24th October

Day Four was the only day of the festival which might be considered something of a waste. The films were mostly fine, but there was nothing new to be experienced, expect for 19 wonderful minutes which I will talk about.

The films I saw were: Slit Eyes (Malaysia – Yasmin Ahmad), A Sigh (China – Feng Xiaogang), and four short films – G-23 (Singapore – Anthony Chen), Evacuation Order (Israel – Shoshi Greenfield), A Little Bit Different (Israel – Rachel Scheinfeld-Gadot) and A Woman Laughed (Israel – Zohar Asher, Ella Waterman, Tzipi Churi).

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Slit Eyes is a fun, but ultimately slight, romantic movie about interracial love. Orked (a Malaysian girl) and Jason (a Chinese boy) love each other, but Jason’s past comes back to haunt him. The two things that set this movie apart from other inter[fill in difference here] romantic films are: (1) That their parents aren’t against them and (2) The lovely and very funny relationship between Orked’s parents (wholly three of them – her actual parents and the long-time servant). The female lead is a real find, and if I lived in Malaysia, I’d certainly look out for her future movies. The male lead is surprisingly uneven, and nothing to write home about. The ending blows, but the rest of the movie’s pretty good, and rather well observed. I certainly want to watch Ahmad’s future movies. PS: Not very surprisingly, she has a blog. You can visit it here.

A Sigh is a very well-observed, but overall unsatisfying, movie about marital infidelity. Yazhou, a writer, has an affair with his assistant, Li, and, after a time, his wife gets to know about it. The dynamics of relationships have been detailed very well, and the nuances of a married life are captured in an interesting and different manner. But the film runs too long, and many portions are empty of both narrative and observation. And the voice-over uses metaphors that are either silly, or which lose a lot in translation. If it had been around 60-70 minutes long, I would have liked it much better. But it is fine anyway. (As an aside, both this movie and Slit Eyes use the sensationalist ‘surprise’/‘shock’ endings that are becoming increasingly, and irritatingly, popular. They would have been alright if they didn’t go so much against the grain of the movies. As it is, they seem rather pathetic.)

Among the short films, two of the three Israeli films are mostly pointless, but one of them, Evacuation Order, about soldiers come to evacuate settlers, while being extremely silly, has a very funny ending. The other one (A Little Bit Different), about a woman who refuses to marry a guy for the sole reason that he is crippled, is not very good, but, in the course of twenty minutes, gives us a lot of information about Israeli life in general. The third one (A Woman Laughed) is exceedingly experimental – it is made up of two images, one above the other, telling a composite story about something in the bible. I probably would have loved it, if not for the fact that I could only see the lower image and about half of the upper image because of the crap projection. I liked what I did manage to see, though. But the film that was worth all the seven hours I spent in the theatre that day was, undoubtedly, Anthony Chen’s G-23. A ticket-tearer in a local Indian cinema (local meaning one in Singapore) observes three regulars, and we see snippets of their lives. This is simply a wonderful film, detailed, thoughtful, quirky, and lovingly filmed. I cannot possibly think of a better way of spending 19 minutes. And I loved the way the credits registered the Indian women as ‘d/o’ (Chitra d/o Muthayya, etc.). That was hilarious. Read more about the movie here.

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By now you must be bored with my projection grouses, so I’ll just say that the film projection was perfectly fine, while the DVD projection (meaning the short films) was perfectly atrocious. The projectionist didn’t even have all the films with him, so we had to wait almost thirty minutes for the first movie, and about twenty minutes each for the second and third movie. Just a question: is this how one manages a film festival? I asked this question to one of the organisers. He simply shrugged. Peas in a pod, is what they are.

Note: My other posts on this festival – 1, 2, 3.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 7:18 AM
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23rd October

Day Three was an unqualified success, in my opinion. The sheer number of good films was not as much as Day One, nor was the actual number of films. But what was there was right up my alley.

I watched three films today: Samapti (India – Satyajit Ray), Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi (India – Sudhir Mishra) and I Fak (Thailand – Pantham Thongsang).

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Samapti was not as good as I had expected, but it was very good still. It is a rather short film (slightly less than an hour), and it has a weak beginning, and I didn’t like the ending (it either defeats the point of the movie or it is sardonic in an unnecessarily weird manner – I can’t decide which). But even if you discard those, you still have 20-30 minutes of solid film-making which I could irritatingly analyse and generally wax eloquent about. But I am not going to. If you like Ray, you’ll probably watch this film anyway. I just didn’t like it enough to watch it a second time.

Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi is a movie about three students in Delhi in the seventies. It is wonderfully sad, and sometimes unexpectedly eccentric and funny, and it is good enough to give one hope about non-parallel filmmaking in India. And Chitrangada Singh completely rules, which makes me very sad about the fact that she’s leaving films. The other actors do a good job, and Shiney Ahuja’s first name fits him (he’s so nice and white all the time). The script is good, and so is the direction. I particularly liked the music – I probably wouldn’t want to listen to it otherwise, but it suits the film to a tee. Update: an excellent review here.

I Fak (English title ‘The Judgement’) is one of those films ... Y’know, you go on and on watching films, and you get somewhat jaded, and then, boom, comes a film that is so lovely that you sit up and start paying attention again. I Fak is not a brilliant film, but I loved it. Basically, it is a twenty-first century film about rural hypocrisy – a funny, sexy and, ultimately, very sad film about general attitudes towards sex and gender (the latter might only be my reading of the film, but I think I’m right). Fak’s father marries a young, beautiful woman, Somsong, who is also an utter loony, and then dies after extracting a promise from Fak that he will take care of her. Then due to a series of misunderstandings caused by Somsong, the whole village assumes that they are having an affair, and Fak, castigated, shunned and cheated by everyone in the village, takes to drinking, and starts to slowly lose his mind. It is a pain to watch the handsome, confident Fak turn into a sunken-eyed degenerate through little fault of his own. And thankfully, the clichéd climax of the film turns out not to be the end at all, and the actual end is tragic yet wonderfully tender. The film is also wonderfully shot, colourful, and utterly beautiful to look at.

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As if in collusion with the great films, the projection department performed much better than usual. The only problem with Samapti was that the second line of subtitles wasn’t visible, but that was okay, because most of the subtitles didn’t have a second line. Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi was thrice interrupted, for whatever reason, by the ‘3-2-1’ sign that seems to have become a trademark of old films, but otherwise things were fine, and I Fak went without a single glitch, although it started an hour late due to the fact that the cast and crew of the previous film held a conference in the auditorium.

Note: My other posts on this festival – 1, 2, 4.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 12:58 AM
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Yesterday was Blog Quake Day. This explains it better than I possibly could.

One venue for online donations: this. (via indianwriting.)

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 9:56 AM
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22nd October

Day Two was shorter than Day One, with only three films, and only one of them any actual use.

The three films I saw were: God’s Sandbox (Israel – Doron Eran), Eashwar Mime Co. (India – Shyamanand Jalan) and Tokyo Noir (Japan – Naoto Kumazawa & Masato Ishioka).

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God’s Sandbox is a somewhat commercial yet intelligent movie about female genital mutilation (which is usually given the euphemism female circumcision). I was actually in two minds about watching this film after I researched it on the net – on one hand, it had won many awards, and on the other, it was about a horrifying subject, and I expected I would be watching many parts of it with my hand covering my eyes (which I actually didn’t). An old lady and her daughter who have come to a Sinai beach on a holiday listen to a storyteller tell a story about a beautiful young woman who fell in love with a native many years ago. The love story that forms the first part of the film is not as affecting as it should have been, mainly because you never like that native fellow, but the second part, where the focus is on the young woman, is carried off mainly by the wonderful performance by Meital Dohan, as well as the sensitive direction. Overall, the film is not as melodramatic as it could have been (yes, even the part where she hits him on the head with a boulder isn’t actually overblown), and the message comes across well.

Eashwar Mime Co. is an odd film about the dynamics of power in a mime company. In parts, it strives to be experimental, but it ends up being a somewhat weird mixture of normal and experimental cinema. The script, by Vijay Tendulkar, is competent, but nothing more. I wasn’t bored, but I wasn’t impressed either. The huge potential of using mime in cinema, however, has not at all been tapped, so I deem the movie more-or-less a failure. By the way, this film had a kiss that was almost as bad as the one in 36 Chowringhee Lane.

Tokyo Noir is an utterly senseless movie about what I can only call shiny happy prostitutes. It is made up of three different stories (all about high class prostitution), and I stayed all the way through only because I hoped one of them might turn out to be good. The film runs through all the clichés about prostitution – they enjoy sex with their customers; prostitution, if done apart from one’s day job, gives one confidence and satisfaction; and, above all, prostitutes are fulfilled and happy. Only one of the three prostitutes is vaguely dissatisfied, and only one customer turns abusive, and even he turns out to be someone who only wants to be loved. The saturation of these clichés made me suspect, some of the time, that they were trying to subvert the apparent conclusions, but I probably thought that only because I didn’t want to believe someone would make such a movie. Therefore, my suspicion probably isn’t true. This movie only reinforces all the typical stereotypes – women exist to pleasure men, men should be able to get sex without obligations and all that. And the worst thing is that it is shot in such a soft, almost tender, manner, that it makes it all seem acceptable – it doesn’t even let you make your own decision about it.

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After God’s Sandbox, as I was waiting for the next movie to begin, a man of about thirty-five or so came up to me and we started discussing the movie. After a few moments, I realised that he hadn’t actually understood what they did to her in the film (the circumcision, I mean). So I explained it, and then I realised that he didn’t know what a clitoris was – a thirty-five years old, probably married, man! I explained it, and then I explained why female circumcision is actually worse than what is generally called circumcision. The hypothetical male analogy I gave him made him cringe, and I believe it was then that he actually got why she had been so adversely affected by it.

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The festival was about as empty and unenthusiastic as on the first day, and the projection problems were much worse. I watched God’s Sandbox entirely without subtitles. (I know that this was a projection problem because it took the projection chap ten minutes to find the ‘play’ button.) This wasn’t that much of a problem though, because, for one, half of it was in English, and, for another, I already knew the story. And the lack of subtitles made it easier to focus on the film itself. The projection on Tokyo Noir was entirely awful. The image was shaking slightly the whole time, and, for a large part of the second story, the upper and the lower halves of the image would alternately get blurred, for reasons unknown.

The worst thing, however, was that I wasted three hours on Tokyo Noir, which was actually a two-hour-long film. It was supposed to start at 9 p.m., but I waited there (in the empty auditorium) till ten, and there was no sign of the film. I went outside and asked the theatre crew, and they said the film was going on perfectly fine. I patiently explained to them that I had just come from the auditorium, and my more-or-less fine, if myopic, eyes could detect no sign of the film. It turned out that the whole crew had forgotten to start the movie. Ain’t folks wonderful?

And I would also like to note the awfulness of the catalogue of films distributed at the festival. It is well-printed, but it is incomplete, has some photos missing, some synopses are badly-written, and some of them aren’t even complete – they just stop mid-sentence. As a couple of examples of this, the synopsis of Tokyo Noir mentions only one of the three stories, and the synopsis of God’s Sandbox does not make any mention of the subject of female circumcision, except to note that the film was adapted from a book called Castration, which could easily have been a metaphorical title (I originally took it that way). Couldn’t they even get an editor? It would hardly have been a day’s work. Or were they just too shy to give details on such subjects?

Note: My other posts on this festival – 1, 3, 4.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 9:11 PM
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21st October

As I said in the previous post, I am attending the Asian Film Festival of Pune. And I thought that rather than reviewing the films like I did with the PIFF 2005, I should write about my experience of the festival itself – including the films, of course.

In spite of the fact that when I got back home I was chilled to the bone by the theatre air conditioning, and my left knee hurt because I had rested my right leg on it most of the time, I must say that I completely and utterly enjoyed Day One, and I am rather optimistic about the rest of the festival.

I saw four films today: Mr. & Mrs. Iyer (India – Aparna Sen), 36 Chowringhee Lane (India – Aparna Sen), Pak Pak Pakaak (India – Gautam Joglekar), 15 Park Avenue (India – Aparna Sen) – the festival has an ‘Aparna Sen Special’ of sorts.

I saw the first movie with a pair of little old ladies who wanted to practice their English with me, and were spouting each and every vowel as if their lives depended on it. The other three films I watched alone.

All three Sen movies were wonderful, albeit rather depressing. Sen’s outlook is realistic yet elegant, but it is also bleak. I would advise cine-enthusiasts to limit Sen films to two a day. Any more could be damaging.

The music in Sen’s films is also very good, and very fitting to the film’s atmosphere, although I do think that the music in 36 Chowringhee Lane does get a bit loud and oppressive at times.

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Mr. & Mrs. Iyer is a film about communal violence. I don’t think I need to say much about it. The film begins rather predictably, and doesn’t really get into its stride till halfway through the bus trip, when the sense of foreboding grows on you bit by bit. But after that, words fail me. I will, however, say that the manner in which Sen used still photography after the bus incident is jawdroppingly good.

36 Chowringhee Lane, with Jennifer Kendall playing an old Anglo-Indian teacher in Calcutta, is about loneliness. It is a good film, with bits and pieces of good acting and imagery but I personally feel that the first part should have been even more sedate than it is. The second part is quite acceptable. And Geoffrey Kendall’s performance as Jennifer’s older brother Eddie, while a very obvious take on a stock character, is funny and sad, just like it needs to be. However, I will always remember this film for featuring the funniest (unintentionally) kiss I have yet seen on celluloid. The characters (a young couple) are kissing with their lips tightly and firmly closed. It is like someone was knocking two dolls together and making kissing noises. Indians really don’t know a lot about the facts of life, do they?

Pak Pak Pakaak is a light and fun film about a jungle ghost who is troubling a village. I would call this a children’s film made for adults – the handling is that of a children’s film, but the subject matter (the relationship of humans with nature) is all adult, as is the dialogue, and this feels rather odd. But I didn’t get bored, so I’m not complaining. For me, the most interesting thing about the film was that in the first half, I predicted twice what the film would turn out to be, and both times I turned out to be wildly wrong. That, I believe, is a reason to like the film. It isn’t an essential film in any way, though. The original concept is by Sai Paranjpe, and you can feel her touch, albeit very slightly.

15 Park Avenue is about schizophrenia, and it’s easily better than most Indian films made about mentally ill people. The script is detailed and meticulously written, and the performances are ... Well, actors have no right to be this good. It negates the concept of acting if you never feel like they’re acting. Everyone from Shabana Azmi and Konkona Sen-Sharma to Rahul Bose and Waheeda Rahman do their absolute best. The performances Sen extracted from them were so good that I spent the whole first half with a finger between my teeth, for two reasons – to keep from crying out and to constantly remind myself it was only a film. The ending, however, blows, because there just is no ending. I hate any narrative with a proper end (a ‘closed ending’, one might call it), as if the lives of the characters ended with the end of the film, but I do think that a film should have an ending (an ‘open ending’ – if you get the difference). And this doesn’t have one. What it has got is some weird pseudo-mystical pap that doesn’t make any sense, but is probably supposed to be ‘disquieting’. But the rest of the film is still worth it.

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The first day isn’t much to base my opinion of the whole festival on, but there are some things I noted. The entry management is better than the one at the PIFF 2005 (at least in my experience), and they didn’t ask for a photograph to put on your pass (I never understood why the PIFF did that). However, the projection department could use a lot of improvement. I saw the first ten minutes of 36 Chowringhee Lane stretched horizontally at 2.35:1 when it was supposed to be 1.85:1 (that meant the people looked like so many fat dolls running about). The sound kept disappearing in Pak Pak Pakaak, and we had to endure three five-minute long intervals for no apparent reason. The other two showings were fine, though.

About the success of the festival in general, I’d say that there were very few people here, and only 36 Chowringhee Lane was actually packed. To compare, I had to sit in the aisle for four films in the PIFF. Also, the crowd here didn’t seem very enthusiastic. And I heard at least six or seven people criticising Aparna Sen’s films for being boring. That, I feel, is a word that results from a context that shouldn’t even be applied to Sen’s films. It’s like saying that Mike Leigh’s films don’t have exciting plots.

There is, however, a simple explanation, at least for the lack of attendance, if not for the lack of enthusiasm. The multiplex where this festival is going on is a very new one, and it is rather out of the way, especially for students, who are usually the primary targets for film festivals. And also, this festival is limited to Asian films. (My theory on this is that students, surmising astutely that Asian films would have a lot less nudity than films from all over the world, stayed away. I like this particular theory because it neatly and elegantly combines both my points – students and Asian films.)

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Lastly, but most importantly, today I decided that I have fallen in love with Konkona Sen-Sharma. Before this, I had always liked her, but the films I had seen – Page 3 and Amu – never really gave her a chance to shine, Page 3 being an ensemble film, and my appreciation of her in Amu being impeded by her weird accent (also, that film wasn’t really about the acting anyway). In her two films today, I was astonished by the way she inhabited the two totally different characters with utter ease (especially the one in 15 Park Avenue). It’s her talent, her personality, her sheer ‘her’ness – I totally and completely love her. And I hear that she’s single these days, so ...

Note: My other posts on this festival – 2, 3, 4.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 11:28 AM
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I will be going to the Asian Film Festival, Pune, being held at City Pride, Kothrud, from 21st October.

This is an invite to other people who might be going – perhaps we could go together.

If anybody is interested, please leave a comment or send me an e-mail. Time-table (and common films) can be discussed beforehand.

Update: I will be posting a series of entries on my experience of the Film Festival. Do read.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 11:31 AM
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Lethargy controls me. Another non-post. Another piece of fiction. Not 55 words this time, though. I wrote this story a couple of years ago, when I got my first pair of contact lenses. It was supposed to be part of a series (A-Z), which I never actually completed.
S is for SPECTACLES

Spectacles are made on Phobos, the moon of Mars. Spectacle-vendors do not know that.

Spectacles convert humans into Martian hybrids.

On 14th March 2075 1:25:32 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time, every one of 750 million spectacle-wearers will remove her/his spectacles, and the earth will implode.

This isn’t public knowledge because it might cause a slight panic.

The CIA is conducting a search-and-destroy campaign for every converted human.

An excellent reason for wearing contact lenses.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 1:29 PM
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You have probably heard about the controversy that has sprung up around the JAM article on IIPM. Rashmi Bansal published it, Gaurav Sabnis linked to it, there were silly legal notices served. But the joke was not funny the second time around, when Gaurav had to resign from his post at IBM when IIPM people threatened to burn their laptops in front of the IBM office in Delhi. The entire situation is detailed here by Amit.

Now consider this. The people involved (the IIPM-related people, I mean) are supposed to be educated people, articulate and capable of settling things in a human manner. But we see that the age-old tradition of hooliganry is still alive, and burning and pillaging seems to be accepted even by these people as the correct way to settle all problems.

The truth is that they do not have a leg to stand on. They know it. And when they were posting insulting comments on Rashmi’s blog, they were hurting no one more than themselves. They did not give valid arguments, they resorted to vile language and insults, and in the process, they destroyed their credibility and whatever dignity they might have salvaged if they had done things the civil way.

And before Gaurav’s resignation, things might have been taken somewhat lightly, but this has now become serious.

At the risk of sounding pompous, I would like to say the following: The Blogosphere has to (and has) come together to fight, and at stake here is freedom of speech, which is what bloggers price above everything else. When you threaten to take away a blogger’s freedom to say what s/he wants, it is the silliest thing you can do, because it is the pillar any blog stands on.

So go ahead. Spread the word. Blog about it. Tell people you know.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, Gaurav’s decision to quit his post rather than hurt his company’s reputation is a hugely courageous one. I don’t know if I could have done such a thing. When push came to shove, Gaurav decided to fight his battle himself. He stood up for his principles, and he did it in spite of the fact that it hurt him. So it is our duty to support him – and it is in our own best interests to do so. Imagine what happens if we don’t.

PS: This is bizarre. Take special note of: ‘I was told that my manner of speaking was too “un-lady like” and “Too aggressive for a woman”!’ And Varna, the blogger involved, has also been served with a legal notice for her posts. I can do no better than quote Amit: ‘Ever seen a headless chicken dancing?’
Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 10:20 AM
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The third instalment in the 55-word tag.
Three

The little girl was looking out the half-open window.

Warm sunshine, filtered through glass, caressed her shoulder.

She pointed a lone cloud out to no one in particular.

A hawk circled overhead, casting a faint shadow on the pallid ground.

The murmur of two voices behind her became shouts.

Outside, the wind went whoosh!

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 11:38 AM
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This is my second attempt at the 55-word tag. The first is here.

On a related note, here is the shortest horror story ever written (although one might argue that the shortest horror story is actually “BOO!”). This story is by Fredric Brown, who was one of the writers who inspired me to write small stories.

The last person on Earth was alone in a room. There was a knock on the door ... [via madhoo.com]
And here is the shortest story ever written. It is by Hemingway.
For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Used.
And now here is my story. It is something of an offshoot of another idea that I had. I was trying to find a format for it, and this seemed to fit nicely. When I wrote it, it was 59 words, and I had to fight for more than an hour to get it down to 55, because every word I deleted seemed to change the meaning. And then I realised that I had actually reduced it to 54, and I had one more word. It was like finding a million bucks. By the way, ‘Two’ is not the title, it is the number.

Two

There was once a human head for sale.

A comb sat beside it. They talked.

“What sex were you?” the comb asked.

“I don’t remember. I have nothing to look down at. Have I a moustache?”

“I don’t have eyes.”

“Let’s ask the shopkeeper.”

It tried to turn. Then it realised it couldn’t talk either.

Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 9:51 AM
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