I Lost It At The Movies

How can I fall in love with movies?’

I think you will find it a bit hard to believe, but more often than not, this is one of those persistent questions which I am plagued with in almost all the comment sections of every cine-related article I have ever written on the internet. And even after taking into account the bountiful trouble the process of answering such quaint questions are inscrutably bound with, I have ascertained this aforementioned query to be my favourite question ever, period.

Why? For a cinephile to understand, all he has to do is look at his sprawling commentatories on cinema and think to oneself ‘Why take all this trouble? Who cares?’ and if his love for his cinema is true, I believe the heart echoes ‘You do stupid.’ Isn’t everything we do a way to be loved a bit more? In that way, every film passionate (I abhor the term critic) writes because he loves cinema and wishes others start to as well. Cinema is introspective, yet all the written word about it is didactic, serving at its crux only one true purpose – to make people fall in love with movies.

So when one asks, straight-forward, how he/she can fall in love with movies, I believe it makes my job a hell lot easier than hoping them to anatomize my written word so as to find the underlying purpose behind it all. For one to love cinema, or for that matter anything, one has to content himself with the realization that nothing in this world can ever be perfect and cinema is no exception to this. But believe me, imperfections, however glaring, become endearing quirks once you have tumbled on the heartstrings.

For a better comprehension of cinema as an artistic medium than sheer entertainment, I have to get into some nitty-gritty of film theory which might seem taxing and boring on the surface, but believe me; I won’t wade in these waters so long that God forbade we come across stuff like mise en scene (and by the way, French isn’t a language you shouldn’t mind getting the gist of if you want to explore the expansiveness of film studies) and all. Just a few basics, which will make you understand why cinema has shaped out to be like you see on the silver screen.

Cinema is divided into three branches: – realism, which was the first to come into inception, swiftly followed by formalism, which eventually merged to form classicism. Realism’s illusion is an objective mirror of the actual world. For eg. Take movies like Ship of Theseus or Pather Panchali, where it becomes hard to ascertain whether what you are seeing on the screen is a fragment of someone’s imagination or a documentary.

Formalism on the other hand is expressionistic in nature, where visual presentation is heavily stylized. Take works like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which is about a man who realizes his ex-girlfriend has erased him from her memories) or Inception (about a gang of dream-stealers who specialize in obtaining information for clients by entering the subconscious of other individuals), where only the very naïve would assume the affairs of the movie for the real thing.

The third style of cinema is where majority of the works you see in the theatres fall into – classicism. Classicism is a mishmash of realism and formalism, where there is a plot which has at least a surface plausibility and a style which rarely calls attention to itself. Take even the recently released Bareilly Ki Barfi or Shubh Mangal Saavdhan for example. The affairs both of them concern themselves with are a slice of real life, yet you know that what you are watching is a movie, or more implicitly, you are made aware of it, by say routine dance numbers which are precisely choreographed. It is also one of the reasons why you only see those who ooze of sex appeal even at their most distressed in leading roles. Most of the times these stunning beauties like Rita Hayworth or Patrick Swayze (or more closer to home, Katrina Kaif or Siddharth Malhotra) are never much of actors or actresses, yet their beauty provides a gradually imposed realization that what are you watching is a work a fiction, and on a more obvious note, keeps the ticket counters ringing, for the allure of the carnal and the aesthetic has always been and will be a compelling aphrodisiac to any art. As Kenneth Clark rightly points out, even in painting and sculpture, eroticism is fundamental to an appreciation of the nude.

Bringing these concepts back to the point, the reason why most of us cannot love cinema is because all we are exposed to are the cheapest form of classicism. Just take a look at the recent money-minters like Badrinath Ki Dulhania or Jab Harry Met Sejal. In the true cinematic sense, they belong to a niche of their own, called the personality star genre. What is it? These are the movies which are tailored for popular stars to highlight those qualities that made them the stars in the first place. These traits are recycled and repacked to basically give the public what it wants, always following the same generic pattern. Such movies kill creativity; for they put the director and writer (the actual visionaries) in the backseat and let the actors drive the project.

So, the first step in loving cinema is to evade these works. Instead, delve into director-centric movies. For the initial viewer, I would suggest the works of masters such as Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas), Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), Christopher Nolan (The Prestige), Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch Drunk Love), Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men) and Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity). These directors have one leg in the formalistic world and another in the expressionist world. What results is the perfect blend of both, appealing to the mind as well as the heart. They are masters of the moving camera, with spontaneous eruptions which destabilize the visual materials, infusing the action with a surge of energy, almost a kinetic high. Among these, Scorsese and Tarantino have often been attacked for the coarse nature of their movies, yet what these critics fail to understand is that a sanitized version would be a form of aesthetic dishonesty, totally at odds with their subject matter’s nasty edge of realism.

Once neck-deep in the beauty of classicism, wade the waters of formalism and realism. Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker) and David Lynch (Mulholland Drive) are the masters of the former, while Satyajit Ray (The Music Room) and Michael Haneke (Amour) are the masters of the latter. But at the end of the day, what bugs most of the viewers of pure cinema is I suppose the pace of such works. What one has to realize is the intention behind it. The works of these masters are on surface about a certain theme, yet once you look beyond them, their style deals with ideas – political, social, religious, philosophical – beyond the façade of the plot they put up, as if these themes remain privy to only those who truly seek it. What one can do in those moments which appear plodding is to introspect on what has transpired before. Film, at its purest, isn’t just entertainment. It is an experience, and for the time the projector and the screen establish a relationship, the objective is to drown out the viewer from the squabbles of his life and warp him or her in the world of the movie which is set into motion before him. The pace is slowed deliberately, for plodding is the very nature of our own existence, so as to synchronize the world of the movie with that of the viewer’s, than run parallel to it. In an abstract work, I would suggest not to attribute a final meaning to what you see, but rather try energetically to figure out what the director is asking you to experience than understand.

Loving movies, dear reader, is a glorious experience, for the love seems to be truly one’s personal discovery, never before apprehended in quite this way. What one has to keep in mind is that the medium of motion-picture has an extraordinary range of expression. It has in common with the plastic arts the fact that it is a visual composition projected on a two-dimensional surface; with dance, that it can deal in the arrangement of movement; with theatre, that it can create a dramatic intensity of events; with music, that it can compose in the rhythms and phrases of time and can be attended by song and instrument; with poetry, that it can juxtapose images; with literature generally, that it can encompass in its soundtrack the abstractions available only to language. To summarise it, what I mean to say is that cinema is the culmination of all of art, and to love cinema, is to love art in its entirety and as you know, Earth without art is just Eh. I hope you have a glorious time with movies, knowing and loving yourself more and more with every passing movie you see. I guess I will see you at the movies.

P.S. How will you know that you have fallen in love with movies? Just remember, people who like movies have a favourite. People who love them couldn’t possibly choose. When you are that stage, you will be sure.

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Farewell To The Ordinary

[So dear reader, this is a not-so-short short story I wrote which ain’t cine related. But, if you would give it a read, it would be a great honor of mine]

For all the experience I have amounted to by travelling in the Mumbai local trains for a not-so-enviable period of one and a half months, there is only statement I feel I can make which comes close to veracity and which I feel will be met with uncontested opinions and sullen nods from even those who have had only the slightest brush on travelling on the aforementioned mode of commute – that there isn’t a single day on these trains which seem devoid of the hustle and bustle which one so naturally associates with them.

I am one of those rare quaint ones who looks forward to travelling on this mode of transport which my other fellow commuters abhor (and with good reasons). One might say it is because I get to reach my destination without any hassle all the others have to endure, since I board from the starting station and wherefore, get a seat every day. Now this reasoning may be true and I haven’t bothered to go to any lengths to prove the contrary by offering my seat to someone and standing till Sandhurst Road (i get off at C.S.M.T., but the train gets almost empty by Sandhurst Road). But, I believe this enjoyment is beyond the mere convenience I partake in everyday. For me, the reasons which seem to have brought about this fascination of travelling in overcrowded bogeys with other’s butts in front of your face for the entire duration of it is very reminiscent of falling in love, for once someone tumbles on your heartstrings, his or her imperfections, however glaring, become endearing quirks. I am fascinated by the nonchalance with which the experts who board running trains look upon the swiftness of their glide, as if it was the most ordinary of things. I am fascinated that every damn bogey has an individual who no one remembers to have ever got a seat, who always ends up standing near the window and arranging the bags of the fellow passengers with such an unparalleled display of organizational prowess, that if one fine day some dexterous mathematician actually considered the numbers of bags accommodated and the area demarcated, I am pretty sure various mathematical concepts wouldn’t seem to hold quite right. I am more than all fascinated by the profanities folks hurl at each other when one of those timely fights breaks out in the compartment, for in some of them, I see glimpses of literary genius in them (i have once heard a comeback which involved almost all the blood relations of the person at the receiving end along with cannabis, cows and the latest Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie in the same sentence, with all the elements in perfect harmony with each other), and also because at the end of the day, there seems to be nothing bad about these bad words. They just seem to be words folks use and most of the times, they don’t mean nothing by it.

Another fascination is the seeming broadcast of a daily commuter on a wavelength that only the other daily commuters can pick up, a kind of a pirate radio station of the heart. So, being one of those privileged but not exquisite (considering that almost 90 lakh people travel on Mumbai trains on a per day basis) club, the wavelength at play today seems to be of unco turbulence. Neither is Sahil sitting on the steel benches near the Handicapped bogey sound indicator, watching Narcos (no, wait a second. he finished Narcos two days ago. it is the Leftovers now). And neither is Manish, untying and tying his laces, to make sure they do not pose a quandary to his getting his beloved window seat (and this routine is working quite well too it seems since i haven’t seen anyone warm their behinds on that except him). Today, everyone is standing together, with neither headphones shoved in their ears, and not with papers held in their armpits. And suddenly it strikes me. Today is the 8th of September. Today is the day

A peremptory silence meanders when everyone boards the train, a striking contrast to any other day, and it shrouds the bogey even after two stations passed. Nobody can think of anything to break the ice today, for this is the day when Kaka will be travelling with us for the last time.

Kaka, as he is fondly called, means ‘uncle’ in Marathi. Kaka works in the Railways, and has for forty long years, and is considered unanimously as the founding member of our train group. Today, the September of 8th, is the last day of his service, i.e. in other words, the last time he has to go through the ordeal of boarding the first class compartment of the 7 :45 Dombivli – C.S.M.T. train.

Finally finding this silence, which had brooded over as though the tearing pace of the launched Earth had suddenly become audible, unbearable, it is Uncle (the second oldest in the group after Kaka, and whose fond designation if compared with that of Kaka’s, i believe provides an insight into changing times) who decides to speak up, a notion all of us were as sure of him making as we were that ten dimes make a dollar. The conversation topic is the venue for the farewell party for Kaka on Sunday. Nandi Palace is the venue decided after much deliberation, yet this denouement is overthrown the moment Rajesh points out is situated on the highway (and the new law prohibits you to crack open a cold one with the boys there) and the new and seemingly concrete conclusion to this discussion seems to be Regency Hotel. The questions about Kaka have now begun to arise like thirsty men drink, ranging from till when does his first class past last (ninth of october), what will he do in his free time (rotaract club and yoga classes), and whether they have found someone already to take up his position (a fumbling intern). Stations pass and one-by-one, the members of our group have to get off, with their destinations as inscrutably bound to them as destiny. They all stand by the windows and talk to Kaka as long as the motorman gives his brief approval, and the train keeps moving on till I and Kaka are the only ones of our train group left in the compartment. I am sitting next to him, with him brooding over the WhatsApp messages his near and dear ones have sent him congratulating him on this milestone of his and deleting them after a read or two. One of the traits you seemingly acquire if you travel in trains long enough is that you realize when the eyes of the person sitting next to you are on you and for one who has traveled in them for forty long years, it isn’t much time before Kaka’s eyes rest on mine and just like the sudden whim of a sick man for food or drink once tastes and long since forgotten, I find myself blurting out those very questions which had been burning up inside me from the moment today’s date had struck me :-

Me :- Won’t it feel weird from tomorrow ? Not following the same routine ?

Him :- I don’t think so. I will be busy 

Me :- Has anything changed all these years ? 

Him :- I don’t think so. The trains ran then and they do so today.

And he rose up. Bewildered by this motion of his, I look outside and see the reason behind it. We had already reached C.S.M.T.

We say our due farewells to each other and walk in our separate directions, yet my eyes meander on him. A man, no taller than I was, with a worn out Jensport bag, grayed out hair and yet at this moment, larger than life. And in a motion which came about as quietly and swiftly as near insanity comes to men, he looked back at me, smiled and went on. My emotions, which were at this point like a full cup that the least motion might over brim, come pouring out and I realize I will miss him. 

Yet this realization ushers in all kinds of doubts about why I would do so, for I had always felt we miss only those who we envy. I miss Bhagat Singh, for I can never be as brave as he was. I miss Roger Ebert, for I can never talk about movies as he was. I miss Virginia Woolf for I can never have a prosaic style as enchanting as that of her. So, why would I miss Kaka ?

Maybe it was because I would never have that reality he was inhibiting in. I am pretty sure I will never be confined by the shackles of a desk job, having looked down upon those who content themselves with one as far as I can remember, yet here was a man who had spent forty years of life on a ticket counter and yet was contented with it. Or maybe it was knowing that I could never feel what it would be to be retired. One of my biggest fears is that what I am feeling right now or will in the future, will be lesser version of what I have already felt. It is the reason fellas that you remember your first love, for when it had transpired, love and ideas seem to be truly one’s personal discoveries, never before apprehended in quite this way of yours, with the beloved in question happening to you all over again every time you meet.

Maybe it was all this and maybe it was none of it, yet what I felt was as profound as anything can be. One might ask (and to good reasoning) what this tale amounts to. Well, I don’t like the fact that, nowadays, it feels like it’s not permissible to leave something unresolved. I mean, what is closure? Some people never get that. Why can’t there be a tale of the triumphs of the ordinary ? Why aren’t their victories as important as others ?

I might also say something to on the lines that ‘if there is no final meaning, my work may be itself about that impossibility’. But to be honest, I don’t know myself. I believe a writer writes because he has doubts and hopes that at the end of the day, the answers to them translates on the page. Yet most of the times, just like in this very piece you are reading, they don’t and to good measure, for one always has a better tale in one’s mind than one can manage to get onto paper.