Thoughts on Life Itself

A realization has dawned upon me that all the words in English language, or for any language for that matter, fail to express even the minuscule of what one actually feels, for they are nothing but sounds designating concepts and these concepts are more or less frequently recurring and associated group of sensations, basically – just arrant commonness and our emotions happen to be beyond that. Another duly realization is that through incessant use and reuses, the phrase ‘life-changing’ has lost the ability to refer to anything but itself. So when I thought to open this piece of writing with the words ‘Roger Ebert changed my life’, I realized it was an obligation on my part to point out the trappings of language my feelings would be inscrutably confined to. Words cannot possibly let you, my dear friend, to fathom the love and admiration and gratefulness I have towards the man. Yet try the best I must, fully knowing that only failure awaits me at the end of this endeavor, for as Ernest Hemingway once said ‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down and bleed’ and all this bleeding for cinema in this blog would be an exercise in utter futility if not to have bled for the very man who inspired me to start this blog in the first place. So, having made a daft effort to confirm that all the inadequacies you will find in the article set to follow are legit, I conclude this prelude and begin :-

Roger Ebert changed my life. Not how I live it obviously, but rather how I look at it, which I believe is far more important. And having warded off from using hyperbole for some time now for the fear of getting indigestion later from eating my words (which has happened more often than I care to admit), I have made hell sure that this statement holds irrevocably true and I believe it does, for whenceforth I have discovered them, movies have been my life and Ebert has changed how I look at them. I still remember that me from three years ago, teary-eyed, prancing around with a never-before experienced euphoria after just having finished watching Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation at two in the morning. That was the first Ebert review I read, and believe me, Roger made sure with it that it wouldn’t be the last. The ending lines of that review were, and I can still quote it from memory ‘Do we need closure? This isn’t a closure kind of movie. We get all we need in simply knowing they share a moment private to them, and seeing that it contains something true before they part forever’. I remember clenching my fists after having read it, trying helplessly to stop the inevitable downpour of tears set to follow at the realization that someone had the exact same experience at that scene where Bob and Charlotte part which I had felt previously was only privy to me.

That’s what made Ebert a band apart. I have come to read multitudinous pieces of film criticisms in my life, with quite a few of them possessing apodictic prosaic beauty. Yet all of them seem to be centered on what is ‘right’ and what it is ‘wrong’ in a movie. Now as important that may be to some, in the bigger picture, I cannot think of something of lesser significance for what is ‘right’ for me may very well be ‘wrong’ for you. It isn’t what the movie is that forms its appeal, but rather what it invokes and no one knew that better than Ebert. Every review of his was like a portal of the sorts found in Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich (a movie he so dearly adored) for it lead us straight into his mind, engulfing us in every minute emotion which flooded into his brain while watching the movie.

There was a beautiful sentence with great truth to it that I came across and has stayed with me every since in Micheal Cunningham’s The Hours which said ‘One always has a better book in one’s mind than one can manage to get onto paper’. And when I ponder on that, I wonder what would have that piece Roger wrote for Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (in his Great Movies collection) sounded like in his mind ? Whenever I read it, and I do that quite often, it means something different for me every time, yet every time it always means something to me. It is as if he poured his whole heart in it with a child’s breathless disregard of the consequences.

It so often happens that the greatest events and thoughts are comprehended last, the generations which are their contemporaries do not experience such events – they live past them. It is in this respect that Ebert becomes truly epoch making in the literary circle, for in most cases genius turns out to be incommunicable and reluctant, blowing cold on the passerby. Yet, with Ebert, even the very naive was aware of his unparalleled mastery of his craft and lapped it up wholeheartedly.

Film criticism from the heart is like the Penrose stairs. We seem to be eternally damned with the failure to express what we truly feel at the end of a great movie, so we are clueless on where to start or end, ending up rummaging around our ideas, as if separate paragraphs can shed light on each other and form a comprehensive whole. Roger Ebert, an indisputable giant of American letters, came as close as one possibly could to describing the indescribable.

Great artists incite an interest towards appreciating their body of art, while the greatest incite an interest in mastering it. I know of no other who has inspired such a legion to love movies and write about them than Ebert. He was and is and will be, for me and countless others, the greatest of them all and the only rating I can possibly give Life Itself if two thumbs up. The tragedy is that the thumbs are mine, and not Siskel and Ebert’s. The reassurance comes from the fact that all those who love movies do consider it a tragedy.


Punyalan Private Limited Review

 I don’t film messages. I let the post office take care of those – Bernardo Bertolucci 

One of the many legit complaints I receive about this little blog of mine is my nonchalant attitude towards contributing in it. One of the major reasons for this (except my ever prevalent writer’s block of course) is that I can only write about a movie once , and most of the movies which hit the theaters are the same movie being made and remade again and again with a different cast and settings to mask this fact up. Punyalan Private Limited is another addition to this array of films, an exercise in borderline mediocrity which crusades as the public opinion to redeem itself. Unfortunately, it takes only the opening five minutes to see through the act.

When Punyalan Agarbattis hit the theaters four years ago, my admiration for it was, and still is apodictic. It wasn’t a movie trying to be anything except than the tale it was telling, and in doing so, spoke for everyone who was watching it. On the other hand, this sequel is like a puppy wanting to be petted by everyone. Movies, just like people, end up being only what they truly are at the end, and what Punyalan Private Limited is at the end of the day is just a vehicle scampering on the last residues of glory its predecessor amassed and its viewer’s miserable existence.

And that last part is my major issue with this movie. Every scene feels tailor made to make space for a mass dialogue which feeds right into the hate accumulated in the viewer’s heart towards the system. It’s not just the exploitation of the viewer’s insecurities that bothers me, it is of the character’s as well. If characters are mere caricatures to get a point across, how could one possibly relate with them ? Jayasurya is fabulous in his role, yet do we know anything more about his character when this movie ends than we knew from before it began ? For all you know, I could have played the rest of the characters in this movie and it still wouldn’t make a difference. And I happen to be a terrible actor.

Whatever it sets out to do, it crashes egregiously at. Yet, there is an underlying sense of irony that the movie which sets out to proclaim everything wrong with the system ends up being everything that is wrong with the medium which it has chosen to explore. This brand of cinema is not entertainment, it is spoon-feeding, giving the audiences what they want, when they want it and dumbing their taste to utter mediocrity. Punyalan Private Limited says all that the common man of India (me included) would like to say about the fallacies of the system. But think about it, isn’t paying to hear what we say to ourselves everyday a really stupid deal ?

RATING :- 4 / 10



Wake In Fright Review

Wake In Fright is a hell of a movie, and I mean that literally and figuratively. It has often been wrongly described as the inability of a man to escape the clutches of a town which seem to tighten on him every passing day. Like every great work of art, it is about something deeper than it cares to admit and at its crux, Wake In Fright is rather about the inability of a man to convince himself why he needs to escape. Free food, free beer, free housing, free sex and a great time with mates while doing absolutely no work. Now what could possibly be wrong with that ? Bundanyabba does seem to be a paradise on Earth. Yet show it to a 10 year old kid and even he would fish out the moral murkiness the happenings of the movie are surrounded with.

Is it the town that is insane for housing tenants who seem to have been raised in zoos, educated only to the base instincts ? Or is it John Grant who is insane for yearning to be a part of this savagery forsaking all sensibility ? Or is it we that are insane for having made moral order synonymous with the mundane, raising brows and coughing disapproving sighs when everyone happens to be just having a good time ? If it is the answers to these questions you are looking for while watching Wake In Fright, I believe you will be terribly disappointed. Like all great horror movies, it tries to evoke rather than supply.

The premise is stark plain and quaint. John Grant, a laid back schoolteacher  in an outback town in Australia travels to Bundanyabba by train during vacations. He plans to stay there for the night and set out in the morning to the airport to board a flight to Sydney to meet his girlfriend. Yet, trouble ensues in gambling as it always does, leaving John stranded penniless in Bundanyabba, a town where waiting for a bus would be inscrutably bound with thoughts of whether it has a darned bus line or not. The problem with most movies is that the premise seems to gradually develop into the plot, yet in the case of Wake In Fright, saying that the movie is just about these above lines would be like looking at a brick in the Great Wall Of China and saying that’s all there is to it.

Most films, even great ones, evaporate like mist once you’ve returned to the real world; they leave memories behind, but their reality fades fairly quickly. The terrifying part of Wake In Fright is that once it ends, it seems the reality of the movie has transcended into that of the world and it is this macabre that the viewer seems to be walking into. We realize that John Grant was just a vessel and it had been us, the viewers, that where his mind and soul all through.

Another stratagem of looking at Wake In Fright is through the prism of Jungian transcendence. John becomes conscious of the shadow and his anima through the course of the movie. The denouement hints at a possibility of self-realization as well, a sense of heightened understanding of how all of our days and ways are a fragile structure perched uneasily atop the hungry jaws of nature that will thoughtlessly devour us. How life is a spread of limitless ennui, interrupted briefly by insanity. Yet, no hints are given on whether John becomes conscious of his archetypal spirit. Is it to catechize whether the ordeals sustained and sacrifices made for enlightenment are worth the price of one’s soul ?  We don’t know. Kotcheff doesn’t say.

Michael Haneke while talking about his Funny Games once said ‘Anyone who leaves the cinema doesn’t need the film, and anybody who stays does’. If the very same can be said about Wake In Fright, I am darn sure no walkouts will ensue when it plays. We do need this movie, and to be frank, we need it very badly. And considering how it has emerged from all ruination and shambles to its past glory, I guess it needs us too.


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