arm back. The response? “Dying doesn’t make you whole.” In a way that’s the key to Draper’s quiet, slow desperation this season: no plunge from a building, no dramatic moment, is going to rescue him now (i.e. the orientation towards death this season is about the futility of thinking of that as an escape route — from what? to what?). This slow death of “the dramatic” is mirrored in Draper’s professional life, where he is increasingly portrayed in figurehead/CEO-ish situations, rather than in client pitches where he can be reliably counted upon to turn the tide with some messianic moment; his powers are fading, the business trips aren’t necessarily rescued by his presence, and the future belongs to fixers and bureaucrats like Crane…

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    • ” In a way that’s the key to Draper’s quiet, slow desperation this season: no plunge from a building, no dramatic moment, is going to rescue him now (i.e. the orientation towards death this season is about the futility of thinking of that as an escape route — from what? to what?).”

      Totally on the money, as is the rest of your comment. This bit made me recallI the moment from the first episode when Draper is dragged home after having one too many at Roger’s mom’s funeral and he asks the doorman, almost with a smile on this face, what the man saw when he was felled by that heart attack.

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    • And in terms of the pronounced political overtones this season, I personally loved Michael Ginsberg’s scenes in this recent episode. There’s a Pacinoesque quality (by way of Lumet) to his righteous indignation.

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  57. The WGA picks its 101 greatest TV shows of all time:

    http://www.wga.org/content/default.aspx?id=4925

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  58. Despite the somewhat soapy ending I liked the last episode a lot. Getting the kid out of Vietnam certainly felt like Draper revisiting his own escape in Korea, and it’s interesting that this gesture is also connected to a secret shame. Continue to think this is a terrific season and it’s too bad there’s only two episodes left.

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  59. Quite a season ender. For an unfairly maligned season (at least from a lot of reporting sources I’ve encountered) I found this to be as effective a close as one could have expected for a season that really has been about Draper’s stagnancy, his complete decay (to borrow a reviewer’s word) in just about every (personal, professional, parental) sense. I found it completely satisfying precisely because of the lingering sense of unease it leaves the viewer with, especially because so many of the story-lines are left in the lurch. Beyond everything else this was a major breakthrough for Draper, easily the single most “moving” moment in the show’s history since the passing of the real Draper’s wife. Really, it’s as if throughout this season we began to see major cracks appear in the Draper shell, and in this final episode we get a glimpse of Whitman emerging from behind those fissures.

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    • I am watching season 5 on Netflix right now and am not terribly impressed. I think it is not as superior or as good as previous seasons. And you let the spoiler(s) out 😦
      Is it betty? Poor January Jones.

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    • Re: “I found it completely satisfying precisely because of the lingering sense of unease it leaves the viewer with, especially because so many of the story-lines are left in the lurch.”

      Yes — that look Don gives Sally at the end, offers a tantalizing glimpse of just how much manipulation and cynicism might be mixed in with Don’s decision to take his kids to that part of Pennsylvania. [Aside: the African-American boy on the porch offers a wry coda to the burglar’s insistence, several episodes ago, that she is the children’s grand-mother…]

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      • That’s funny, I hadn’t connected those dots. But it is telling that Draper returns to his childhood home and sees a kind of analogue to his experience waiting there. Quite heartbreaking, and I didn’t really read Don’s motives there as even remotely manipulative. It really read as emotionally honest. Though the most honest moment was of course at the Hershey meeting.

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      • Ever since D dropped off from the agency’s name it became so apparent, Draper’s imminent exit. (Those visual cues at the logos from Draper’s pov , the mug he pours his drink into. Never seen him do that before. Don’s liquor tray always has glasses ready, waiting for him). Just that I expected it to be on Draper’s terms as more often than not it is. The approach was a quite a shocker but thinking of it later, it seems fitting. Draper deserved it in a way. But then, also looks like Weiner wanting to give Draper a second chance at life, a resurrection. This final episode was revelatory in many ways.
        Draper standing in front of that dilapidated house, hand in hand with his kids, thought that for the first time he was comfortable about his past, was able to face it and let his children into his life. His smile at Sally, was just this I felt.

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        • The thing with Draper is, he’s always had this air of at once being very comfortable with his success (he is a confident and powerful man used to getting his own way), and of having the sneaking suspicion that everything is built on quicksand, that he almost deserves to fail, that he is a sham. His drive and ambition mean he won’t settle for rock bottom, but he is most himself when he hits rock bottom.

          On the smile to Sally: I agree with Arthi and GF, but I don’t think there are pure motives (in life, or in Mad Men), and there was something colder there for me in addition to the genuineness (Sally tells him after the burglary that she doesn’t really know anything about him, and he is remedying that to an extent) — Draper seemed to me to be telling Sally, don’t you dare judge me and try and sum up my life just based on what you saw; and also, he knows her well enough to know the sight of the dilapidated house will rattle her (note that he looks at her, not at the other children). This season has showcased a fair amount of “degradation” on the part of Don, and this lack of dignity comes out here as well, although it doesn’t undermine the genuineness of the moment.

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          • Agree on the pure motives bit. Certainly there was a sense that he was trying to explain himself or contextualize his “self” here which can come across as somewhat underhanded.

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          • Ah well, the sentiment does get the better of one at times and a fixed look becomes a smile. Oops. Had a re-look at this scene. But still, the motive here stands in favourable light. It not being pure is not him wanting to get back at Sally. She isn’t going to suddenly get close and forgiving just as her broken, teary ‘ok’ to his justification before did nothing to assuage Draper’s discomfort.

            Like

    • “Needless to say, the Hershey’s execs escaped the room as fast as possible. But to see how the real Hershey’s feels about being cast in a watershed moment in Matthew Weiner’s AMC drama—the first time that Don Draper was truthful about his untraditional upbringing in a professional setting—we reached out to the company this morning.

      Anna Lingeris, senior manager of brand P.R. and consumer engagement at the Hershey Company, revealed that the candy-maker had no idea that it would play such a central role in the season finale, even though AMC and Mad Men had expressed interest in the brand. “Oftentimes, companies will call and ask us to donate product across the board for potential inclusion,” Lingeris explained. “So that was the extent of the knowledge. We had donated product, but we had no idea about its inclusion in the show or the season finale.”

      Overall, she said, “the company was thrilled and incredibly flattered to be part of such a popular television show.”

      When we asked if there had been any worries about Don Draper’s associating the Hershey bar with memories of growing up in a brothel, Lingeris said that although the clip “is the buzz around the office today,” the connection “has not been brought up as a concern. Obviously we know that this is a fictitious television show set in the 1960s.” Pointing out other information about the brand mentioned on the episode, she added, “It was such a wonderful, organic moment that was actually very accurate about the company’s history, and it was able to tell the story of our brand and our founder, which made it so memorable.”

      She added that Hershey’s plans to use the episode “to educate our internal workforce to show that [the] power of this iconic brand that we get to live with and work with every day.” And in the meantime, the company will celebrate its mention by issuing “some large product donations of thanks for such a wonderful moment on the show.”

      Asked whether it would be safe to assume that Matthew Weiner will be receiving a supersize Hershey’s gift basket, she laughed and said that staffers have already acquired his address and are “hoping to get it shipped in the next 48 hours.” The package will most likely contain one of the company’s five-pound Hershey bars—“everyone loves getting those as gifts”—and a variety of other Hershey’s products. Lingeris added that they will likely also ship gift packages to AMC and the actors associated with the scene. So Jon Hamm, start making room in your kitchen cabinets accordingly.

      Like

      • Ha!

        By the way, Di, if you’re worried about spoilers avoid this kind of stuff! And to be clear if you’ve seen up to season five my comment above contains no spoilers. When I mentioned the real Draper’s wife I was talking about the woman in California, Anna.

        Like

  60. My interest in this season was piqued by someone here. Interestingly, when that person left, so did my interest in mad men.
    Besides, to me, the show was nothing but don draper…(Jon Hamms persona was the ONLY thing that I found interesting)
    Everything else was peripheral (& inconsequential for me)

    Like

  61. Oh so, the seasons over–don’t wanna read on due to spoilers..
    But lemme formally acknowledge Jon Hamm here–who perfolated this series rendering everything else (including the ladies) inconsequential

    I can see the point of all these dissections bit personally fnd all these lengthy dissections on the ‘plot’ and ‘supporting cast’ a bit meaningless

    The appeal of mad men started and ended with Jon Hamm(draper)

    Don draper was not a hero
    He wasn’t a villain
    The interesting thing is
    Don draper wasn’t even Don Draper….

    Like

    • “I can see the point of all these dissections bit personally fnd all these lengthy dissections on the ‘plot’ and ‘supporting cast’ a bit meaningless”

      I take the same approach with your commentary. Hard to avoid them, but quite forgettable.

      Like

  62. Haha
    “Hard to avoid them”– not so hard, believe me…
    Or is there something ‘magnetic’ bout my words?(don’t think so..)
    Or is your ‘gaze’ not in your own control…
    Or are u being ‘hypnotised’ …
    Even nonsense has hypnotic powers…
    Anyhow–will stop there
    Have to use my ‘hypnotic powers’ on someone else (more attractoe than u ) — 🙂

    Like

    • No as I’ve already said, you pretty much bombard the site. So not exactly easy to avoid every single comment you make, especially when they’re clearly directed at the commenters on a specific post and I’m among them. I’m not least bothered by any of this, just amused that you take the trouble to run everything I take part in into the ground in your passive aggressive way.

      Like

      • “..run everything I take part in into..”
        Someone here did that to me as well…just way more vicious than lexy could ever be. Anyhow, we all have a choice to come here or not.

        Like

        • As I said this isn’t really bothersome, kind of amusing. But if a comment is clearly directed at me, even if it’s weakly veiled , I’m fine with responding to it directly and with the respect (or lack of respect) it deserves. And the choice isn’t simply of coming to the forum or not, it then becomes a choice of whom we decide to engage with, and if “lexy” decides he wants to label every fruitful discussion here as pointless dissection, I’m going to respond in kind.

          Like

          • You should watch “42” movie. There is a scene bet. Harrison Ford (forget the name of the character he plays) and Jackie Robinson. Ford’s character tells Jackie Robinson that he/Jackie will have to have balls to NOT respond (my parapharasing) to all the negative stuff. So true in real life as well. We need to have more courage to ignore stuff for it is easier to get distracted and waste time in/with negative people or negativity and not progress in life or lose sight of our goals that we set out to achieve in life.
            P.S. I am not aware of histories bet. people here as I am not all that frequent or if I am frequent I do not have so much time to go into details of discussions. Most of the time it is curious eyeballing of various threads for few minutes as pleasant distraction from stressful work.
            P.S1: I think Alex is quite harmless though most of his ‘cupid’ arrows falls quite wastefully on intelligent women here who mostly ignore him 🙂

            Like

          • Thankfully though I’m not dealing with the same trials as Jackie Robinson (!) and to be honest, I don’t take this kind of stuff seriously in the least. I’ve been on the internet long enough to know that there’s no forum on earth without its share of trolls. All this said, you’re right. It certainly doesn’t help Satyamshot to have truly pointless interactions like these. I’m happier discussing Mad Men!

            Like

          • So you did watch 42!

            Like

          • No, didn’t see it. Do want to though.

            Like

          • “and if “lexy” decides he wants to label every fruitful discussion here as pointless dissection, I’m going to respond in kind.”
            Oh Im trrrremmbbling 🙂
            And while doing so getting an upskirt view of gf’s satin and lace !!
            Ps: I repeat-I personally find the microdissect ions pointless
            Ps2: perhaps gorillas friend (!!) doesn’t know the meaning of ‘in my opinion’ & ‘ my personal view’ that I prefixed
            Or perhaps s/he is ‘hypnotised’
            –anyhow will leave gf to take care of her… ahem …

            Like

  63. Haha guilty as charged (except that I’m ‘running u into the ground’)… &—as for the rest—as Satyam says here—
    https://satyamshot.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/masala-mad-men/#comment-221188
    Ps: gf stop behaving like a girl whose skirt is blowing over in strong wind–take it easy (& let us all take in the view) 🙂

    Like

  64. June 24, 2013
    Tortured Souls, Terrific Television
    By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
    DIFFICULT MEN
    Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘The Wire’ to ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad’
    By Brett Martin
    Illustrated. 303 pages. The Penguin Press. $27.95.
    The mob boss Tony Soprano — played by the great James Gandolfini, who died last week of a heart attack — was one of the most memorable fictional characters to emerge in the past several decades. He was also a prototype for a wave of provocative antiheroes who, as Brett Martin’s new book points out, would place cable television at the vanguard of a creative revolution, one that would make open-ended serialized drama “the signature American art form of the first decade of the 21st century.” The secretive and lonely Don Draper in “Mad Men,” the murderous Al Swearengen in “Deadwood” and the wily Walter White in “Breaking Bad”: these “difficult men,” as Mr. Martin calls them, are all Tony’s psychological relatives — “unhappy, morally compromised, complicated, deeply human” characters who stir both our sympathy and our revulsion, a sense of identification and an implied complicity in their darkest deeds.

    Conventional wisdom, Mr. Martin writes, “had once insisted Americans would never allow” such antiheroes into their living rooms — they belonged on the big screen, in the communal dark of a movie theater. But that all began to change with tectonic shifts in the media landscape around the turn of the millennium. The proliferation of cable channels meant that highly complex shows that earned critical acclaim and small but avid followings could survive and thrive. At the same time, new delivery systems (DVDs, DVRs, online streaming, on-demand services, big-screen TVs) began to change the way we watched television: we could binge on multiple episodes, even whole seasons, at a time. TV directors, no longer constrained by shooting for a small, grainy screen, could try more innovative, cinematic techniques.

    Such observations are hardly new in an age when TV shows are minutely dissected online and in real time. Large swaths of Mr. Martin’s new book, “Difficult Men,” will be familiar to readers of Alan Sepinwall’s popular blog, What’s Alan Watching?, and his astute 2012 book, “The Revolution Was Televised.” Like Mr. Sepinwall, Mr. Martin looks back at pioneering early shows like “NYPD Blue” and “Homicide: Life on the Street,” which helped rewrite the rules of network TV. Like Mr. Sepinwall, he fleshes out his analysis of shows like “The Sopranos,” “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” with interviews. He talks with writers, directors and producers to chronicle the sometimes rocky roads these series traveled to the small screen and the crucial role that casting and luck could play in their success.

    Because he’s chosen to focus on shows about difficult men, Mr. Martin unfortunately leaves out the award-winning series “Homeland.” He also skims over the influence of the gritty prison drama “Oz” and bypasses powerful network series like “Friday Night Lights.” Such omissions can sometimes make this volume feel like a theory-driven college thesis filled with cherry-picked examples, and Mr. Martin occasionally slips into silly glib formulations: he calls David Chase (“The Sopranos”), Alan Ball (“Six Feet Under”) and David Simon (“The Wire”) the TV revolution’s “Moses, its Mensch, and its Mencken,” while hailing this golden age’s “third David,” David Milch (“Deadwood”), as “its Magus.”

    Despite such lapses, Mr. Martin, a correspondent for GQ, provides vivid glimpses of these show runners at work, and the high-stress writers’ rooms they presided over. He also deftly situates their shows within a larger cultural context. He explicates the novelistic qualities of a series like “The Wire” and discusses how that show’s “Balzacian ambition to catalog every corner of its world” (that is Baltimore) stands in sharp contrast to the more inward, psychological approach taken by “The Sopranos.” He argues that “The Sopranos” yoked together postwar literature’s “horror of the suburbs” (novels like “Revolutionary Road” and “Rabbit, Run”) with what he regards as baby boomers’ ambivalence toward American capitalism (embodied, he suggests, in their fascination and repulsion with the mob, and their suspicion that “the American dream might at its core be a criminal enterprise”).

    As Mr. Martin sees it, American pop culture’s favorite genres — the gangster drama, the western, the detective story, the superhero epic (whose protagonist has a double identity) — are actually “literalizations” of an internal male conflict, a struggle between men’s desire to set loose “their wildest natures” and their intermittent efforts to tame those same impulses. This struggle, he says, is summed up in the Nick Lowe song “The Beast in Me” — which played over the closing credits of “The Sopranos” pilot, and which could well be “the theme song” for many of the important series in this new golden age in TV.

    The heroes (or antiheroes) of these shows, Mr. Martin observes, do not follow the traditional arc of moral change and redemption. Instead, “recidivism and failure stalked these shows.” Tony Soprano “searches for something to fill the gnawing void he feels; he fails to find it.” Jimmy McNulty of “The Wire” “swears off the twin compulsions of booze and police work; he goes back to both, while the rest of ‘The Wire’s’ most zealous reformers find themselves corrupted.” As for Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” that show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, has said that the idea was to trace the transformation of a “Mr. Chips into Scarface.”

    These shows delved into their heroes’ conflicted psyches and their strained relationships with family and colleagues, and they opened big new windows on the state of millennial America. Tony Soprano’s worry that he “came in at the end,” that the best was over for his profession, echoed viewers’ worries about American decline and their own uncertain prospects, even as Walter White’s metamorphosis from high school science teacher to killer meth dealer raised questions, in Mr. Martin’s words, about “the American ethos of self-actualization” and the dark side of success.

    “The Wire” looked at the infighting and rot within a big American city, while the Los Angeles police drama “The Shield” (which had its debut six months after Sept. 11) became an examination of the costs of maintaining security and the equation between means and ends; with the fourth season of “The Shield,” one of its writers observed, “we were very aware that we were writing about Bush’s invasion of Iraq.”

    Looking back at the last decade and a half, Mr. Martin argues, it’s clear that the serialized drama has matured into a distinct art form all its own, “the equivalent of what the films of Scorsese, Altman, Coppola, and others had been to the 1970s or the novels of Updike, Roth, and Mailer had been to the 1960s.” Television had become “the dominant art form of the era.”

    Like

  65. Busy with some stuff so haven’t yet been able to see the season finale. Will catch up with some of the recent Mad Men discussions later.

    Like

  66. “Busy with some stuff “– same here Satyam –though the ‘stuff’ may differ…
    Too tired to give gf the attention he is clamouring for ….
    Besides I have some ‘favourites’ who i give attention and unfortunately s/he is not one of them Ha

    Like

  67. Ok guys I’ve not been much on the blog these past few days for certain reasons but I have noticed these ‘back and forth’ sessions from time to time. Again couldn’t read the stuff but let me make it as clear as I possibly can with respect to GF (though he of course doesn’t need any ‘support’ from anyone). GF is one of those folks here where if he is in any such ‘exchange’ with anyone I shall automatically assume it’s the other person’s fault unless proven otherwise beyond a shadow of a doubt! Specially when there are known ‘needlers’ on the other side. And I’ll chime in with GF that such exchanges don’t help the blog. I haven’t needed to delete or edit much for a long time. Let’s keep it that way. I understand the mice will play when the cat’s away but hey the cat will be back sooner or later. So the mice should watch out!

    Like

  68. ” I understand the mice will play when the cat’s away but hey the cat will be back sooner or later. So the mice should watch out!”
    Haha the ‘mice’ maybe ‘tomcat’
    Btw who are these ‘ known needlers’ u r talking bout–Im innocently unaware of those 🙂
    Ps: just watched bits of a telly show called ‘dates’–reasonable fun…try it out someday folks

    Like

  69. September 17, 2013
    ‘Mad Men’ to Split Final Season Into Two Parts
    By BILL CARTER
    AMC is having a hard time separating from its hit series. On Tuesday the network announced that instead of a final season of “Mad Men,” as was planned for next spring, the much-acclaimed series will divide in two, pushing off the finale for another year.

    A day earlier, the network announced it would spin off a new series from its hit zombie show “The Walking Dead” and last week it made a deal to spin off a show from “Breaking Bad.”

    In the case of “Mad Men,” AMC is following the strategy it took with “Breaking Bad” in dividing up a planned final season into two installments, and it will be waiting a full year between seven-episode arcs. That means the final season is really two entirely separate ones, at least in terms of scheduling.

    The first seven shows will be shown next spring under the title “The Beginning.” The second group will be shown in 2015 and will be called “The End of an Era.”’ Variety reported that the writing staff for the final season will include the Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Towne, who will be designated a consulting producer.

    The show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, will shoot all the episodes in one production cycle, so in effect, AMC will simply be storing away the last seven episodes for a year.

    The decision seems to underscore AMC’s concern about losing its two original blockbuster dramas within a year of each other. The network shattered almost every television precedent by developing and showing two prominent and highly successful television dramas over the same time span. “Breaking Bad” is ending in two weeks in a flurry of rapturous praise. “Mad Men” was scheduled to conclude next spring.

    That would have left AMC with only “The Walking Dead” as a breakout hit. Its other current dramas, “Hell on Wheels” and this year’s “Low Winter Sun,” have not remotely approached the level of success that “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men” did. AMC canceled “The Killing” (for a second time) earlier this month.

    So the network will now get two more chances, instead of one, to try to introduce new shows using “Mad Men” as a springboard. But in doing so, it will ask more patience from the show’s fans. The one benefit is the addition of one episode beyond what had been originally planned.

    In a statement, Mr. Weiner said, “We plan to take advantage of this chance to have a more elaborate story told in two parts, which can resonate a little bit longer in the minds of our audience.”

    Like

      • It really is, and it’s also disingenuous in this case because Mad Men is not the type of show Breaking Bad is where the cliffhangers and such build a sustained level of suspense and adds to the aura of the event in a singular way.

        Think the ratings of the final eight of Breaking Bad has as much to do with how masterfully, unrelentingly thrilling they’ve been (every single episode has been an absolute nail-biter) and unless Don Draper joins the Gambino crime family, there’s no need for this kind of staggered season on Mad Men.

        But yeah mostly I’m just venting because I don’t like waiting!

        Like

    • It pissed me off even in the case of Breaking Bad — I only recently started watching the show, and got the first five seasons on a recent trip to New York; but now have to wait for “Season 5, Part 2” — and my worry is that at that time only a (more expensive) version with all of Season 5 will be offered, rather than the split season…

      Like

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