Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Rachel Getting Married": classic realism cinema at its very best


Perhaps a lot of people seem to have missed this movie because of its title which most serious cinema-lovers will easily dismiss as "just another romantic pop corn comedy" -- which is actually the polar opposite of what the film is really about (I will come to that).

This is one movie which I will easily dare call a classic that also happens to celebrate humanity in its truest sense. A triumph for not only Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme's illustrious career but for universal cinema as a whole.

With Rachel Getting Married, Demme seems to have undergone a major personal transformation as well, in that he has become more humanist and wide-ranging in his world view.

The blend of so many ethnic groups, Caucasians, Blacks, Chinese, etc, along with unique ethnic features such as the donning of the Indian sari for the wedding ceremony and the incorporation of ethnic music, without any overt justification for its being there, demonstrates how far Demme has grown in his own humanity.

There are two scenes in the film which sent chills down my spine, brought tears to my eyes, and made me realise the wide gap of communication and misunderstanding between addicts and their non-addict family members.

I won't go into details and spoil the movie but that scene is when recovering addict Kym (acted brilliantly by Anne Hathaway) confronts her sister Rachel (another excellent performance by Rosemarie DeWitt) in the presence of their father (superbly played by Bill Irwin).

So many emotions were evoked in me and deep inside I was crying myself.

But perhaps the most disturbing scene in the film is when Hathaway finally confronts her mother (another classic performance by Debra Winger) and asks her the question which still haunts the family to this day; the question why a mother would ever leave an under-aged addict daughter high on drugs to babysit her little brother?

A kaleidoscope of emotions erupted and I think I too openly cried along with Hathaway and her mother.

This is one of the best and most realist films of last year. I am not surprised that it comes from Demme who made that brilliant psychological thriller about a cannibal, The Silence of the Lambs, one of the few films in movie history which won all the top 5 categories' Oscars: Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress.

And talking about the title of the film, I think though it might put off serious cinema lovers, when you really think about it, it's just the kind of non-assuming name that a humanist like Demme would give, rather than coming up with profound-sounding and sweeping names like "Pride and Glory" or "Body of Lies"! And even in the context of the movie itself, Rachel Getting Married is an appropriate name because the film shows events of a two-day period all taking place surrounding a wedding.

Rachel Getting Married on

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Heena" and the Maldivian Woman

What effects (and setbacks?) the popular Indian serial may have on Maldivian women's empowerment movement

By Hilath Rasheed

Some find it an exhilarating experience to watch films or read books that have strong and independent women as central characters. Thank Jane Campion and Sidney Sheldon for that. But others dwell in socially constructed patriarchal societies, infatuated with women characters who are submissive to the extent that they suffer gross injustices at the hands of men, whether physical or emotional.

Where does the Maldivian woman stand? Perhaps, we don't need go further. The Maldivian society is not subtle. The clues are all there to see. A look at Maldivian women's obsession with soaps that have central stories woven around submissive women, such as the likes of the Indian serial Heena, reflects Maldivian women's outlooks on their social roles, and where their sympathies lie.

"The fact that many Maldivian women identify with Heena is because they themselves can identify with the character of Heena--submissive, obedient and very much protective of her husband Sameer, whatever injustices he does to her," said a 28-year-old mother of two.

However, we have to take into account the cultural differences when we relate Heena with Maldivian women. In Indian culture, divorce is very much frowned upon; women and their families will go to great pains to preserve the sanctity of marriage even if it means the woman has to undergo a lifelong suffering in a loveless marriage.

But that is not the case in Maldives. Though divorce is still frowned upon, Maldivian women still have the option of ending a loveless or oppressive marriage without so many social complications as is apparent in Indian culture. But the surprising thing is many Maldivian still try to "stick it out", regardless of unhappy marriages they may have entered into.

Take the case of Aishath (who wouldn't give her last name for personal reasons) who is from an island but came to Male', pursued higher education and got a white-collar job. She then married, got two kids, resigned her job and took up the role of housewife. She later found that her husband had been keeping other lovers but she choose to give a blind eye to her husband's double life. Why?

"For the sake of my children," she said simply.

Give her credit for taking into consideration the sensitivities of her children. But look at how depressing it is for her to live the rest of her life with a husband who is taunting her human dignity--and her self-dignity--by seeking pleasure in other women while he is still married to her. In a Maldives context, Aishath could very well be another Heena--protective of her husband, ready to struggle to save her marriage regardless of the injustices he is doing to her.

Some call such a situation a "silent suffering." Some women argue that women like Heena and Aishath are actually "emotionally strong", the reason being that they are able to take the emotional onslaughts of the husband with calm and quiet.

But women who argue against this doesn't think that being "emotionally strong" necessarily makes a "strong woman." In fact, they take "emotionally strong" as being a kind of weakness--a weakness that disables the woman from standing up to her husband.

"I would describe Aishath as strong if she would really stand up to her husband and demand that he treat her with dignity and equality," a 24-year-old unmarried girl said in relation to Aishath's case.

"We women have to believe that we have a good life ahead of us. We don't have to take sufferings that we don't deserve, tortures that others inflict upon us. In the case of Aishath, I would strongly argue her to end her husband's humiliating treatment of her by going separate ways and seeking someone who really loves her and who will treat her as equal partner. Where's her dignity? Isn't dignity the most valued asset of any human being?"

Perhaps the individuality is lost when a woman gets married?

"Independence and individuality--a lot of this is lost when a woman marries," commented Maryam, a teacher trainee.

"Talk about sexual oppression. Heena was sexually unfulfilled but she stuck it out. Aishath is, too. And so does a lot of others. We're taught that everything other than 'the big picture' is not important, 'the big picture' being that one has to hold the marriage together."

However, divorce can turn out to be messy. You might have to run to court for days. And even then the trauma of laying open your personal life and your emotions to an indifferent judge could turn out emotionally frustrating. At the end, you may be left drained.

"And after a divorce, where will she go?" questioned Maryam.

"We are talking about an average woman with adequate educational background with about a Rf2,000 (about 200 US dollars) salary. Can she go back to her mom's place, where their is hardly any space and where she'll be considered a burden? In most of the cases it is."

Perhaps Heena--and the Maldivian woman--should adopt, to some extent and to suit her own needs, some of the traits of Ruby who seems to be everything that Heena is not--ruthless, independent, ambitious, manupulative.

"Personally, I would want a diluted version of both Heena's and Ruby's qualities," agreed Maryam.

"But if anybody asked me who would be the most happiest of them in the long run I would have to say that it would be Heena because if a person is considerate about others, then she will find happiness, as against Ruby who does everything out of self-interest."

Coming to the root of the problem: why are women--not just Maldivian women--generally submissive? Is it an inborn thing? A biological phenomenon? A natural instinct? A trait of "being a woman"? Some don't think so! And with good reason, too.

"It is not a natural or biological phenomenon," said Aneesa Ahmed, the Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs and Social Security.

"Gender roles have been socially created. From childhood, we have been taught that men are breadwinners and women the dependents. It is only when someone becomes dependent that the person becomes submissive, regardless of whether it is a man or woman. That's why there is a need for women's empowerment movement."

"Think about what girls have been taught from the day they are born: the duties of a daughter, a wife, a mother comes before the individuality of being just a woman with the needs of a woman," echoed Maryam.

Some question the validity of the existence of a women's empowerment movement, claiming that Maldives enjoys gender equality in all walks of life, as it is sanctioned by the Constitution. But the reality is that although the government recognizes equal rights of the sexes, society and tradition do not. And this is why a women's empowerment movement is needed. We need to educate women on their rights, the need for them to be independent and strong, the need for them to demand equal treatment, the need for them to be on an independent and sound economic footing, so that they won't have to be dependent on any one--whether it be their peers, superiors, partners or husbands--in case should they become subject to neglect, suffering and other injustices.

Equal rights are not about a war being fought to determine whether who is physically strong--man or woman. Equal rights are about treating every woman with dignity, the dignity that a human being deserves and has a right to. Equal rights are about loving and caring, about sharing, about treating your partner as your equal, because in a relationship where one partner does not treat the other as his or her equal, love won't bloom.

What a pity! If only men and women could learn to love one another, treat one another with respect and concentrate more on expanding the horizons of their relationships could they discover how fantastic and blissful our short lives here on this earth could otherwise be.

This article was published in The Monday Times

"The Love Guru" "wins" Worst Film

The 29th Annual Golden Raspberry (Razzie) Award "Winners" were announced just 24 hours before the prestigious Oscars. Below is the full list:

Worst Film: "The Love Guru"

Worst Director: Uwe Boll, "1968: Tunnel Rats", "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale", "Postal"

Worst Actor: Mike Myers, "The Love Guru"

Worst Actress: Paris Hilton, "The Hottie and the Nottie"

Worst Supporting Actor: Pierce Brosnan, "Mamma Mia!"

Worst Supporting Actress: Paris Hilton, "Repo: The Genetic Opera"

Worst Screenplay: "The Love Guru"
Worst Screen Couple: Paris Hilton and either Christine Lakin or Joel David Moore, "The Hottie and the Nottie"

Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel: "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"

Worst Career Achievement: Uwe Boll

Uwe Boll was said to be "Germany's answer to Ed Wood". *LOL*

The Full List on Razzies Website

Monday, February 23, 2009

"Slumdog Millionaire" wins 8 Oscars including for Best Film

The Hollywood-Bollywood collaboration "Slumdog Millionaire" won 8 Oscars including for Best Film at today's 81st Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles.

Click here for the full list of winners

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Oscars: Best picture is best bellwether

Movie people care about the Oscars in part because they understand that when you vote for a best picture candidate, you are voting for more than an individual film. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you are voting for the philosophy of filmmaking, the attitude toward cinema, your particular choice represents. In this day of the disappearing dollar, attitudes that don't earn the respect of Hollywood might be facing the dustbin of history. Though one of the oldest clichés of moviemaking is, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union," sending a message is exactly what voters end up doing.


Whichever of the five nominated films walks away with the academy's top prize tonight helps Hollywood gauge which way the biz blows.

By Kenneth Turan / Los Angeles Times film critic

Tonight's Oscar ceremony will be the 81st in the award's venerable history, and like people who've reached an advanced age, the institution has had a hard time getting respect in a contemporary culture that cares mightily about being up to the minute and ahead of the curve.

It's difficult to read anything about the Oscars these days without coming across attitudes that are either blasé or outright dismissive. The awards are derided as meaningless and out of touch, too cut off from the films that real moviegoers (code for those 25 and under) are determined to see. Who could possibly care enough, cynics carp, to so much as turn on the TV and watch this antediluvian event strut its hours upon the stage.

Aside from my house, where the Oscars remain must-see programming, the one place where the Academy Awards continue to mean a great deal is within the movie business. In fact, the prizes, especially the one for best picture, seem to mean more this year than ever.

I say that because it's been another bitter awards, with partisans of the five contenders eager to bad-mouth whomever they saw as competition. When Entertainment Weekly wrote about the race in the Feb. 13 issue, the cover line got right to the point: "Battle For Oscar: Now It's Getting Ugly."

Movie people care about the Oscars in part because they understand that when you vote for a best picture candidate, you are voting for more than an individual film. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you are voting for the philosophy of filmmaking, the attitude toward cinema, your particular choice represents. In this day of the disappearing dollar, attitudes that don't earn the respect of Hollywood might be facing the dustbin of history. Though one of the oldest clichés of moviemaking is, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union," sending a message is exactly what voters end up doing.

I wanted to examine the five best picture candidates from that point of view. Rather than focusing exclusively on personal favorites or trying to predict which nominee might win, I wanted to analyze what it would say about Hollywood values if a particular film came out on top. Here's what I came up with:

'The Reader'

Despite its considerable pedigree, including producing credits for departed filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, this "We're not a Holocaust drama" drama is widely perceived as being the fifth film on the list.

Unlikely though it is, a victory for "The Reader" would be a sign of respect for Pollack and Minghella (both gentlemen passed away in 2008). It would also be a tribute to the persuasive power of Harvey Weinstein, who knows, as few people do, where the buttons are in the academy and how to push them. And finally, it would be a sign that touching on the Holocaust, however tangentially, is still a way into the hearts and minds of academy voters. The old ways die hard, especially in Hollywood.


I was surprised and not surprised when this film made the final five. Sean Penn's remarkable performance aside, "Milk" couldn't be more earnest and conventional. This is not necessarily a bad thing with the academy, but with other, equally conventional films such as "Defiance" falling by the wayside, "Milk" must be benefiting from the power of other factors. And it is.

For one thing, people who were passionately opposed to Proposition 8 and who allow political concerns to influence their votes will feel they are sending a message with this choice. The other factor in "Milk's" favor, frankly, is guilt and the desire to make amends. Actors often get their Oscars years after the film they should have won for, and regret at unjustly bypassing "Brokeback Mountain" three years ago may lead to "buyers' remorse" votes for this film.


If there are two things the business appreciates it's impeccable professionalism and longevity, and this film by Ron Howard -- who's remained well liked during his half century on center stage -- epitomizes both qualities.

Working with longtime producing partner Brian Grazer, Howard not only expertly coordinated the work of actors Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, screenwriter Peter Morgan and cinematographer Salvatore Totino, he produced the best classic Hollywood effort to make it into the final five. If he didn't already have a best picture winner in "A Beautiful Mind," this film would have a stronger shot at victory.

'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'

My reader mail on this film has been divided right down the middle, with viewers either transported to higher realms or bored to tears. But like it or loathe it, "Button" presents that rare situation where what it stands for is more valuable than what it is.

"Button" is that almost extinct species, the major studio art film, a piece of cinema where enormous sums of money were spent and the power of the Hollywood machine placed behind a film that was not "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Harry Potter." To toilers in the studio vineyards who don't want to feel doomed to spending their entire careers making films for people not mature enough to vote, casting your ballot for "Benjamin Button" means casting a ballot for hope and against despair.

'Slumdog Millionaire'

Which is where the favorite, "Slumdog Millionaire," comes in. For though it was not a studio product and nearly didn't get theatrical distribution at all, a vote for this film is really standing up for the best of mass-audience moviemaking, for the notion that cinema with wide appeal can be smartly made as well as popular. It's also a vote for strengthening Hollywood's connection to the most promising trend of the past decades -- the rise of the independent film world that produced director Danny Boyle.

Though its appearance was inevitable, I've been astonished at some of the anti-"Slumdog" backlash, by observers who seem to regret that the film isn't a somber position paper from Human Rights Watch. Demanding that poor people be miserable and rent their garments on screen is as patronizing an attitude in its own way as Samuel Goldwyn's insistence that the sets for his 1937 film "Dead End" be free of trash. "There won't be any dirty slums," biographer Scott Berg reports the mogul declared. "Not in my picture!"

Given that it's basically a delirious fantasy, what's frankly surprising about "Slumdog Millionaire" is how much realism there is in it, not how little. It's an old-fashioned movie, for heaven's sake, a hugely accomplished piece of entertainment that delights audiences across the widest possible spectrum, which is exactly what traditional Hollywood so often lusts for and fails to achieve. If academy members don't recognize and reward that kind of success, there are going to be a lot fewer of them to enjoy in the future.

Original link

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How to get an Oscar nomination? Here's the science behind it


Movie star Cate Blanchett’s recent stirring performances may not have been the only reason she got two Oscar nods this week.

Academy Award nominations tend to go to performers in dramas, who are female, who have been nominated in the past and who command a high rank in the movie-credit pecking order, a new study shows.

Sociologists Nicole Esparza of Harvard University and Gabriel Rossman of the University of California, Los Angeles, used records from the Internet Movie Database for every Oscar-eligible film made between the founding of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 1927 and 2005 to see what conditions might improve a performer's chances of getting a nod.

"A performer's odds of being nominated are largely set before the cameras even start rolling, back when the script was bought, the director was signed and the film was cast," Esparza said. "It's surprising how many variables other than a performer's talent play a role in determining who gets nominated."

The researchers found that the largest predictor of garnering a nomination was to leave the audience in tears instead of in stitches: Actors were nine times more likely to receive a nomination for a dramatic performance than a non-dramatic one.

"In the entertainment industry, there's long been a sense that the nomination process prefers dramas, but I don't think anybody is aware of the magnitude of the effect," Rossman said.

The second strongest predictor in the study, the number of films screened that year, may seem fairly obvious.

"It's better to be nominated in a year when fewer films were screened, because there's less competition come awards time," Rossman said.

Actresses were more than twice as likely to be nominated as actors for any given performance, the findings showed, making being female the third biggest predictor.

"At least in this case, being underrepresented on the job works in women's favor," Esparza said. "Because there are fewer female than male performers in films, and both are eligible for the same number of awards, actresses stand a better chance of being nominated than actors. It's a simple matter of arithmetic, but as far as I know, nobody has ever raised the point."

Actors and actresses were also more likely to receive a nomination if they had a history of being named at the top of the credits, had been nominated for an Oscar before or if they appeared with previously nominated writers and directors.

Blanchett, who received a best actress nomination for the sequel, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age", and a supporting actress nod for "I'm Not There," certainly has many of these factors working in her favor. Nominations for the 80th Academy Awards ceremony were announced Monday morning.

(This article can be found at this link on

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The very worst in film

It wasn’t just the American economy that took a disastrous downturn in 2008 — so did the quality of Hollywood movie-making. Of the 573 films released last year a record 75 rated forum discussions on the official RAZZIE® Awards web site.

This plethora of putrid motion pictures proved a double-edged sword — It meant Golden Raspberry Award voters had plenty to choose from — but it also made their task of culling the crud down to a mere five contenders each in nine categories berry complicated.

The eventual “winners” will be unveiled in intentionally tacky ceremonies set for the now traditional Oscar® eve, Saturday night February 21, 2009 at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood.

Click here for the full list of Razzies nominations:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Parveen Babi: A star is dead

When police broke into her Juhu home in January they discovered something altogether very different: the rotting corpse of a bloated, gangrene-infected 55-year-old recluse. Ali Rasheed looks back at enigmatic seventies star Parveen Babi, one of the most beautiful actresses to ever have graced Bollywood cinema

Parveen Babi won her first screen role when she was still a student at Ahmedabad University, in an unremarkable film called Charitra (B R Ishara, 1973). The film bombed at the box-office, but Babi’s screen presence did not go unnoticed. Coming from the old royal family of Junagadh, her unconventional looks and aristocratic poise caught the attention of both audiences and producers.

Bollywood saw in Parveen Babi the raw materials that could be transformed into a marketable product. Producers offered her a certain type of role, manipulated media coverage to their advantage, and successfully constructed out of her looks, glamour, and charisma a star image that could be bought and sold at will.

Stars, according to film theory, are found in both the roles they play in films and the media exposure they receive as a consequence, which in turn contributes to the meaning they bring to their next role.

Within the next few years, a string of films were constructing and cashing in on Parveen Babi’s star image. One film in particular presented what would arguably become her most remembered role. The 70s blockbuster Deewar (Yash Chopra) showed Babi lying in bed with the then emerging superstar Amitabh Bachchan, smoking a post-coital cigarette. In a country where female smokers and sex before marriage are still considered taboo the image sent shock waves down its conservative sensibilities.

But there was also an unmistakable fascination with what Parveen Babi was representing. Babi’s co-star Amitabh Bachchan noted: “I did the maximum number of films with Parveen after Jaya. The audience liked us as a pair. She brought in a new, bohemian kind of leading lady to the screen.”

Parveen Babi clearly destabilised established notions about respectable femininity in conservative India. Yet many of her films were phenomenally successful. Babi’s star image thus invites many different meanings, and its study could well lead to a broader exploration of the culture in which it circulated.

It is important that bold and bohemian as Parveen Babi was, she never transgressed the category of femininity itself. For most part, she allowed herself to be displayed as an object of desire for the voyeuristic gaze of a largely male audience. She was certainly different, but not threatening to established patriarchal norms in mainstream cinema. In contrast, Babi’s fellow contemporary Zeenat Aman habitually transgressed gender boundaries in films such as Don (Chandra Barot, 1978).

Star images are also said to embody the fantasies, desires and myths often otherwise repressed in ordinary people.

Parveen Babi may have allowed male audiences to temporarily suspend traditional values, and to project their secret desires onto the bold, sexually-liberated woman she was representing. By the same token, female audiences could identify with her image as what they really wanted to be.

We may never fully understand our fascination with star images. Indeed we may be reluctant to, for the deeper we delve into the voyeuristic pleasure or identification processes at work, the closer we are to uncovering the darker side to our own selves.

In Deewar, Parveen Babi is killed off by the bad guys once she has fulfilled her function as the object of desire. This can be read as the reflection of an unconscious and, should I say, patriarchal desire and willingness to enjoy the forbidden fruit, as long as we can annihilate it afterwards and, by definition, our own guilt. In real life too it appears that the Bollywood that adored Babi at the height of her fame and beauty, left her to die on her own.

Parveen Babi acted in more than 50 films, including Amar Akbar Anthony, Kalia, and Khuddar. She quit films in the 1980s to experiment with alternative philosophies and lifestyles, in India and overseas. In the 90s she returned home, but became a recluse, rarely venturing out of the house. Some people speculated that she also suffered from schizophrenia.

Amitabh Bachchan in an interview after her death sounded almost apologetic: “The nature of her illness was such that she was terrified of people. We felt by associating ourselves with her we were causing her more grief.”

Despite her tragic end, Parveen Babi will go down in history as a cultural icon and someone who paved the way for a new generation of stars like Aishwarya Rai. Rai was recently featured on the cover of Time, three decades after Babi enjoyed the same privilege.

(This article was published in The Evening Weekly on 7 March 2005)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Max Payne

Mark Wahlberg as Max Payne

What a waste of exquisite photography (by Jonathan Sela) and art direction work (by Daniel T. Dorrance).

It is obvious that someone truly believed in the project and was ready to pour all that finance into the technical brilliance of the film (Dan Zimmerman's film editing, sound and visual effects were superb, too).

Mark Wahlberg was not as bad as some say. Perhaps he put up that stone-faced poise because there is no other choice being in this film!

The former Calvin Klein underwear model, also known earlier as Marky Mark, is a good actor and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Martin Scorsese's Best Film Oscar winning The Departed in 2006.

Marky will next be seen in The Lovely Bones, based on the book by Alice Sebold and directed by none other than Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson.

Ultimately I think it is a failure of both director John Moore and the screenplay by Beau Thorne which made Max Payne one of the worst films of last year.


Max Payne on

Thursday, February 12, 2009

“Cuckoo’s Nest” revisited

30 years since it came out One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has lost none of its punch, says Sharif Ali:

“Come on, which one of you nuts has got any guts?” says Jack Nicholson to the patients of the insane asylum when he insists on watching the baseball World Series and the head nurse asks for a show of hands for those in favour of it.

This is one of the many memorable lines of One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, only the second movie in Oscar history to sweep the top five awards (Best Film, Director -- Milos Forman, Actor -- Jack Nicholson, Actress – Louise Fletcher and Screenplay adapted by Bo Goldman and Laurence Hauben from Ken Kessey’s best-selling 1962 novel).

The film is about a rape convict in jail (Nicholson as Randall McMurphy) who fakes insanity and gets transferred to a mental institution where he inspires the inmates to stand up to the firm head nurse and to explore their horizons.

One Flew shot Nicholson to glory. He did turn in notable performances before in Easy Rider (1969) and Five Easy Pieces (1970) but his role in One Flew as cocky misfit McMurphy confirmed his leading man status in Hollywood then.

The film has a great ensemble cast including a very young, shy and carefree Danny de Vito as Martini, a childish and stuttering Brad Dourif as Billy Bibbit and a host of diverse characters.

Although Nicholson’s performance won the larger share of the praise, Louise Fletcher’s restrained performance opposite him as the no-nonsense, stand-by-the-rules nurse Rachel is remarkable. She fully embodies the character of a stern head who always stands in the way of any attempt by the inmates to cross the line.

Forman does not portray her as a villain though. We all know she is just doing her job and that she cares for the inmates.

The casting of the film is its biggest strength. "I think it was the film people had been waiting for from Jack Nicholson," says producer Michael Douglas. "It fits classically into his non-conformist image." Director Milos Forman specifically praises Louise Fletcher. "She is dangerous," Forman says of the character, "because she really believes in what she is doing."

The movie is essentially a drama but Forman incorporates a great deal of film noir. It has a hopeless protagonist trying to get the inmates under his wings, a femme fatale who determines the run of events, a bleak atmosphere and some highly influential supporting characters.

It also has many amusing moments. Nicholson takes the inmates on a fishing trip, and when questioned by a guard about what they were doing, he introduces all the patients as doctors. A few moments before that a woman asks them whether they are crazy and de Vito nods with a smile.

In fact the movie is full of fine moments. In one scene where all the inmates are gathered around for consultation with the head nurse, a cigarette drops at the feet of one. He starts yelling and hops out of the frame. The focus then is on Nicholson and another patient who argues with the nurse for denying him cigarettes and Nicholson tries to calm him down. While this argument takes place the sound of the previous patient is also heard in the background. Forman effectively uses sound here to build dramatic intensity.

In another scene Nicholson gathers everyone in front of a blank TV screen and relays a commentary on a baseball World Series game after the nurse denies the right to watch it.

The film’s cinematography and art direction help create a bleak atmosphere. The scenes look dreary in both indoors and outdoors. Inside the asylum the walls are white and brown, and the inmates all wear dull greyish robes. It conveys their monotonous lives having to go through the same procedures every day. Besides the four dimensional framing gives a sense of confinement about these characters who are trapped in their own little worlds.

It is rather impossible not to associate the film with the political climate of the time. It was a time of huge failures in the American system. Vietnam war, the only war America lost in its history, just ended and the Watergate scandal had forced President Nixon to resign. The inmates may be representing the American society who were engaged in their own fight for moral freedom.

Forman might have also intended to make a parody of the Cold War through the conflicts between Nicholson and Fletcher. Fletcher is the intolerant, socialist authority that was Russia while Nicholson is the free-spirited man fighting for individual rights and freedom that was America. After all Forman was a victim of Cold War when he had to flee to the States after the Soviet crackdown on his native Czechoslovakia. Maybe that was his message: Eastern Europe’s fight for independence from Russia.

In short One Flew, which won the 20th spot in the American Film Institute’s top 100 films of all time, is a deeply humanistic and intense portrayal of an individual’s rise against authority. One critic puts it nicely: “The awe-inspiring performances by Jack Nicholson and the ward patients remind viewers that freedom is worth the risk of rebellion.”

(This article was published in The Evening Weekly on 28 March 2005)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Farhan Akhtar: the quiet Indian

Poster of "Lakshya"; director Farhan Akhtar (inset top right)

By Hilath Rasheed

After watching the intensely engaging drama of three friends in his debut film “Dil Chahta Hai”, which I have to say is now my all-time favorite number one Hindi film of all time for the right reasons, I was naturally looking forward to Farhan Akhtar’s next film.

Though I was not fortunate to catch it on the big screen because I was in Male at the time of its release, surprisingly I got hold of an original DVD of “Lakshya” quite soon after its big screen release. But later when I came to think of it, it was no surprise at all that the DVD came out so soon because I found out that “Lakshya” was quite unpopular among even hardcore Bollywood fans (like a few of my friends who saw it on the silver screen in India) and the audiences in India itself. Needless to say, the producers must have released the DVD because they might have wanted to minimize losses before the buzz about “Lakshya” died.

The only positive review I read about “Lakshya” was in British Film Institute’s “Sight and Sound” magazine, a monthly journal which includes film analysis and film reviews written by professors and academics who actually write film theory and various university books about film! In “Sight and Sound” the film reviewer had stated that “Lakshya” was among his top three Hindi war movies; the others were “Border” and “Haqeeqat.”

It was only after seeing the film did I come to realize why only a few liked “Lakshya.” It was not Akhtar’s fault of course. Audiences and his fans had been wanting another “Dil Chahta Hai” and “Lakshya” simply was something altogether different.

After watching Indian-born but America-based director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film “The Village” (which I am going to talk about in a later issue), I almost fell sympathy for Shyamalan because like Akhtar’s fans (and his critics), almost everyone was wanting another Shymalan “signature”, a film with a supernatural twist at its climax, and when Shyamalan did “something out of character,” both his fans and critics trashed what could be Shyamalan’s best film to date.

It is natural that a director gets a hardcore almost cult-like fan base because he has developed a certain style of filmmaking which his or her fans and critics expect from him. For instance, fans and critics are drawn to David Lynch because of his particular type of mind-boggling films like “Mulholland Drive” and “Twin Peaks.”

While this holds true for many audiences, personally I prefer films which are different in its own but for the right reasons and which can engage me. Perhaps, it was due to this discerning and discriminating nature of mine that I came to appreciate the masterpiece that is “Lakshya.”

It is difficult and not even fair to compare “Dil Chahta Hai” and “Lakshya” because both films are too different to be compared, in subject matter as well. However, on a technical and film-making level, “Lakshya” surpasses any Hindi film I have so far watched.

Hrithik Roshan’s excellent performance as an idling youth transformed into responsibility-bearing maturity is commendable while Preity Zinta’s understated performance matches and complements his performance. (Preity Zinta’s underrated performance in “Dil Chahta Hai” and Madhuri Dixit’s quiet performance in “Dil To Pagal Hai” remains my favorite female performances in a Hindi film to date).

But while much has been harped on Roshan’s transformation, which seems to be of a much more concern for audiences and critics who are concerned only with story or narrative-driven films, for me this seems dwarfed in comparison to the almost religious experience one is treated to in Christopher Ropp’s excellently cinematographed sparse, harsh landscapes that is Kargil, the battleground between Indian and Pakistan troops.

And herein lies my problem in how to review the film; I originally intended to write a review of the film but for once, I do not have the adequate vocabulary to describe what I felt after watching “Lakshya.”

“But perhaps readers might be more interested in checking out ‘Lakshya’ because you cannot quantify or describe in words how engaging the film was to you,” one of my friends told me in encouragement, which is why I have settled down to commenting about Akhtar and “Lakshya” rather than reviewing the film.

Like Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down,” watching “Lakshya” is almost a spiritual experience, not to mention that “Lakshya” has war scenes that could almost rival “Black Hawk Down” and that are almost as engaging as Scott’s Somalia drama.

There is a sense of desolate and haunting mood and atmosphere evoked in my mind much like the way when I was watching “The English Patient.” Which is why I suggested, to my friends who wanted to watch the film, to make it a personal and private viewing. Indeed, like “The English Patient,” “Lakshya” seems to evoke the right mood only when you watch alone, without any company to distract you. And the poignancy you feel also seems to be something that you would like to enjoy privately rather than sharing with anyone else. Which is quite a paradox when you come to think of it; I still cannot grasp why a cinematic film like “Lakshya”, which is obviously intended for the big screen with its sprawling landscapes, evokes so much thought when I watch it alone, in a darkened room.

Much has been debated about the relevance of songs in Hindi films but in “Lakshya,” the songs are catchy and could have a life of their own. In fact, Roshan’s “Main Esa Kyun” and his duet with Zinta, “Agar Main Kahoon,” are quite a visual-fest; the former demonstrating Roshan’s slippery-as-a-snake (not in the negative sense) dance steps with an “I-Robot” like troupe, and the latter, fun-driven and playful.

Though it is hard to find similarities between “Dil Chahta Hai”, which was a poignant yet bubbly film about friendships and love, and “Lakshya” which is grandeur and epic in scale, some of Akhtar’s trademark signatures are still obvious in “Lakshya.” In addition to great visuals and imagery, Akthar’s films are sparse in dialogue, yet the lines delivered are punchy and funny at the same time. It is quite a welcome to watch a film where characters talk quietly rather than the loud rattling we hear in most Bollywood films.

And like “Dil Chahta Hai,” in “Lakshya” what is left unsaid seems to give more dimension to characters, their relationships and the overall narrative of the film. It also serves to increase the poignancy of the story and instills in the viewer a sense of sadness, loneliness and longing as seen in the quiet tension when Zinta, who after college has become a news anchor, are at a loss for words when she finally meets Roshan who has become a soldier stationed at Kargil. The musical and poetic quality of the film is at its most pronounced here, especially in the scene where a song quietly plays in the background unobtrusively while Zinta and Roshan sits quietly looking at each other without any spoken words and halfway through, the barracks are bombed and they are seen together hand-in-hand running for safety, with the song still playing in the background along with the sounds of the loud explosions.

(This article was published in The Evening Weekly on 31 January 2005)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Swades: three-hour brain drain

Although certain critics and non-resident Indians may have loved it, Swades is predictable, preachy, and pretentious, argues Ali Rasheed:

Two months before the release of his latest film Swades, Ashutosh Gowariker was almost dismissive about its central message.

“I have nothing against people who go abroad to study and earn money” the director, whose Lagaan was nominated for an Oscar, told IndiaFM. “But what I am trying to say is that somewhere we need to pause and think about the country too.”

His film is anything but coy about its subject matter. Overtly preachy and sentimental about the issue of India’s brain drain, the film reeks of its own self-importance in everything from the tagline “we the people” in the poster to endless dialogues reinforcing its position.

Mohan (Shah Rukh Khan), a scientist working at NASA, takes time off to return to India to make up to his neglected foster-mum Kaveriamma (Kishori Ballal). He discovers her in the remote village of Charanpur, where she has made a home with a single, young teacher Gita (Gayatri Joshi) and her brother Chikku (Master Smith Seth). Predictably, Mohan reconciles with Kaveriamma, falls in love with Gita, builds a hydro-electrical power system for Charanpur, and then leaves for the US amidst much tears, mostly his own. But the pukar or call of the village and its inhabitants is more than a match for the penthouse lifestyle he has found in the West, and he soon returns to India, this time for good.

Clearly calculated to appeal to the nationalistic tug in the hearts of resident as well as non-resident Indians, an important market for Bollywood films, the narrative, nevertheless, abounds in gaps and fissures. For instance, quite why a country, which has so many engineers and scientists, needs to re-import a NASA scientist to build an HEP system is never made clear.

Gowariker also takes liberties with location. Charanpur, the fictional village of the story is supposed to be in Uttar Pradesh, a state consisting of plains, hills, mountains, and valleys, and peopled by a wide mix of ethnic groups. But the film was actually shot in Bahai, between Maharashtra and Panchgani, not too far away from Bombay.

“Gowariker’s village -- given its home-architecture, absence of law and order chaos, unsure accents --doesn’t seem to belong to UP to me at least,” an internet poster noted.

For whatever reason, Gowariker prefers to forgo the rich, dramatic physical and ethnic possibilities of Uttar Pradesh to construct a mundane village inhabited by stereotypical country bumpkins, few of who are anything more than caricatures.

These rural simpletons enable the film to draw cheap laughs and cheap tears at will. At one point, Mohan takes journey via a train and sailing boat to collect rent off a farming family living some way off. While cinematographer Mahesh Aney’s work here is breathtaking, it never rises above the picture-postcard level. Moreover, the poverty-stricken farming family is represented as little more than objects of pity designed to squeeze a few tears out of the hero’s eyes, and a few rupees out of his wallet.

As Mohan travels through India, the audience should believe that he is slowly falling in love with the country itself. But the passing images and the star’s performance fail to establish any meaningful connection, and Gowariker’s central premise remains unrealised, at least cinematically.

Instead, we see Khan struggling to rise above the particular brand of his star-persona manufactured with director Karan Johar in such films as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. The same distanced, tongue-in-cheek, self-parodying performance surfaces occasionally, especially in the early sequences involving a visit by Gita’s prospective in-laws. Not surprisingly, the performances of the other actors, notably newcomer Gayatri Joshi, easily outshine the ageing superstar’s tired tactics.

Gowariker primarily relies on dialogues to state and restate his nationalistic agenda, as different characters take turns to preach it. The film occasionally even dips into clichéd Bollywood dialogues. When Gita asks Mohan to explain why he thinks she’s in love with him he says: “Your eyes tell me so.” Hindi films have time and again expounded the myth that when a woman says “no” she really means “yes”, an ideology that has also been used to legitimate rape and sexual harassment of women.

This seems out of place for a film, which in certain scenes appears to be trying to impart progressive social messages, including gender equality. “I was keen to make a film that had a message,” Gowariker told “Mohan is confronted with several social ailments: caste system, illiteracy, child labour.”

But the film does not really explore these issues; they are merely touched on in the dialogues. The issues seem to have been used to lend an air of importance to the film, rather than to genuinely critique convention.

A R Rahman’s music and Javed Akhthar’s lyrics are also subservient to the conveying of Gowriker’s ideology. The sentimental song “Yeh jo desh hai tera” a fine example of this, states in the most mundane and verbose way possible what the film has failed to convey cinematically: that the bond between the protagonist and his country outweighs everything else.

A large segment of Indian audiences, the most discerning in the world, has found Swades lacking in entertainment value. An internet poster summed the film up thus: “The story of Swades would’ve been ideal for a documentary, but for a feature film with a running time of 3 hour plus and starring the country’s biggest star, it just doesn’t work.”

Indeed the hydro-electrical power “success-story” in the film does seem an ideal pitch for an Azimuths documentary.

Even supposedly more upmarket, intelligent audiences are unlikely to take kindly to the film. One of the evils of filmmaking is to undermine the intelligence of its audience; by repeatedly preaching morality to them like a schoolmarm, Gowariker’s film may well end up alienating all sections of cinemagoers.

I watched the film at a Bombay multiplex only days after it was released (I was able to get tickets) and, to my surprise, found a few empty seats in the cinema. As the film played on the big screen and in Dolby Digital sound, the people sitting next to me spent most of the three hours sending text messages on their mobiles and chatting.

The only time they showed any enthusiasm was during the film-within-a-film sequence, when an extract of Nasir Hussain’s 70s cult classic Yaadon Ki Baraat came up.

(This article was published in The Evening Weekly on 17 January 2005)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Batman: the Dark Knight begins?

This summer director Christopher Nolan & writer David S. Goyer bring us their version of the Dark Knight. Is a prequel really the answer to the Bat franchise, asks Ibrahim Hussain Shihab:

I wish I could say I was a true Batman fan from the beginning but I can’t. I had read comics off and on when I was in my pre-teens, teens, early twenties… you get the picture, BUT I was never truly a fan. Don’t get me wrong, I was, and still am, a fan of the first two Batman films by Tim Burton. I mean, let me put it to you this way, when a 5’9” Michael Keaton, wearing platforms and a rubber suit said “I’m Batman” I believed him, Tim Burton made me believe.

Following up to the first “Batman” (1989), Tim Burton and the soon-to-be-released film in general were dissed by a lot of fans because they didn’t believe Keaton had the stature to pull it off but the both of them pulled it off, with no lesser a contribution, in terms of the musical score, from Danny Elfman. They got Gotham. It was dark alleys, fog, crime around every corner and dirty cops lining their pockets with mob money. It was dank, depressing and devoid of colour except for that partly yellow logo on Batman’s chest.

But they didn’t really nail down Batman -- I mean he did have the angst, he did brood but he also slept upside down and was a wee bit chattier then I would eventually know him to be. And if you think I am nitpicking, you may be right but this one will be the kicker -- he shot people and the real Batman… well we’ll get to that later.

Batman returned in “Batman Returns” (1992) and I have to say, I loved him more. I could not put my finger on why most of my friends didn’t like “Batman Returns” more than “Batman”, but their tastes aside, “Returns” would truly be the defining moment on my path to true Batfandom. The story, the characters and the themes were darker and Batman was more relentless yet also forgiving at the same time; that is, he did not kill. On the down side, ok I DO realise why some of my friends hated it, the plot had a few *coughs* holes and, while I admit Keaton was at his best in this film as the title character, Bats was still chatty -- still not really Batman.

Then came the forgettable “Batman Forever” (1995) and the regrettable “Batman & Robin” (1997), which should have been titled “Batman: How to kill a franchise”. I was mortified and considering I had only Tim Burton’s Batman for comparison. (Words don’t really fail me but I’d like to think of myself as a better man so I won’t go there).

At this point let me give you an inkling of how royally pissed I was with “Batman: How to kill a franchise”; its writer (Akiva “never leave the cave without it” Goldsman received an Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind” in 2001) -- if Batman was gunning for Goldsman, I’d provide Bats with a map and a GPS locator beacon AND mark the map with a huge X on where Goldsman was located. For further impact please note the following: I LOVE good writers and I would admit that there’s some good writing in “Mind”. “Phone Booth” (2002) and “Tigerland” (2000) are not bad films and I’d think twice about doing the same to Joel Schumacher but I’d still do it to the director as well.

All hope for a good comic book movie, much less a good Batman, seemed lost. Then this little movie called “Blade” (1998) came out and got me to thinking otherwise. In the meantime, due to an honest to God university assignment, I chanced upon Batman again, but this time in the form of the purest comic book incarnation and I defected to the dark side.

While walking down a dark alley on their way home from the theatre, little Bruce Wayne sees his parents gunned down by a thief. He survives and blames himself, it was his idea to see the movie, and it was at his suggestion that his mother wore the pearls which was seemingly the target of the attack. As he stands at their graves, he swears that he will do everything in his power to prevent this from happening again. He’s rich, he has the means and he vows to acquire the skills to fulfil his promise. He travels the world, building himself physically and mentally and when he comes back to Gotham he will come full circle -- because all his travels and all his skills are just tools. It is a creature of the night that will define him, in his weakest hour, in Gotham.

Here is a man driven by the death of his parents, a death he blames himself for, to right the injustices of the world, to fight crime and to bring criminals to justice. He doesn’t use guns, but he uses other “weapons” in his arsenal to extremely good effect AND he does not kill, although sometimes those he goes after would have wished death rather than the Dark Knight. Oh and about being chatty -- he hardly ever speaks, the dude has a monopoly on monosyllables and that too when he absolutely has to.

Switching back to “reality”: in 2002 another little film called “Blade II” caught my attention and I remember thinking “this is how Batman should be filmed”. Fast-forward a few months and I’d have to view “Memento” (2000) in a class screening and as I was watching, I revelled in the pure noir of the film, I mean Chris Nolan handles darkness like David Lynch handles weirdness.

I know some of you think you see where I’m going with this but if you expect me to come away applauding, saying this is the Batman I want to see you’d be wrong. “Blade Trinity” was a travesty and Nolan is so adapt at filming morally grey characters that if he trips up, I’d be twice disappointed.

Comic’s greats the likes of Dennis O’Neal, Jeph Leob and most significantly Frank Miller have defined and moulded this Bob Kane creation to a knife’s edge. You touch this thing the wrong way…

Batman has never been done true to his purest incarnation and so far the best thing about this has been that an origins story has never been attempted; I’m dreading “Batman Begins” while at the same time giddy as a comic book freak with anticipation.

(This article was published in The Evening Weekly on 21 March 2005)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Summer of Trek?

After watching the Super Bowl trailer for some of the "2009 summer movies" I'd have to say, based on 30 seconds of flash cuts mind you, that "Star Trek" might be the one to beat.

Trailer for the rebooted/reimagine "Star Trek" - courtesy of Trailer Addict


Because, I thought it had a decent enough story, even in the 30 seconds, compared to the other trailers AND it's being put together by a team that has a cult following... granted that the cult following is mainly based around their TV work (Just in case you've been living under a rock and haven't heard, I'm talking about team Abrams/Orci/Kurtzman who brought us "Alias", "Fringe" and "Mission: Impossible III" just to name a few)!

Most "Star Trek" fans have been itching to see this (I assume) since this was originally scheduled for December 2008 and has been delayed a tad... AND also since it is set to change (for the best/worse) established Trek lore in ways that... well we'll have to wait and see won't we?

Trailer for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" - courtesy of Trailer Addict

Apparently "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" was the highest rated amongst the Super Bowl trailers. I must say, that I wasn't that impressed with the first (the Michael Bay version not the animated) Transformers movie - it was all right, wasn't blown away. And I'm not all that impressed with the trailer for Revenge of the Fallen either.

Interestingly though, both Transformer movies were also written by Orci and Kurtzman!

And is it just me or does the trailer for "G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra" look a tad like a trailer for a bad video game inspired movie?!!?!?

Trailer for "UP" - courtesy of Trailer Addict

Aaand, although the "Monster vs. Aliens" trailer was rated above "Up" I'd have to say that the latter seems to be a better bet in terms of striking the right humour chord...

BUT who am I kidding... judging a movie by a 30 to 45 second trailer is probably worse than judging a book by its cover... So we'll have to see how good/bad the movies are when they're out.

What's the point of this post you ask... I dunno... I kinda lost my train of thought there...

For those who will be near a decent cinema during the summer - have fun at the movies!

I'll be swimming in the beautiful lagoons of the Maldives banging my head against a coral reef!!

Monday, February 2, 2009

What's length got to do with it?

Maldives' most successful filmmaker Fathimath Nahula,
director of Kalaayaa Nulaa, Zuleikha and Yoosuf

by Hilath Rasheed

A recent Dhivehi film to hit the Maldives’ screen was three and a half hours long. Moviegoers who viewed it claimed that the events portrayed did not justify the movie’s lengthy running time.

There were unnecessary scenes that the director could have cut, in order to hold on to viewers’ interest, streamline the movie, and not lose its tone and mood. The director’s lame excuse for the movie’s lengthiness: give the audience "value for money".

The movie was like those first-time essays that we write in school. Too much diversion from the topic. Too much unnecessary information. Of course, it then served our objectives; make our essays as lengthy as possible, regardless of what we wrote, our purpose being to deceive our teachers, and get good marks from a half-hearted effort.

But most students now know that teachers are intelligent, and that they are not to be deceived. Likewise, film producers and directors should know that nowadays, there actually is an intellectual and intelligent audience out there. (Blame it on awareness, if you like). And these intelligent and critical movie viewers do not like to be duped. They are not concerned with the length of the movies, but by the quality of them. Remember, all our lives, we have been asked to believe that "quality matters, not quantity"? Similarly, in the case of movies, it is the quality of the movie that matters, not its running time.

Of course, Titanic was an exception. It is a good example of a lengthy movie that actually delivers. Even at three and a quarter hours, the audience held onto the very end. Until the final blissful dream Rose had of a reunion with Jack on the grand staircase of Titanic. USA Today hailed: "Titanic is the only long movie in recent history that you can actually sail through with minimum wrist watch checks."

The reason? The movie had scenes that were in harmony with themselves, despite Titanic’s cheesy (tin-eared?) dialogue.

A segment of the intelligent audience admitted that the Hindi film Khamoshi was something unique, but only in contrast to the hundreds of mainstream, commercial Hindi movies that hit the regional and international market each year. While this was so, they also admitted that one reason why Khamoshi—critically acclaimed by Indian standards—failed to create a stir among audiences, was its unnecessary length that could not actually justify its plot. The beginning and end of the movie was gripping, but the body lacked evidence of intelligent movie-making. Filmgoers drowsed off towards the middle of the movie, and only woke up to see the ending.

A movie’s success depends not on its length, but by the creativity and wits of the director in holding onto viewers’ interest and ending the movie on the same tone it began, without losing track of the movie’s moods. It is like writing an essay without diverting from the topic.

Serious moviegoers likewise could not appreciate Khamoshi director Sanjay Leela Bansali’s most recent effort Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam; those who watched it would know that only the latter half of the movie after the ‘interval’ was what really mattered. Salman Khan’s fussy attempts at comedy, before the ‘interval’, was purely intimidating, if not irritating. It may have satisfied the cravings of those die-hards fans of his whose only reason to buy a 25 Rufiya ticket was to see Salman Khan, not the movie. Those who went to see the movie, and not Salman Khan, left the cinema, regretting on the better consumer choices they could have made with 25 Rufiyas.

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was a recent Hollywood version of a movie gone awry. Except for its gripping pod-racing scenes, the movie was completely off the track in the middle. Some viewers claimed that immediately after the Ben Hur-like pod-racing scene, they drowsed off towards the lengthy, eventless period where the Jedis debated on whether to take on Anakin Skywalker for Jedi training. The sleeping audience was jerked back to their feet only towards the climactic multiple-battle end.

The Phantom Menace was two and a half hours long—long by Hollywood standards, with nothing much to deliver, except the pod-racing scene, the underwater world of Jar Jar Binks, and a final light saber clash with Darth Maul and a galactic battle at the end, to wrap it all up. The Phantom Menace’s only saving grace was that Star Wars had die-hard fans like us who were willing to contribute to the 400 million US dollar worldwide box office gross.

Journalists are not the only ones responsible for sensationalism. Film producers and directors are guilty of this act, too. Which is why most of the Dhivehi films, and Hindi films from neighbouring India, are overwrought productions of underlining melodrama and farfetched-ness.

Producers and directors seem not to know the meaning of restraint. Small wonder that local movies are of stories that surround so much on emotional outbursts, weeping and crying. All that the actresses —and actors—can do, seems to be, cry, cry, cry. Outbursts occur even for trivial things. Few, if any, Dhivehi movies show restraint.

Some Hindi films do show restraint, such as the recent commercial hit Dil Kya Kare, which showed some elements of good movie-making: running time was two and a half hours (short by Bollywood standards), songs were not intimidating, and actors and actresses, quite surprisingly, showed restraint. There is only one outburst throughout the whole film, even though the movie was a highly emotional drama. The only outburst is at the climactic end, and the situation justifies it; for anyone who has watched Dil Kya Kare, one can actually understand the emotional abyss Kajol and Mahima had fallen into. Dil Kya Kare had intelligently shown restraint, unlike any recent Hindi film.

No matter how much weeping and crying there is in a movie, if those outbursts are not justified by the script, no audience will feel any emotion towards the movie. Viewers will not identify themselves with the actors. They will only feel intimidated.

For those producers and directors who do not understand what restraint is, they have a wide variety of choices to watch from. If you want to watch a movie with restrained humour, Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral will do. In Jeet, Amrish Puri shows restrained humour. He won a Best Supporting Actor Filmfare Award for the role. Dil Kya Kare shows restrained emotion.

The director of the three-and-a-half-hour long Dhivehi movie that hit the Maldives cinema this year—let’s call the movie, Movie X—had a lame excuse to cover up whatever loopholes could be found in her script (which she herself wrote) and her effort at movie-making. She said that audience should be given "value for money" for their spending on to see the movie. Since the price of tickets, at 40 Rufiya each, were deemed reasonably high by Maldivian standards, viewers had the right to see a movie that were of "satisfactory length (or running time)", she claimed. This maybe a marketable argument for the gullible, but thinking people are not to be deluded. If the producer and director of Movie X were sincerely concerned in giving "value for money" for their moviegoers, they should have offered a "quality" movie, not a movie of unnecessary "quantity". Her argument can be sold to those people who are actually concerned with the length of movies.

This may come as surprising, but there are some people who seem to have more than enough time in their hands, and treat movies as a form of entertainment to while away boredom. This segment of the audience cannot be termed as "serious moviegoers". What they need is long hours of entertainment—movies, serials, soap operas—to while away their carefree lives. No wonder that some people can sit in front of TV round-the-clock, channel-hopping, sipping whatever crappy programmes offered.

To cite an actual incident that proved that this audience exists: two friends who were recently in Malaysia went to a shopping mall. The male friend checked cinema listings, and saw that most-wanted recent movies were on play, such as the likes of The Haunting and Deep Blue Sea. The female friend looked at the cinema timings and commented that she didn’t want to watch any of those movies, however good they were, but that instead she wanted to go home. The male friend asked her what was wrong, and she replied: "All of the movies that are playing are too short. I don’t like when movies end too fast. Let’s go home. We can rent and watch something that is long." Perhaps a three-hour long Hindi movie? Quality didn’t matter to her. Quantity did.

A recent trend in Maldivian cinema is to put out movies of record running time. Maybe to cater to that certain breed of cinema-goers who like their movies long, however crappy they are. There was a movie (‘epic’ they called it) that was of three hours and 45 minutes running time— half an hour longer than even Titanic. Should these movies be run on cinema as serials? Or should producers and directors start making ‘made-for-TV’ movies or soaps that can fill the empty slots of air time on television channels?

Such trends leads us to question: Is the purpose of producers and directors to make a half-hearted effort in order to make profit in our consumer society? What happened to the element of artistic value? Did it get buried by prevailing popular culture or the pressures of our market-oriented society? Isn’t there anyone, anyone who will be bold enough to stand up for art?

(This article was published in Haveeru Daily on 18 Nov 1999)

Notting Hill

This is actually quite a touching movie which is about the personal sacrifices you have to make in exchange for fame.

Hilarious dialogue. A much subdued Julia Roberts. A likeable Hugh Grant.

With a great cast, this a smooth, flowing, and a truly romantic comedy.


Notting Hill on

The Matrix

This film revolutionised the way I had previously thought about my existence, spirituality and religion. I have never been the same again. Thus this is the film that changed my life forever and transformed me for all times to come -- the key turning point in my life.

Like for many others as well, it was on my second viewing that I really got the gist of the film.

I went to see the film 7 times when it was showing on cinemas in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and even then it was not enough.

I also distinctly remember one of my friends, who is an air steward, who visited me that time and when he had to choose between two films to see at the cinema as he had to fly off again, he choose to see the lame Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace which put me to sleep.

The Matrix is revolutionary epic science fiction fantasy with revolutionary visual effects which won it 4 Oscars including for visual effects, beating Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace which must have really pissed off George Lucas (I actually feel sympathy for him after his own revolutionary amazing digital animation work which but somehow never raises his film to level of art).

Time Magazine chose The Matrix as its best film of 1999 though the Oscar for Best Film that year went to American Beauty.

Although Keanu Reeves cannot act, once again he shows that he just being there in an action movie is enough!

Directed by the Wachoski brothers who made the highly acclaimed Bound -- with a lesbian twist.


The Matrix on

The Iron Giant

Based on Ted Hughes' book The Iron Man, The Iron Giant is the unusual story of an alien steel-eating giant robot who literally has no business being on earth and thus has no place in the hearts of the planet's inhabitants, except for a small town boy who discovers him, with whom he develops an unlikely yet devoted friendship.

The movie tragically underscores one of the greatest human truths -- that we seek to destroy that which we do not understand and in the process unwittingly destroys the humanity that is inside us.

Funny, sad and touching at times, with characters you cannot help but fall in love with, if I am ever required to choose my all-time best animated feature film, this will be it. Not surprising because it comes from Brad Bird, that great director who made some of the greatest animated films ever like The Incredibles and Ratatouille both of which won the Best Animated Feature Film Oscars in their respective years.


The Iron Giant on

The Thin Red Line

The 1998 film is auteur Terence Malick's first film in two decades (his earlier film being 1978's Days of Heaven) and it was like a nightmarish psychedelic dream sequence, much like the director's latest film The New World starring Colin Ferrell and Christian Bale based on the true version of the Pocahontas story.

The Thin Red Line tries to show us how soldiers from all walks of life are affected psychologically during longs periods of war.

Great cinematography, heart-stopping action and suspense and great sound effects make this film a really cinematic experience.

Malick's devotion to re-creating the atmosphere and a deliberate slow pace to really involve us and make us come close to what the soldiers are truly feeling during those long horrifying war years make this a rewarding masterpiece.

Malick remains one of my favorite directors ever.


The Thin Red Line on


In a less cynical world, James Cameron's romantic epic would need no defences, yet its extraordinary popularity doomed it to underrated status.

A rare and unique cinematic experience, Titanic remains a haunting spectacle of young and selfless love, the kind we all dream about but seldom get in life, made timeless by technological doom.

Winner of 11 Oscar awards including Best Film and the world's highest grossing movie of all time at 1.86 billion US dollars in Box Office ticket sales.


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The English Patient

"The heart knows no boundaries. In memory, love lives forever." Tragic, but true. A theme I have always been obsessed with for my whole life. Words cannot describe the sorrowful rendition of this haunting theme in one of the best love stories ever told on the big screen.

Winner of 9 Oscar awards including Best Film and based on the Booker Prize winning book by Sri Lankan-Canadian-Netherlands author Michael Ondaatje, author of Atonement, the film of which was nominated last year for the Best Film Oscar.


The English Patient on

Mission Impossible

Brian de Palma who directed that masterfully crafted movie The Untouchables does it again here.

The cast, the cinematography, the score and above all how the complex plot unravels with the film's pace all combine for another masterpiece of movie-making.

And Tom Cruise is so watchable.

If only action films were this stylish and this good.


Mission Impossible on

White Squall

Maybe it is because I come from a sea-faring nation, this movie really identifies with my soul and character--and my obsession with that concept of man's relations with nature.

Director Ridley Scott's obsession with landscapes--I am happy it's the sea this time--combined with a cast of young guys like us, haunting score, heart-stopping climax, based on a true tragic story, touched a chord deep in my heart.


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While You Were Sleeping

A sweet, romantic and feel-good movie where once again everything has the right combination. Sandra Bullock is sensational. Music is touching. Locations really homely. And great cast, especially Peter Gallagher and Bill Pullman's family members.


While You Were Sleeping on