Monday, August 5, 2013

The Hours

“I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel I can't go through another one of these terrible times and I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices and can't concentrate so I am doing what seems to be the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I know that I am spoiling your life and without me you could work and you will, I know. You see I can't even write this properly. What I want to say is that I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. Everything is gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.“

Three women in three different places at three different times threaded into a single narrative.
Virginia, Laura, and Clarissa. And of course, Mrs. Dalloway.

This film is not meant for entertaining its viewers. Rather, it offers a non-linear and layered watching and thinking experience that takes you through a spectrum of shades - perturbation and calm, conflicts and singularity, insanity and peace, characters and characters, moments and hours. Watch it alone, or with someone you can connect with in an emotional and cerebral space.

It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and she is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later, to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk, the anticipation of dinner and a book...What lives undimmed in her mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond. There is still that singular perfection, and it's perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.

“I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself: So, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn't the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment. Right then.”

Due to sheer nature of narrative, it is futile to provide any plot summary of this film. One can roughly sum up as below but it will not reveal much about the soul of the movie.

The movie unfolds and wraps up with the real suicide note of Virginia Woolf. At one dawn, she puts on her overcoat, fills her pockets with stones, and walks into a nearby river to drown herself.

Between such a beginning and an end, the story flows through a day in the life of the 3 female protagonists : Virginia herself (1920’s England), Laura (1950’s LA) and Clarissa (2000’s NY). The key elements in these 3 lives are loneliness, conflicts – (social / sexual / emotional), suicides, love - or the search of it, and a novel / character called Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia writes this book, Laura reads it, and Clarissa quotes and is nicknamed from it by the person she loves. Virginia is the process of completing her book but suffers from extreme dementia where her husband frantically but ineffectively tries to support her. Laura is a bisexual country housewife with a loving son and husband and she is expecting her second child in a few months’ time – even as she is completely disconnected from the life she lives. One fine morning after baking a cake for her husband’s birthday, she checks into a hotel room with bottles of sleeping pills to end the life she cannot take anymore. Clarissa is a modern day editor who stays with her female partner & adopted daughter and a relentlessly caring love for her former boyfriend who is now dying from AIDs, and is able to live through each day only with her help.

These 3 lives are not connected by the narrator, even though couple of characters from the second story come back at the end of the third, but in my mind, only ironically. Still, there is no surprise ending, or things or strings tying up at the end to give a made-easy summary to the audience. The stories, the characters are fundamentally sketched to remain discrete and bold independent presences that get etched in the viewers’ hearts on their own merit, sharing their own unique minds and experiences. They ask questions, give fewer answers, play in soliloquies, and take you through an amazing experience.

We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself. There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds & expectations, to burst open & give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning, we hope, more than anything for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so.

To briefly touch upon the cast of the movie, both Nicole Kidman (as Virginia) and Meryl Streep (as Clarissa) were brilliant in character portrayals, especially the close shots’ facial expressions and dialogue deliveries were too beautiful and delicately done. Julianne Moore (As Laura) is also worth mentioning but unfortunately others around her stole the show. Ed Harris was just about as vulnerable and sensitive as Richard needed to be. And a special mention for whoever was the makeup artist, for the job done to transform Nicole Kidman into a classic Virginia Woolf, Laura’s old age recreation and Richard’s deathly AIDS makeup.

Although this is a 1990’s film fully watched very late by me, I will not give spoilers and refrain from summing up the end of journeys for each of the characters. Not that it matters to the extent the film or journey itself does. For instance, which ones of the 3 suicides are successful, who survives, who gets love to survive, or who, if anyone at all, finds that ever eluding happiness thing.

There was a suicide each, and a party each, and a crisis each, and a life each – in all three parts of “The Hours”. Let us put it this way – the life remained after all the rest became meaningless.

What only matter are the moments that came by in your life, the breath of a love that you know in your heart to be sacred and a truth, the happiness you can sometimes give yourself only by giving it to those you love; and nothing else beyond that.

“To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face and to know it for what it is.
At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away.
Always the years between us, always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.

These were the last lines of Virginia’s suicide note written to her loving husband.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

'A New World' by Amit Chaudhuri

A resonating narrative without a beginning or an end; and without the need for either.

Jayojit, a mid-aged economist settled in US is the unmindful protagonist; other characters being Bonny, his 8 year old son, his parents in Calcutta, and flickering from among a spate of inconsequentiial characters, his now divorced wife, Amala.

The story skims over the 2 months of Jayojit's visit to Calcutta to spend that time of the year when he is legally allowed to be with his son. The core of the narrative, I would say (take caution - a book review is always biased by the reader's then state of mind), is around Jayojit's loneliness which is also everyman's loneliness in the present day of disintegration. A solitude which is not black or white, but a familiar grey - it isn't acutely painful or theoretically glorified but as it must be, with an obvious vulnerability but a maturity that one eventually needs and also acquires as one lives and gets to know life. That solitude is what the author sketches as a central subject, and then flanks and accentuates it in his inimitable style while he sets it off against different backgrounds as if to show its verity. There are everyday dialogues, everyday people, everyday places that anyone belonging to Calcutta in some way will relate instantly with - only depicted so insightfully that it is a delectable form for almost any content - every second paragraph is a little piece of art that lingers after the page is turned.

A special mention for the way the author has brought back Amala into the story time and again. Through fleeting reluctant slices of Jayojit's memory, through inanimate family photo frames, deliberate restriction to barely a sentence or two, mostly non-judgemental, in places where Jayojit is forced back to reminiscence and restrospection on his severed marriage. Jayojit's ex-wife is a rightful character in his story more by virtue of her absence than in her reference by the author.

This book is the author's narrative, but through the pages, almost become Jayojit's. And in that, the two mingle and punctuate the book with a million soliloquays of a lone thinking mind. Am tempted to quote a few:
"When Jayojit couldn't sleep the first few nights, he'd reared the morning's Statesman, the headlines became strange at the end of the day, when the appositeness that the news had in the morning - calamities and predictions - had already passed into daily afterlife."
"There was an anger in him, a frustration; whenever there was reason to be angry, he cut himself off. He'd come to a junction in his life where, over-alert, he was no more confident of being understood or of understanding others."
"He felt not the slightest attraction towards this girl, and was reassured to sense that she probably felt none towards him."

While on one hand, this book is bound to generate a feeling of deja vu for seasoned Amit Chaudhuri readers, on another hand - it is perhaps more contemporary, mature and deeper in its subject and takeaways rather than being predominantly anecdotal and stylish.

All in all, a very Bengali and a very English and a very global book. A recommended read for those who had once smiled and laughed and speculated and contemplated between the lines of Strange and Sublime Address, although A New World is decidedly slower if you go by the pace of the narrative.

For the others, I would suggest this be a second Amit Chaudhuri novel.”

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Fan Chan (My Girl) (2003)

I just saw this amazing movie called My Girl. I recommend it to anyone who would care to watch a boy struggling through his childhood tribulations and discovering the strange aspects of friendship and brotherhood. The film reminded me strongly of my own childhood and somehow touched my cynical film critic soul into putting this in a long-dead blog.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Oh the fun!!

Is this not funny? I ASKED myself.

Um, no.

Came the voice from within.


I was watching something on screen. People with red and gold dakshini imitation costumes were dancing. And right in front was Salmaan Khan who did not have a clue who were dancing what behind him... he danced in his own "what's-my-age-again?" style.... and people were sort of putting in there two cent's worth to see him dance.

Men from Hollywood can't do Bolly. Can't.

In case you are wondering what movie this was, I think the following picture would clarify.

Ah well, where were we.

(NO) Direction : Willard Carroll, sir, what were you trying to do? We do not need to promote Bollywoodi to the Firang, nor do we want to see a firang trying and failing in what works in India and for Indians. Please STICK to your own kind, sir.... In a very Racist manner, this particular comment is made. NON-INDIANS cant DO Bolly.

On the other hand, Indians can do Holly in Bolly manner. Just take a look at this particular baby. Oh, sorry, Babyy. The word suggest the importance of numbers.... and the numbers score!! I was pretty impressed by the film.


I dont know. It worked. It really worked. I felt the babyy, I felt the three desperate men who were trying to take care of her. It felt nice, to see a good plot (Three Men and a Baby) made Australian-Indian and the formula worked. The music was nice, the plot was quite watertight, and the kid was absolutely OOLIKIMITTICHHANALEBAABAA.....

And well, Vidya Balan. Boys, see what a full, "bholuptuous wooman" is like... Oof. What grace! Gives the women of India a feel of happiness.... someone up the Bolly heaven goes Balle when he sees our curves, and does not get turned off by the bumps and grinds.

So there you see? Woman in black has a lot of exposure, but woman in red saree still raises a man's blood pressure. No contests whatsoever.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Chung King Express

Here is another gem by Wong Kar Wai, the master stylist from Hong Kong.

The story or, rather, stories of this film talks about love-- true love, abruptly-ended love, unfinished love, doomed love, happy love, disturbed love... a whole lot of them. It delineates how a relationship is built up and how it is broken. How two persons, all of a sudden, come closer, and then, eventually, drift apart leaving a permanent mark on each other's memory. How time, our very own individual time, is shaped through our memories-- memories of love, affection, relationship.

But the real beauty of the film lies in the extremely rich visuals; the superb camera-work and the typical Wongish blend of music with the striking visuals. These alone hold together the two apparently disconnected stories. Sometimes the scene is blurred except for the main character; sometime there is intentional time lapse between shots; sometimes the crowd around the character move at a faster pace while the character moves in slow motion. I must also mention the exceptionally beautiful use of mise-en-scene in the film. Wong Kar Wai creates multiple screens within a single shot by cleverly using shadows, mirrors or glass objects. The characters, sometimes, exist at two different places at the same time or same places at different time. Often, the time-gap between two shots are deliberately missing (you will feel as if it is the continuation of the same shot, but actually it is the same place at some other time), giving you a vertiginous feeling of timelessness. And, of course, as I’ve already mentioned, there is this unforgettable mix of music and visuals. In a particularly striking scene in the second half of the film, when the protagonist makes love to his girlfriend, an airhostess by profession, in the background we hear the usual safety instructions announced in an aircraft, interspersed by a romantic song.

Last but not the least, is the acting. Who will forget the icy beauty of Bridgitte Lin or the quirky extravagance of Faye Wang? Faye Wang instantly reminded me of Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady” (later, in an IMDB review, I’ve read the same comment!).

Overall, it is but a thorough feast for eyes and mind!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Last Life in the Universe

Another film…another time…another space… Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s film deals with an introvert, obsessive compulsive Japanese, Kenji, who is working as a librarian in the Cultural Centre of Japanese Embassy in Bangkok. The film starts with Kenji reflecting in voice-over about the total absence of motivation for his desire to end his life. At the same time, he meticulously arranges the set for his latest attempt. We see a noose hanging in the passageway, so that his body can be discovered easily, a pile of books to stand on and to kick out finally under his feet. But this sincere attempt goes awry as the doorbell starts ringing incessantly. Opening the door, Kenji is greeted by his smart-aleck brother, a crude-mannered yakuja. He is now trying to hide from his mob boss after getting into some trouble with him. The disturbed Kenji returns back to his daily chores and goes back to his office. That day, in the library, he briefly catches the sight of a girl browsing through the racks. He is overwhelmed by her presence, her attire of a school-girl. But after a momentary meeting of glances, Kenji looses the sight of the girl. That very evening, while he is contemplating about another fresh attempt of suicide, jumping from a bridge, the girl emerges again, this time from a car, after an animated quarrel with her sister. The girl is hit by a passing car and, injured badly, admitted to a hospital. Kenji also accompanies the mentally-devastated sister, Noi, to the hospital. Few days later, there is a shoot-out at Kenji’s meticulously arranged flat. On that same day Noi comes to his office to give him his bag which he has left in the hospital. Kenji, reluctant to go back to his flat, pervaded by stench and decay, clings to Noi and goes to her house. Then their fates start to get intermingled.
The beautifully crafted film is an attempt to portray the seclusion and alienation that the modern man faces in the claustrophobic cityscape. Kenji embodies the humane attempt to reach out, to connect which, at the end, probably fails. The whimsical and childlike presence of Noi, in contrast with Kenji’s meticulously ordered self, depicts the yearning to break free from the order of things, from logic, from the overtly predictable existence and probably from the inescapable grip of destiny. This futile attempt is surrounded by brutality, by violence, by death…
The film has some unforgettable moments, woven by the director in surrealistic manner, some inherent and carefully maintained ambiguity, interchangeable presence of Noi and her wounded sister in the house, the erotically charged atmosphere within the house, a book called “The Last Lizard in the Universe”, a possible identity of Kenji as a yakuja himself, and an unforgettable ending which is, probably, not the ending but actually the starting point towards understanding the film, the text…