26 February, 2009

Cinematic Award Ceremonies - Style & Conduct

23rd February 2009, is a red letter day for all fans of cinema in India. A. R. Rahman the Indian music prodigy performs at the Kodak Theatre, during the 81st Academy Awards ceremony popularly known as the Oscar’s. For the first time ever an Indian has won two Oscars and Indians across the world jubilantly yelled “Jai Ho”. Another Oscar came to an Indian  for Best Sound Mixing ( Resul Pookutty ) for the same film “Slumdog Millionaire”.

It endorses the fact that the Oscars is not just a mere award ceremony but a celebration of the best in cinema across the world.

This was amply proved yet again in the execution of the ceremony this year. The superb set uniquely lit by hundreds of thousands of crystals reminded one of the grand vision of K Asif, when he made the set for his magnum opus, Mughal-e-Azam.

Hugh Jackman was the master of ceremonies. From the moment he came on stage he captivated one and all with a performance reminiscent of the best Broadway Musicals. Superlative choreography, singing and execution was the hallmark of his act. As we moved into the award ceremonies, the introduction of the nominees of this year was done by the winners in the same category from past years. This was a masterly touch. The sheer nostalgia and gravity of the occasion was taken to some other level altogether as Eva Marie Saint introduced this year’s nominee Viola Davis. The emotions on the face of Anne Hathaway told a story of their own, when Shirley McLaine complimented her on her singing in the opening act with Hugh Jackman. She also urged her to continue at it. This was a terrific bridge across time as a senior artiste and winner acknowledged the potential of a relative newcomer. Nominees and winners all celebrated and reveled in the appreciation of the peers. There was a poignant moment as the name of the best actor in a supporting role was announced. The late Heath Ledger won it for his portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Heath's Joker was a manic, funny, droll & mischievously dangerous performance utterly captivating. A few in the audience had tears ruing the talent snuffed out before his time. Sean Penn won the best actor award for his portrayal of Harvey Milk. He displayed a touching generosity in acknowledging his peer nominee Mickey Rourke, who was back in the reckoning after a hiatus of a decade. Slumdog Millionaire and its team rejoiced their 8 wins out of 10 nominations.
A lot of images shall stay back from this ceremony and many that have happened in the past. Rahman winning two Oscars being the foremost.

Impressive Style and Impeccable Conduct

Several things stand out from the Oscars. Numero Uno is the superb preparation and the absolute drive towards perfection. Everything is arranged just so. No goof ups are seen on the stage and if any are smoothly handled. The Master of the Ceremonies or the Host has a pedigree of the highest order in performance ability.If she/he is a star its a bonus. This person would be entertaining and welcoming performers of a caliber, vintage and experience so vast that almost everyone present would be a master of her craft.

This audience has to not only be taken care of but treated with respect that becomes them. Every winner nominee presenter or performer gets his portion of stage space and time and just so much. The acceptance speeches can sometimes drag as even stars can be overwhelmed but till date never has a speech been interrupted by the host. The conduct is something remarkable and that gives the ceremony its dignity.

Personal differences may exist and be simmering under the surface but none shows up openly or acts without grace. The Academy has generated that respect after its 81 years of existence. The Academy is of the industry for the industry and by the industry. The Academy is made up of a board of Industry professionals and the selection for a category is done by professionals who excel in that category for e.g. For excellence in Cinematography It is a panel of members who are all Directors of Photography who would choose the nominations in that category. For the winner, all the academy members get to vote. All nominees from previous years get to be the academy members. This process is audited by a third party consultancy and has a secrecy that may rival Fort Knox. Rumors of leaks abound but it has not happened so far. There is no other award in the USA for cinematic excellence other than the Oscars and no one has the right to create one too.

Excellence is a game of constant strife and drive to improve oneself constantly and it has been so with the Oscars too. It is then that the honors awarded become meaningful.

The Indian Awards Scene

At once we are drawn to compare the execution and conduct of our awards. For a long time there was only the Filmfare from the Bennett Coleman & Company Group (Clares as it was known then after the film critic Clare Mendonca started out in 1954 with 5 categories. Later it changed the name to Filmfare awards). In the very same year also instituted were the National awards for excellence in Cinema. The principal difference was that the body awarding the National awards was a public body made up of jury members, while the Filmfare had a jury and popularity quotient added to make it less biased by having the Filmfare magazine readers indicating their popular choices through a form. In both the cases, the awarding organization was not from the industry. One being a publishing house and the other a public sector department. The categories increased and proportionately did the star egos. It became less and less easy for a lack of bias to prevail. It exploded when other awards began starting with rival Indian express group started the Screen Awards and then came the Zee Essel group and before you know it everyone and his sister was conducting a film awards ceremony. If your ego is bruised at one award ceremony you can decide to boycott or ban it forever and soon Stars only attended if they were to be awarded.

The conduct of the master of ceremonies and the choice was anybody who was willing. The choice would not only have a poor command over the language but also would be star struck themselves or crassly ill-mannered if they are stars. This hit its worst pitch with Sajid Khan in one of the Screen awards when he publicly offended a winner and was ticked off on stage. It just didn’t end there but was a study in bad behavior. Rather than apologizing, the puffed up presenter insulted the guest Ashutosh Gowariker. There is a lot of learning from our Award ceremonies. The stars of yesteryears are far more cultured, controlled and articulate. They appreciated art and the craft and were in it for the love of the medium. Money came in much later. Today why should our stars insist on speaking in a language which they cannot speak well beats me. Hindi Cinema stars insist on speaking in English (or at least that’s what they think they speak). Our star performances on stage are just not coordinated and how would they be. The performer would think he is above practice. The execution would be by event organizers who are held responsible for anything out of gear tantrums shown by both attending and performing stars. With so many awards floating around every one has one at home. So the generic bar of performance has just not been raised. Popularity is no measure for performance. Someplace we are erring and in this spiral of descent have touched the absolute bottom. On record I S Johar was the first one to have tried to manipulate the award results by purchasing several thousands of copies of Filmfare to promote his discovery and turn her into a winner. The movie was Aaaj Ki Taaza Khabar (ironical title too..eh?) where wanted to promote Sonia Sahni.

Hence when an Individual like A R Rahman chooses to remain and work in his own set up, it is because he drives himself to perfection. The only reason why we get to see him performing amongst the very best in the world in the Kodak Theatre. The others we wouldn’t even want to have them perform on our Home Theatres.

21 February, 2009

Nostalgia : Shalimar - Gem of a Caper

The Caper film is a genre that has always elicited mixed reviews from audiences worldwide.

What then is a Caper Film?
It is a movie that has at the centre of its very plot a totally tough task or a completely undoable job which is thrown up as a challenge. It has thrills of mind blowing proportions and can have an element of mystery too. This is typically broken up into a pattern of 2 to 3 interludes. The narration style may dictate their order of appearance in a movie though. The first part around the task by detailing its complexity, followed by the buildup of the characters.
The preparation by the characters for the task may be a part of this interlude. The second part is made up of the execution of the caper and is the thrill ride. The third part which may be clubbed into the second would be the wrap up. Here the mystery if any would be unraveled and all is clear about the result.The twist in the tale would be straightened.

Classic Caper Films
Hollywood cinematic history is rich with caper films. Early on classics like “The Great Train Robbery”, “The Sting””To Catch a Thief” and some in the last decades like “Reservoir Dogs” “Heat” “Entrapment” to the current times when Oceans Eleven has been extended into the Ocean Trilogy. Even the Tom Cruise MI-1, MI-II movies ride the middle road between a Bond (Secret Agent) film &the caper genre.

Super fun to watch again and again the caper film sadly had little takers in the Indian cinematic context where the focus has a
lways been on drama or melo melo melodrama if you would have it. Attempts have been made to make films in this genre in Hindi but few have succeeded. Jewel Thief (1967)- with Dev Anand and Jugnu (1973) with Dharamendra were the only successful films of this category. In fact the other capers have been amongst the biggest flops in Indian cinematic history. Case in point : “Shalimar (1978)” and “Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja (1993)”. The latter was quite bad though it had at its behest the best in technology & budgets (the caper sequence in it was executed quite well but the rest of the movie just didn’t match up and was far too long) The former flopped because it was un-Indian in its execution and casting.

Shalimar (1978)
I just love Krishna Shah’s - Shalimar and even before people here had heard of international casting this movie pitted the best of them against India's best. Sir Rex Harrison versus Dharamendra. T
his eclectic casting of stars from the world added to its edge. Dharamendra was one of the handsomest men to grace the silver screen of all time and accompanying him was the sensual Zeenat Aman. The sizzle factor in this pairing topped anything that Hindi cinema would see in a long time.Dharam and Zeenat were at their peak, and then there was Shammi Kapoor, Sylvia Miles as countess Rassmussen, John Saxon , O P Ralhan and a host of other characters.
Anand Bakshi and Sapan Chakraborty penned the lyrics with R D Burman giving the music. R D Burman was in such sterling form that though the movie flopped his songs live on forever. Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar lent their voices. Who can forget the soulful
“Hum Bewafaa..Hurgiz na the” rendered by Kishore , the sense of an acute want, to turn time back & wipe the slate clean by Dharam and Zeenat is palapable. When Lata sings “ Aaina wohi kehta” the haunting strain captures the mood of love grasped, felt for a while as the lovers see it slither out just as easily. Usha Uthup in "One Two Cha Cha Cha" adds a zestful spark. The plot is adorable in its simplicity and the thrill is in the manner of its approach. The motive of a world class Jewel thief to pit his wits against the best thieves in the world by challenging them to steal the Shalimar is bold. Sir Rex Harrison is a cool customer and handles the scenes with sagacity unparalleled.His Hindi voice though is Kader Khan lest one thinks Sir Rex learnt the language.

Some part of Krishna Shah’s vision though remained locked up in his script. When it was published as a book, it was then that one realised how sharply elegant it was in its flow and clarity. Despite saying this, Shalimar the movie can be watched again and again. Had it been released in times of today it would have set the screens on fire. The title song captures this rapacious avarice of the players in the tempo that is uniquely R D Burman. I realise that when I hum along “Mera pyar Shalimar” (as it plays in the background on my system) it is my salute to not only this movie but also to the remarkable genre not seen on Indian screens as often.

09 February, 2009

Awards Deserved - Timing Way Off

A. R. Rahman wins a BAFTA for his score for the “Slumdog Millionaire”. These awards are said to be a pre-cursor to the Oscars. He is nominated there in 3 categories and may in all likelihood win one too. There is something quite funny going on here.Rahman is an accomplished musician composer singer and an absolutely deserving candidate for an Oscar for Music. But is “Slumdog Millionaire” that milestone in his career and work? The score is not just ordinary but the “Jai Ho” number is a rather forced patched up addition to a zippy movie. Rahman's body of work is phenomenal right from the time Mani Rathnam launched him with Roja. Each and every composition has been unique and popular.His career is strewn with gems but look at the irony that he is nominated for the highest honour for a piece of work which not only is not his best but also can barely be called good.

Like a Whodunit mystery novel we need to identify the motive..is there a motive at all? Or is this just a case of fortuitous timing ? Or has somebody decided that India's time has come now. Rather skeptical one would say? Actually no, there have been instances which give rise to a suspicion like this. Ang Lee made his “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” and got rave reviews, the movie grossed millions and Oscars too. It was a good movie, a sweeping epic and Lee is a deserving candidate. But the curious case was in the timing of Lee’s winning. Lee represented China. As a market it was opening to the world just then and the USA like any hungry predator was eyeing it ; the billion plus consumers in that markets & its low cost manufacturing strength. Call this a co-incidence but it was judicious timing. Even the Miss World or Universe was a Chinese a few years from then.

Can we in India forget the years when we were winning all the titles at the beauty pageants? In fact in 1994 India won both the Ms Universe and Ms World, Sushmita Sen & Aishwarya Rai. This feat was again repeated by Lara Dutta and Priyanca Chopra in 2000. Looking at Indias tryst with beauty pageants, systemically after Madhu Sapre our first real winning probable (who like P T Usha our Olympic Hope) lost out by a hairs whisker we became smarter definitely in terms of grooming and training. But did our roll call of beauties dry up between then & now? What was so significant about the years 1994 and 2000 ?

The year 1994 was when the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao gave the mandate to his finance minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to chart out a new financial course for the country. Rao and Singh opened India to the world. The world wanted an in, into the huge middle class market that is India.What better way to give that sense of having arrived and being connected than with a few international awards. The year 2000 was the year of the Y2K and the world was scared of coming to its digital end. The only country who seemingly had a skilled army to combat this was India. Now Lara and Priyanca are quite lovely ladies but here too the timing was rather fortunate.

Corporate India's timing is no better. This writer used to work for an engineering company and it was a great place to be. Some wise heads had instituted "a person of the month" and "person of the quarter" award to encourage team members to perform better. The whole office once a month would gather in the conference room and the chief would declare the nominees and the winner. All nominees & winners were deserving candidates on account of the work put in. It was on the occasion when this author got a "person of the quarter award" that things became clearer. He was surprised as in that quarter he had nothing spectacular to his name. His achievements were from a few quarters earlier. Did he then on principle return the award? Nope. It carried a cash prize with it and salaries being pretty ordinary anyways, every supplement to it was welcome. But it disillusioned him on being rewarded for a good work from time that had gone by. It made him look at most awards now with a jaundiced eye. And truly so the eye is not misplaced; As he shared this with a few friends of his on this take he found concurrence.

Look at the Filmfare awards (Indias Oscars), they were an institution once but today are in a pretty sad state. Everybody who is somebody has to have an award or else he or she shall not perform at their charity function. The amount of lobbying that happens behind the scenes is terrible. The winner has to be deserving you say? Dont worry at all, if u are not getting the popular awards, we shall institute a new category. Shahrukh has to get some award every year, so what if it’s an award for being the first Hindi movie star to buy a cricket team? He can still look heavenwards and thank his mom. Aamir came under flak for withdrawing his name from these awards and immediately was shunned for a while, till he started churning out mega hits. Then despite his non presence he was winning awards. He is so powerful now kuch to dena hi padega na? If he doesn’t accept one its ok, that's his call…We did our bit and awarded you.

This is the anomaly I feel of Rahman with his Slumdog nomination, a deserving candidate, who may be awarded well after his time for a work that just doesn’t even approach public acceptable levels ( Have u seen any one croon Jai Ho? Isnt that the only measure for the success of a song or music ? ) let alone his own very high standards. We may have a debate on the veracity and some would say "Why bother, now look here, isnt the right guy getting it ? He is ours too so so why make a fuss. The issue here that it is the person being awarded and not his work.The person was around yesterday and will be around tomorrow too. Something is skewed here or the entire award winning and giving equation stinks. The larger answer to this seems to be the greed motive - Hollywood wants a slice of the worlds largest movie making industry now - and is incentivising it with awards. Napolean said it best " Give me a few medals to give and I shall win any war for France"

07 February, 2009

THE GREAT sensual DEPRESSION : Bust goes Bust

Circa 1947 India is a poor temperate economy where many sweated and starved.No one had money and food was not an option anyways, it was scarce. Circa 2009 India is a fairly rich temperate economy (we are third world but our middle class has grown fat on increasing disposable incomes) & yet today we not just sweat, starve and generously pay for it too. This is happening either on treadmills in health clubs or fitness centres, In housing complex gymnasiums or on jogging tracks.

The New Number Game

While on economy & numbers one can see that Indian cinema & its performers too love their numbers ; Shahrukh Khan with his packs made the number 6 very popular and then came Aamir Khan who said number 8 is far superior. One lady though made the greatest contribution to this numerical game ( much like the ancient Indian mathematicians) is Kareena Kapoor who commoditized the zero and started a new fad . The key buzzword is now Size Zero.

The Zero Sum Game
This is a trend that is not easy on the eye and one may find it tougher to handle than the vagaries in the economy. The economy has not completely gone bust but with size zero, the bust has certainly gone bust. The sight of skinny women with absolutely no curves and even bones sticking out cavorting about with pride is disheartening to say the least. Why are people generally not satisfied with their bodies that they subject themselves to strain and starvation and in some cases cosmetic alterations?

Cinema &
Kareena was never a pretty face but in Refugee she had some semblance of the Punjabi–Sindhi curves. Today she is all angles and has almost done away with one dimension. The Preeti’s, Priyanka’s, Aishwarya’s do absolutely nothing to the senses the way the belles from the era gone by did. Those from the South like Vyjayanti Mala, Kalpana, Padmini or till recently Sridevi were a far cry from size zero. Take the case of the Bengali women of yesteryears like Suchitra Sen , her daughter Moon –Moon or Yogeeta Bali. Not only was nature kind to them by making them better endowed but also when fully clad they oozed a sensuality that was mind blowing. On the other hand Rimi Sen's "next-to-nothing-garment-act" in Dhoom was a huge yawn. During the song one could actually see the audience walking out for a pee or a smoke. A sincere request follows “When you don’t have it please don’t flaunt it”. The last curvy woman who made an eighty plus painter halt in his tracks was Madhuri Dixit. Now Madhuri never wore absolutely skimpy clothes but she danced like a dream and when her dil went dhak dhak the nations heart missed a beat. I truly don’t see it happening with the Kareena’s of the world. Helen in Don sizzled while Kareena in Don...hmm eh gulp..yecchh.

Sushmita Sen conquered the Universe but she had it right when she decided to enter cinema. Her mosquito bites needed enhancing and like a power saving electric bulb advertisement said “ saare ghar ke badal dalunga” she enhanced them cosmetically. It took a Farha Khan then to put her in a sari under a waterfall in " Main Hoon Na" and the world was on fire again. Even in Hollywood today the extremes are stark you either have measured ones or small ones anything bigger or fuller then sadly your place under the sun is in the pornographic circuit. The last Diva of the bust was Dolly Parton and she is more famous for her impressive chest (and the jokes on them) as she is for crooning country ballads with Kenny Rogers. Looking at Kate Winslett one enjoys seeing her natural fullness. The Titanic sank because it stuck an ice floe & not due to the weight of Winslett above the waist. Europe gave the silver screen, wholesomely endowed divas in Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida. Gina even inspired a Hollywood filmmaker to comment with awe “There are two really great things that have come out of Italy and they are both on Gina” ...

A good bust as a definite sign of beauty on a woman. This is recorded even in ancient Indian temple art. The Chandela temples of Khajuraho and many other temples epitomised beauty in voluptuousness. Women in ancient India have been well endowed and they were not only comfortable but also carried a pride about it. A full figure toned and maintained well is a sight for sore eyes. Though you wouldnt get the idea when you see a woman like Rakhi Sawant. Her craving for the spotlight can even turn cosmetic surgery into a laugh. She
enhanced her bust to sport a cleavage in cinema cosmetically and later altered it downwards again surgically to participate in a dance show because the bounce would come in the way. She epitomises the other extreme.

Stay Happy, Stay Fit

Eat healthy, get fit and toned and be happy with your bodies. Don’t starve and sweat with a size zero aspiration and become anorexic. The male homo-sapien in general, even the vegetarians appreciates more meat on bones. Size Zero or Only bones.your only fans are going to be of the canine variety.
The world is passing through an economic depression for sure and now in this pursuit of the size zero we may be on the brink of a huge sensual depression too. So many depressions...How depressing!!!!