Rant


Dear Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences,

The next time Mr. Daniel Day-Lewis does the lead role in a motion picture, I request you to simply disqualify all other potential Best Actor nominees for reason of not being Mr. Day-Lewis and present him with the statuette forthwith. To support my humble request, I present four and a half reasons:

0.5: If his performance in his Oscar winning turns (as well as some others like my personal favourite – The Age of Innocence) is anything to go by, you are unlikely to find a better performance in that year. Ordinarily, this would count as a full reason, but I give it only half points because on the odd occasion, some actors do manage to do better. (Although even if they did, you manage to ignore brilliant performances often enough that this wouldn’t really be noticed.)

1.5: Cutting down the time taken for to go through the nominees for even one award would cut the time taken for the Oscar telecast by a precious few minutes. Some of us have to get to work after the show’s over, ya know?

2.5: Consider his first Oscar win for My Left Foot. Look at how Morgan Freeman (nominated that year for Driving Miss Daisy) was cheering when the winner was announced. My guess is, he knew what was coming: a witty, wonderful, yet short speech that stayed in the memory.

3.5: Now, despite the fine example he set back then, so many of his contemporaries insisted on blubbering up there with the statuette in their hands, reading out prosaic laundry lists of thank-yous and making us admire, instead of their acting abilities, the writing abilities of the screenwriters that made them so watchable in the movies they won for. So he obliged by winning again and There Will Be Blood and giving us this object lesson:

4.5: One would imagine that a lesson twice-taught would be heeded, but no. We still got laundry lists. We still do, come to that. So he has won — yet again — this year, just so he could teach his dim-witted colleagues once more how it ought to be done.

However, dear Academy members, I doubt that he will be successful in his endeavour despite his repeated attempts. Therefore, I humbly request you to put both him and us out of our misery and do the needful.

Regards etc.

Ramsu

Caution: Mildly spoilerific.

  • Is there a better Bond movie theme song than Skyfall? Tina Turner’s Goldeneye comes a very close second, but I think that’s about it. Adele’s voice singing This is the end… is as mesmeric as Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang (He shot me down) in Kill Bill Vol. 1.
  • And the visuals! As soon as I walked out of the movie hall, I wanted to go back in for the next show, watch the title song all over again and then walk out.
  • Things that this Bond movie seems to have taken its cues from:
    • Ian Fleming (that didn’t happen so often during the course of the series)
    • Home Alone
    • Harry Potter
    • Um… Mother India?
  • There’s a lot of verbiage out there about Javier Bardem being the best Bond villain ever. Sure, he talks a good game and has a Tarantino-esque monologue to kick off the proceedings, has a lovely moment towards the end where he shrugs and shakes his head (in that one gesture, he conveys more than most Bond villains ever manage), but… I don’t know, really. He’s quite good, but comparisons with Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter are a bit overblown.
  • Speaking of which, there have been a few truly great actors who have played Bond villains in the past. Christopher Lee (The Man with the Golden Gun), Christopher Walken (A View to a Kill)… if you extend it to Bond girls, you could also count Halle Berry, who followed up her Oscar-winning turn in Monster’s Ball by playing the unfortunately named Jinx (sounds like a mutant-turned-stripper, don’t you think?) in Die Another Day. It’s positively amazing how bad they were in those movies. I wonder if it’s a Bond movie curse. I mean, you could’ve gotten Brando to come in and scream “Stella!” at M and even he would’ve tanked. Compared to them, Bardem escaped relatively unscathed.
    • No, I’m not counting Orson Welles’ turn as Le Chiffre in the old Casino Royale starring David Niven, Peter Sellers and Woody Allen.
  • Just before the film began, they played a number of graphic warnings about the dangers of smoking. And then Bond and his enemies killed people off in so many ways during the film’s running length, cancer would’ve seemed like a blessing to those poor souls.
  • I am strangely happy about the fact that Sean Connery didn’t play the role that seemed to have been written for him. He would’ve demanded too much attention, and that is not what you require of that role.

Not apropos of Skyfall per se, but relating to it… You know you’ve watched way too much Tamil cinema when

  • You keep trying to figure out which role to cast Vadivelu in. The character played by Naomi Harris is a possibility. The henchman who fights Bond in the Komodo dragon pit is another. The psychologist who does Bond’s assessment, maybe — when he hears Bond’s response to his questions, his natural response ought to be “Only you possible.”
  • An Aston Martin DB5 makes its appearance, and the first phrase that pops into your head is “Swapnasundari vechchirundha car“.
  • You wish they had shot the opening sequence in India and given Namitha a small role.

 

For a while now, I have been meaning to write a blog post on Rowdy Rathore.  But just when I figured out what I wanted to say, Baradwaj Rangan beat me to it.

To be fair, he does it better than I would have. So let me speak of a couple of peripheral observations that I had while watching the movie.

First, I think the appeal of Rowdy Rathore is rooted partly in the fact that it seems to be very obviously winking at the audience. The poster art is a masterpiece — it is so deliberately lurid that I couldn’t help but smile. (It also occurred to me, in passing, that Sanjay Leela Bhansali probably made a deal with Prabhudeva years ago that they would share a colour palette, and that whatever was left over after the former was done with Saawariya would be the latter’s to play with.)

The second is a slightly more sober observation: I noticed this not just in the three versions of this film but also in a bunch of others — the stakes have constantly risen in the way films portray evil. Maybe it is because we are exposed to filmi villainy so often that we are desensitized to the more garden-variety bad guy (smuggler, gangster etc.). I don’t know. But every once in a while, someone finds it necessary to up the ante. When they remade Agneepath, for instance, it wasn’t sufficient to disgrace the teacher by making him seem like he visited a prostitute — they had to make him rape a crippled schoolgirl. This movie decides that the way to make the villain despicable is to have him rape a cop’s wife over several days while the cop looks on helplessly. Where will this stop?

Linked to both these observations, but in a meta sort of way, is a conversation I had a friend of mine recently. She asked me how Rowdy Rathore was, and I immediately said, “Fantastic! It was exactly what it intended to be.” I meant it in a half-serious, half-sarcastic sort of way, but the comment led to a discussion on whether a film should be judged by its content or by its ability to do what it intended to do.

In general, I believe in the latter concept more than she does. A trivial example would be movies across different genres that I love in equal measure. A trickier example would be something like Nishabd, which I found to be a very well made movie about a subject that not many people were okay with. But the whole conversation made me wonder. Would I have been okay with a film that glorified, say, child abuse, just because it was a very well made film about the subject? The answer is obviously no — we all have our holy cows.

But what does my threshold of tolerance indicate, in and as of itself? No easy answers, I’m afraid.

The entire principal cast of A Streetcar Named Desire received Academy Award nominations for acting in 1952. Three of them won. The one who didn’t? Marlon Brando.

I’ve been following the Oscars regularly for nearly as long as I have been a serious movie buff. That’s a long time, and the quizzerly part of my brain (i.e., the part that stores useless trivia in memory locations reserved for what I need to get from the store on the way back from work today) has used these years to collect a whole bunch of interesting trivia about one of the most coveted set of film awards on the planet.

Or at least the part of the planet I inhabit. Aamir Khan, for instance, is well known for not attending the Filmfare awards or any other Indian award show, but pulled out all the stops while promoting Lagaan in the run-up to the Oscars. I’m sure he has his reasons, but the point I’m trying to make is this: we (our film industry as well as the unwashed masses) celebrate the Oscars more than any other film award.

For a long time, I subscribed to that view. In some ways, I think I still do. I couldn’t stop grinning when Scorsese finally won Best Director, even if The Departed wasn’t his best work. As much as I thought that Slumdog was one of Rahman’s least impressive albums, I still celebrated when he won a couple of statuettes. Resul Pookutty’s win was another huge moment.

But strangely enough, it was Slumdog‘s Best Picture win that changed my thinking about the Oscars. Personally, I thought the film was a well-made but badly written work that didn’t deserve all the praise it was getting. I could also see, however, that a lot of Westerners liked the film, so I even wondered if I would’ve been more charitable towards it, had it been set in some other developing country — say, Brazil — rather than India.

Then I realized something: Slumdog won Best Picture, not because it was the piece of work most people in the Academy admired. It won because it was the piece of work most of them liked. As much as I admire Citizen Kane (nominated for Best Picture, lost to How Green Was My Valley), my favourite movie is still Before Sunrise (not even nominated).

This year, for instance, most of the awards were cleaned up by a couple of movies  that were, above all, enjoyable. The Artist was a black-and-white silent film that was enjoyed by everyone who got past those two adjectives and actually watched it. Hugo was a love letter to early cinema pioneers in the guise of a children’s film, and an equally enjoyable ride.

Wonderful films? Absolutely. Best Picture candidates? What does that mean, really?

Now, admittedly, the Academy’s “liking” is often tinged with a touch of self-consciousness. Likeable, relevant serious films very often trump comedies and box office successes. Barring a few exceptions, your safest bet for winning a Best Actor/Actress statuette is to play someone who is either dysfunctional or real (often the same thing). It’s as if the Academy voters have a couple of miniature versions of themselves perched on their shoulders arguing:

Oh come on, admit it, you loved it more than any of the other nominees.

It’s a wonderful movie, but does it really deserve to win Best Picture?

Maybe, as the Clint Eastwood character says in Unforgiven, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”

ps: In case you were wondering, Brando lost to Bogie for The African Queen. And the Best Picture award in 1952 went to a musical: An American in Paris.

pps: The title of this post is a reference to a Chris Rock sketch introducing the 2005 Oscar ceremony, where he asked random people on the street whether they had watched any of the big nominees that year (Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, Ray, The Aviator, Finding Neverland), and it turned out that most of them hadn’t. On the other hand, all of them had watched and enjoyed a critically-panned Marlon Wayans starrer named White Chicks. Finally, he gets to a serious-looking guy who says he has watched all of the nominees. But when Rock asks him if he has watched White Chicks, his face lights up and he says, “Best movie of the year!”

ppps: Plus, I figure an offensive title like that would get my blog a lot of eyeballs on Women’s Day.

pppps: You realize I was kidding about that last line right?


Over the past few years, I have found myself gravitating towards the conclusion that any movie can be improved by the presence of Vadivelu in it. Examples (some of which I have mentioned in earlier blog posts and comments) include:

  • Wanted (the English version involving curving bullets and a curvier Angelina Jolie): Given how often the lead character gets beaten up, he could easily have been played by Vadivelu and given the moniker of Bullet Bhupati.
  • 7 aam Arivu: Surely Body Soda (Pokkiri) was Bodhidharma’s descendant?
  • The Harry Potter series: Snake Babu (Arya), the true heir of Slytherin. Think about it: when a dark wizard of Voldemort’s stature faces off against a teenager he is unable to kill, wouldn’t his first thought naturally be: Enna chinna pulla-thanama irukku?
  • Mission Impossible 4: The fate of the Anil Kapoor character is the epitome of vada pochche.
  • The Star Wars series: Body Soda (Pokkiri) for Yoda or Kanduvetti “Terror Face” Karuppu (Kathavarayan) for Jabba the Hutt. Your choice.
  • The Fantastic Four: Admit it, Theeppori Thirumugam (Englishkkaran) would’ve kicked Johnny Storm’s butt.
  • King Kong: Bannerjee (Aadhavan). In his own words.
  • The Seven Samurai: Oh, come on, had it not been Toshiro Mifune playing Kikuchiyo, wouldn’t it have occurred to you as well?

I am yet to figure out how Citizen Kane can be improved. Given our man’s physical proportions, rosebud comes to mind. But beyond that, nothing. Ideas are welcome.

ps: Yes, I need therapy. Thank you for noticing.

Maria, Amrita & Beth go medieval on Karan Johar’s a** in their latest podcast:

Filmistan High Class Reunion: Koffee with Karan Season 3 in Review

I watched a fair bit of Season 1 of KwK, a little less of Season 2 and not even a single full episode of the last season. But from what little I saw, I think they absolutely nailed it. Definitely worth a listen.

Towards the end, they turn their attention to Simi Garewal’s new show, India’s Most Desirable. All I’ve watched of that show is a few promos and about five minutes of the first episode. There’s something very creepy about the show, don’t ask me what. After the first three episodes (Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Siddhartha Mallya), I was quite tempted to label it India’s first sexually transmitted chat show, then they broke the cycle with Sonakshi Sinha.

Unless of course… ah, never mind.

Statutory warning: This blog post may not be interesting/funny to anyone without a sound working knowledge of Tamil Nadu politics and Vadivelu comedy. Those who possess an encyclopaedic knowledge of the aforementioned topics may still find it unfunny, but will know what they’re talking about when they call me an idiot.

It’s assembly election time in Tamil Nadu, so the regional channels (mostly owned/controlled by DMK, with Jaya TV doing the job for AIADMK) are obliged to spend precious airtime airing election propaganda instead of Vadivelu comedy clips. To their credit, they understand the gravity of their sin, so you see a lot of live coverage of Vadivelu campaigning on behalf of the DMK against The Gabtun. There are a lot of sly digs about The Gabtun’s name, and how a man who is always in thanni (i.e., “immersed in water”, slang for letting the odd hemoglobin molecule meander about in his alcohol stream) cannot share the same sobriquet as someone who keeps a ship above water.

Interestingly, Vadivelu did his bit to support Jayalalitha years ago, so Jaya TV retaliates by playing archived footage from back then, along with a Vadivelu comedy clip that suggests that he has the integrity of a lush. I am not yet sure if I should be gratified or saddened by the fact that all of this is at least as amusing as the regular programming.

One of the more interesting parts of the election is the vote auction that takes place. Party A promises free laptops to all engineering college students if it comes to power, so Party B ups the ante by promising said laptops to all Std. XI students. I don’t think they’ve gotten to the point where they’re comparing RAM size of their promised laptops, but the day doesn’t seem far off. The fact that all this largesse will eventually be paid for, indirectly, by the same voters, is lost on no one but not really dwelt upon.

Now, I understand that making big promises (and, on the odd occasion, sticking to them) is part of the process and to ask for it to be toned down is really not an option. But for all the free chicken biriyani and quarter sarakku that gets distributed come election time, there really is no free lunch, and I am not happy about the fact that I will end up paying the tab, one way of the other.

Therefore, in order to find a mutually agreeable solution, I propose the use of a variant of the Vickerey auction for votes. Parties can promise what they want, but the winner only needs to pay the voters whatever the loser promised.

In case you represent:

a) DMK and/or their allies

b) AIADMK and/or their allies

c) Gabtun

d) Parties north of the Vindhyas who wish to understand the idiosyncrasies of TN politics, and why Johnny Lever will never be a superstar on the campaign trail (in other words, pooja karaana hai)

e) The committee deciding on next year’s Nobel Prize for Economics

Please feel free to email me at http://www.pichchu.com. I will be there, will bells on.

ps: In case you are the caretaker of the cemetery where William Vickerey is buried and wish to complain about all the cleaning up you have to do as a result of the high-RPM subterranean movement I seem to have caused, kindly take it up with the Election Commission. I didn’t start this fire.

I don’t think I would’ve minded terribly if Pakistan had won yesterday. Theirs has been one of the more interesting stories of the tournament — a team that had the whole kitchen thrown at them before they entered the tournament played with joy and verve to reach the semis. Beating India was not entirely out of the question.

Having said that, the scrappier team that made fewer errors won yesterday. Pakistan’s bowlers (Umar Gul excepted) deserved a win, but their fielding and batting was abysmal. What the heck was Hafeez trying to do with that paddle sweep-like shot to a ball outside off? Misbah stayed long enough to have the opportunity to make a late charge, but I guess he spent too much time seeing if his bat would withstand gentle contact with a cricket ball. The initial portion of his innings was reminiscent of Vadivelu’s lochak-mochak-bachak martial arts practice sequence in Pokkiri.

Much has been said about Tendulkar’s various lives. But what really galled me was the MoM award. True, the fact that he kept his head and ground out 85 runs despite all of that is creditable. But I feel that award ought to have gone to Wahab Riaz — his was the standout performance of the match and deserved a lot more kudos than it got.

Speaking of which, did Dhoni actually credit “Shahid and Saeed” with a great bowling performance in the post-match interview? Or did I get it wrong? If that is indeed what happened, Wahab may just have to keep taking five-fors against India until we remember his name. I can imagine him getting Yuvraj out time after time saying, “They call me Mister Riaz”.

So my first spoken blog post is up, courtesy the wonderful folks who run Masala Zindabad. Thanks, Beth & Amrita for putting this up on your site!

This one’s about my experience of going to the movies. Specifically about watching B-movies in a ramshackle single-screen theatre in a little village in Rajasthan. You can listen to it here.

 

Oscarcast…
  • As award ceremonies go, this one has to rank among the worst in recent memory. Anne Hathaway, an actress I otherwise admire immensely, looked like she was having as much fun as a thirteen year old girl watching Princess Diaries 2. Watching her performing co-host duties, however, was about as much fun as I, a thirty-something male, had while watching said movie. (Yeah, I’ve watched it. So sue me.)
  • James Franco looked like he was on pot, but without the more hilarious after-effects he displayed in Pineapple Express or in the similarly themed snippet he and Seth Rogen did a couple of years ago at the Oscars. Seriously, how do you go through a whole Oscarcast without a single funny line?
  • Most of the laughs came from brief appearances by Billy Crystal and Bob Hope. There’s a reason why these guys have hosted this ceremony 8 and 18 times respectively. Crystal even got a standing ovation, which says a lot about how the attendees felt as well.
  • Why did they have to embarass Kirk Douglas by calling him up on stage? It wasn’t as entertaining as they made it seem. Those repeated you-knows seemed more about senility than suspense.
  • I absolutely loved Spielberg’s comments before presenting the award for Best Picture. Put the award in perspective very nicely.
  • High point of the whole event: Vodafone’s 3G launch ad. If I get around to updating my Favourite Superhero Movies list, this one will get an honourable mention at the very least.

Winners and acceptance speeches…

  • As acceptance speeches go, David Seidler (who took home the Best Original Screenplay statuette for The King’s Speech) ranked highest. It took away at least a bit of my frustration about Chris Nolan not winning for Inception. I liked how Speech took a simple story and invested it with so much drama, but in terms of sheer achievement in telling a more or less impenetrable story and making us care, Inception ought to get more brownie points than it did, don’t you think? Was it simply a case of being too difficult to understand?
  • Then again, this has happened before — Adaptation lost to The Pianist in 2002 for no apparent reason other than that it was too complex. As good as the latter movie was, I thought the former was a bigger achievement in adapting a virtually unadaptable book. I mean, how often does your imaginary twin, whom you created for the purpose of telling the story, get nominated for an Oscar along with you? (They did make up for it and give Kaufman the award for Eternal Sunshine a couple of years later. Is that why Inception didn’t win? That the academy quota for awards to mind-raider scripts was over?)
  • I’m glad Inception took home most of  the technical awards, though. Rolling up a city is tough to argue with, I guess.
  • Colin Firth’s speech was lovely as well. Long, thanked a whole bunch of people, but made it work. I sometimes wonder if academy voters are partial to Brits because they do such a good job on stage after collecting their award. Even Kate Winslet, after she had gotten her post-orgasmic thank-yous out of the way at the Golden Globes, did pretty well, what with asking her dad to whistle and everything.
  • I’m glad The Fighter won the two awards it deserved. Melissa F-word Leo and Christian Bale were absolutely outstanding  in that film. There were a few other deserving nominees in those categories for sure, but these two weren’t undeserving winners.
  • The Social Network took home the awards it deserved as well. As for the award for Editing, I am not quite clear how one goes about judging that one. Is it about trying to present a lot of material in a cogent manner (in which case, wouldn’t it be about the screenplay as well), or aboout effectively presenting a fragmented narrative, or… what exactly does one have to do to win this award? Part of my confusion arises from Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies where he talks about how difficult it is to talk about editing simply by watching the movie. The only movie I can think of that was an obvious contender for an editing award is JFK. Nothing else compares, really.
  • Speaking of editing, why does it take the folks back home a whole week to edit and telecast the Filmfare awards, while the Oscars have no more than a tape delay? Does it have to do with all those crappy medley performances with long pauses for costume changes in between?

Next Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 762 other followers