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MEISSEN VESSEL WITH MUSIC MAKING ELF


VESSEL WITH MUSIC-MAKING ELF

MEISSEN

Limited Masterworks 2019


There are two kinds of people - the nouveau riche (new rich/new money), and the wealthy (familial inheritance). The nouveau riche acquires new automobiles and disgracefully ostentatious wristwatches and feels ecstatic that they have reached somewhere by carrying around monogrammed luggage firmly clutched between their fingers. The ones with familial inheritance find themselves most effortlessly drawn towards the art, antiques, knowledge, meaning; anything that was a part of history and that tells a story. Automobiles for them are simply a means of conveyance, wristwatches merely to tell the time, and luggage to keep their daily paraphernalia secure. 

In a common man’s language: watches, cars and flashy luggage anyone who has a little money can buy, but what truly discerns you from the herd is taste, and taste is not superficial, and it is something that is seldom obtained by amassing money – it is an assured sign of the thoroughbred.

Yes, for the marginal, who manage to attain the money and also the taste, – welcome to the club of an evolved existence – and, for those who are yet infatuated with their wristwatches, automobiles and luggage; hope sense prevails on you, and in time you mature enough to realise that materialism only attracts the materialistic. And for those on whom the sense fails to prevail, well, then, enjoy your life the manner in which you deem it fit, for maybe, that was how you were exactly meant to be: ersatz and frothy. 


KAL AAJ KAL


Aaj ka mahaul aisa hai ke
Baatein kuch ankahee si
Lekin ek baat jayaz hai –
Mussalman ka ek hi sthan
Pakistan ya kabristan

Inke beech thode hi to hain
Mere apne huzoor
Unke ke liye jaan haazir hai
Passport ya biryani toh
Duniya ke samaan hain

Arsaa guzar gaya yeh
Sochte sochte
Ki
Khoon toh ek hi hai na mohsin
Phir yeh lakeeren kisne kheenche


HAPPY - 2015



The Oxford English Dictionary describes HAPPY as an adjective denoting a feeling of pleasure or contentment.

Jacques Attali in We, Europeans, Are Alone, said, since the twenties, Europeans gradually became accustomed to the idea that, even if they made a thousand mistakes, there would always be someone to save them from their own turpitude. And the United States also gradually settled into the role of Deus ex Machina. And indeed, they saved us (with Stalin) from Nazi monsters with their army; they saved us from our economic sclerosis with the Marshall Plan; and they saved us from the Soviet threat with their nuclear missiles. He further elaborated, this support has always been carefully managed and limited: the Americans had done everything so that their Allies could continue needing them. It was out of the question for the Europeans to be independent militarily, financially, culturally, industrially or technologically. There was not a single strategic industry in which the United States did not seek to either maintain control, or deprive the Europeans from doing so. Similarly, there was not an area of law where the Americans did not try to set the rules. And there was not an area in innovation where the Americans were not pulling the strings. Today, everything has changed. Europeans can no longer afford to not see that they are alone; that the Americans are no longer there to defend them; that the American President makes his decisions without taking into account either the point of view or the interests of their allies.


You might as well wonder what I am trying to arrive at by drawing a corollary to something as commonplace as politics when the composition of this piece was meant to be on film. What people hardly ever understand is that a great deal of film has to do with what is around us – it is a medium that rather mirrors existence. While America did manage to militarily, financially, culturally, industrially or technologically control the Europeans, one thing it failed to control was their art and cinema, more so due to the tenacious temperament of the creative people not succumbing to any sort of external coercion, and this is what HAPPY, written, produced, and directed by Jordan Goldnadel is fundamentally about.


Jordan plays the protagonist Florent, 23, an upper class Parisian. He is intelligent, kind, and dressed with a philosophical smile. He meets Alessia (Isabelle Ryan), 23, a continually fuming, strangely sophisticated and nonsensically naïve lost American photographer in Paris. Bored in a society that praises the failures of men and women who give each other what they ‘need’ and not what they ‘want’ with the result that love becomes infected, Florent feels fossilised in Paris, and dreams of America. Alessia, on the other hand is trying to separate herself from her typical origins, far from the artistic and adventurous life she intends to lead, and dreams of achieving it in France. As luck would have it, Florent and Alessia meet at a park, where Alessia begins to take photographs of Florent without his consent. Amused at her brazenness, he asks her if she isn’t aware of image rights, and instead of finding herself engulfed in a pail of shame, she grins and asks him by virtue of gestures to move his face a little to a side in order for her to take more pictures of him.


Life is small, I had read somewhere, and our routines are rote and nearly imperceptible. Often, in writing classrooms, we’re told that it’s this smallness that makes a piece of literature. It said that most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting (that’s Updike). Or, Life is not plot; it’s in the details (that’s Jodi Picoult). Usually, though, this sentiment ends up seeming as hollow and insincere as: write what you know because we do cherish plot, we do fetishize the arc, the action, and the twist, in nonfiction, we also fetishize the about-ness. We openly question if the reality of a writer’s subject is worth discussing. We prioritize a weighty topic over the force of an author’s gaze, the clarity of prose, the sincerity of emotion. Underneath it all runs that same droning question: Who cares? Who cares? Who cares? Virginia Woolf really cared about that poor moth, and Didion really cared about her notebook, and Montaigne really cared about, well, everything. That is Jordan as a writer to me – inventive, and not some celebrity who lands up on a talk show and narrates a story about their kids as though no other child has ever existed. Admire how he cares about the close ups of objects – of the food, of expressions, of the waiter cleaning the table at the café, the book lying on the table. Every little element has something that is stunning in Happy because movies merely like to concentrate on the extravagant. They like to light up every frame like people are dressed up to go to a party. And anyone who has lived well enough to understand life understands that we are not always our best all the time, and life is certainly not a party, (despite us wanting to present to the world that we each live in this gorgeous, near perfect life in a predominantly ‘social media’ driven world). On a larger stance the attentiveness to such detail was a befitting symbol of stopping awhile and taking note of things that we generally tend to overlook whilst going about the drudgery of day-to-day survival. The further attention to art and artefacts, the artistry of the etching on the whiskey glasses, the scarlet Cartier lighter, each of them that are brought into cinematic focus are there to tell us a story within a story. Florent disrobing the shrimp at the restaurant as Alessia begins to speak is a strapping allegory that leads to the robust manner in which her feelings are denoted in the setting. The fascinating part: where she utters ‘and’, pauses, and then utters another ‘and’, and concludes it with, “Oh, my mother just died.” reminded me of The Outsider by Albert Camus. Although the scene sports an easy demeanour, it is not easy in the least. I urge you to read Camus in order to appreciate why I say this about the writing of Jordan.


The creative canvas that Jordan Goldnadel draws up for Florent and Alessia who are shown at a crucial crossroad of their lives, very anchored in their generation, and are yet torn is an thought-provoking curve of human psychology. They ask – Who am I? What will I do with my life? Where will I live? Does the right person exist? Do I want what’s expected of me? Such questions do tend to assault us at various stages of our life. “What’s the use of falling in love if
 you both remain inertly as-you-
were?” Mary McCarthy asked her
 friend Hannah Arendt 
in their correspondence about love. A derivative of the same question is what Jordan undertakes to answer in Happy. These queries resonate the current state of the mind, because love, as someone once said, 
speaks to a central necessity of 
our life — at its truest and most
 potent, love invariably does 
change us by de-conditioning our 
painful pathologies and elevating 
us toward our highest human
 potential. Love tells us that  in the romantic ideal upon which our modern mythos of love is built, the solidity of that togetherness is taken to such an extreme so as to render love fragile, and when lovers are expected to fuse together so closely and completely, mutuality mutates into a paralysing co-dependency — a calcified and rigid firmness that becomes brittle to the possibility of growth. In the most nourishing kind of love, the communion of togetherness coexists with the integrity of individuality, the two aspects always in dynamic and fluid dialogue. The philosopher Martin Heidegger captured this beautifully in his love letters to Hannah Arendt: “Why is love rich beyond all other possible human experiences and a sweet burden to those seized in its grasp? Because we become what we love and yet remain ourselves.”


The irony of modern life is that love stories have become horror stories and horror stories, love stories. Like the ageing Hollywood crowd, films are thin and flabby, in bad taste, ostentatious, vulgar. Either they are inadequately overdressed or expensively undressed. There was once a time when in Hollywood the houses began to become as plush as hotels, and yet the people who lived in these houses began to make hotels their residences. That is quite the difference between the American and European cinema, its experience. This is the point where one can almost hear the words of Mary Oliver echo – “All of it, the differences and the maverick uprisings, are part of the richness of life. If you are too much like myself, what shall I learn of you, or you of me?”


In recent years, largely due to the uncertainty of the producers about what will draw the audience based more so on the fickleness of the audience, films at the very stage of scripting may shift several perspectives and may be finally cut into a product that is not appealing to the people who come to enjoy a film. This is where Happy was sombre and stylish. It was quite a rhythmical vision. The characters were developed without any highbrow pretentions. You got what you saw, and what you saw was quite the slice of an impersonal and abstract atmosphere, mixed with frankness about a film that took itself seriously.


Also, we live in times where the younger audience does not react to love on the screen. They are eternally distracted and talking amidst themselves, until of course ghastly images of blood and gore make them shut up and take notice. Why don’t they react to love one may ask? They don’t perhaps react to love because they are not used to the idea of love, they are married to their gadgets, they find a dopamine high in bursts of likes and shares on social media, and they are depressed when nobody reacts to their posts or their shares, and as an extension of such vacuous lifestyle choices the very idea of having to be in a real flesh and blood relationship makes them squirm with fright. What about the older audience then one may ask? The older audience on the other hand care less for the storyline. They go to the movies merely to watch the sex. So what happens to the rest – the intellectuals? Unfortunately, they are left with nothing, unless of course people like Jordan Goldnadel shape scripts like Happy that are packed with a profound sense of contemplation.


Television, and the internet, with all its breaks and cuts, and the inattention, except for action, and spinning the dial to find some conflict, is partly responsible for the destruction of the narrative sense – that delight in following a story through its complications to its conclusion, which is perhaps a child’s first conscious artistic pleasure. The old staples of entertainment – inoffensive genres like the adventure story, or the musical, or the ghost story, or the detective story are no longer commercially safe for moviemakers, and it may be that audiences don’t have much more than a TV span of attention left: they want to be turned on and they spend most of their time turning off. Something similar and related may be happening in reading tastes and habits too: teens have often read Salinger and some Orwell, Joyce maybe, and sometimes even Dostoyevsky, but they are not interested in the ‘classic’ English novels of Scott or Dickens, and what is more to the point, they don’t read the Sherlock Holmes stories or even the modern detective fiction that in the thirties and forties was an accepted part of the shared experience of adolescents. Perhaps they want much more from entertainment than the civilised, but limited rational pleasures of the genre pieces. And more likely, the box-office returns support this; they want something different. Audiences that enjoy shocks and falsifications, the brutal series of titillations, they want one thrill after another, don’t care any longer about the convections of the past, and are too restless and apathetic to pay attention to motivations and complications, cause and effect. They want less effort, more sensations, and more knobs to turn.  


Sexuality is depicted in various films with an innate rationale, or imposed upon by time-tested, accepted ideologies. Happy is the only film where I found that the people who made love to each other did so without attempting to intellectualise it. As adults what we do with each other, regardless of the societal clichés or labels, is entirely up to us, and we are not obliged to offer anybody an explanation for it. Culture has mortared certain stubbornly trifling guidelines on us, and it judges us by those barren strictures, and this is where we must break that die and be undaunted by the world’s assessment of our actions. We must do exactly as our heart desires, because desires aren’t lead by intellect but by instinct, and instinct isn’t erroneous.


Actor and director Vladimir Perrin as Thomas is strong and opinionated. He can take to different ideas but is intolerable to assumed stupidity that branches from half-baked wisdom rather than from learning or experiences in Happy. Léa Moszkowicz as Marion is impressive as a friend. A Marion is needed, most urgently, in people’s lives, a life that is seeing the line blur between what friendship is, and how friendship ought to be. The camerawork of Jean Sotelo is appropriate for the tone of the movie. The music by Izzy Gaon is effective. The soundtrack includes some great Amanda Palmer songs and the surprise of surprises is the lilting number Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga by Rahul Dev Burman from our very own Indian film 1942: A Love Story.



When the final credits begin to roll, Happy leaves you with a feeling of pleasure and contentment, and one recollects Leo Tolstoy who said, if you want to be happy, be.



FOREVER MY GIRL – 2018



“Only the gentle are ever really strong.”
~ James Dean ~


I had posted the trailer of Forever My Girl on my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook long before anyone else had posted anything about it because I had read the book by Heidi McLaughlin and I was awaiting the big screen version with utmost impatience simply because I was craving to see if the book was better or the movie.

I watched it last night, and I must add, with much emphasis, that the movie moved me deeply. In a time where everybody seems to take love for granted and seldom works on it like a sculptor works most lovingly on his marble by giving it the shape and form he so desires, Forever My Girl had several things going for it: innate heartache, binds and bonds of family and friends, feelings and emotions most handsomely handled and expressed, a fine representation of how some relationships stand the test of time and some don’t – it even had god and the church, and despite the critics seeming to have made little of it, I was enormously pleased that it was rather treasured by the public with much enthusiasm, and why not? It contained no violence, no lovemaking, or even profanity for that matter, something we see most meaninglessly woven into the tapestry of a film merely to tempt and titillate the audiences. The movie made you feel that you don’t need to be bohemian to be acceptably fashionable. That there is great meaning in simplicity, and sophisticated simplicity is something that is part of our cultural DNA, and at the end of the day manners, respect and love score over everything else. Adored how nobody is scheming and insulting anybody, and how, with such refined balance, each one is actually responsible for each other’s keeping.

Cinema, the arts, literature or anything to do with humanities does have a rather calming effect on mankind. Watching a violent film, leaves behind a distasteful residue in us. I was reading an article by Jacques Attali called Can Art Do Anything Against Violence? In that he states, and I quote – art softens proprieties. In principle, art represents civilization, beauty, serenity and benevolence. Moreover, in principle, nothing is more soothing than frequenting masterpieces of art. He explains further that societies that reject art are particularly violent. I have always supported this view that if we surround ourselves with negativity or viciousness, it percolates into our system, reaching soon a point of no return, and it is at such times that we need to use mediums like literature, art and film to tell folks whelmed in such throes that life is not something to be spent nurturing the unsavoury. That if you see and surround yourself with the good, there is every chance that the good would manifest itself in your heart and soul and make you a person who will be an epitome of buoyancy. Perhaps I make it sound as easy as picking up a glass of water and gulping it down one’s throat, and for many, I daresay, it is indeed easy to go with the flow, however, those who thrive on independence of thought and above all possess a strong character, would not find themselves beguiled by the trends of the times. They would reject that which they feel is detrimental to their inner and outward growth. As the events unfolded on the screen, it was like watching a charming wedge from the golden age of cinema. I found myself so very absorbed in every scene merely because it brought to itself a novelty one was not accustomed to watching these days. It had such a lovely touch of affection between Liam and Joise, and the very representation of that type of pure love has been absent for a long time, not only on the screen, but also in the lives of people as well. And that is when I wondered why other filmmakers were not making more movies like these when they knew what effect the cinema has on people? That is when I discerned that this was not the problem of the filmmakers per se, but an enigma of the most mammoth kind with the current generation itself – a generation that thrived on instant gratification, and who’s attention span was colossally distrait, for when they saw something that lacked unreal twists and turns in storytelling, a screenplay that grew organically with the story, they were seldom able to differentiate a pebble from a diamond.


I LEARNT / LIKED

That people seldom change until something life changing comes along to change them. Liam has everything, and yet what he yearns for is some ‘real’ love from the ‘real’ people he craves it from.

That children can be smarter than we think they are. In fact they are far too smart for their age when we were their age. It is like they come fitted with an innate antenna in them that works beyond our capacity to understand their mechanics.

That people tend to hide a lot, not to escape their pain, but because they don’t know how to articulate what they are hiding. This is where every Liam needs a Josie. And when I say that, I do not mean only in form of the opposite sex, the aim is that every Liam in us needs someone like Josie to believe in them; to understand that we need to be there for those whom we love most unconditionally when we know that our souls have connected. This is where we have to go back to our life’s drawing boards and rub the parts away where we are each raised with the belief that nobody is indispensable. Such teachings are nothing but a bunch of garbage as there is absolutely no substitute for those who matter to us. Also, how the scar of his childhood would have left Liam so gravely damaged that in being unable to process the pain, he finds himself abandoning what requires mending. This is where we have to understand that people deal with grief in ways that we may not understand. We have to be patient and let the hurt heal. We have to be the anchor and help one another get through the distress regardless of the hardships we face.

How not everything can be made right by money, just as gifts mean nothing in the lives of those who mean the world to us.

How the old duct-taped phone that Liam holds closest to his heart indicates that in life we may become larger than life for the world and have everything we would ever want, but it is these little things that matter: things that we attach importance to by virtue of them being woven into the valves of our heart and soul.

Liam rushing barefoot to the phone store illustrates most marvellously how, when we are in our plainest elements, we care less for anything that the world cares for in us. I loved how when he offers ten thousand dollars to anybody who can fix his phone, the manager of the store offers to fix it for him on the house. This is where I think that the values that we see fading at an alarming rate today are awfully imperative to keeping and preserving the nature of helping our fellow human beings without any strings attached. I loved how Josie tells Liam that there would be nothing between them, and exactly an instant after he hears her say that, Liam asks Josie if he can pick her up from work.

How Liam, who hasn’t been able to produce any riveting music, or written any heart-touching songs because his life appears clouded by the distractions of city life, the drugs, and the flesh, is able to write with much profoundness in an environment that he finds actual comfort in. Many people who crave for celebrity do not realise that celebrity is intoxicating, and it can also consume you in ways that you can rarely fathom, and by the time you realise you want to retract your steps, your feet would have been far dunked in dirt, unless of course providence is benevolent enough and gives you a second chance.


DID NOT LIKE

1/ The parallel drawn on Nicholas Spark’s work to market this movie was lame. Agreed he is a novelist who has made great success by tapping on the pulse of the passions of love and relationships, but his work is dreadfully predictable. If not anything it is weighed down with overdoses of saccharine. The Forever My Girl production house did not have to piggyback on someone else when their product was strong enough on its own.

2/ Here are some (inexcusable) excerpts from the book:

On page 87
“No.” I shake my head to emphasis my point.
It should have been: I shake my head to emphasise my point?

On page 89
I couldn’t really say no since he used buy our beer for us.
Where is the ‘to’ before buy?

Like all else, it seems editing too has taken a nosedive. It is appalling that publishing houses do not take their reputation seriously. Whom are they catering to with such mistakes? Shouldn’t the publishing firms engage experienced editors? How did the writer give her nod to the final draft?


CREW

One must tip one’s hat for the director Bethany Ashton Wolf. She is incredibly in control of her project. Glad she decided on the novel, and then chiselled it into the magnificent screenplay with the writer of the novel, Heidi McLaughlin. The book and the film are strikingly dissimilar. I found the film far more powerful than the book. The book in portions was unpolished and insensitive. It had many trivial characters, was overloaded with the unnecessary usage of profanity, and was jarringly predictable. The movie on the other hand was charming and reflected meaning. It was not merely cinema that was callous. It was something one can watch with school kids to grandparents – and each age group will cherish most deeply the beauty of relationships depicted in it as long as they live.

Right from the etiquettes to the minute details of human nature that Bethany Ashton Wolf has portrayed in her movie makes her one of my favourite directors. I adored how she avoids playing to the gallery who worships effect, and effect, unfortunately, is rather short-lived, because what stays on even when we are long gone is culture and polish, and she is a master raconteur of that polite genre.

Alex Roe is a fine choice for Liam Page not only for his chiselled jawline, lanky structure, expressive eyes, but more so because he enhances his American twang with the refined touch of British finesse. Jessica Rothe as Josie is my favourite. She has a winning smile, strong legs, and a voice to drool over. Convincing and vulnerable, she is as perfect as Josie could get for the big screen. John Benjamin Hickey as Pastor Brian was another role enacted with immense panache by John. He has an alluring screen presence and it is a delight to watch him play his role with utter subtlety. Abby Ryder Fortson as Billy is the niftiest kid around. She essays her role to the perfect T – bold, confident, observant and how a kid actually ought to be – genteel, genuine, and yet having a free soul of her own. Peter Cambor as Sam, Liam’s manager is more like his sounding board. He is like what a good friend is – looking out for you and giving you a smack on the arse when you most need it. Gillian Vigman as Doris, Liam’s publicist enacts her little screen time with verve and ardour. Tyler Riggs as Jake, Josie’s brother is one of the smartest men in the movie. He has an easy-going charm to him not without the unmistakable stamp of defined masculinity that is a hallmark of country life.

The compositions of Brett Boyett sink into your soul. Alex Roe’s vocals are a treat for the melody-crazy music buffs. Duane Manwiller has handled the camera with deftness.


ON A BROADER PERSPECTIVE

When you turn the pages of the newspaper, or scroll across digital screens, you discern the reasons that are common to the ruining of relationships are either downright childish or not worthy of a thought. At such times you wonder whatever can be done to amend the straying attitudes. One of them is surely to do with COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS. You will be alarmed to learn that sexual infidelity is not really the problem causer in most couples, but the lack of communication is. Not thinking he is good enough for Josie, Liam takes a decision based on his own summation without asking her how she feels about him, and when his intention is to do her good, he ends up hurting everybody in the bargain. This behaviour is directly related to an evolutionary problem – men find it difficult to express their emotions since they have been conditioned to be manly, and to be manly is not to admit to your vulnerabilities or come into contact with your innermost feelings. They learn to bottle up their emotions and sink along with the ship even if there were to be a lighthouse in the distance.

LACK OF INTIMACY: When I use the word ‘intimacy’ I am not pointing in the direction of sexual pleasure. Sex is vital in a relationship, but sex is not the core of everything in life. Men need sexual receptivity to feel romantic, and women need romance to be sexually receptive. That has been most beautifully represented in the movie. Liam has his fair share of women as a celebrity, while Josie finds herself so intertwined with Laim and his soul even in his absence that she cannot find someone to make love with for the sake of fulfilling her desires. People forget that intimacy is not merely genital-to-genital contact, but intimacy can be found in hugs, kisses, the need to be touched, fondled, and to feel close to their partners. Relationships can head towards a dead end if we stop paying attention to intimacy.

UNMET EXPECTATIONS: Sometimes small things can create the widest rifts. Be watchful of what triggers a negative reaction in your partner. Liam’s stature renders him to take life easy as he is given everything on a platter. However, when he returns home his father treats him like he is just anybody else around home. He has to wash the dishes and ride the bicycle. I reckon men should be sent to the countryside in order to learn to do their own work, that way a lot of friction would, and could, be avoided between a couple.

I know I could go on and on, but I reckon I shall stop here with a footnote that much as cinematic experiences may drum into our hearts and minds that life is so and so, and we have to live it with such and such philosophies, fact is that life is rarely dramatic – it is a steady rolling forward of events that make us who we are, and it is the people who are around us who bring such events to light, and this is one striking experience watching Forever My Girl left me with. I cannot but think of Susan Sontag here who ruminated in her diary, “Nothing is mysterious, no human relation. Except love.” Or even Rainer Maria Rilke who said, “To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”

PS: If the film were to be made in my side of the world, I envision Ali Zafar essaying Laim and Aditi Rao Hydari as Josie.