I got lucky to get a few days of break from work. Apart from writing some long-committed pieces, also got a chance to see a few movies. Some I have been wanting to see for quite a while now, others I saw on the insistence of family and friends. The following are not film reviews; I am just recording my impressions as I tend be quite forgetful.
I will start with Ekachai Uekrongtham's Pleasure Factory. This film, shot in Singapore's red light district Geylang, had made it to the Cannes recently. Though the reviews had not been encouraging, I wanted to see it any way. I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few people in the theatre on a week day afternoon screeing, and the good thing was that, except for a few chuckles in the beginning, they behaved quite well. They kept quiet throughtout the screening. Not sure if they had fallen asleep but some even clapped when the film ended.
The film was shot digitally, that too at night, so it showed on the screen which was visually not pleasant. The camerawork is less than professional even though perhaps the attempt was to get a documentary feel to the product. There is hardly any story (the narrative is incoherent with a few storylines going from somewhere to no where). The actors, whatever little they were allowed to do, apart from taking their clothes off and shedding tears, have acquitted themselves honorably. Some scenes seem to have been spliced in as an after thought. Characters suddenly begin to speak to someone out of the frame in a mockumentary fashion. There are long streches of bared bodied gymnastics and silences and reveries (without thought bubbles), that is sometimes artistic but mostly boring. If the director had meant to tell the story of Geylang as a visual poem, then its poetry does not sing nor does it touch the soul of the viewer.
However, I liked the symbolism in the movie. Of beautiful fish trapped in an acquarium like the fair-skinned, tarted-up girls trapped in the flesh trade. Of vending machines symolizing the flesh market with humans as cans of flavoured drink ready to satisfy your thirst for a coin.
My disapointment stemmed not from the fact that it was "amateurish in design and look" or the story was "maladroitly assembled" but from the lack of any meat in the film. I had hoped that I would emerge from the theatre with some insights on the sex trade and what fuelled it. Perhaps the filmmaker had nothing to say on this in the first place.
During the break, my long time wish to see Kevin MacDonald's The Last King of Scotland was also fulfilled. This marvellous film, based on a novel, deservedly got Forest Whitaker (playing Uganda's dictator Idi Amin) the best actor Academy Award in 2006. The film keeps a taut focus on the relationship between a chamelion-like Amin and playboy doctor Nicholas Garrigan (played by the talented James McAvoy), without going deeper into the politics of mass killings and Amin's dictatorial regime. This film makes it to my all time favourites list.
I also watched Gautam Ghosh's Yatra. I don't know if many are even aware of this film which highlihts the dichotomy between fact and fiction, between imagination and reality, between witing a story and turning it into cinema; at the same time, the film makes a great comment on the marginalisation of literature (and of moral values) in this age of commercially sponsored film and TV. Nana Patekar, playing the lead as an award-winning writer, has given a subdued yet impressive performance. The dialogues by Rashid Iqbal are amazingly witty or caustic in a literary way. If you are a writer, you should watch this film.
I also watched Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om on its second day of release. The theatre was packed and it seemed people lived every moment of the movie. Short of dancing in the aisles, people clapped and laughed with the antics of Shah Rukh Khan.
In one sentence, the film is a tribute to the Hindi film industry and celebrates whatever Bollywood means and stands for. Farah's film even cocks a snock at Hollywood through the villainous character of Mike (Arjun Rampal).
My wife loved the movie's madness and I was oaky with it. But the film reminded me of the movies of Mr Bachchan in the 1980s (and the hysteria they created among the masses), films that were especially created for him by his pet directors, showcasing his variegated talent in a larger than life way. After that Mr Bachchan's films began to flop. I hope SRK watches out and keeps making films like Chak De. For a detailed take on this film, read Deepika's post here.