Sparrow- Johnnie To’s ballet with pick-pocketing

 

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I continue my obsession with this film and director’s works…

 

Johnnie To is currently the only ‘action auteur’ working in cinema anywhere in the world. And Sparrow is To’s exercise with the ‘lyrical’. It is essentially a caper-comedy playing out like a musical. And it hearkens back to French capers (To definitely has Melville on his mind in many of the film’s exquisite set-pieces).

A gang of pickpockets led by Simon Yam is beguiled by a mysterious lady on the run (Kelly Lin), and their schemes start to fall apart. As often with To, the conception of the film is slim, but the execution is rich. There are the games and competitions, the symmetries and repetitions, the offhand motifs (here, cigarettes, cigars, and pipes), the geometrical and arithmetical plot mechanics. To has become perhaps the world’s most unpretentiously, unapologetically formalist director.

It’s a procession of twists and set-pieces. There are the funny one-off shots, like the two grifters with symmetrically broken legs and the gang flashing the razor blades they hide in their mouths.

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Some sequences are unpredictable miniatures, like the scenes that show how many camera angles you can find in an elevator car, even with a fishtank squeezed in. There’s also a delirious bit with a lipstick-stained cigarette.

Other set-pieces unfold more majestically. There’s a sweeping crane shot of the gang vacuuming up wallets of passersby, and an elaborate theft of a pendant during massage therapy.

The film climaxes with a showdown between two master pickpockets, Kei (the suave Simon Yam) and Mr. Fu (Lo Hoi-pang), and their gangs in the drizzling Hong Kong night.

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The objective: Whoever ends up with the passport of the lovely Chun-lei (Kelly Lin) decides her fate. Mr. Fu wants to own her; Kei wants to set her free, much like the bird of the title (“sparrow” is also Cantonese slang for a pickpocket).

The bravura, slow-motion centerpiece sequence would seem more at home in an MGM musical than in a Hong Kong action flick. Armed with umbrellas and well-tailored suits and backed by an infectious musical score, gleaming neon lights and a downpour worthy of Gene Kelly, the pickpockets go “slingin’ in the rain”. You can watch this breathtaking sequence below-

 

 

The Sparrow is at once a loving tribute to old Hong Kong island (Simon’s hobby is black-and-white photography), an unpredictable genre piece (or a genre-bender), and an exercise in light-fingered filmmaking. It is also a lesson to the hollywood directors who think that ‘action’ is all about ‘frenzy’ and ‘mayhem’.

Ambling through sights and sounds in Sparrow (Johnnie To- 2008, Hong Kong)

 

Sound can bypass the conscious mind, working directly on our most visceral impulses such as ‘fight or flight’!

I have long believed that Johnnie To’s formal technique and his mastery in sound and visuals is second to none in contemporary world cinema. So I have decided to walk through a scene from his utterly masterful minimalist crime-thriller, Sparrow. Here is a sort of walk-through of that sequence-

 

The elusive Chun Lei (Kelly Lin) has gulled a quartet of pickpockets, and they pursue her to a rooftop. As the men explore it, we hear traffic and a distant plane, which evokes Chun Lei’s plan to flee Hong Kong.

 

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They spot her on the roof. The suggestion that she might jump is underscored by distant traffic horns.

 

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As the men approach Chun Lei, we hear distant sirens and a soft wind.

 

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An extreme long-shot of the gang provides a still broader sound canvas, with traffic sounds predominating.

 

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In a much tighter shot, as the actors come closer to the camera, the ambiance thins and softens. Now here To smartly times the traffic to underline the dialogue.” Chun Lei leans forward to kiss Bo (Lam Ka-Tung), trying to provoke the leader Kei (Simon Yam) to jealousy. We hear echoes of a passing truck, almost as a warning.

 

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Rangan On Zanjeer

Rangan hardly ever downright trashes a film (even when he should) but it’s hilarious when he does. I don’t even need to watch this drivel to know that it absolutely deserves this. And worse. And oh, SHUT UP PRIYANKA!

http://baradwajrangan.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/zanjeer-puppet-on-a-chain/

Richard Brody (The New Yorker) on Chan-wook’s ‘Stoker’

 

I have not seen the film yet but this is an exceptionally well-written piece. A certain Chan-wook fan on the blog had promised to me that she would she would write something on it (though she can educate us on the first paragraph, or more specifically the first sentence, of this article.)- regrettably she has not even seen it till now (probably because she is deeply saddened by the news that Josh Brolin is going to do a number on his Korean counterpart in the Spike Lee directed remake of Chan-wook’s Oldboy!).

 

“Stoker”: The Fears and Fantasies of Everyteen

 

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Posted by Richard Brody

March 5, 2013

LINK

“The proper translation for Freud’s 1909 coinage “Familienroman,” or “family romance”—regarding the child’s liberation fantasy of “the replacement of both parents or of the father alone by grander people”—is actually the “family novel,” and there’s something agreeably, engagingly novelistic about “Stoker,” the South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s incursion into a cushy corner of Connecticut and the tangled-up desires, dreams, memories, and impulses of one long-deluded teen-age girl, India Stoker (played by Mia Wasikowska). What the movie most resembles is a young-adult novel, of the sort that was the subject of controversy a couple of years ago for being “too dark.” For all the movie’s melodramatic twists, hyperbolic doings, and posh surroundings, its substance is very much the fears and fantasies and family loam of Everyteen (in particular, of familiar media versions of teen-age girls).

It starts out as a variation on a theme by Alfred Hitchcock—that of “Shadow of a Doubt” and the arrival of the mysterious, glamorous, seductive, long-absent Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). But where Hitchcock brings the uncle into a stable home that he then sets on its ear, Park and the screenwriter Wentworth Miller (with contributions by Erin Cressida Wilson) catch the family at a moment of utter vulnerability: India has just lost her father (Dermot Mulroney), with whom she was very close. Charlie, whom she had never met, finally shows up at the sumptuous and isolated family estate and ingratiates himself, rapidly and pressingly, with his brother’s widow (Nicole Kidman).

Things are quickly revealed to be even worse than they seem, as Charlie takes decisive steps to edge out of the picture anyone—the longtime housekeeper, an elderly great-aunt (Jacki Weaver)—who comes to doubt his motives. At first, it appears as if he covets both his brother’s wife and her fortune, and India becomes suspicious as well—but she also seems flickeringly jealous, and, where the young woman in Hitchcock kept her incestuous fantasies tightly contained, India avows them with a full-throated ecstasy (achieved, as it were, with yet another Hitchcockian touch). Yet the violence to which Uncle Charlie sinks is doubled by India’s own rough, physical response to a bullying classmate’s crude aggression. It’s hard to avoid spoilers at this point, but let’s leave it at this: India discovers that her parents have been concealing something very important regarding her uncle—and, given her emotionally close relationship with him, something very important about herself, about character traits that are a part of her own blood. When the truth comes out, her world is overturned, her monsters are unleashed, and she finds herself without the solid footing of character, self-knowledge, and moral clarity to fight them”…..

 

Read more HERE

 

 

The End of Simplicity- On Doordarshan’s “Farmaan” and the state of Indian TV

This one is for my co-blog owner (DD is the only thing we both seem to agree on. I admit that i had no idea about the serial before she told me about it). I found this article on a blog while randomly surfing online

The End of Simplicty

– By Reema Moudgil

http://unboxedwriters.com/2012/08/the-end-of-simplicity/

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“After years of search on YouTube, I finally stumbled upon Farmaan, a Doordarshan serial directed by Lekh Tandon. Based on the Urdu book Alampanah by Rafia Amin, the serial starring Kanwaljit Singh and Deepika Deshpande was a restless memory that even two decades could not erase. And for good reason. The story telling was honest to the spine of the book as it brought to life Hyderabad’s Nawabi culture in the throes of change, financial challenges, the disintegration of tehzeeb and more, in real havelis and high-pillared corridors, and not fake, overdone sets, And amid all this was the love story of a bitterly dark Aazar Nawab (a dapper Kanwaljit Singh) and the delightfully spunky Aiman Shahab played by Deepika Deshpande who even without fake eyelashes, loud make up and gaudy sarees looked like the kind of a girl who could challenge and reform a rake.

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The story had the intensity, tugs and hooks of a Mills & Boon romance. Only it was much better, layered as it was with the poetry, interesting dialects, the various colours of Urdu spoken by the aristocrats and those who worked for them and then there were the authentic locations, from forests to bungalows to havelis being converted into hotels to keep up with the times. Everything rang true and it flowed without investing any worry in whether the audience would take to the story, its pace, its zubaan or its characters, some of whom were unapologetically unglamorous. And yet, here we are, still remembering it all these years later because it did not dumb down or sell out its vision. Because it aspired to be a classic and became one.”….

For MORE follow the LINK

“Heroes, Gundas, Vamps & Good Girls”- Hindi Pulp Cover-Art by Shelle

Lindsay Pereira’s (Mid-Day) piece on the above mentioned post-card book

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He decides what women with paanch pati will look like-

“Why send a drab email when you can send a deliciously outlandish postcard dripping with suspense, blood, sex and tragedy, ripped from a collection titled Heroes, Gundas, Vamps and Good Girls inspired by Hindi pulp fiction covers. Here’s why North India can’t get enough of Shelle’s cleavage-sporting chudails and Haryanvi ghouls

“He goes by the pseudonym Shelle a derivative of the Hindi word for style. It was suggested by friends because his name, Mustajab Ahmed Siddiqui, takes up too much room. For people of North India, his work is more familiar than they think; they have had around 40 years to get acquainted with it.

Shelle’s name accosts them when they walk into railway stations across the country. Every bookstore they pass showcases his work in bold, because his are the covers adorning most action-packed Hindi pulp novels.

Without his brush, bestselling Hindi writers like Anil Mohan, Ved Prakash Sharma and Surender Mohan Pathak would have far poorer sales.

Now, thanks to Chennai-based Blaft Publications, Shelle can find a new audience. For Rs 295, we all have a chance to take a closer look at some of his cover art through Heroes, Gundas, Vamps & Good Girls, a collection of 25 postcards”…

For MORE follow the LINK

Apex’s thoughts- From ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ to ‘Cocktail’ –the ‘menage-a- trois’ Bollywood conundrum

 

Apex left it is a comment here but I decided to make it into a separate post.

 

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I have liked both these flicks a lot but let me clarify that neither of them is very ‘significant’ or ‘great’. Infact neither of them are even worthy of lengthy debates and dissection of minutiae. What did catch my attention is the way Cocktail got misinterpreted, dissed and maligned without even being given a chance. Of course, Vicky Christina Barcelona (VCB) wasn’t exactly the same film (though similar and some would be indignified at this comparison), but VCB was spared a similar plight because of the names associated with it ( Woody Allen) and the unmistakable ‘subservience’ of Bollywood commentators about most Hollywood products especially the one with big names. I may come to VCB separately in a different post maybe (if mood permits), but lets tackle the Bollywood variant/manifestation called Cocktail directed by Homi Adjania, co-written and produced by Imtiaz Ali.

What will happen if Woody allen makes a film for Bollywood audience and sensibilities? Not sure of the product but am sure of the result—‘failure’ on the box office front (the same critics who laugh at cocktail may be more lenient there though).
Cocktail brings together some very interesting influences and to appreciate this, it is important to get down from the ‘intellectual high-horses’ and exit atleast briefly the domains of pseudo-intellectual ghettos one finds peace and reassurance in!
Even within this much-maligned ‘rom-com’ llght genre, it is much easier to defend a VCB than a Cocktail! So expectedly, I shall choose the more difficult job. Infact, most will even find this comparison to Allen ‘misplaced’ or even ‘outrageous’. I am aware that some of the readers who requested me to write this are not aware of the conventional ‘Bollywood traditions’. To understand the nuances, to the uninitiated, a prelude of the influences that go into this film—

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बच्चन सिनेमा और उसकी ईर्ष्यालु संतति- गिरिराज किराडू

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अनुराग कश्यप ने सिनेमा की जैसी बौद्धिक संभावनाएं जगाई थीं उनकी फ़िल्में उन संभावनाओं पर वैसी खरी नहीं उतर पाती हैं.’गैंग्स ऑफ वासेपुर’ का भी वही हाल हुआ. इस फिल्म ने सिनेमा देखने वाले बौद्धिक समाज को सबसे अधिक निराश किया है. हमारे विशेष आग्रह पर कवि-संपादक-आलोचक गिरिराज किराडू ने इस फिल्म का विश्लेषण किया है, अपने निराले अंदाज में- जानकी पुल.
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[गैंग्स ऑफ वासेपुर की ‘कला’ के बारे में बात करना उसके फरेब में आना है, उसके बारे में उस तरह से बात करना है जैसे वह चाहती है कि उसके बारे में बात की जाए. समीरा मखमलबाफ़ की ‘तख़्त-ए-सियाह’ के बाद फिल्म पर लिखने का पहला अवसर है. गर्मियों की छुट्टियाँ थीं, दो बार (एक बार सिंगल स्क्रीन एक बार मल्टीप्लेक्स) देखने जितना समय था और सबसे ऊपर जानकीपुल संपादक का हुक्म था]
अमिताभ बच्चन अपनी फिल्मों में ‘बदला’ लेने में नाकाम नहीं होता. तब तो बिल्कुल नहीं जब वह बदला लेने के लिए अपराधी बन जाय. बदला लेने में कामयाब होना उन कई फार्मूलों में से एक अहम फार्मूला है जो अमिताभ बच्चन के सिनेमा ने बनाया. और यह फार्मूला – ‘व्यक्तिगत’ स्पेस में हुए अन्याय का प्रतिकार कानून और सामाजिक नैतिकता = स्टेट की मशीनरी से बाहर जा कर ही संभव है उर्फ अपराधी होना एंटी-स्टेट होना है – उन कई फार्मूलों में से एक है जिन पर गैंग्स ऑफ वासेपुर बनी है. ‘मर्दानगी’ का ‘प्रदर्शनवाद’ (एग्जिबिशनिज्म) और उसका सफल कमोडिफिकेशन; स्त्री-‘बोल्डनेस’ के दो बेसिक प्रकारों – एरोटिक (दुर्गा) और लिंग्विस्टिक (नग्मा) – का उतना ही सफल कमोडिफिकेशन और ज़बरदस्त संगीत (चाहे वह हमेशा संगत न हो) ऐसे ही कुछ दीगर फार्मूले हैं जिन पर यह फिल्म बनी है, वैसे ही जैसे बहुत सारी फिल्में बनती आयी हैं….

Ghulam- Spaces, Memories and the ‘Deewar Reversal’

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In a crucial scene in Vikram Bhatt’s Ghulam quite a few characters participate in a local meeting to discuss the violence in the neighbourhood. There is Fatima (Mita Vashisht), the Muslim lawyer who plays an important role in the protagonist Sidhu’s (Aamir Khan) life. Then we have a Tamilian vegetable seller, and a crippled Muslim man from Uttar Pradesh. And of course Sidhu himself is presented at the meeting as a Maharashtrian identified by his last name Marathe. Taking the context of Bombay’s linguistic  and cultural hybridity amidst a compressed landscape of architectural chaos, Ghulam presents the urban crowd not as an abstract force but as a multicultural presence. The presence of the crowd and urban chaos are relationally structured around the Marxist idea of ‘empty space’. By contrasting ‘real’ space (the space of the crowd, the street, and the home) with fetishized ‘empty space’, Ghulam creates a conflictual movement between the ‘everyday’ present and the ‘traumatized’ past. This is most vividly imagined in the scenes on the river-bank (‘ghaat’).

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Remembering Anthony Gonsalves- Naresh Fernandes on the ‘original’ Anthony

LINK

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MIDWAY through Manmohan Desai’s classic 1977 film about three brothers separated at birth, a man in a top hat and a Saturday Night Fever suit leaps out of a giant Easter egg to inform the assemblage, ‘My name is Anthony Gonsalves.’

The significance of the announcement was lost under the impact of Amitabh Bachchan’s sartorial exuberance. But decades later, the memory of that moment still sends shivers down the spines of scores of ageing men scattered across Bombay and Goa. By invoking the name of his violin teacher in that tune in Amar Akbar Anthony, the composer Pyarelal had finally validated the lives of scores of Goan Catholic musicians whose working years had been illuminated by the flicker of images dancing across white screens in airless sound studios, even as acknowledgement of their talent whizzed by in the flash of small-type credit titles.

The arc of their stories – determined by the intersection of passion and pragmatism, of empire and exigency – originated in church-run schools in Portuguese Goa and darted through royal courts in Rajasthan, jazz clubs in Calcutta and army cantonments in Muree. Those lines eventually converged on Bombay’s film studios, where the Goan Catholic arrangers worked with Hindu music composers and Muslim lyricists in an era of intense creativity that would soon come to be recognised as the golden age of Hindi film song.

The Nehruvian dream could not have found a more appropriate harmonic expression.

A few months back, a friend called to tell me about a new character he’d discovered in a story published by Delhi-based Raj Comics: Anthony Gonsalves. On the page (and accessible only if you read Hindi), Anthony Gonsalves is part of the great Undead, the tribe doomed to live between the worlds. It wasn’t always like this. In his prime, Anthony Gonsalves was a mild-mannered guitar player who had devised a magical new sound known as ‘crownmusic’. But his jealous rivals tortured him to death so that they could steal his work. Now, the magnificently muscled superhero emerges from the grave each night to prevent the desperate from committing suicide and to rid the world of evil, informed of imminent misfortune by his pet crow….

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