Parasite & Corporate

Published as READERS WRITE-IN COLUMN on Baradwaj Rangan’s blog

NOTE: I’m assuming you have seen Parasite. If not, the writing wouldn’t make any sense.

A lot has been spoken about the Parasite’s social commentary. The way the film takes on capitalization in a not-so-subtle manner made the audience across the globe empathize with the story. Writer-director Bong Joon Ho in a late-2019 interview said he made the film to represent a particular section of South Korea but the fact that capitalization is the film’s core allowed people from different countries and cultures to correlate it. I query why the whole class-difference conversation has somehow been subdued post the Oscars.

In this piece, I’ll draw parallels between Parasite’s class representation and the corporate work environment. But the fundamentals before beginning are this.

The Park Family – The upper management

The Kim Family & Gook Moon-gwang – The ground level employees

Some points from the film that fit in the corporate environment are:

1 – “We will find someone else”

After the Kim family succeeds in getting rid of the current housekeeper, Moon-gwang, Park Dong-ik tells Ki-taek in a generic conversation while returning home from work, that his wife wouldn’t tell him the reason why the housekeeper left. He also acknowledges that Moon-gwang, indeed did a great job in keeping the house neat and tidy. Besides, he adds finding a replacement is an effortless task.

It is apparent from this short conversation that Dong-ik is least concerned about why his house-keeper left. Although he acknowledges her hard work, he never goes beyond the ‘line’ to know why she quit. Because he doesn’t care and is quite confident in finding another worker.

Viewing it from a corporate perspective, the message is ingenuous and lucid. The upper management doesn’t heed whether the employees stay or leave. Irrespective of the employee’s performance and metrics, he/she is disposable and replaceable; no questions asked. Had Dong-ik wished to uncover what precipitated Moon-gwang to leave, he could have found it out with ease. Pushing his wife to learn the truth is all that’s needed. Another little conversation is what it would have taken to understand the case, but he didn’t mind having the conversation because he discerns that finding someone to fill in her shoes wouldn’t be an arduous assignment.

Moon-gwang has stayed with the family for years and is a part of the family, we assume. When Jessica asks Yeon-gyo she needs to talk with her in private, Yeon-gyo holds Moon-gwang and says she’s one of us, implying the bond the family has with her. It is only after Jessica insists, Yeon-gyo asks Moon-gwang to give them some space. But when the time arrives, Yeon-gyo lets her go forever. Years of knowing each other didn’t come in handy.

Similarly, in the corporate world, the number of years an employee works for the company is of no significance. After dozens of birthday parties, monthly-gatherings, and team outings, if the time comes, that’s the time to leave. Note that no one looks back and the one impacted is the one who is leaving, not the others.

“You have been a great employee. Thank you for your services. We wish you all the best!”

“You have been a great employee. Thank you for your services. We wish you all the best!”

All Dong-ik wants is to have good food, which his wife is not skilled at, but no issues, he’ll manage it for the time being until another housekeeper takes over.

2 – “We’ll give a hike over your current CTC”

Kevin passes the test and successfully lands the ‘English-tutoring’ job. Now, it’s pay-time. Yeon-gyo puts X amount in the envelope, then takes out a few notes from it, and hands him a Y amount.

Here, Y = X – few notes

Y = Expected Salary(ETC)

X = Current CTC

Few notes = The disguised hike

But while paying him, she says she wanted to pay equally as Min, but added some for inflation.

She’s a liar!

In this case, Kevin is similar to an unemployed fresher in the dire need of a job. He is entitled to accept whatever pay he gets because the question is about survival, not standard.

In the film’s context, Kevin would have accepted whatever little amount they pay him without asking a single question. Such is his desperation. The companies comprehend this need to the fullest and use to pay much lesser than what an employee actually deserves. By deserve, I don’t bring in his talent and skill to consideration, but merely the market value. The logic by which they(the corporate) sells is “Something is better than nothing”. For someone who is hunting a job, getting one would be more than enough. The salary is secondary. Who is to blame for here? The employee for accepting an underpaid job in the first place? The company for utilizing the employee’s desperation to lower the pay scale? Or the eternal power which created this situation in the first place, the government?

3 – “We are paying for your efforts”

Anyone who ever had a desk-job must have heard these,

“Going the extra mile”

“Working over-time”

“Pushing the boundaries”

“Setting new standards”

And the stupidest of all

“Giving 200%”

For Da-song’s birthday impromptu, Ki-taek is asked to be a part of a little skit. When Dong-ik notices Ki-taek’s discomfort, he tells Kim to consider this a part of his job.

There exists a predicament. Organizations believe they own the employees, and paying them makes up for everything. That’s wrong. One cannot buy time with money. Yes, money recompenses for the effort, but what about the time lost. If paying for ‘overtime’ exists, that only partially compensates. I strongly doubt whether the concept of paying overtime works exists in small and mid-sized organizations. Majorly, working overtime is camouflaged as silly excuses like putting in the extra effort and going the extra mile. Who benefits from it? Is it the hard-working yet replaceable employee? Or the organization that is built on thousands of such employees’ shoulders. The time, though, is gone-by.

All we can hope is that the organizations treat their labor as humans first, as an employee second.

Irrespective of the organization’s size, these 3 points exist nevertheless, and it’s the sad reality in which we all are cemented in.

To add these are only the aspects I could identify and explicitly link to the corporate work environment. If I find more, I’ll make sure I update the piece.

For Parasite, a film that transcends physical and social boundaries with its layering, all I have is gargantuan RESPECT!

Read the full piece on Baradwaj Rangan’s blog

Hero: An Outburst of Anger

P.S. Mithran, an angry filmmaker, channels his anger on education system through his second film, Hero. If his directorial debut Irumbuthirai was a warning letter to our ignorance, Hero is more of a wake-up call to us, the ordinary people, to stop falling in the trap of a system we have been conditioned to follow. Hero could also be one of the most personal films falling under the mainstream umbrella. Do not mistake personal story only to how well the viewers empathize with the subject matter, but also about how much the filmmaker relies on his/her personal experiences to shape the film. Hero checks off both the boxes. In a way, it’s a personal story anyone who has attended schooling in southern part of India. I’m looking at you Andhra, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu.

We have all been to schools. At one point or other, we have been ordered to stand up on the bench. If you weren’t, you are lucky. In my 7th grade, our maths teacher made the whole class stand up on the bench, forcing us to raise our hands up, because our “good morning, maaaaaaam” greating wasn’t loud enough. I loathe her and most of my teachers. I’ve studied in 9 schools, and there are only a handful of teachers who stand true to the word ‘teacher’.

Hero is not a glorious cinematic accomplishment. It’s far from perfect, but the dialogue it ignites is one of the most mattering conversations, which we often disregard. Splitting my takeaways from the film, the film takes on capitalism, flawed education system, and the need to keep the inner child alive. 

The marriage of Capitalism and the Flawed Education System-

In the tragic reality, they both go hand in hand. A recurring point in the film has the antagonist, who is a representation of capitalism – more than a person or a businessman – inform us how he wants to create swarms of labour. The education system is a convinient medium to achieve it. Even though it’s overdone, he has a point. We are forced, sorry, taught in schools, to accept whatever the teachers say. It’s obedience camouflaged as discipline, which also destroys the one’s individuality. If I draw parallels, a school uniform makes you feel like a part of a clan, where you are just like the one beside you, just like a bunch of machines in an assembly line at a manufacturing plant. Maybe the morning routine of school prayer an exercise of brushing these facts into the students. Where’s the individuality? Where is your unique self? But we are regularly told a school uniform allows students from different backgrounds and cultures come together, making all of them feel equal. Maybe, but doesn’t one’s background make him or her what they are? Why cover your true self with something that gives you an identity, where you as an individual don’t matter?

I may be sounding quite hateful of the education system, pardon me, but that’s what I’ve acquired from my personal experiences. During the opening moments, a female teacher asks the class what they aspire to be when they grow up, as if she really cares or that her contribution would actually help them. The answers aren’t path-breaking. One says doctor, the other says lawyer, and when it’s the turn of the protagonist Shakti’s younger self, he says he wants to grow up to be Shaktimaan, the famous Indian superhero from the ’90s. The teacher reconfirms whether he aspires to become a TV actor, but Shakti assures he wants to help people and fight crime. The teacher, being the (south) Indian teacher she is, immediately demoralises the little guy. The scene is a representation of my school life, where I came across dozens of teachers who already disowned their profession. But should they be blamed for what they are? Only partially. Remember that they were students once.

The teacher.

Humiliated, Shakti jumps off the school building believing Shaktimaan would save him, but he doesn’t because reality and fiction prevail seperately and never collide. Fiction borrows from reality, and Hero reflects reality. Although Shakti survives the falls, he dies within upon listening to his father’s words. He’s a child, anyway. His father convinces him to study hard because that’s the only that can empower him.

The dream that died inside is further buried by the capitalism that initially feeds the education, and later feeds on the education system. Again, the antagonist doesn’t matter as a person, in this case, he is the emodiement of a dangerous ideology coupled with financial oppression. As a person, he hardly matters. In a scene, he literally makes a kid into a soulless body, which agrees to do whatever it is ordered to. He injects him with some serum, which doesn’t matter. If you observe, the serum is the syallbus, the syringe is the school, and the antagonist is capitalism, but the boy remains a boy.

The antogonist.

Hero emphasis the vitality to differentiate education and education system. While the former teaches how to lead the life, the latter conditions and confines you to live in a perfunctory way without taping on the full potential.

Keeping the inner child alive-

When the world (and screenplay) forces him, Shakti is asserted to transform into Shaktimaan. It’s by necessity, not by choice. In the end, no matter how systematic and processed we become, the inner spark is what defines us and gives a unique texture to our character. For what Shakti does, the vigilance, doesn’t need the brand of a superhero. But it’s his childhood dream that takes shape, out of forced consequences. That’s his rebirth. Piercing out of the dump that the education system has pushed him into. The film packs in too much, but it does get the point conveyed. Marks and certificates aren’t the credibilities to judge a person’s talent. It might sound as a lame excuse for someone who isn’t interested in studying, but the film backs this point very strongly. Probably too much, I’d say. The word exaggerated befittingly expresses the treatment of the film. But being a crowd-puller it is designed to be, the filmmaker has to be louder than the screaming fans, to make himself heard. And Mithran nails it. Even as the end credits roll, we see mini documentary-style interviews of real people with their innovations, and all these people have either high school drop outs midway or flunked. But they’ve achieved more than what you and I did. Now, do their mark sheets matter?

Hero answers that question, and the answer is loud and clear.

PS (just betweeen us): Having studied in 9 schools in different parts of India, I can reassure all them sucked.

PPS: We had a drawing teacher (married to the principle), who forced me to stand outside the classroom during her class because because I had painted the sky red. Who imposes drawing?

Hero is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

‘The Devil Next Door’ & The Horrifying History

When I watched Tom Six’s The Human Centipede movies for the first time, there wasn’t anything as wickedly nasty as it. It’s about a crooked doctor who stitches the mouth of a person to the anus of the another serially, so three people could function on one digestive system. It can’t get any worse than this, I thought, unaware of the cruder reality that inspired the movie. The Human Centipede was inspired by the human experimentations conducted by the Nazis on the war prisoners. Just reading through the wiki, in 2014, was a disconcerting experience. I wish I had not read about it, but I’m glad I did. It helped me to notice how cruel the world was/is. The Nazi Human Experimentation meant that humans were treated like livestock, they were just living bodies, nothing more than that. They were subjected to extreme torture and pain in the name of the illegal medical experimentations. And Joseph Mengele, the doctor in charge of these medical trails was the inspiration for The Human Centipede. I mean, an abhorrent movie like The Human Centipede macadamized the way for me to discern more about our history, which I have clearly spurned post 10th grade. And even my academics didn’t dwell into this horrifying territory. All that comes to my mind is, how the UN came into existence, as I seek to recall.

Now, if Joseph Mengele, the doctor who subjected prisoners to extreme pain, abuse and agony with his crude acts, can be termed a cruel, sadistic, tyranical and barbarous person; there was another person whose cruelty, malice and savagery cannot be accurately expressed even by summoning all the adjectives. Such has been the person’s nature. And he is Ivan The Terrible, the vicious guard of one such Nazi camp, who executed a million jews at least, between 1942 to 1945. While some claim the number goes as high as 3 million. We are talking about the number of murders a man has committed, not views on youtube, and it is in millions.Do you get it? In Poland was Treblinka and Sobibor, which were Nazi Extermination Camps used to kills thousands of people with Gas Chambers, every day. Day after day, people would be brought in trains, forced to the camps, had their clothes stripped off, hair removed and pushed into gas chambers which would kill them. Just imagine standing in line with your whole family, naked just waiting for your turn to enter the gas chamber and die. How horrifying would that be? And Ivan The Terrible was the one would force these people, torture them, cut pieces of their bodies, and enjoy the sadism. Ivan The Terrible is for sure, one of the cruellest life forms the planet has ever seen.

Okay. Did I say that John Demjanjuk, a Ukranian who moved to the USA in 1945 was convicted of being Ivan The Terrible, in 1986? Well, yes. And the Documentary series, The Devil Next Door, follows this court trial. Demjanjuk claims he is innocent and that he is a victim of mistaken identity. 

John Demjanjuk

The series is a very humanistic portrayal of an extremely inhumanistic person. The open-endedness of the case and the faithfulness of the series is a head-scratcher. There was a section of people who believed Demjanjuk is indeed, Ivan The Terrible. Conflicting them was another chunk that argues it is a case of mistaken identity. The series takes no sides though, it is very nonaligned and impartial, and is sure to send you into a dilemma. When the survivors of the camps share their accounts, it is clear that he is the devil, and you want Demjanjuk to be the devil. The series masterfully uses footage from the court trial, which was dubbed as ‘show trial’, as it stands to be the only trail which was telecasted live in Israel, where Demjanjuk is deported to as a war criminal.

Every time you want your conviction to be right, you are presented with a fact that contradicts your opinion, and even alters it. Right after you begin believing a particular point and take a side, another fact is thrown which cleverly dismisses your the fact on which your belief was built on. It feels like you are in a cat and mouse game with the series which is always a step ahead of you. For example, I was convinced that this man is Ivan The Terrible for sure, because of the way he reacts to the allegations he is faced with. There is no other way a sane person can handle the hate of the entire world and yet, not even reflect it on your face. This point made me staunchly accept he is the devil. But, this aspect too addressed as Demjanjuk’s supervisor at work says that all the immigrants who worked under him were extremely quite and never made their presence felt. I had to rethink my judgement as it made me dubious. Directors Yossi Bloch and Daniel Sivan give everyone equal space to make their points, and everyone has their own reasons to believe what they believe. 

Right after finishing the series, I watched Nazi Concentration Camps, which is stock footage shot by the US army after the liberation. And I can clearly see from which side it was shot. The Devil Next Door passes no judgement, though.

What shocked me the most is the fact that it all happened only 70 years ago, not from the age of Brontosaurus. There is actual footage which shows piles of dead bodies in a horrible state. The most haunting of the stock footage, though, is the shot where we see tons of footwear. It is a very powerful and disturbing image. Just a gigantic pile of footwear. Maybe a day ago, they were being worn by someone. Now, those legs have just disappeared.

Despite all the claims and documents, was John Demjanjuk really Ivan The Terrible? It depends on your conviction. But I feel the question that needs to be asked is- Was Ivan The Terrible the sole reason for those deaths?

The series is streaming on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/80201488

For further reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Demjanjuk

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_the_Terrible_(Treblinka_guard)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extermination_camp

Watch the trailer of The Devil Next Door

Martin Scorsese, Marvel Movies and Housefull 4

I discern that these films are slapstick comedies, they are not even close to cinema, forget good cinema. Then, why am I writing a piece of critique for Housefull 4, having seen the previous installments and knowing what I’m going in for? Maybe I couldn’t consume more of them. Films are a product of their time and back when they had released, I liked the first two movies. They are not great movies by any means, but they at least made me laugh 9 years ago. There it ends. I didn’t like Housefull 3, because the concept was beaten to death by then, in 2016, I didn’t loathe it, though. Then why did I watch Housefull 4? I just wanted have a silly fun time at the movies. What I got is definitely not what I expected. Hence, leading to this.

To those who are not aware of the famed/infamed Housefull franchise, the first film in 2010, was touted as a comedy of errors with an ensemble cast. Same with the second film with a bigger ensemble cast. The third was relatively smaller on scale, but still bigger than any normal film. And the film in discussion, is the biggest of all, and is touted as a ‘reincarnation comedy’. Love stories that are left midway in 1419 end in 2019. Uff. Too much for a silly slapstick comedy, right? By any means, I’m not dismissing the genre. Let it be There’s Something About Mary, The Gods Must be Crazy, Airplane, or even The Pink Panther, I’ve enjoyed these films more than many other comedies. And we have our very own Dhamaal and Golmaal, which never fail to me make me chuckle, even after a decade of their release. But the issue with Housefull 4 is something that needs to be discussed as it speaks about larger scheme of things.

While there is a heated debate going on right now about Cinema and Marvel movies, I’m ashamed that this movie is minting money just like its predecessors. Your question is valid, how is a piece of fluff amidst the ocean of millions of blog posts going to make the tiniest of a difference to the way a billion dollar industry works? The answer is quite simple. It makes zero difference. There’s no beating around the bush here. It won’t make any difference. But even the conversation that Martin Scorsese just started, will it make any difference. No. I hope it does. But I know it won’t. But, why am I writing this anyway? Just to vomit my thoughts out, so I can move on with my life and different films, just like everyone on #FilmTwitter will, eventually. It’s just a matter of time.

The conversation that’s happening out there is between two kind of films- those which try to give an audio visual experience to audience like never before and make them go ‘wow’, and those which touch the human in you and make you go ‘awee’. In both the cases, there is a response. On one side, you have billion dollar franchises and on the other side, you have these little stories set in your very own neighborhood. Which one would you pay to see in a theatre? The answer is obvious, something that can make you go ‘wow’ and give you a bang for your buck. It’s not a mistake or a wrong choice, it’s just what you like and your taste. It’s not bad taste either. It is what it is. The reason I’m ashamed to write this is – We as Indian film audience, don’t stand a chance to take part in this global conversation. And it is because of garbage like Housefull 4.

It hurts me that a movie which writers were least bothered to write, with actors behaving like they are on a paid vacation with no interest in acting and made with no passion just to make a quick buck, is minting more money than all the little films that tried to tell stories with genuine passion for cinema, made the whole year. Housefull 4 has no respect for its audience. I’ll withdraw this statement if the demography the movie targets are toddlers who haven’t developed all their senses, let alone the sense of cinema. Still, I would be baffled that wouldn’t make them laugh. If horror film failing to scare its audience is an offence, a comedy film failing to make the audience laugh is a grave offense. In that sense, all the billed crew and cast if the film should be charged with criminal charges. And that still wouldn’t bring justice to the crime that this film commits to the institution called ‘Cinema’.

Some might now say, cinema is a source of entertainment, right? Why take it so seriously?

No, my dear friend- Cinema is an art form and perhaps, we, Indians forget this over time. Cinema is not about your favourite ‘hero’ walking in slow motion everytime after delivering a punchline. Poor Scorsese, I can’t imagine the mental trauma the man will go through if he watches Indian ‘commercial’ movies. Coming back to the topic, even if you consider movies a source of entertainment, you need to relook the definition of entertainment.

The word ‘Entertain’ comes from the juxtaposition of French entre which comes from Latin Inter both words meaning ‘together, or among’, and Latin tenere, which means ‘to hold’. So, literally, entertain means to ‘hold or support together’.

So, a film can be termed entertaining when it held you in your seat throughout its runtime and immersed you in the proceedings. That is definitely not we, Indians, associate entertainment with. Am I wrong? So, it is disturbing that Housefull 4 is getting all the attention, and footfalls when it is not what it is supposed to be.

I’m not jealous of Housefull 4 doing well at the box office. I just feel sad that a terrible, horrondous, atrocious, annoying, unfunny, agitating, disturbing, barbaric, and lousy movie is doing well at the box office while many films that actually stand true to the word Cinema, go unnoticed in the same country. If you feel I’m being too harsh and dismissive about the film – No. I’m not. I’ll explain a scene from the movie. A sort-of antagonist is shot in the abdomen. He blacks out and is on the verge of dying. When he hears that someone who killed his brother in their previous life is reincarnated just like him, he wakes up and starts kicking some ass. 2 minutes later, everything is sorted out and he is playing harmonium. There’s no blood on his shirt either. Have the filmmakers not seen this while shooting it? Ok. Forget. Have they not checked it while editing? Leave it. They must have seen the film while dubbing, re-recording and a bunch of times before release, right? Why wasn’t this sorted out? It’s because they take audience for granted. This is just a scene that is visibly wrong and the film is filled with such scenes. If I go on a deeper, it gets nastier than batshit.

I have seen some brilliant Indian films at the recently closed 21st Mumbai International Film Festival. These films tell powerful stories of real people, have great social commentary, possess capability to spark important conversations, and most importantly – they are entertaining films. The saddest part is – most of these films will not find the audience they deserve and ultimately fail in doing all the afore mentioned things. Now, whose aberration is it? Who is responsible for the current state of Indian cinema? Is it the filmmakers’ lapse for making the same kind of films and making the audience habituated to those? Or is the audience’s bungle for guzzling the same kind of films without ever questioning the monotony? You tell me.

Marvel movies are true to the word ‘entertainment’, and they are done with an utmost passion with an aspiration to give its audience something they have not experienced prior. Fill their time in the theatre with joy, just like theme parks. But, we as Indians are not eligible to take part in the debate between the two kinds of cinema. And that’s a sad thing. With this, I rest my case.

I’m pretty sure I put more effort in writing this piece of fluff than the makers did for making a 100 crore Housefull 4. I sincerely hope I won’t have to write a letter till Housefull 5 crosses 300 crores.

Just watch the trailer of the film.
Trailer of the third film.
A comedy scene from the third film.

‘Port Authority’ From a Layman’s Perspective

One of the most alluring aspects of cinema is its competence to expose the viewer to distinct places, culture, and life, in general. And New York, has been the setting of numerous films. I, being a popcorn movie guy, have always afliated New York with the fascinating sky scrapers and people walking in hordes with coffee cups in hands. My exposure to New York beyond the beauty, came through Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, which captured the city in its dark period, an equally dark Shame by Steve McQueen, and a many others like The King of Comedy, Two of a kind, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, The God Father films, from the 80s to the very recent Nerve, The Only Living Boy in New York, and Hustlers are some I’ve seen. Don’t get me started on the The Avengers, though! And some Indian films that effectively used the to tell stories and drive the characters are, English Vinglish by Gauri Shinde and Gautam Menon’s Vettaiyaadu Velaiyadu, even though the tone and treatment of the city’s backdrop and landscape is markedly different from the American films. So, how is this conversation have any relevance to Port Authority, the film in subject?

Well, the film begins at ‘Port Authority’, setting out the narrative for the protagonist Paul, the journey that he is going to take. There’s no shame in wondering what’s ‘Port Authority’ in the first place, just like me while I was watching it. After some digging, I’ve learnt that ‘Port Authority’ is a bus terminus located in New York, the largest bus terminus in the US, with over 2,25,00 people using it on an average with around 8,000 bus services each day. A gigantic crowd, you can imagine. People from different walks of life, coming together a point where they might never even look at the same faces ever again in their lives. Contrary to taking a bus from there and going on a journey, Paul’s journey begins as he arrives at the terminus from Pittsburgh to find his half-sister, whom he has never met in his life and with a hope that she would take him in. The very first scene is him lumbering in the terminus incapably with a picture of his sister, asking others if they’ve seen her. The population of New York is 20 million, poor Paul.

In a turn of events, he lands a job with a roof over his head, thanks to Lee, who saves from being knocked down, literally and figuratively. But is it what Paul wants? No. We never see Paul happy or even smiling, for that case, until he meets Wye.

Wye is a women of colour. Beautiful and bold. And Paul is a white American. The two bond over their differences. There is a running track of music and dance going on parallelly in the film. I guess it’s a part of the music scene of NY, which I couldn’t get. To Paul’s shock and dismay, he learns that Wye is a transgender woman. And when he verbally confronts her by questioning why didn’t she tell him, her response actually made me laugh, it is unintentional, though. She says, “why didn’t you ask. You should look around”, refering to the men she stays with. While Paul is irked by the revelation of her sexual identity, he gets back with her pretty quickly. Now, this part- Paul accepting her sexual identity felt rather quick to me, maybe because I’ve never seen such relationship prior to this. Yes. Her reveal is a shock to Paul. I expected it to shake him. I thought maybe he should sleep over it and give it some time before arriving at a conclusion. But again, Paul is not me. That’s his personal choice.

Wye & Paul

The film is an intimate portrayal of relationships and life. This is backed by close ups and hand held camera. It’s almost like we are are walking behind Paul and Wye as they walk holding their hands. Not for once do we see the iconic skyline. No ariel shots as well. The focus is only on the characters. I don’t even recall seeing a crowd from a top angle in, as opposed to other films set in New York(from the 7 – 9 I’ve seen), where a character walks among hordes of people. The people in the city are minimal. Even in the bus terminus, which gets over 2,25,000 visitors on an average everyday, we hardly a dozen humans. Maybe it’s a way of the writer saying, ‘no matter how many people are in this world, it’s only your loved ones that matter to you’

And the film feels very close to life, despite me being from a country on the opposite side of Globe with different cultural norms and background- because it’s about real people and their emotions feel real. Paul’s immaturity to expect his half-sister, whom he has never met, to help him when he appears out of nowhere, can be dismissed as a silly way to begin the character arc. But it is not the case with writing, that is how Paul is, as a person. When Wye says Paul should have asked her whether she is a trans, even though it feels like a question which no boy would ask a girl when he is about to get into a relationship with – that is how Wye is. Because she is always surrounded by people who visibly belong to LGBTQ community. It is Paul who didn’t notice it. And Wye expected him to notice. Neither of them are wrong. Because, again, that’s how they are.

Leyna Bloom as Wye is terrific, to put it in a word.

Leyna Bloom as Wye is terrific, let it be the way she talks, walks, or does anything, she is Wye. Having no reference to her previous acting work, she will remain Wye for me. Fionn Whitehead, who was Tommy in Dunkirk, equally great, gets into the skin of Paul. While Tommy’s struggle was external in the form of physical threat, it is more of an internal conflict for Paul. With something running in his head, he conveys it just with his body language. McCaul Lombardi, who plays Lee, brings both the saviour and dangerous vibes with his presence. ‘There’s something with Lee’, my mind kept going everytime he was in the frame. Each and every member of Wye’s ‘family’ are extremely humanistic, let it be ‘mother’, Eddie, and even Tekay.

Devon Carpenter as Tekay, a character you will remember for a long time after finishing the film.

With Port Authority, Danielle Lessovitz crafted a film that’s hard to get out of mind even though it doesn’t hit in the gut. It’s a remainder that with great writing, one can tell a simplistice story with very very high effect.

Watch the trailer of the film.

OSCARS 2020: Empathizing with ‘I Lost My Body’

There are films which entertain for the while being. And there are the other kinds of films which adhere in your mind long after you’ve finished watching them, maybe forever. I lost my body belongs to the latter type.

It is the one that affected me the most, among the films I saw at MAMI.

This ain’t a review — just a post where I confess my love for this film which is beyond beautiful. You can call it a love letter.

There were multiple instances I tried to control tears just so I could avoid the embarrassment of crying in a full auditorium. Am I exaggerating? Well, I haven’t started to talk about the film yet.

Before I tell you why I cherished this exquisite piece of art, let me tell you what it is about. On the paper, it’s about a severed hand that comes to life and takes off on a journey to find it’s owner, whose arm is the hand’s home. In the process, we get to know the owner, Naoufel, a young man living a tasteless life working as a Pizza delivery boy in Paris. One rainy night, after a delivery goes wrong, it turns out to be the best thing that could have happened to him. And it gives a breath of fresh air in his mundane life. Leaving it right there. 

Watching I lost my body gave me experience similar to a hand piercing through my chest only to hold my beating heart in its grip before plucking it out in a choke. Now, does it sound overblown? Maybe, but that is how I felt while watching it, leave the physical pain aside; it’s a reality check for me. Of how beautiful little things can be, in life. When I saw the young Naoufel trying to hold the sand in a beach, or when he encloses the sun in his vision through his hand, it gave me a jolt because I have a hand and I’m even clueless of its existence(I’m looking at my hands as I type this line). After a point when we know, Noufel has lost people dear to him, and now he has to face the world all by himself, just the thought of Noufel being happy with his dear ones made me more than sad.

It feels like my hands are going to question me, “Will you ever acknowledge our existence?” 

Sadly, I wouldn’t have. Had I not seen this film.

I have never seen a film told from the perspective of a hand. Did you?

Naoufel
Naoufel, again.

Deriving a word from the title, the film is about loss, and how we as humans deal with it. Grieving comes along, but do we accept it? Do we remain the same person after losing something? The world says, “life is all about moving on”, but will the world ruminate the same when it loses something? The answers are unclear. And I don’t even mind searching for them.

Naoufel has been consistently losing something through out his life, this alone broker my heart, 20 minutes into the film. And right when he seems to have found something he has been searching for his life, and life, being a bitch shows its back. Now, this smashed my plucked heart on to the ground and crushed it. Because, I’ve seen Naoufel going through a lot, all this poor guy wanted was a happy life. I was afraid he’ll never get it. But, does happiness come from substance? Can a person be happy, even when the world is against him or her? Does the famous proverb, ‘Happiness comes from within’, stand firm today?

The answers or interpretations to these questions emanate from your own life experiences and perspicacity. I discern that films are an art form, the most enticing of all, and art is subjective. But is it, though? This very aspect, made I Lost My Body diverge and stand apart from everything else I’ve ever seen.

Art portends something and each one’s interpretation of it differs. So, what did I interpret from the film? The film is a portrait of life. Life is arduous and is glutted with hurdles. But it is also about those little joys which show up betwixt marathons of sorrow and sadness.

As the hand skirmishes to find its way back to its owner, a whole life passes by in front of our eyes. Coming out of a refrigerator, experiencing the first sunset, escaping being run over by a train, fighting with rats, the struggle, and whatnot. It’s almost like every struggle or even lesser than what Naoufel faced all alone in the world. Because, its a part of him all alone in the world by itself, just like him.

What haunts me about the film is its music by Dan Levy. I’m confounded to chose a word which fittingly construes my feelings for the music. In short, I don’t know the words to describe what I feel when I hear the soundtrack. It’s not a piece of happy music. It is neither melodramatic nor sad. It reverbs hope and light. But also apprises the darkness. It is deep. But it makes me float on the ocean of thoughts. It is heartbreaking. But it also warms the same heart. It is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. 

Listen to a piece from soundtrack.

10 minutes into the film, all I wanted to see was the hand. Both severed and attached. It was a painting coming to life on a giant screen and taking me on a ride of a lifetime for 81 minutes, and all I had to do was just sit there without blinking. Now that is the magic of a well-made movie. Thank you, Jérémy Clapin and Guillaume Laurant, for bringing this epic onto the big screen, which I was privileged to watch on.

I Lost My Body(J’ai perdu mon corps) releases on Netflix on November 6th. Do yourself a favour and kindly watch it. You have never seen anything like this, ever.

Watch the trailer of the film:

To build your curiosity, watch a highly intriguing clip from the film:

Joker – The King of Comedy Who Drives A Taxi

Contains spoilers of Taxi Driver, The King of comedy and *clears throat* Joker.

I have assumed that you have either seen Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy or you have no interest in seeing those.

For beginners- Both Taxi Driver and The King of comedy are Martin Scorsese directorials written by Paul Schrader and Paul Zimmerman

The King of Comedy is about Rupert Pupkin, a struggling comedian who desperately craves to break into the comedy scene. He aspires to become the king of comedy, which he blazons himself to be. Rupert is an ardent fan of Jerry Langford, the numero Uno late-night talk show host of ‘The Jerry Langford Show’. It is Rupert’s dream to perform on Jerry’s show. He is obsessed with it even though we, as the audience feel it is will-o’-the-wisp. Throughout the film, we see him being disregarded, ignored and dismissed. He is a broken person who lives in a fantasy, which he hankers to turn into reality some day. There is a brilliant sequence in which he actually lives it out, we know that it is a fantasy. But to Rupert, it’s not. What I loved about this person is his ability to not give a damn about anything. All that matters to the funny man is to make people laugh. And how does he do that? Just by sharing all the terrible things he has experienced over the course of his life. That’s because his tragedy is actually a comedy to others and Rupert knows this. And when he ultimately performs, his act is all about his tragic and traumatizing life experiences, and this leaves the audience in splits. Unequivocal proof that one’s tragedy is a comedy to others. The message is explicit. And Rupert Popkin finally achieves this. He becomes The King of Comedy. Remember this.

A shot from Rupert’s act.
The scene in which Rupert fantasizes his appearance on the show.

7 years priors, in 1976, Taxi Driver intimately followed Travis Bickle, who is, you know, a taxi driver, suffering from insomnia. Travis is infatuated to Betsy, whom he thinks is not as cold and inhumane as the rest of the world. After meeting her, he subsequently asks her out for a movie, to which she consents. Lucky Travis, right? Almost but no. Travis takes her to watch a porn movie, terribly offending and making her leave in disgust. Failing to persuade her to give him one more chance, Travis confronts her and declares she is cold, just like everyone out there. The society befalls down further in his eyes when he sees a young girl, Iris, being forced into prostitution. Very nonchalantly, he skids into insanity and plans to assassinate the presidential candidate, whose office Betsy works for. And what happens in the end, really doesn’t matter to our conversation.

Now, what if Rupert Pumpkin had not become the King of comedy? What if he remained the uncared soul that he has been throughout his life, for the rest of his days? Would the failure and loneliness drive him insane like it did to Travis?

Travis Bickle

With Joker, Todd Phillips(director & writer) and Scott Silver(Writer) study these possibilities through Arthur Fleck.

Gazing at the parallels, Arthur, who has spent his entire life in Gotham City, works as a clown and is looking forward to building a career as a standup comedian. His mother, Penny, is the only one whose life would have an impact if Arthur dies. Rest of the world wouldn’t spend a second to look back, Arthur and I are on the same page on this one. Penny calls her son ‘happy’, literally. One thing which the man is clearly not. Arthur’s world is frantic, despairing, depressing, and is completely hopeless. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. The very first time we see him is when he is putting on paint and is pulling his lips apart to make him smile. Putting on a happy face, literally, as a tear rolls down his eye. As he gets to work and starts dancing to entertain people on the street, not one of them actually spares a glance. Moreover, he is picked by a gang of guys and is beaten down in an ally. He is broke and lying on the ground when the title ‘JOKER’ appears. That is what he is, a broken man.

The opening shot of the movie. Arthur putting on make-up.
When the title appears…

Arthur has mental issues, or he is told so, and so are we. However, I strongly feel his transformation into Joker is not completely attributed to his Mental illness. Partially? Y

Mqybe. Completely? Absolutely no. Arthur quits his medications early on in the film, but we see him trying to cope up with people and situations. Call back to a scene where he meets Thomas Wayne and tries to talk to him. When the conversation diverts to money, he angrily questions Wayne, why is he and everyone in the world like this? Just like Travis! This scene seemed strikingly similar to Travis’s confrontation with Betsy, which ends with Tom forcing Travis out of the office. What appeared to be Arthur being kicked out of the theatre, in the teaser of Joker, was missing from the final film. Thomas Wayne might have got Arthur tossed out. Who knows? Todd Phillips does. This was a major trigger to both Travis and Arthur to choose the path they did.

The shot from the trailer which is not in the film. Thomas Wayne has Arthur thrown out of the theatre.

Can I say that Rupert Popcorn was suffering from delusional psychosis, like Arthur? Because Arthur illusions life with Sophie and Rupert does the same. Rupert’s delusions are grander. One is less explicit than the other, but it is what it is. Having seen The King of Comedy after Joker, it bugged me whether the ending is real or another one of Rupert Pipkin’s episodes. You can call it the Joker effect. Or, is it Rupert that is affecting Arthur?

Arthur too finally realizes that his life which appears to be a tragedy is indeed, a comedy. Even his act has him recall personal moments from his childhood. But sadly, the reactions from the audience is contrasting to what Rupert received. It is moments like this, spread over 2 hours that makes him the supervillain. It doesn’t happen in one instance. That is what makes Joker special.

I felt Arthur’s pain. Maybe because I have been and at times feel alone. I have dreams, and I do imagine myself living in those. We all have been alone at some point or other, right? We all have dreams, don’t we? And all of us want them to come true. Does that make us, the dreamers, Rupert Pupkin?

To conclude, I want Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy and Joker existing in each of the universes the movies are set in, so Travis, Rupert, and Arthur could watch each others’ films and learn from them. I guess Arthur would have learnt a couple of lessons on comedy from Rupert in addition to the spirit of not giving up. That would be interesting considering how Travis and Rupert would react to watching their look-alike on screen. (For beginners: Robert De Niro played Travis and Rupert in Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy respectively. In addition, he played Murray Franklin, a late-night talk show host)

Before I end, I have to appreciate how amazing Joaquin Phoenix was. His performance felt soo authentic that I was sad for Phoenix as much I was for Fleck. It was only after I saw a couple of his interviews post-release, gave me relief watching him smile and talk to people casually.

Watch director Todd Phillips break down the opening scene:

Velaiyilla Pattathari(VIP) – Convictions, Hostel and the Music

July 30, 2014 – I entered the hostel of my engineering college that was going to be my home for the next 4 years. The hostel had awfully draconian rules, at least on paper. The most horrendous one was – No mobile phones allowed. We were allowed to have a music player, though, and I had a Philips GoGear Mix, that could accommodate 4GB of music. My taste of music was extremely mainstream, only the popular Hindi and Telugu film music. Yet, I had music for 3GB comprising of the said music in my Nokia E-63. I transferred all my music to Mix and had a cool pair of matching skull candy earphones, which I used to shamelessly show off. Utterly unprepared and unsure of my future, I entered the hostel. Wait, did I tell that the college was in Chennai? And that everyone around spoke Tamil? That’s where the fun and fear began. I, on the other hand, was from Andhra where I grew up before moving to Mumbai, then, Surat and then to Pune, where I did my 12th from. So, Chennai was not in the RADAR. I couldn’t speak Tamil and was being thrown into a zone I have neither been before nor ever wanted to be in. But, that’s how it happened. And I have to say, being a Telugu helped. I found Tamil pretty similar to my mother tongue. Anyway, coming back to the hostel, they screened a movie for hostelites every Saturday provided there were no exams around the corner, which would become the case in the future. This was the part I was super thrilled for.

It was August 2nd, the first-ever Saturday in the hostel. Me, along with a newly made friend of mine, went to the proclaimed open-air auditorium where the lawn was the seating area. I had a minimal knowledge of Tamil cinema most of which came in from watching dubbed versions of Tamil films in Telugu and Hindi. Anniyan, which was Aparichithudu in Telugu, was my favourite Tamil movie back then. So, I silently sat among the crowd of homesick teenagers waiting for the movie to begin. But, we had bonus content waiting for us, songs! As the trending songs played one after the other, I kept bothering my friend with my questions about each song – who is the hero? When did this movie release? Was this a hit? And many irrelevant ones, which he patiently answered.

Then began THE film. THE film that would change my prefixed notion of Tamil cinema. THE film that would make me fall in love with Tamil cinema. THE film that made me realize sensibility and masala can coexist. And most importantly, THE film which gave me songs that I would listen for the years to come.

It was R. Velraj’s Velaiyilla Pattathari(VIP), extraordinarily contradictory and kind of satirical title for the first movie to be screened for a new batch of engineering students.

I asked my friend what it meant.

He replied, “Graduate with no job”.

“Oh. That’s the name? Okay”, I responded, as I kept wondering that it’s a crime to screen a pirated copy of the film to a crowd.

I actually had some expectations set for the film, my roommate (who would later become one of my closest friends in life) was an ardent fan of Dhanush and had told me that evening that it was a great movie when I asked him about it as I was curious to know what movie would they be playing.

The very first shot of the movie is the protagonist’s father waking up his son, who has been unemployed for four years after completing Civil engineering. And the ‘hero’, whose name is Raghuvaran, is introduced as he wakes up with a sleepy and dull face. This is the very first time we see the hero. Going by the norm, the hero’s introduction is a celebration and has them flying with colours, literally. This was pretty different for a film that is led by a South star. I could understand it in bits and pieces, but I started to like it from the very first scene.

The opening scene

There is a very generic conversation between the son and mother. The mother seems to have a solution to her son’s unemployment. She just wants him to be cleanly shaven.

Raghuvaran, for those not familiar with south cinema, was an actor iconic for his negative roles. There is even a brilliant call-out to this fact when a frustrated Raghuvaran (from this film) bursts out at his parents for naming him after a villain but his brother, after a hero, Karthik. I didn’t know who Karthik was, but I laughed hard. These conversations are my favourite thing about VIP. It’s been more than 5 years since I first saw it, but I remember every line that comes out of Raghu’s mouth. A scene that gives the essence of the film is when Raghu is deep thought of earning money. We also see a drafter beside his bed. He calls his brother and asks him to switch on the fan and then asks the question thathe wants to.

Till then, I didn’t know that Tamil films were this light-hearted. All that would come to my mind was people in white veshtis holding a sword(which I would come to know in future, is called Aruva) and killing each other. Another opinion I had on Tamil cinema was how masala films rely on violence and melodrama. VIP changed it. For Tamils, it might be just another entertainer. For me, it’s an eye-opener that there is a lot which I had no idea about. All of this only after showing the best kind of masala entertainment.

The writing of the film is brilliant and had me floored. The fact that it was written, shot and directed by a former cinematographer is just mind-boggling. There is smartness in the dialogues all over. The screenplay never rushes to go to the mass scenes. It takes its time. And when the mass actually happens, it was quite dfferent that anything I saw before. A couple of goons come and beat up Raghuvaran in his house as his helpless mother stands and watches them thrashing her son. A couple of flower pots are broken too, to the dismay of the mother. When Raghu realizes that his father is not at home, he slowly asks his mother why couldn’t she say it a little earlier. And this sets up the first fight of the movie. In the sit-out area of a normal residential area. It’s soo simple that a couple of flower pots are all that is broken again and the mom is super serious about it! This simplicity is what every other movie misses.

While the crowd around me was laughing and enjoying the movie, the first real cheers came in for the slow-motion kick that Raghu lands on a thug. This slow-motion kick would later become famous in my hostel, at least in my room as the VIP kick. The said slow motion stood out because of the film’s second hero. Wait, did I mention that VIP is a multistarrer? Then another hero of this film with an equally important role is Anirudh, and it’s incredible that he doesn’t appear on the screen at all but is the backbone of the film.

FYI: He is the same person who composed ‘Why this Kolaveri di.’

Each and every piece from the music album is gold. What-a-karuvaad, Amma Amma, Udhungada Sangu, and smiling with pain are my favourites. Generally, background music is used to enhance and elevate the emotion of the scene. The employment of background score in VIP is no different. But, the background score over the years got an identity for itself. Being frank, just recalling the background score today makes me all nostalgic. Listening to it is a private screening of VIP in my mind. Very few background scores have this impact.

The VIP kick. And yeah, I can hear this image.

I’ll just give you an example: Raghuvaran after a messed up interview comes out of the office frustrated and throws the file in his hand on the road. Shalini (Amala Paul, who is his neighbour but not a love interest at that point), who is on the other side of the road, observes this and calls him. Raghu’s mood, after looking at the phone, shifts from frustration to relief. It feels like she is the only good thing to him at that point in his life. All this happens under a minute, and it’s the music that is actually the MVP of this scene.

The mother’s death hit me hard. Oh boy! That is not something a homesick guy should see on the first-ever weekend in a hostel. The song that follows, Amma Amma deals with the effect the homemaker’s death has on the house. It’s not just people sitting in a corner and crying. That’s what I expected to happen considering my prefixed mindset of Tamil films. Yes, that part is there. But it is minimal. But it changed whatever I had in mind about Tamil cinema.

The second half of the film should be used as a textbook for the current filmmakers who miserably fail when it comes to making a mass movie. When Raghu challenges the bad guy, you feel that he is getthu(a word that is somewhere close to thug-life and next range) because Raghu has been a failure his whole life and is becoming a hero now. In a regular masala movie, we are told that the hero is a boy-next-door, but is it really the case? No. The hero is unemployed in most of the films, or the writer doesn’t know what he does. All his friends and society worships him. But not Raghu, he is dismissed by society, no one values him, and Raghu knows this. So, when this guy becomes THE hero and mouths punch dialogues, it gives a kick for real and makes you cheer for him. All this was possible because of Velraj’s flawless writing.

Yes. To me, VIP is a perfect film because there was no reference movie for me to compare to when I saw it. Yes, I’m biased. VIP was the best Tamil movie I saw back then and still is one of the greatest achievements in Tamil cinema.

After a crowd pleasing fight in the climax, the hero and villain talk it over like to youngsters would. The hero even apologises the villain had he done something wrong. I say again, the brilliance of VIP lies in it’s simplicity to acknowledge the simplicity and celebrate the common man.

VIP was a yardstick for me to compare Tamil films that released over the next few years cause it had the set the standard of Tamil cinema soo high in my mind.

More importantly, when I went home for that independence day weekend, 2 weeks later, I downloaded the complete album and loaded them into my GoGear Mix. Thus, beginning my love affair with Tamil music and cinema. In the last 5 years, Mix died, I changed 5 phones, but the album has remained with me irrespective of the devices. When my first semester results had come out and I’d cleared all the subjects, I listened to what-a-karuvaad to celebrate. When I’d cleared a job interview in the final year, on my way back to hostel from the office, I listened to Udhungada Sangu! I was celebrating that I won’t be a VIP! Had I not cleared that interview, I would have sadly & proudly listened to the title song. At the end of the day, which movie celebrates and gives the unemployed, an identity? Unknowingly, VIP has been a part of my life for the past 5 years and will continue to be so despite getting fluent in Tamil and watching a ton of new and older Tamil films.

After the movie finished, I remember jumping with excitement “wow!”, “This is brilliant”, “is this a hit?”, to which my friend continued calmly answering and even dropped some trivia that Dhanush himself produced it, the low budget it was made on, etc. I felt happy about life and had hope that I can pull off those years! All because of a movie!

Everyone has a prefixed mindset about everything, which might not be right. But it is not wrong as well, we are human beings. All it takes to break it is one moment of realization, and for me, it took 140 minutes to realize how Tamil cinema is more than the flying cars, sword fights and all other bull shit. Remember, it takes only a moment.

To end it – Velaiyilla Pattathari is how I expect a film to be made. Sensible, thought provoking, memorable, and most importantly – entertaining as hell!

Fun fact: My friend who I saw this with shares his name with Raghuvaran’s brother’s.

Listen to the music here – https://www.jiosaavn.com/album/velaiyilla-pattathari/OlcoyL1Ed9Y_

BONUS:

So these are some of the songs which were shown before the movie.

Machi, open the bottle(Mankatha, 2011)
Vaanganna Vanakanganna(Thalaiva, 2013)
Title song of VVS(VVS, 2013)
Maanja(Maan Karate, 2014)
Mississippi (Biriyani, 2014)
And, teaser of Anjaan(2014) Remember?

Note: All the images used are screenshots from the film’s telugu version on youtube.