Saturday, September 18, 2004

polish-sausage dept.

Hmmm....I saw this awesome Polish film recently (one of the lesser known films of the famous communist-era director Kitti Fektowski) which begs to be remade with an Indian locale. I only vaguely remember details of the plot, but here's a brief summary:

A poor farmer is beset with problems -- his crops fail for two successive years, and he finds himself neck-deep in debt with the local money-lenders. In the midst of all this turmoil (he is beaten up by goons hired by the loan sharks, and the threat of losing his fields is very real), his son picks up a stray dog and brings it home.

The poor man doesn't need another mouth to feed, and ignores the poor mongrel until, as is the way with most of our childhood infatuations, his boy loses interest in this new-found plaything.

One drunken night, when he is alone under a lustrous full moon casting a clear ethereal light on his dying fields (captured brilliantly by the cinematographer using some sort of diffusing filter), and on the verge of a grisly suicide by guzzling down a vat of pesticide, the farmer notices the dog (now out of canine adolescence and entering adulthood) beside him. There is a look of sneering contempt on the dog's face (I don't know how they managed to capture that).

The recalcitrant farmer stands down, and possibly to make amends, makes the dog his 'pet' project . He takes him everywhere he goes, and where the dog goes, he follows. His family is distressed, horrified at his blatant neglect of his fields.

Then one day, the man has an epiphany that changes him forever. On a plain, arid piece of god-forsaken land, he and his dog are confronted by a pack of voracious wild dogs. The farmer's dog brilliantly counterattacks and sends them 'pack'ing. This scene was particularly hair raising -- looked as if they used a bunch of steadycams, whirling around at canine perpective level. The fight was brilliantly choreographed (some shades of John Woo there?).

Anyway, the farmer sees the error of his ways -- sees that history is forged by those who take, not by meek submissive fools (like the one he has been). The scene fades out with a long-shot of him hysterically laughing and rolling about on the ground while the dog watches on with a perplexed look (although there is perhaps a hint of a knowing wink in that look.)

Then the predictable climax follows -- the farmer hatches diabolically cunning, fiendish schemes to pick off his enemies one by one, until he is left the undisputed master of his fields, and more. The film ends with the man reconciled with his family (his wife, full of disdain and a distant coldness before, now warms up to him after he rapes her in a pig-sty in a particularly steamy scene.). The final scene has him glaring down at the expanse of his dominion, with a monster harvest in the offing, watching his dog tearing down like the wind through the waving stalks of wheat (or barley or maize or what-have-you). I laughed and cried and basically had a ball watching it. Forget the name of the flick though. Maybe imdb has some stuff on it...

Friday, September 17, 2004

classy-at-the-theatre dept.
I managed to watch three films during the just concluded Asian Film Festival, right across the street from my house. The Chinese film Postmen in the Mountains left an indelible impression on my mind, not so the other movies, with the possible exception of one other film, newcomer Samyak Sandipani's My friend Saleem.

The film documents the friendship between two undergraduate engineering students who come together in one of Maharashtra's private engineering colleges. This is a pathbreaking film (maybe I use that qualification too freely) possibly the first to take a candid, realistic look at higher education and student life in our colleges.

Rahul is from the countryside from a typical small-town middle class family (the kind that budgets for buying soap). Akhilesh is the son of NRI parents living somewhere in the Middle East or in Souteast Asia. By a strange quirk of fate, these disparate creatures are thrown together in the same dorm room, and the film builds its narrative from there.

A montage of small, poignant sequences during the titles introduces us to both of these characters as they embark on their journey to the college. Once there, predictably enough, the film follows the inevitable clash of cultures between the determined, bookish and overly pragmatic Rahul and the free-spirited, sensitive, na‹ive Akhilesh as they both come to grips with new surroundings.

After this, the film splits into two narrative threads that are occasionally intertwined and then unify into a single logical whole as the film climaxes.
Akhilesh falls for a girl quite obviously not meant for him, and gets his heart broken, trying to compete with his 'localite' competitor.

This is a brave attempt to analyse adolescent social groupings in modern India. A spate of 80's American 'high-school' movies (The Breakfast Club, Breaking Away, or the more recent Mean Girls) have superficially dealt with this issue, but Sandipani opts for a more profound look at the underlying socio-economic and cultural factors that decide how young people of today factor in peer pressure and media images into their decision making. He seems to make the interesting hypothesis, for instance, that economic awareness greatly affect individual maturity. In a male-dominated culture like India, women very rarely are allowed to fend for themselves, and this causes their world view to become skewed -- they see the world only through the eyes of men around them. Akhilesh's experiences somehow seem to reinforce this hypothesis, and he finds himself unable to surmount the social barriers erected against him (through innuendo, deceit and misrepresentation) by his competitors.

A much more fascinating and profound narrative thread, however, revolves around the serious, academically inclined Rahul. He ends up being cruelly manipulated by one of his professors who publishes some of Rahul's work as his own. Shaken and disillusioned by what he considers to be a betrayal of the scientific spirit, more than anything else, he quickly descends into a vortex of ruthlessness and cynicism.
He only manages to rediscover his humanity when he helps Akhilesh deal with his heartbreak, and manages to recover his 'soul' from the brink of infamy.

Along the way we see interesting exchanges between Akhilesh and Rahul, as their relationship evolves from a wary mistrust (often descending into irritability) to mutual respect and acknowledgement.

The end finds them, if a little chastened, looking ahead to life as independent, free-thinking individuals, assured of their own place and identity and yet sensitive to the environment around them.
regarde la pluie dept.
The rains have now left for the North. The days are now stiff and cold with a hint of golden yellow that warms the face in the afternoons, but only a hint.
Only two weeks ago, on a sunny weekend, I would wake up (not later than 10) to the chirping of unknown birds. Outside the kitchen window I could see the shivering leaves of shrubs, bathed in a necklace of dew-drop diamonds.
If I closed my eyes, I could hear the traffic on the road outside, falling at me like tired sea-waves, in crests and troughs.