Quality: Where Art Thou?

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A Perspective into the Cinema of Nepal

Two days ago, May 16, I walked out of QFX Cinemas at Civil Mall after experiencing a great horror titled Aawaran (directed by Subhash Koirala). Indeed a horrific show, pun intended, Aawaran could be a milestone movie for the Cinema of Nepal. The sad part, it would be a milestone of yet another horror of a movie that, although taking the mask of the mystical horror genre, turns out to be a brutal horror show, for viewers, and I claim that on behalf of every filmgoer that appreciates the quality of cinema. By now, I’d assume it’s clear what I mean by horror in this particular case. The sheer fact that Aawaran is a horror movie is a mere coincidence because either way, it’s pretty dire—a shameful exhibition of Cinema.

The year 2014 has been an eccentric year for the fraternity of cinema that calls itself the sensible division, a select caucus within the broad facet of Nepali Cinema. Amongst the many movies, that has hit the screens, we’ve got two names to cherish upon and on both occasions, not because those movies were classics, but they were an aberration from the wave that’s hitting Nepali Cinema. Those two movies, of course, are Jhola (Yadavkumar Bhattarai) and Red Monsoon (Eelum Dixit). Apart from these movies, we’ve really had a lackluster year, yet would it be wise to call it such a year, thus far, when this end of the spectrum has a recurring tendency to produce the most uncreative sloths known to cinematic viewers? That is, as they say, the million dollar question.

What is the issue here? Why do movies like Aawaran and Ritu (Manoj Adhikary) even come to the stage where we have to witness the torture? Who validates these movies? How these unholy creatures are allowed to grow beyond the treatment phase—that in itself is beyond my bordered comprehension. With that said and having been a stern follower of the Cinema of Nepal, it is mind-boggling for me, even today with the amount of utter mayhem we get in form of cinema. Anywhere else, this would guarantee that the business shuts down and we look into other pastures. But that’s not the case, is it? Month after month, we witness the inflow of Nepali movies, with trends growing and visions expanding. Amidst all of this, it’s become a rarity that a good movie would evolve out of this chaos.

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Last month a movie called Kabaddi (Ram Babu Gurung) helmed the screens… Was it good? It was okay. The audience response was positive and the critics rose to praise the movie as a shining beam amidst the density of darkness. My friend, Pragyan Thapa, wrote an apt account on the movie. It can be found at http://pragyanthapa.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/kabaddi-kaji-and-friends/. When we compare Kabaddi to genuine movies of its kind, it hardly matches the yardstick. Individually and in relative terms to other movies from Nepal, Kabaddi is one-step at the right direction. Despite receiving mostly positive reviews, I never found Kabaddi to live up to the expectations of the plethora of fans hoarding cinemas on that day. I wasn’t excited or anything. I was calm and knew what to expect. What I got in return was a tight first portion of a movie, which created the right atmosphere and managed to hold my creativity in appreciation of the first half. Things slipped out of hands in the second half of the movie, and from there on, the “Nepali Attack,” the stigma surrounding Nepali movies made its grand entry. Although the stigma stung this otherwise well-intentioned effort, I found grace in accepting that Nepali Cinema is growing, bit-by-bit, slow, but it is moving to the right direction.

As a social experience, Kabaddi is an archetypal Nepali drama carrying the vibe of Nepali foibles and positively authenticating life in the sultry hilly terrains of Nepal. The social experience was priceless, even if the movie lost the plot completely in the second half and turned into a self-indulging, smart pep talk session whilst using the medium of cinema to crack inside jokes and create a synthetic crime feel that was neither warranted nor called for, if only the creators utilized their creativity a little bit more. I hate to say it, but Kabaddi had the backdrop resembling European Art Cinema, which it didn’t wish to channel into and the end result was a tale of neither here nor there—a tale of two cities, only disjointed and devoid of semblance.

Such a movie—as Kabaddi—received the votes of viewers and critics. It wasn’t for nothing though. Better than most other Nepali movies, even if the first portion was the only constructive aspect of the movie, Kabaddi is much better when you compare it to the melodramatic poison called Ritu or a pretentious falsification of epic proportions called Aawaran. Such movies would seem to wreck all the goodwill created by a select few filmmakers in their attempt to glide Nepali Cinema away from plodding stories and styles to an idiosyncratic flair that would aid in placing Nepali Cinema as a new type of cinema for the audiences of World Cinema. Ambitious much? Obviously, but for the love of trying, it’s only acceptable that you shoot for the stars in that attempt to fly above the ground.

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Coming back to Aawaran, there are movies one wishes to critic, analyze—and there are some movie where one would be lost due to the sheer stupidity playing on the screen. Aawaran is that stupid movie. I’m not being, not at all, harsh in my branding of this movie that would raise severe questions in the quality of movies Nepal is churning out, especially when it comes from the “pseudo-intelligent” wing of Nepali Cinema. Surely, is this all we have to offer? Is there dearth of talent in Nepal? Is it an economic handicap? Is the vision of Nepali filmmakers shrinking? Each of these questions demands its own argument—a valid, strong, and defiant hearing for both parties… Would that solve anything though? Again, this is very subjective. It could and it will—only if we broaden our perspective. If we continue dogmatizing cinema, no, we’re stuck in this revolving door of inanity. The question is how we view films… How does the audience understand cinema? What do the makers know about cinema? And this brings me to the theoretical aspect of cinematic reprise.

Most Nepali filmmakers fail in the theoretical paradigm of cinema. In today’s world, technology is there for the taking. We are living in a world of technological ubiquity. A brainstorming app, a screenwriting program, a camera, an editing program, and above all, a computer to converge these into that dream; these are enough to come up with an unsophisticated movie. That’s all an average filmmaker needs, which is also why the incursion of moviemakers in Nepal has shot up the roof. It’s not a question of human resources anymore. The major question is of the vision of these filmmakers, how they perceive cinema. There are areas where experts lag behind, but again, following the thought of Cinema as Social Expression, would that have ever hurt a Satyajit Ray, Kurosawa, or Tarkovsky? I’d doubt it. These stalwarts of filmmaking grasped that thinnest fiber of theoretical filmmaking – an art that has gone missing in many of Nepal’s filmmakers today, and the scary part—the cosmos of filmmaking in this country still doesn’t recognize the value of film theory, not just as a discipline but also as a rendering of the ultimate purpose of films…

Depending if you view Cinema as an Art, a Social Expression, an Industry, a Form of Entertainment, or as an Agent of Social Change, whatever be the theory, unless and until you’re engrossed, diluted, and immersed into that theory from which every tissue in your being screams filmmaking; I would never expect any maker of cinema to become an artist capable of telling stories. Whether such a person is a minimalist filmmaker believing in the supremacy of storytelling, or a techno-craft advocating in a technical mode of presenting a story, without that foundational theoretical recurrence, I’m sorry but filmmaking becomes what we see today in Nepal’s Cinema. And, out of that, we shall never achieve the true form of cinema that we all want but are incapable due to various complications that arise along the path.

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Anybody can jump into the sea and act to become a fish for a while, but the only way you know and feel how it is to be fish is by living as a fish. That is not, in a million years, possible, but what is possible is gaining as much experience, knowledge, and wisdom on the field that amongst those that are not the warriors underneath, you have the next best knowledge, the second best experience. That alone could steer you through this ambiguous territory, the dangerous game of filmmaking because no matter what we make, we can’t ever aspire for perfection, but when you have that honesty engrained into your psyche, a wonderful boon of faith is born, then and there. That boon of faith enchants you with a confidence in favor of your vision and if your vision is crystallized, single-pointed, and a result of those many laborious hours of study, good or bad disappears and what remains is art, what remains is what you have and—take my worthless word for this—you won’t fail, never, ever. An art can never fail. An artist can, but an art—never.

Coming back to my original point, as a cinematic nation, we’re gaining notoriety locally as technical, practical filmmakers. I can’t help but look at this idea with disdain. Cinema isn’t merely taking the camera and getting to work. What about the stories we tell? What about the lives and times of people? I recognize and empathize that such may not be entirely possible in the context of modern Nepal, but the only thing that sets us apart from Hollywood, cinemas of Europe, Korea, Iran, Bollywood, et cetera is the content we have. The anecdotes we want to share; the way we want to express ourselves—that is the only thing distinctive about us, our true selling point—unique to the rest, very personal to us.

As a fan of the beautiful world of Cinema and a Nepali by birth, I don’t want a movie like Aawaran spreading the wrong message about my society, my culture. A pretentious, unoriginal, craptacular disdain in the name of cinema, Aawaran is one wholesome example of everything wrong with the Cinema of Nepal today. The state, the mentality, the execution, the narrow minded vision of filmmakers who take the audiences for granted, insulting their intelligence, whilst the shameful producer who—for lack of anything creative—decides to produce and pour heaps of money on these unspectacular spectacles of mockery, a fundamental sin in the religion of filmmaking. Harsh it may sound, if the Cinema of Nepal is to propel into an acceptable level, more of Uma (Tsering Rhitar Sherpa), Badhshala (Manoj Pandit), Jhola, and Red Monsoon need to come to the front and less of the sadistic tendencies that the likes of Ritu, Aawaran, Dhuwani, and Chadke tend to promote… I dearly apologize. I’m not a masochist and I speak for thousands of such critical film analysts, and buffs when I say this—stop wasting time creating garbage because if we’d wanted that, we’d just go visit Bagmati or such a place glorified by the throwaways of society.

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Cinema is a medium. In today’s world, it is perhaps the strongest medium—because unlike TV, Internet, Radio, and even News at times, people pay top money to invest their time and resources in watching something somebody has to offer. This statement could be rebuked, but the essence lies in the box-office number a movie generates worldwide. If one project can have such suitors, it must have some sort of an influence. I’m not merely talking of film as a medium of change, but as a medium of expression, of understanding, of conveying, of entertaining, and ultimately—a medium worthy enough to engage the viewer into a world beyond theirs, or about a tale amidst them, yet hardly reached. That is the power of Cinema—the romance, as they say, of films. You get to see what you’ve never seen, and sometimes you get to see something you’ve always seen in a fresh light. See anything, but be sure to receive a changing experience because every little detail those visuals throw at us, we change a bit, our thoughts modify. Is that not wonderful about Cinema? Is that not why we love Cinema? I do for those tiny details and those moments that can change my life, the way I think, the way I believe. Cinema is much more than gazing into the screen for a period in time. It’s an experience. It’s rewarding. It simply is—a moment of somebody’s life captured in footage. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that… Let’s just think about it for a while. Food for thought, eh?

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Cue: Movies

The month of May and June will see glorious amount of releases at the box office. It’s always the case with constant fluxes of releases—when is it ever steady?

One movie exciting viewers is the third act—the “Before” series, with Before Midnight making its way to theaters on May 24, 2013 (US release). The movie is directed by the famed Richard Linklater (Before series, Walking Life)—the man who helmed the previous two movies, Before Sunrise (1994) and Before Sunset (2004). The third part retains Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

A staggering romantic drama about Jesse and Celine—the first two installments showed viewers the coincidental encounters of these two souls—at Vienna and nine years later at Paris. This story goes eighteen years after Before Sunrise and takes us to Paris again! Before Midnight has been the attraction in many Film Festivals and the reviews look positive—along the same path of the prequels.

In the same month, albeit on the 31st, we are getting a treat in the form of The Kings of Summer—a comedy based on running away into independence! Kings of Summer has been drawing great interest ever since the premier at Sundance Film Festival. The trailer looks good. Directed by the maker of the short movie Successful Alcoholics, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the Kings of Summer sure looks to be one of those coming of age movies.

In the same path of glory, we get a treat from the legendary director Woody Allen in form of Blue Jasmine—a supposedly comic drama. Coming from Allen, the maker of the classic Annie Hall and the beautiful Midnight at Paris, one is convinced of this film being another lighthearted drama from one of the best, Woody Allen. The trailer is yet to come out, but the release date—as of now—stands July 26, 2013 (USA).

Last but not the least, the complete comic escapade—Ghanchakkar is making its way to the Friday nights on June 28, 2013 (India). The director is the supremo behind Aamir (2008) and No One Killed Jessica (2011)—Rajkumar Gupta. The trailer looks fantastic and both the leads—Emraan Hashmi and Vidya Balan—seem to be in complimentary moods.

For the crazy, spinny persona

Ek Thi Dayaan – Looking to Enchant the Cinema-dom

The new movie from Balaji Telefilms and Vishal Bhardwaj PicturesEk Thi Dayaan–isn’t far away from hitting the eyes of the people meant to watch this spooky thriller. One of the most bankable stars in Bollywood today, Emraan Hashmi (Murder, Gangster, Jannat, Once Upon…, The Dirty Picture, Shanghai), helms the affair accompanied by the National Award-winning Konkona Sen Sharma (Mr and Mrs Iyer, Page 3, Omkara, Life in a Metro); Kalki Koechlin (DevD, The Girl in Yellow Boots), and Huma Qureshi (Gangs of Wasseypur 1 & 2). The packed star cast, with a promising premise has lifted the anticipation for a movie that hints to be a dark, murky drama.

Ek Thi Dayaan brings together two powerhouses, Vishal Bhardwaj and Ekta Kapoor. While Vishal is known for his eccentric movies, Ekta is one of the most dominant producers in Bollywood today. Scripted by Vishal Bhardwaj himself, in conjunction with Mukul Sharma, Ek Thi Dayaan has all the potential to spark the lights with its dynamic storytelling and vivid illustrations.

The movie brings forth a first-time Director–Kannan Iyer, who previously wrote the screenplay for the Sanjay Dutt and Urmila Matondkar movie Daud (1997).

The music is from the musical genius himself, Vishal Bhardwaj. The track Yaraam has already caught up well, and as with Indian Cinema–music is just as important as the characters and the plot.

As viewers, we are hoping to witness a scintillating movie that would not only go along with the trend of thematic movies emerging from Bollywood, but the hope also lies in Ek Thi Dayaan to give 2013 its first major grosser from Bollywood. April 19 is the date.

The Riddle of Cinema

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This question has puzzled many seekers, as contemporary artists refer to cinema as an art, majority at least, whilst few portions of admirers consider films a corporate affair—a fusion of art and business. When I attend events that range from literature, theater, and philosophy, I come to realize the misinterpretation of cinema—primarily based on the audience present in the crowd! Let me categorize a few movies that led to drastic levels of blood pressure modifications for the gurus of cinema!

What type of a movie is Ek Tha Tiger? Ek Tha Tiger is a pure feature movie, with commercial values. Kabir Khan wrote this movie for Salman Khan and not the other way around. Many of the critics upheld criticism against Ek Tha Tiger for apparently hindering their orgasmic blasts. Whilst, completely ignoring that such a movie is meant for Rahul who studies at Tribhuvan University, Ghansyam who may be a big Salman admirer from Wasseypur, or a belly dancer from Delhi who would want to see their star Salman Khan dance to a track amidst the sultry desert locales.

Ek Tha Tiger doesn’t fall in that category of the pseudo-intellectual phrase, “meaningful cinema,” as a movie—say, Barfi—would despite many loopholes, ripped scenes, and a Nepalese person named Murphy Bahadur. At least, the vibe of Dublin was present in Ek Tha Tiger, although I forgot to check the news about half of Dublin going into frenzy because Tiger just destroyed the sweet little city. Nonetheless, watching Barfi, I loved Darjeeling, but could anybody please advice the Darjeeling natives to be more precise, clear, and elaborative in the portrayal of an area largely dominated by middle and lower middle-class people of Nepalese descent? Having just complimented Anurag Basu, I would commend him for his amicable effort and direction. After all, I only wished that I could have been of help in the making of Kites.

Coming back, this is the commercial art of cinema. What is commercial art? It’s a process of dedicating movies for audiences primarily interested in specific typologies of cinema, whereby the commerce aspect becomes the benchmark for the success of that particular “art.” I’m unsure whether this commercial cinema would qualify as art because art is an independent unit—that doesn’t need any barometer in measuring the significance and the purpose, per se, of the piece of glittering interpretation.

With the commerce fading behind the smoke, all I could propose is a dose of No Smoking! Anurag Kashyap qualifies as one eccentric filmmaker and an idol for many aspiring filmmakers who don’t have their chacha, mama, dada, dadi, nani, nana, papa, mata, etc in the film industry (in India more than anywhere else, although we all realize—politics is the second trade known to man. First is something Mrs. Sunny Leone would have some ideas about!)

With No Smoking, a viewer witnessed a movie that confused, puzzled, and turned off many such viewers. Received with no love at the BO, and little affection by the critiques of Bharat Nagari, No Smoking is a definition of art movie that doesn’t really serve any purpose, except exhibit cinema as a medium of emotional exchanges. This is where the term, “art,” might be relevant, as No Smoking is what many intellectuals and philosophers of film would call “offbeat.” A term loosely borrowed from musical beats—the wise prefer it. However, a question does ring the telephone—what is “on the beat” cinema then? For Bollywood, is it dancing around the trees, while aficionados such as Dalai Lama bless the couple? Alternatively, in Hollywood, is it some super action star coming and destroying Russia for the zillionth time? In Nepalese picture, is it Chadke—the entirely chadke movie in every sense, or is it the great Nepalese action star Rajesh Hamal dancing to Hud Hud Dabbang?

With this term, primarily moviemakers, critiques, and film lovers accept that the “commercial, regular” aspect of films are the “in the beat” cinema. After all, when movies first started in early 1900s, the aim was to entertain and earn a living. Those days were rocky for film and theater artists. Unlike today, the reputation of this form of “art,” was paradoxical. Where does entertainment blend with art? Perhaps that’s the “meaningful cinema,” big brothers talk about!

Let me bring a movie in the stage; a movie I liked very much, the Reader. Many accuse it as an Oscar-bait movie, and they wouldn’t be far off it, as it has everything an Oscar winner would have, except it didn’t. Essentially, feature movies are made for entertainment. The Reader is one gripping saga of a woman and her unnatural effects on a young boy, something that didn’t leave him until the end—very much in his twilight (Ralph Fiennes or the Voldemort with nose— whatever makes you happy). The Reader draws a fine line and converges three categories: commercial movie, art movie, fact movie. The line is subtle but the plot is domineering, and Kate Winslet gives a sensational performance. This is where drama makes its triumphant entrance—a drama, that’s it.

Right now, a saying is reverberating in my mind, “A classic is such that everybody has heard about, few have read, while the labor’s book is such that nobody bothers to admire, yet plenty have experienced the drama in it.” If cinema is an art, it must definitely be the labor’s book. Inside cinema, the movie that bores you until death do you lot apart, must be that classic, the Holy Quran of filmmaking, while the movie that really doesn’t have any message and the only aim is to create hysteria must be the ordinary book. After all, everybody has watched Tom N Jerry once in their lifetime; in that ratio, few have read Macbeth—although I do recommend reading Macbeth, but go through Hemmingway and Wilde before meeting Shakespeare, as he wouldn’t remember the name!

Is Cinema Art? Yes, that is the question…

Cinema is an art when you intend it as an art. The documentary, “Himalayan Gold Rush,” is one informative piece, a fact film. At the same time, the activities within the camera, the shot is art because it is dancing with shadows. Art is where you dance with shadows and another shadow appears out of nowhere—illogical, complete maniacal. If art is illogical—to say science is logical—why oh Holy Grail, thy trieth to findest thee mystery of logic in the artist’s pen of clairvoyance? Why oh sage of the mountains of jurisdiction—thy not understandeth artes de la vida? Whom am I questioning? Yes, you, look here—YOU!

To read art, become art!

Once upon a time in la-la land… There lived a demon by the name of Ferocious. Ferocious, who conquered the land of Stotain and married the Dark Princess of Vinegar. 2000 years today, iPhone came into existence. Before it’s too late, a wonderful quote: True movies are like true women, even if you can’t seem to tolerate them, they still have your time—consequently, money!

Until next time, against all odds, but once again…

Image credit funnycorner.net