MARCELLO MARCELLO, BLIND: Two would-be good movies, and an evening at Kolkata Festival 2008

BY SUDDHASATYA GHOSH. KOLKATA FILM FESTIVAL 2008, INDIA (CINEMA MINIMA) — This evening I have two actors with me at the theatre who had turned into directors — Denis Rabaglia and Tamar van den Dop — courtesy of MARCELLO MARCELLO and BLIND. I had hoped that I would have some good performances, as well, in their movies — and I was right.

In MARCELLO MARCELLO Francesco Mistichelli is truly wonderful as Marcello. I read that he had been chosen after auditions of 1,200 and that’s a lot, really (I can imagine the long queue for that audition). I even can remember Mahsen Makhmalbaf‘s CINEMA CINEMA with this. The first sequence begins with a long queue of would-be actors and then, gradually, we the viewers — along with those actors — start to understand a few things about cinema at the occasion of one hundred years of cinema. But I am afraid that these two directors have yet to learn those lessons.

MARCELLO MARCELLO, I fear, will do a lot more harm to Denis because — at the mention of that name-sound — we have a giant in our mindscape, and that is Fellini. Why is Denis after that revered screen name of another giant, Mastroianni?

The last thing was that this movie, too, is in Italian. Too much of a tough situation here and I am unable to consider his movie lightly. He has a linear narration of love, hate, despair, frustration, and religion. Most complex subjects that is being treated narrowly from the ancient past and had produced so many trashes and this one with its usual cinematography, edit and a placid music score is one among them. At the end, this is a very ordinary film.

Next, BLIND from Tamar van den Dop — a drama student (and an actor herself) — has a beginning that is probably too dramatic. She knows the theatre — and that, too, is of a petty, Roman nature. You know that ancient Rome had killed the drama (or the theatre) of Greece. She — a Dutchwoman — is pretty nearer to Ibsen stuff. A graceful psychological light arrangements, music score with strings playing, an ice-clad backdrop and we were all set to see where she gets from here. The house that has Ruben in is Romanesque in architectural symptom and that is pretty stoic indeed.

Ruben — a befitting character in that palace-like home — delivers a few moments of good performance. Others, too, coöperate and contribute their moments of glory in acting. But the appointed reader — who is sighted in the blind world of Ruben — has the minimum scope to prove her mettle. She has a very little time-space to transit from weary and tortured human being, to sweet lover. She did her best, but the director is seemed to be in a hurry to get the act together in the shape of a movie. It is not actor’s fault. She has a cocktail of Fassbinder and Tarkovsky pattern visuals and a narrative that is not worth it.

Ruben — after getting back his sight — has lost Marie, his love and that ugly-shaped reader. Everybody in this narration is concerned about the look; and this woman, too, believes that she is ugly, and therefore will not be loved by Ruben till her last breath. When Ruben fails to convince her about his love, finally he does an act that reminds me of Œdipus. He gets blind at the last sequence; and we remember a cliché — that the love is blind.

This evening has a gift for me. I had a grievance after seeing GULABI TALKIES yesterday: I was thinking that when we mention India in the moviedom, it is still the rural one, and that is so interesting to the viewers of wealthy nations that the urban life gets a back seat in even serious movies here. Now, I think I can tell you that we here, too, are saturated with searches of individuals in unnecessarily long and close shots and so-called love-and-hate relations.

This is time to be careful! We here are trying to take our movies beyond that rural plane and tribal atmosphere; and you — my dear filmmakers in wealthy parts of the world — must start to find your way out. Otherwise, we, too, will forget that your part of the world has ever been faced with economic depression, wars, and strife.

In BLIND it is a fairytale after the pattern of the Brothers Grimm‘s Snow White and is too boring for us and in MARCELLO MARCELLO, it is Mills and Boon at most.

This again is a reminder that being director is not an easy job. It needs to have a sense for the right thing at right time and a serious lesson on how movie works. These two actors, I think, will need some more time to be good directors at least, being best is too far for them at least for now.

GULABI TALKIES: Politics of Image, Image of Politics at 2008 Kolkata Film Festival

BY SUDDHASATYA GHOSH. 2008 KOLKATA FILM FESTIVAL, INDIA (CINEMA MINIMA) — I must start with an incident inside the movie theatre. This theatre is an old one, named Basushree. Our good filmmakers often had opened their movies here in the past. Now, like all other theatres it is in a form of decadence. Cine Central has to cope up with odds every time for this festival. But that’s the way it is.

Let’s get back to the incident. An old gentleman was seating by my side. He had his spouse with him. In the end part of GULABI TALKIES, Gulabi was showing her strength and independence even against religiously motivated and male-dominated fisher folks. At that time I heard that gentleman was asking his wife to leave, because she had to cook at night. She — an elderly woman too — was refusing. It went till the last shot and — by being refused — that gentleman took offence and had left the theatre before his wife. She sat there till the last shot. I was engrossed in thoughts — Is she another Gulabi in another class? Does she has that serious strength to laugh at all odds and go for a ride through bitterest span of life?

Director Girish Kasaravalli has weaved a narrative that is centred on a middle-aged character of Muslim lineage, and that Gulabi has become strong enough to fight against all odds. She takes things positively. At the beginning we find her as a regular movie goer who passes her time in a make-belief world to forget her own shattered life. This is the case with every ordinary folk in this part of the world and I think this has a universal character too. Therefore movies have become a powerful tool in the hands of oppressors around the world.

In return to her skilful midwife work she receives a colour television with a cable connection from another woman, Kalyani. Kalyani is a flesh-trader in that part of Kannada fisher folk village. Gulabi — with the power of this new weapon — connects her life with those of other villagers. Earlier she was left by her husband and villagers, who are mostly dominant Hindus, did think her untouchable. Now she gets into their woman folks proximity. Some become close enough to share there dreams and sorrows. She gradually leaves her obsession with song and dance movie sequence to join television serials and in her characteristic way she takes a positive lead from that too. She advices other woman to combat her mother in-law like the fictional character of a serial and she too shoes away her husband who came to her house after many years to see the television and commits adultery again in her absence.

Musa Kakka, her husband — who on being Muslim does not dither away to marry more than once — is a scum indeed. But that has nothing to do with his religion. He serves under a Suleman master, who has petrodollar finance and good boats and a factory for fish even. Musa lures labours with money and gradually buys administration to get a grab in the local market. Most Hindu fisher merchants like Vasanna have to suffer from the attack of Suleman’s big money and therefore they rise into opposition with the help of a religiously fundamental fascist political party.

In the meantime, in the time-space of this movie that is set in the period of Bharatiya Janata Party‘s rule in the centre Kargil War breaks free. A war for a few metres of ice-clad land with shadow fighters of Kashmir independence and who are supposedly backed by India’s neighbour Pakistan and this war have left many a questions than proper answers. But on the basis of that war this political party tries to drum up a fanaticism of so-called patriotism that even targets our Gulabi.

She is walking through a road when some boys ask her to contribute in Kargil war fund to help the soldiers. She does not bother to know anything of that sort and she is used to switch-off her cable connected television at the time of News. So she avoids them. A man from the other side of the road who is Hindu donates and comments that Muslims are not ever bothered to help India as norms. This is a real belief in our general Hindu domain that every Muslims are opposed to India in any form of combat, may it be cricket (that is very popular here) or in the real battlefield.

Girish scores here absolutely. He handles the tension of business to its logical conclusion of political rivalry and then has dealt a master stroke. At the height of tension he lets us know that Indian government has approved Germany and Japan to fish into its deep shores. He sublimely puts a question on this political party’s nationalist agenda and at the end through a subtitle announces that at that point of time government of Karnataka had made a policy to give at least one television to each village. That means the propaganda machinery needs reception and by that only it assures itself of a fanatic following. Presently in India we see that each and every Tele network has a political bias and that is not just coincidental.

Girish knows the politics of image and therefore he deals it carefully. Gulabi, who is engrossed in make-believe world of television, enters her tinny hut after she shoos away her adulterous husband. She switches off that television which sometime ago was entertaining her husband and now she slumps to seat. We see it through the television screen in reflection. It goes on for long to understand that how captive we are in that idiot box and how shallow it is as it never depicts any Gulabi at all. Even at the end when Gulabi on being accused of woman trafficking is being evicted from that Hindu-dominated village forcefully, Girish rises to the occasion. He sets Gulabi to seat leg folded like an idol that Hindus are used to worship and finally the one who is familiar with this iconic value will understand that this is the time of immersion. As she sits in the boat alone, a boy — who is the elder child of Vasanna the conspirator — goes to her. He asks her to come again. This also resembles that goddess immersion process, where the ritual is to ask her to come again. Girish slaps the heinous fascist at the face from the rest of concerned India that is not Hindu or Muslim predominantly, that is human at the very base.

Well, I told you earlier that Girish is an interesting Indian face in moviedom. He is not much touted and yet he is powerful in his talks and silences. He is powerful in imageries too.

But here I must add something. He has made this film a bit long to handle this individual and political space. Somewhere down the line it urges for a finer blending. I fear that he has ten movies in one and that has become its problem. Again, this is quite logical in the present worldwide political scenario where giant corporations and monopolies are out to kill serious movies with the aid of state power and policies. Nowadays a good filmmaker does not know when exactly one can get another chance to make another movie. So that maker intends to share all with viewers in one go. That’s the most pathetic part of movie business now; and Girish Kasaravalli — as a committed filmmaker — I think has not escaped that feeling at all.

But at the end, GULABI TALKIES has become a true image of Indian politics. I think these thoughts of mine have a sharer in that elderly, yet strong lady and that is the most remarkable success of Girish’s GULABI TALKIES.

Buy the book at Gulabi Talkies and Other Stories by a short story by Vaidehi (Janaki Srinivasa Murthy), translated into English from the Kannada-language original. Your purchase through this link supports Cinema Minima.

GULABI TALKIES opens Kolkata 2008 International Forum of New Cinema

BY SUDDHASATYA GHOSH. KOLKATA INDIA (CINEMA MINIMA) — A few hours from now, the International Forum of New Cinema 2008 in Kolkata will be officially open with Girish Kasaravalli‘s GULABI TALKIES. Mrinal Sen — one of the favourite directors of Girish — will be there, with actor Saumitra Chatterjee, one of the favoured actors of late maestro Satyajit Ray.

Girish is an interesting face of Indian cinema for long. In a recent interview he had talked about politics of image. When he was giving that interview he was in Maharastra, India. At that time an ambitious politician of Maharastra had called for a violent agitation against North Indians in particular and against all non-Marathi outsiders in general. Television channels were showing a jeep burning time and again as a proof of major disturbance there. I myself had worked in audio-visual form of journalism for long to understand that this is being overplayed. It happens sometimes, because in the capitalist form of competition you have to be the champion at any cost. It often leads to doping in the form of athletics and even Olympics too have to suffer from that. So I understood Girish’s point here without much ado.

GULABI TALKIES is based on a short story by Vaidehi. Gulabi — a marginal woman who is a Muslim and is left alone by her husband — is the protagonist. I think — in the world of 9/11 and post terrors by states and terrorist outfits — one can easily understand the importance of a Muslim character in a movie; and how far can the consequent development can go.

Girish as a maker is very keen on commenting. He uses a narration to bridge between his views on contemporary India and in actuality every maker does it in one sense or the other. The beauty of Girish is he is never loud or is never shy! This time too we will see what he has in his magic box.

Set in the backdrop of a fisherfolk village of Karnataka, India, Gulabi will live through her talkies; and I, in return, will count those moments for you, my readers. Till then, adieu!

Kolkata International Forum of New Cinema 2008

BY SUDDHASATYA GHOSH. KOLKATA, INDIA (CINEMA MINIMA) — Cine Central — probably the largest film society in Asia — will screen 70 films from 30 countries as part of the 14th Kolkata Film Festival to be held here 2008 November 10-17. A good selection of movies — from Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Iran, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Pakistan, Sweden, South Korea, Slovakia, and Uruguay — will be warming the occasion. A tribute to Che Guevara to commemorate his 80th birthday in the ‘Documedia’ section; homages to Cuban Humberto Solas and Egyptian Youssef Chahine; and a good bunch of Turkish, Norwegian, and Dutch contemporary movies are some of the interesting aspects of this festival.

Wait! The list is yet to complete: There is a Tribute section to Manoel de Oliveira, the documentarist of ACTO DE PRIMAVERA | RITE OF SPRING and of FRANCISCA. Believe me I am all in hunger to face him in the dark theatre. I remember him as a forerunner to Italian neo-realist trend with his depiction of Oporto’s street children. Some months ago as I was watching TRAFFIC SIGNAL, a movie by an Indian director Madhur Bhandarkar from Mumbai’s so-called offbeat class, I was just thinking about Oliveira’s influence in movie world.

Well — I am rarin’ to go. It will start on 14th November. This Cine society had a great influence in our movie culture. But as the censorship is too tough in India, it is difficult for them to get uncensored movies from around the world to exhibit. They have a fund crunch, too.

I think these and some other reasons had made them work with the state government of West Bengal after they had started this festival at 1986 as the first independent International festival in India. That time it was called “Calcutta International Film Festival”; and now it is International Forum of New Cinema from 1998, after the collaboration with the government.

There is another thing that I noticed here — the absence of digital representations. I will ask them about it soon. Whatever the problems are — these few good men, volunteers of movie world, are not compromising on quality. That is why this festival is a must for the movie maniacs of India till date — and you may count me as one.