Sunday, March 13, 2022

Tokyo Story


Tokyo Story, the 1953 Japanese movie  directed by Yushihiro Ozu is considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made.

Tokyo Story is about a simple journey. A journey that  the aged parents make from the distant village to visit  their children who have settled down  in Tokyo. They spend a few days in Tokyo with their children and return back to their village.

Soon after their return, the mother dies – may be due to travel fatigue. The  family assembles for her funeral. And once the funeral ceremonies are over, they all return , one by one, back  to their day to day  lives.

That’s it.

That is  not even a story. Just a chain of events happening  over a period of few days in a family. That’s it.  A movie of just over two hours running time.

 What makes it a great work of art?

 Not many would have heard about Yushihiro Ozu the Japanese director. But after watching  this movie, you are sure to  feel that the movie’s writer - director Ozu had all along known you very intimately. A movie about a few people from a distant Japan from the mid 20th century resonates with emotions that are  very universal. 

 Before getting more into the intricacies of the characters , or the universality of the theme , let us see how Ozu communicates  with his viewers.

 The camera in this movie is an abandoned piece of equipment- on the floor- in a corner, like a piece of forgotten furniture. As if to take extreme care lest any slight movement of the camera should  disturb the  equilibrium of the universe. 

Floor level camera position

In a movie that runs more than two hours, the camera never moves except twice- for  a few seconds. 

And the director presents the  entire movie effortlessly,   like  a neighbour appearing at your stationary window  frame , makes some random  remarks about mundane everyday happenings...and walks away. 

Neighbour making casual conversations by the window

The characters in Tokyo Story appear as if they are talking from the screen directly addressing the viewers - an  attempt probably  to make the viewer feel as if she is sitting "inside" the scene, as one of the characters. And the characters of the movie converse with each other through the viewer as the medium.

Another feature of Ozu are his "punctuation sequences". As and when he intends a scene transition, the camera goes outdoors capturing a string of  seemingly unrelated shots. Apart from facilitating a seamless transition, these visuals add an element of cinematic magic that doubles up as the contextual thread running all along the movie. 

Tokyo Story, the movie can be approached from multiple vantage points of reference. And each attempt could offer a different reading of the movie. 

For a reference of analysis, here we take the sequence where the parents are waiting at Tokyo railway  station for their return journey. 

It can be noticed that even though we see trains all over the movie, we never see the parents traveling in one. 

At the Tokyo railway station, as the parents rise to board the train,  we see only the clock, instead of the train itself. 

And the train reference elsewhere is invariably bound to the concept of time. As in the scene where the grandmother talks to the little kid about what he wants to become once he grows up:


And in the final scenes, when we finally get to see the actual  train journey , the movie  explodes with a big bang and reveals its transcendental dimension:
Noriko comforts  Kyoko and grooms her to accept life with all its fallacies and disappointments. And later Noriko herself gets her life lesson from the father who teaches her to accept the inevitability of life and death. 
And presents  her the  watch from the previous generation. 
Just as the parents viewed the city of Tokyo from up the staircases, Kyoto, from a room full of children  watches the train pass below. In which Noriko carries the watch forward.  

And the boat continues its journey. 

With the solid structure occupying almost half  the screen as a recurring motif, the father watches the ephemeral flow nonchalantly.    

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Maheshinte Prathikaaram - Art and Gender Perspective

India churns out thousands of movies every year, peddling the inflated ultra masculine  image of the "hero".  A majority of those movies  subscribe to a certain formula, a tried and tested template that doesn't demand much of a creative infraction from the film makers.

Like Mahesh the photographer in this movie, they  routinely apply a bit of a  dodge, smudge, sharpening  tools uniformly across all subjects  and deliver packaged movies that trick the viewers into being entertained.

Until some one comes up to say this on their face: "So you have no idea about this, is it?"

Mahesh's father Vincent is someone who sees things differently. When rest of the world sees cow dung in the streets, he visualises a beautiful world out there. And in the glittering lights that adorn the framed images of gods, he picks up the nostalgic cabaret dancer.

And, all through the movie he is addressed as Bhavana Vincent. He takes up this name from the photo studio that he has set up and  currently being run by his son, Mahesh.

The word Bhavana in Malayalam translates to Creative Imagination. That represents ideas.

To trace the thread where the screenplay, with the help of the still camera and phtography as a symbol,  talks about  art - and the art of film making in particular, let us start from " Bhavana " Vincent. The one  who reminds Mahesh that " It is not a shop, but a studio".

In this film, we actually see two other movies also :

 One: In the initial scenes when Mahesh is searching for his father, we catch a glimpse of the television in which a song from the iconic movie Yavanika is being played.  Yavanika is a movie by the legendary film maker K G George who broke templates that were in vogue in the early 80s by treating his women characters with empathy.  And the scene that we get to see clearly displays the word "Bhavana Theatre".

Two: The second movie that we see is in Artist Baby's house. An outright "commercial" blockbuster in which the inflated macho hero image is projected onto the screen with monumental aggressiveness.

And in the  third  instance when Artist Baby's brother in law " Thendi Aliyan" (Beggar Brother-in- law) projects his male ego  mimicking the serial shows the women are watching.

Apart from these, we also visit an actual movie hall along with Crispin and Sonia. But all that we see on screen are  the cancer afflicted  images.  And nothing else.

The rabid masculinity which the movie tries to juxtapose with the characterisation of Mahesh is more pronounced when we look into another thread that weaves through the entire movie.

The song being played in the background during the opening credits apparently is about the beauty and essence of the geography of Idukki and Munnar. But the accompanying images and the suggestive lyrics - with a clever wordplay rhyming Idukki with Midukki (smart girl) -  talk about

Later in the movie, we do hear Jimsy and her mother agreeing on the fact that all men are crazy.

This is the right moment to discuss the  "Butterfly Effect"  sequence and  analyse its  relevance to the overall framework of the movie.  Just like fluctuation in global crude oil price having an effect on Mahesh's life, the chain of events starting with the funeral scene finally  snowballs onto the village square  bringing the entire village as stake holders and equal participants in the fight "and" the revenge. Now, the fight is not just between Mahesh and Jimson alone.

This is accentuated by the character of Vijilesh. He joins the revenge training course as a reaction to another woman being harassed by a group of men.

It gets more interesting when we venture to see where does the "party" stand in this fight?  When Mahesh rushes off to take on Jimson, the party rally is heading in  a  direction opposite to that of Mahesh.

This is to be read with the ominous comment by  party's member Thahir  that "he has stopped interfering in such issues" .

The bigger picture of the crisis  and redemption  is illustrated  in the card picked up by Mahesh (after refusing an offer to buy a lottery ticket) which says: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Luke 24:47

The key to  redemption turns out to be  another woman: Jimsy.

Overlooking  the image of Mother Mary breast feeding her son , the intense debate happening in Mahesh's mind is  enacted as a casual discussion between Crispin and  Baby regarding the relationship betwen art and the artist.

 This debate finds its culmination with the dog being unchained. And the splinter getting removed from Mahesh's palm.

It also coincides with artist Baby having a perception correction with respect to his daughter.

Eventhough Mahesh's father is addressed as Bhavana Vincent, Mahesh is never referred to with the Bhavana appendage. Not until he clicks the candid image of Jimsy. It is Jimsy who addresses Mahesh as Bhavana Mahesh for the first time. And the name printed in the magazine is Mahesh Bhavana. The transformation is complete.

When Mahesh finds his dad with his camera in the middle of the night in the woods, he asks him  if the "birds have flown off". To which Vincent replies: " No, was just checking if the bird has come".

(  Kili poyo literally translates to  " Have the birds gone? ", but it is a figurative way of speech to imply " have you gone nuts ! " )

Mahesh, at that stage had  failed  to comprehend Vincent's response , like his approach towards art.

A video review of Maheshinte Prathikaaram can be viewed here 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire - The Female Gaze

The movie begins with the students sketching portraits of their teacher Marianne. And almost ends when they complete the portrait. Can we deduce that the portrait referred to in the title is that of Marianne?  

May be. Or may be not. 

It could be that of Heloise's sister... Or Sophie... Or any of the women in the village who sing  fugere non possum

In a movie directed by a woman and that which has almost no male characters at all, the titular portrait could be of any of the female characters... or a collective one. 

Sophie is the key link in this muliebral chain. It is Sophie who introduces fire for the first time in the movie. 

And from then on, fire remains a constant presence through out the move- as a crackling sound... as the heady smoke of tobacco... fire is a pervasive element of the movie- just like Sophie herself. 

Marianne makes the first contact with Sophie the night she experiences her menstrual pains.  And that is when she comes to know of Sophie's choice - that of abortion. And this choice is what connects Heloise with Sophie. 

Heloise is not free to make even seemingly minor choices - like that of going out for a walk- on her own! 

And Sophie, the maid from the 18th century France is free to decide for herself on  abortion. 

Once Marianne and Heloise identify  Sophie as fellow woman , their  relationship breaks the rules of the maid and the master. They are all women. 

Sophie even takes up the role of a leader and guides Marianne and Heloise to the village where they get to meet the rest of the women. The women who sing fugere non possum (they come fly). 

The menstrual pain of Marianne, the missed periods of Sophie, the choice of Orpheus, the sense of equality and freedom to choose that Heloise dreams of... All these converge at a point where  the portrait ends to be that of any single woman and manifests as that of entire womanhood. To understand this, we need to know when the portrait is completed. Or rather, what all goes into the completion of the portrait. 

Tracking the scene sequence from the night Marianne sketches the abortion scene with Heloise and Sophia will lead to the culmination of the portrait. 

Immediately after the abortion sketch is made, we see Heloise smiling profusely while posing for the portrait in her green dress. 

And in the next scene Heloise and Marianne "fly together" with the help of weed they got from the village women. 

And then comes the most beautiful scene, blending all the underlying motifs and images: 
Like Orpheus making the poet's choice of saying goodbye to Eurydice.... like Sophie making her choice of killing her unborn child.... like Marianne and Heloise coming to terms with their inevitability of confining their relationship to that of memory.... the flowers that Sophie uses as model dries down and the embroidery - a work of art- that Heloise's sister left unfinished is completed by Sophie. 

And in the nest scene, Marianne completes Heloise's portrait. 

The movie can be structurally divided into three parts: 

One: From the time the students start drawing Marianne's portrait till they complete it. It can be assumed that whatever happens in between goes into Marianne's portrait. 

Two: The painting exhibition where Marianne knowingly smiles at the finger slipped between the  vulvar pages. 

Three: When Marianne sees Heloise for the last time. When Vivaldi's storm, which Marianne once tried to explain to Heloise is experienced by Heloise in a two and half minute single close up shot.  The single shot which tries to unravel the entire movie . Which conveys the experience of Love. And of art.  

A video review of  the movie Portrait Of A Lady On Fire is available here 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Video logs - Thappad

A video review that studies the use of various colour schemes in the  hindi movie, Thappad

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Kumbalangi Nights of Patriarchy

It is when Baby slaps the Shammi out of Bobby in the movie hall does he realise how hollow was his " ഞാൻ ഒരു  ആണ് ആണെടി" claim.

Saji's deliverance is  made out to be more divine. Was it Christ himself who came from heaven above to die for him?  Even if it is not so, Saji on his return from the police station waddles across a statue of Mary and Son. A few scenes later, only after  he brings them both home does he regain his senses.

And Bonny finds his voice finally , in Nylah. 

(They all were, like Frankie been dreaming of them- to derive stregth from and to redeem them from their തീട്ട പറമ്പ് )

Without those women, the brothers would have still been living in the shit hole.

തീട്ടംം (feaces) remains one of the central motifs of the movie. The catharsis happens when finally a toilet gets built in their house. It was when Frankie was supervising the construction of the toilet that Saji implores him to take him to the doctor. 

And then , the most beautiful montages of the movie.  When the psychiatrist digs deep into the brothers' past it is in Baby's palms that we read their history, their pain, their guilt, all etched in love by Bobby. Like their intertwining palms, all the multiple streams, layers of the movie assemble together to offer a different dimension. 


Two islands of ideology, with striking contradictions.

One that advocates purity ( "ഞാൻ ഒറ്റ തന്തയ്ക്കു പിറന്നവനാ" ), down to the tiniest speck- even if it is the wife's sindhoor that has to be flushed down the wash basin. One that dictates what others should play ( " net അടിച്ചു cricket കളിക്കൂ " ) , one that advices what one can eat, one that revels in its superiority over the rest  (  "  ഷമ്മി ഹീറോ ആണെടാ " ) and assumes the role of moral police.
And  one that deftly moves his throne into the vacant space and establishes the power seat of patriarchy under the shadow of the dead father's image- albeit around a dining table serving boori masala . One that barely conceals its lunacy beneath a menacing smile.

And the other with a culture that's diagonally opposite. ( " ഈ വീടിനു ഒരു സംസ്കാരം ഉണ്ട് " ) And of course it is the one that has the lable of പല തന്തയ്ക്കു പിറന്ന മക്കൾ . An ideology that does not discriminate against caste, creed or nationality. One that accepts a Tamil widow with her child and a black woman from a distant milieu. Or, Baby from the other island.

The denouement is when Baby exposes the myth (  " പല തന്തയ്ക്കു പിറക്കുന്നത് technically possible  അല്ല " ) and her sister strikes , with the ease of hitting a mosquito. Thats when the make believe foundations of patriarchy start to shiver as it  faces  resistance. Thats when the ugly face behind the pretense of family, heritage, culture  exposes itself, before being overcome -in a more cinematic fashion.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

The Carpenter's Funeral

An old carpenter* brings home a duck in his tool bag. Along with two bottles of arrack and a wad of demonetized currency. Even as the duck gets cooked with a potion to get him grounded,  the sea churns itself into a cacophonic  storm.

That would be the single line plot of the malayalam movie Ea.Ma.Yau at the end of which in serene shores  the carpenter's duck (and the gravedigger's dog) await the brightly lit boats  from opposite ends escorted by music that is literally 'soul lifting'.


The Father, The Son , And The Rest Of Us
When the member states that it is our responsibility to offer a proper farewell to those who are leaving us, we all do know that he was not referring to the cop who is being transferred to a distant station. 

The sea, is omnipresent in all its forms- physical, emotional, spiritual, acoustic - through out the movie. All through the initial portions , sea remains just a few calm waves washing the shores gently and rhythmically. But, when the old man falls  and  the girl runs out reaching for the neighbour ... ...
It is then that the sea raises its voice for the first time.

 The neighbour calls out to another. And another... and another.... 

And through these  interconnected cries , the rain clad movie about a very ordinary death  is enhanced to a higher  plane of socio political dimensions.

Had demonitization not happened and his life savings not been reduced to garbage even the cow would refuse to take, Vavachan Mesthiri would still have had a fairly good funeral.
Or for that matter, had the chavuttu natakam viewing not been interrupted by a phone call from the corrupt Lazarus who fudged the books after taking money for his own mother's funeral, Eashi could still have reached out to his father even before his fall. Twice - first by the vicar and next  from the Doctor- we hear  the compelling social comment about interchangeable roles of the religious head and the police chief.
When the democratically elected but helpless panchayat member  begs in front of the religious head and gets snubbed pathetically, contemporary political canvas of Kerala projects itself brilliantly. And at the  altar of  Capital (   മൂലധനം  is the word used in the movie ) armed to the teeth  with the deadliest blades,  the woeful citizen pledges himself only to get pulled in by casket consumerism.


All the characters in this movie  have a life and a story of their own. But, every time they come on screen, in addition to playing their part and lending the movie a certain influence, they also compliment  other characters. Like for example, during the vicar's initial probing visit to the house, Nissa's lover Sivan delves in and out of the  window frame, mimicking the vicar. The jilted lover with his broken clarinet is one such character that has different stories to tell every time he appears on screen. The neighbour all through the movie chides Lazar for his scandalising characteristic. But the moment  Saramma takes off with his bike, he sheds his assumed moral posture and becomes just like any of us. The characters move in and out of each other with much ease erasing the thin line of right  and wrong, just like Sabeth's ornaments transforming fluently into a costly burial box. Or the gravedigger occupying vaavachan's grave and time. Or the all pervading Ayyappan ,who, Easha had assured his father "will take care of everything".
And yes of course the duck.
And the dog.

The dog. That appears only in three scenes all through the movie. Emerges for the first time when the card players chase away the lovers. And then when Simon is ready for the angels of death. And finally, with the old man's duck awaiting the boats. Between the dog,Simon and  the old man , the question to Nissa that the old man leaves unasked gets buried.

Two characters that remain unaffected by the storm still continue with their game of cards. They are the time keepers who introduce themselves as 'time' in the very first dialogue of the movie. Caught between the guy from printing press who wants to know the time of burial ... and ... the unrelenting vicar who is the dispenser of time, Eeshi's character decides to carry the cross all by himself.


*Eventhough the film is set in a coastal village, the death (and deliverance) is not that of a fisherman. Vavachan Mesthiri is a carpenter. Early in the movie, Nissa tells her father that the frame that he had done for the church 'in wood' is about to be demolished. And later in the night, the drunk Doctor's wife refers to Vavachan as the one who 'carved the altar in one single piece of wood'. 

If Eashi reminds one of another person by the same name whose father also happened to be a carpenter, ... well.. now, THAT, is another story.  

Monday, January 8, 2018

ThondiMuthalum Dhriksakshiyum

A million metaphors - emotional and otherwise - could be read into the stolen thaalimaala*  that needs to be extricated out of the thief's faeces. But, pursuing those non existent tropes, as Sreeja in the crucial staircase landing scene says,  "is not worth it".

The necklace, and the immediate characters chained by it are mere backdrops. Backdrops for other seemingly insignificant  ones that form part of an ensemble cast to present a kaleidoscopic canvas.  Like the absent peepal tree; the solar panel scape; the flirting seminary student; the police station enveloped by the school, temple and the mosque; the game of kabbadi; the temple festival and the innate politics that also demands the water carrier to be kept in lock up at the request of his wife and mother; hungry childhood;  the cancerous mobile tower that gnaws into relationships and disconnects people; man without  ID making porottas in Mangalore, cop who authoritatively cracks the most difficult cases but cant figure out the switch for the ceiling fan in his own station; the barren land that doesnt help the poor tobacco farmer, the ironing board that doubles up as a cot; the girl brushing her teeth echoing the anger of entire feminine world ; waterways and the ferries....

The fact that the necklace is just a backdrop is established in the very first scenes itself. When, even as the hero and heroine in the stage drama are seriously worried about their personal life, Prasad moves away, relegating their issues to the background and walks into his own story.

And that story has several intertwined fissures - of politics, caste, religion, domestic, personal - lying beneath the case of the missing necklace.
The first faultline in the couple's relationship is exposed when Prasad 'blames' Sreeja for her carelessness. In a clever flashback, in the very next scene, we are led to find the deep roots of that rift.

A casual remark pointed at Sreeja's mother during a street rally ( supposedly by an organisation identified with Prasad's caste ) triggers Sreeja's mother on a tangential flight to encounter Sreeja  in her home. Straight lines, like those  from the street (society) to the house (family) and to the (personal), private space of toilet where Sreeja hides to escape from the blows of her parents criss cross the movie proving to be its skeleton structure . (The case of the missing necklace itself is brought into the police station as part of a very long straight line with an absurd purpose of carrying water to the station). The brute force with which Sreeja's father violates her personal space ends up as the deciding factor that influences the couple to take a marital plunge.

The thief  brings out deep punctures not only within the Sreeja Prasad couple, but in the police station and the neighbouring  temple too.  Through the station window, when he predicts an impending fight among the festival crowd, one has reasons to assume it is he who orchestrates the happenings.

The inner turmoils that the thief brings out from the Chandrans household is as important as it is similar to that of the Prasads. In fact, the thief doesnt differentiate between the two couples at all. His claim of returning the necklace to Chandran and Chandran's attempt to pass off  his wife's necklace as Sreeja's blurs the line differentiating these two couples.

From his elevated, vantage position at the upper floor room of the Police Station, through the diagonally opposite windows ( one among them with a mirror)  the thief views both the couples mingling with the street crowd. That carefully crafted sequence positions the thief as the benevolent adjudicator whose duty it is to offer deliverance to both the couples.

And he delivers. With panache.

 In one of the finest examples of montage, Chandran's wife implores him to "go to their daughter(in law)" . Next scene cuts to Chandran visiting Sreeja and Prasad. And even addresses her as 'daughter'. A daughter and another father find and fill each other's voids.

Part 2

It is natural for Dileesh's second movie to be compared with his first. But, a comparision with another movie (directed by Rajeev Ravi, cinematographer of Thondimuthalum ) offers immense possibilities.

Apart from the titular conjunction and Rajeev Ravi as the more visible common denominators , lot of other similarities do exist.

In both the movies, the couple relocate to a different geography. Anna and Rasool move to the red flag spangled  hilly terrain. Prasad and Sreeja move from the waterlogged Allepey to the borderlands of Kasaragode which is painted saffron.

Annayum Rasoolum opens with the police verification for Rasool's brother to get his passport. His (lack of ) identity is a running thread all along the movie. The thief in Thondimuthalum Dhrisaakshiyum too doesnt have an identity. And he steals Prasad's identity. 

The reflection that the thief sees of himself in the mirror and the shadow that Sreeja's husband sees of the thief in subsequent scene reminds one of Vishwanathan and Uthaman from Padmarajan's Aparan. The interchangeability or merging of these two identities could elevate the movie, especially the race and fight scenes of the latter part to a whole new dimension. 

Of interest is the delivery of prasadam on a couple of occasions. In the latter part of the movie, Sreeja's husband (Prasad) gets the prasaadam but not  the thief (Prasad). 

The waterways, ferry and expression of love.
Water itself is a recurring motif, in both the movies. In her absence, and after her death too, Rasool goes underwater to 'see' Anna. Prasad and Sreeja have their future bound to the ground water that fails to make an appearance till the thief delivers them their necklace. Most of the intense scenes  between Anna and Rasool happens in the ferry boats. Prasad and Sreeja take off from where Anna and Rasool left it. Lot of cleansing by water happens in Thondimuthal too.

Politics of Religion and Caste.
Religion stood between Anna and Rasool. It was caste in Sreeja's case. Even Prasad's father, who belonged to a time different from  the present one in which revolutions have stamped their presence would not have approved of such an union.

"പെണ്ണ് ധൈര്യം കാണിക്കാതെ ലോകത്ത് ഇന്നേ വരെ ഒരു പ്രേമ വിവാഹവും നടന്നിട്ടില്ല "

The end
In both the movies, characters played by Fahad end up walking contentedly in a distant north Indian city.  

Does anatomizing a movie kill it while watching?

Even as the drama is being played inside the police station, people outside are seen making preparations for the temple festival. 

And, unknown to each other, Mrs Chandran is seated next to Sreeja, waiting for her husband to take her to the temple.

Visuals of school, children help the thief make decisions.

Details like these and many more are intentionally placed. Missing them would be a far more insult to the movie than dissecting it. 

* (mangalsutra, the Indian wedding ring equivalent - necklace worn by the bride)