05 December 2009

Discovered John Malkovich and Reread Disgrace

I saw the film Disgrace after reading the review by Roger Ebert.

Anyone who has cared to read my blogger profile will know that Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee is one of my favourite books. I read it a few years back. It may be one of the first books that I read where the main character with negative traits is presented with empathy.

David Lurie, middle aged intellectual, teaching Romantic Poetry at the Technical University in Cape Town has a fling with one of his young students and is accused of sexual harassment by her. He accepts being guilty as charged but refuses to apologise or repent. He leaves his job and goes away to stay with his daughter Lucy who has a farm in the countryside.

The book is basically a commentary about the post-apartheid South African society in a flux represented by David, Lucy and Petrus, her help in the farm, who will soon become the co-owner of the farm according to the new arrangement.

The film starring John Malkovich feels like virtual transposing of the book onto the screen. His acting has our complete attention (before watching the movie I’d the image of Coetzee himself for David with snow-white beard, balding head, specs etc. but now it is John). Even most of the dialogues are taken from the book. Initially I was very excited seeing such a literal adaptation. But, after a while I felt something amiss in the film. So, I read the book again (this time I bought the book, the last time I’d borrowed from a library). In the film David appears to be arrogant, sinister, addicted to the pleasures of flesh, almost evil; without any remorse or regret.

The book on the other hand, has the advantage of an omnipresent third person narrator who lets us peek into the thought process, vulnerability and the sense of wrong doing, which makes him all too human. It is amazing that the writer presents the view point of someone at the extreme end of the spectrum without being judgmental (that to an utterly despicable in normal circumstances).
John Malkovich talks about working in Disgrace in this interview.

Some writers who hide away in universities only write about the arguments they have had or the students they have screwed. They stay in the universities because they want security. And you can’t be a writer if you want to be safe. You end up writing about the mortgage and the safe job.

A comment that Sir Vidia made without naming names.

An interview of Anna-Maria Monticelli who adapted the screenplay.

14 August 2009

Review of Malayalam film Ritu

The words like different or refreshing referring to a new film give you a niggling feel in your stomach in these despondent days when every second film seems to be a recycled version of an older one. And, you swing between hope and despair, when a filmmaker like Shyamaprasad (who is in the league of his own) promises to try something thing totally different from what he has done up till now. First, he says his new film is about youth of today, but not a campus film. Secondly, he gets an original script from a new writer Joshua Newtonn. Ritu: Seasons change… Do we? cannot claim to change the gloomy weather from which Malayalam Cinema is passing through. But, the effort seems to be worth lauding.

As anyone familiar with Malayalam films will be aware by now that this movie is about youngsters working in the Information Technology sector. It tells the story of three childhood friends who drift apart as grown ups. But, one of them clings on to the memories of good old days and wishes to work on their combined juvenile aspirations. This leads to the revelations about the hidden facades of their personalities and how it changes the equations of their relationships with others forms the crux of the story.

Sarat Varma (Nishan) returns from USA (where he was looking after the IT Company owned by his brother-in-law), to join a small Company starting an ambitious new project. He coaxes two of his childhood friends Sunny (Asif Ali) and Varsha (Rima Kallingal) to join him. They both are working in Infosys, Bangaluru and, adapted to the free lifestyle there. They reluctantly join him. It does not take long for Sarat to realise how his friends have drifted apart both in their attitude as well as in lifestyle. Varsha seems to be flirting with males on her phone and Sunny showing homosexual traits.

We may remember director Kamal’s Minnaminnikkoottam released last year with mainstream star cast including Meera Jasmine, Narein, Indrajith, Jayasurya and others boasted of IT as the backdrop. But, it was only cosmetic. Here Joshua tries to give somewhat realistic feel to the proceedings. Agreed that here also we have beer guzzling and head banging parties as they are thought to be the trademark of this field. Still, they are balanced out by lifelike situations of office politics, betrayals and other such thing.

If we have to register a complain in this department, it maybe with the characterisation is handled, Sarat is shown as goody-goody fellow who internalises every humiliation (insult maybe too harsh a word) he gets from his friends (though it is evened out with his grudge against father for not allowing him to pursue literature in college), we expect him to explode or even simply ask his best friends about the reason for their aloofness. Again, it also perpetuate the myth that females working in BPO/IT sector become sex fiends. Coming to Sunny’s deviant sexuality, there are subtle references for the reason of him being a gay, having an abusive father can be one such attribute. This can also be the base of the negative aspects in his personality; from being an innocent shoplifter in his younger days to cheating his employers for millions.

The socialist tirade that sprouts in between jars. IT Parks and other such places are presented as symbols of capitalist dystopia that the poor are robbed of their land and provided menial jobs in compensation while the rich loot and milk the place dry.

The film maintains high standard as far as the look and the feel is concerned. Shamdat captures the past (mostly outdoors, a lakeside hangout of the three chums) in hazy form giving it a mushy music video feel. While the present is caught in sharp brightness as the CFL lit corridors of an IT conglomerate.

The cast consisting of newcomers succeed in doing a proficient job. The three main characters exude confidence that defies their inexperience. Nishan as the sensitive wannabe writer Sarat, the feline quality in Asif as Sunny always alert looking over his shoulder for any lurking danger and Rima prove that they are here to stay.

Ritu is a worthwhile experiment by seasoned director Shyamaprasad with a predominantly new team that does not disappoint.

An edited version of this review has appeared in Rediff.