Sunday, August 26, 2012

Samsara (2011)

A poem need not be an explanation, it should be able to paint a much wider and deeper canvas than what is being presented as words. A good poem inspires imagination, evokes soul search, kindles an intellectual discourse - all much larger than the poem itself. Samsara is one such poem on 70mm film and to say that it was stunning to experience Samsara on the big-screen is just an understatement.

Samsara's idea of aesthetics mostly relies on the "Stop motion" and "Motion capture" techniques, so to state - finding an order in all randomness, finding the beauty in all chaos. It transcends the audience into a particular psychological state whereby you are forced to concentrate on the patterns and the topography than the individual discrete units that make up the pattern.

Samsara with all its calmness and soul-embracing music is an expression of contempt in all rigour. It sounded like a harsh critique on the perils of the human civilization, for me. The footage covers arms industry, the adult toy industry, electronics recycling, plastic rag picking, automobile wrecking, car manufacture, African tribals, the skyscrapers, the Buddhist monks in Asia etc, portraying a real comprehensive worldview. Wherever (the fewer times) the human faces look into the camera, they do so with so much rigidity or discernible anger or compassion or self-pity, it looked like they are making a profound political statement.

Several juxtapositions resonated hard in me - the entire sequence about the meat (animal flesh) industry is followed by prostitutes with number tags exhibiting their bodies, the operations in the dairy industry (machines milking the cows sequence) is followed by a lot of piglets feeding on a pig all raised for slaughtering, the symmetrical/shiny bullets is followed by an army general with so many medals and a disfigured face. 

It will all sound like a philosophical rant but Samsara underlines the human greed, lack of compassion, the human idea of conquest, religious & ethnic chauvinism, exploitation of human labor, war, hunger, death and so on. The footage interspersed with the actual nature - skies, deserts, waterfalls, volcanoes - shows us all the kind of harmony that is expected of the human beings as a part of this wonderful system. May be somebody else who saw the same movie in the same hall would have looked at the brighter side of things - beauty, harmony, symmetry, patterns, love, music, peace - with Samsara. And hence is Samsara's greatness, vastness, prodigiousness and rhythmicness.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Good Bye Lenin! (2003) - Iconography

"Good Bye Lenin! (2003)" is one of the most studied German films (along with "Das Leben der Anderen (2006)") of the last decade. Identified as an important work for its "Ostalgie" theme, it has a distinct grief perpetuating through out. Its narrative is strewn with details about life in the erstwhile GDR, which I have tried to present here with screenshots. It uses a lot of real footage concerning the fall of the Berlin wall followed by the unification. On a casual first viewing, the following images (the "trabant" as the GDR icon and the "Coca-Cola" for the political transition in the region, for example) struck me. It is a very sad film, hiding all its regretfulness with an ironic comic face.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Madhubana Kadai (2012)

Madhubana Kadai (MK) transcends the conventional tamil cinema narrative, as in it doesn't have a form - it holds no premise, no beginning, no building-up of a plot, no interval cut and no climax. The characters emerge from nowhere and then they are lost in some time, of course apart from a few who occupy the entire script. The script works more like, the dirty wine shop with its alcohol supplies, is the central character and the people who visit it are peripherals at the most. In the hindsight, it looks like it could have worked only this way. 

MK had a lot of Bala-esque scope for instilling emotions and drama, but it decided not to. It takes no moral stance and it's no propaganda engine, the most it did is to disperse several satirical elements which can be labelled "political" statements. The film is set in Erode-Perundurai locales and shows in heart and blood, a single day in the life of a TASMAC wine shop. The wine shop is visited by people from all walks of life and occupations and is the center of a lot of political discussions, social skirmishes, drinking as social status elements etc. 

The tamil society (big cities should be exceptions) with all its self-righteous moral-policing is still devoid of genuine social hang-outs. That is where the relevance of so many cinema halls and TASMAC outlets emerge. Cinema theaters and toddy shops are the only centers of catharsis (in the sense of emotional outlets) for the working class (Women are limited to only cinema and neighborhood gossips I suppose). Hence these are centers of social equality, that even the all-pervasive casteistic hierarchy has to stay away from them. The film quite correctly references this as "Samarasam Ulaavum idame". MK is the confluence of cinema and liquor in that sense.

For me, the last three minutes of the film made a huge impact out of nowhere. It featured the social angst of a dalit sewage drain cleaner in quite some details. I mean, I don't remember the last time a main-stream tamil feature film spoke about this issue. The scene was quite inconsequential from the script's POV but it did make a profound political statement. That is why this film is special, it didn't attempt to have an agenda but then made a spontaneous go at issues like this. A second viewing would certainly help I suppose.

MK makes a mockery of the drinking culture in a typical tamil society. TASMAC is one of the largest money spinners and is a source of humongous revenue for the state. When the state handles the alcohol industry, it becomes just another object of political & monetary greed and the film rightly presents the case of "duplicate liquor" and gross mismanagement of the infrastructure of the industry. Drinking is thus not a source of bacchanalian pleasure here as it should be.

PS: The film is inspired by this Nanjil Nadan essay (as in the credits), which offers a brilliant read.