Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Avatar, Avtar, Bindiya and Collective Memory

Latest blockbuster from James Cameron has created vehement supporters and detractors and I am in no mood to put 10 things to love/hate the movie. There is a hilarious comparison of the plot with Hindi cinema's hackneyed exploitation and revenge stories, though the title of movie taken: Roopa ka Badla sounds more like exploitation,female revenge stories like Bindiya aur Bandook). Celebrated movie reviewer Roger Eberts who don't find novelty in the movie yet loved it. And then there is Great Bong (Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind) , one of very few people who can take dementia to an art form. He posits Avatar is just our beloved Kaka's (our Pusspa lover Rajesh Khanna sahib) classic Avtar with an extra 'a'. Something I totally agreed to.

I loved watching the movie, period. Obviously it had a totally unoriginal plot but Cameron's way of seeing things in the movie was what engaged me. Never for a moment did I wonder that I am watching an oft repeated story. This apart from the 3D experience did it for me.

After reading Ebert's view on rationality of the Na'vi one point in depiction of Pandora's culture intrigued me. That was depiction of collective memory. Conflict of development society vs tribal culture is obvious, if one has progress as its goal then other has harmony. If one has corporate as its collective then its community for the other. That many ancient cultures have ancestor reverence/worship is also nothing new in movies. The list to compare the two cultures is endless and have been depicted in numerous Hollywood flicks & Hindi cinema. The contrast of collective memory is shown subtly when trees are shown to be uprooted and it is claimed it will destroy ancient memory in them. I think this is an allusion to History vs Mythology. Myths and mythology are a form of collective memory where in each generation reinterprets and retells them in their own way thus adding (and even forgetting). Tribal/ancient cultures all over the world rely on mythologies to understand their past, origin and even future whereas development societies always have history to understand their past, science to understand origin and predict future, so in a sense Big Bang Theory and Theory of Evolution are indeed two mythologies.

History with its linear notion of time, textual culture (what is written is true, what is true should be written) and objective reality (what really happened) always conflicts with mythology which always has a jagged if not circular notion of time, oral culture (believe in whatever has been said since time immemorial), A small case in example would be controversy on Adam's Bridge or Rama Setu. People on mythology side had nothing else to claim than invoke the sacred whereas people who had to take sides with history questioned historical authenticity of Rama and the whole conversation went down to dogs.

Well I had hoped if Cameron could have delved more into this part rather than make a typical Hollywood grandeur story, where win/loss takes over delving into nature of things. And that is why I love Charlie Kaufman's movies.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

3 Idiots or Rancho B.E. or Lage Raho Rancho or Hirani's Crusade against the System

Being a Unix enthusiast I was constantly doing a diff between Rajkumar Hirani's previous creation and his latest presentation titled 3 Idiots. Though an engaging watch but it seemed like he morphed Munnabhai into Rancho but you can not change the entire picture with morphing. After tackling a crusade against a system which dehumanizes doctors in "Munnabhai M.B.B.S" and rereading Gandhi in his "Lage Raho Munnabhai" he has turned his knights towards engineering colleges and the system which dehumanizes students.

Though I did not had great grades in Linear Algebra but the concept of vectors and dimensions still intrigues me. The role of basis is much important in this vector toy world, by a simple change of basis one can change the entire game and make millions too. The same vector appears novel or as a popular saying goes nayi botal mein purani sharaab. The coordinates in Rajkumar Hirani's vector space are the chief mercenary, the patriarch, the patriarch's daugher, the message, the miracle, the lesser mortals.

The chief mercenary of the crusade is Rancho who's sole motto in the movie is to convert every non-believer in his do-as-your-heart-says sect. There is nothing wrong in it, the message is good, it is presented well but it permeates every pixel of every frame in the movie. The whole movie looks like an advertisement in which motto is the product itself.

Each frame is a fight between towering but evil-because-he-doesnt-know-what-he-is-doing patriarch (played by Boman Irani in all three editions) and chief mercenary, who by the end of the movie has to make the patriarch realize mistakes in his ways. Patriarch's daughter has to revolt against father, set free by chief mercenary for psychoanalysis of which I am sure Sudhir Kakkar or Ashis Nandy are better suited.

But how are the non-believers converted to become faithful asks the jeering crowd. How are they shown the true light. First there has to be a heart wrenching advertisement line. Jadu ki Jhappi in 1st edition, Gandhigiri in 2nd and now its All ij well. The non believers are not only hankered with proselytizing one-liner message but are shown a miracle towards the end to convert the patriarch.

If healthy dose of Jadu ki Jhappi cured Anand Bannerjee and converted Dr. J.C. Asthana in Munnabhai M.B.B.S. then Munna's Gandhigiri saved Lucky Singh in Lage Raho... version. It was Rancho's engineering and studying-for-knowledge message which opened Veeru Sahastrabudhhe's eyes to the true message. I am not elaborating on the miracle in this post to avoid spoiling reader's movie viewing experience.

But those are just few elements in a movie says jeering crowd. So let the crowd notice that patriarch is final frontier, before claiming victory on him there are lesser mortals to be converted. And converted in the same fashion I say to jeering crowd. There has to be a non-A list actor (Jimmy Shergill in 1st two editions and Sharman Joshi in 3rd) who has his life issues successfully resolved by chief mercenary. Lesser mortal has to be a poor lad from minority community (Zaheer, Victor and Farhan) respectively. There is nothing new in the minority angle, Manmohan Desai used it pretty deftly in his movies. Barring the first edition lesser mortal actually has daddy issues with dad played none other than Pareekshit Sahni (and this is ironical because he himself is a deeya tale andhera). People say movie makers are artists I say they are pop psychologists.

I urge the readers not to think I hate the movie or this is some sort of review/appraisal/derision of the movie. There is neither any claim of go watch the movie nor will I claim do not set eyes on the movie nor will I give some stars to rate a piece of work like many movie reviewers of Hindi cinema do. If you have followed my analysis well you will realize the movie is actually not based on Chetan Bhagat's Five Point Someone - What Not to do at IIT but yes the man should be given some credit. It is just my thoughts put together which distracted me while watching the film (and if you haven't watched 3 Idiots then why should only I suffer the fate, I leave these coordinates to bother you too).