Filmistaan [2013)

I consider it an auspicious sign that my survey of Indian cinema begins in earnest with the masterpiece Filmistaan.

Do not mistake this piece of cinema for a half-baked idea.

Do not even attempt to lower it by calling it a comedy.

And not least, do not think only of India.

I wanted to come up with a catchy pigeonhole.

Indian Subcontinent.

The Subcontinent.

But I have too much respect for the great traditions of Bollywood (and Lollywood) to do such a thing.

And so this is very much an Indian film.

India.

And it is very much a comedy.

So funny!

But it is touching in a way to which few films can ever aspire.

Filmistaan, like Roberto Benigni’s magnum opus La vita è bella, takes on a very serious subject with the best weapon of all:  humor.

But instead of the Holocaust, we get the Partition.

And yet, Filmistaan is not some laborious period piece.

[leave that to the artless Spielbergs]

No, our film addresses the tension between India and Pakistan in the most deft, feather-light manner imaginable.

And for this we have to thank a new auteur on the world stage:  Nitin Kakkar.

I say “new” because Mr. Kakkar has not been graced with the honor of his own Wikipedia page in English yet.

Well, he is wholly deserving of that honor (based on Filmistaan alone).

But Mr. Kakkar had to have magical actors to pull this off.

Luckily for him, he did!

Sharib Hashmi is undoubtedly the star of this picture.

His performance as Sunny goes from the highest highs of emotion to the lowest lows.

It is truly remarkable.

Mr. Hashmi is about one month older than me.

40 years old.

Perhaps that’s why I identified with his youthful optimism and passionate devotion to cinema.

But to understand our film, we must first locate Rajasthan on a map.

It is the biggest state in India.

It is northwest.

And it borders Pakistan.

To understand Rajasthan, we must comprehend the Thar Desert.

Most of the Thar Desert is in Rajasthan, but it extends somewhat into Pakistan.

These are all important details in understanding our film.

Rajasthan is arid.

Like the American Southwest, it’s a good place to get lost…or kidnapped.

But friends are to be found in the most unlikely places.

And the friendship of shared interest, such as two cinema devotees, knows no borders.

For Mr. Hashmi, the brilliance of his performance depends on the artful support he receives from fellow-actor Inaamulhaq.

But let’s examine the divide between India and Pakistan for a moment.

It is a fact that a man from Peshawar (if he speaks Urdu) can communicate with a man from Delhi (if he speaks Hindi).

Peshawar, of course, is in Pakistan.

Indeed, it’s so far into Pakistan that it’s almost in Afghanistan.

Delhi, of course, is in India.

It is in the north-central part of the country.

It is, further, not essential that the two talkers hypothesized above be men.

The salient detail is that Hindi and Urdu are essentially the same language (in their spoken forms).

This is vital to understanding Filmistaan.

But continuing, the two languages could not look more different once they are written down.

[Which is to say, the two hypothesized men might be at loggerheads were they forced to communicate with pen and paper]

Urdu looks similar to its written forebear Farsi (the language of Iran) [which is itself a descendent of Arabic script].

To put it quite simply, a neophyte like myself would probably have a difficult time telling the difference between Urdu, Persian (Farsi), and Arabic.

Hindi is in the wholly different Devanagari script.

You will not confuse written Urdu and Hindi.

It’s at least as obvious as Picasso to Pollock (if not Warhol to Rembrandt).

But enough analogies.

Why should you watch Filmistaan?

Well, for one…it’s currently on Netflix.

Yes, ever since I have joined the streaming service, I have ventured to be a more “worthwhile” film critic by giving you relatively-spoiler-free reviews of current titles to be found on the U.S. version of the site.

But that’s only the beginning.

Yes, there are wonderful performances from Kumud Mishra and Gopal Dutt (as well as a plethora of fine supporting actors).

But the real reason is that Filmistaan expresses the sublime.

The context is terrorism.

The context is border tension.

Indeed, on the Indian Subcontinent, the context is two nuclear states.

Pakistan and India.

But the context goes back.

To Jinnah and Nehru.

And the threads bind.

Cricket.  Cinema.  Music.

There is an excellent example in Filmistaan which illustrates the situation.

Dilip Kumar.

Now 94 years old.

Like my hypothetical man from earlier, born in Peshawar.

Then a part of “Pre-Independence India”.

Now a part of Pakistan.

Bordering Afghanistan.

In Filmistaan, Inaamulhaq knows him as Sir Yusuf.

Sunny knows him as Dilip.

Dilip Kumar was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan in Peshawar in 1922.

Sir Yusuf.

Dilip Kumar.

Same person.

It’s like the World Wars.

fenêtre in French

das Fenster in German

window.

/\

fenêtre /\ Fenster

But when you look through a window (or a border), everything can look backwards.

You’re so close, in reality.

But you’re reading the word as if in a mirror.

Nitin Kakkar directed a masterpiece with Filmistaan because he put his heart and soul into evoking peace.

There are no winners in a nuclear war.

And peace is a rare commodity on the world stage.

Geopolitics…

But we must reach out that hand.

And shake it.

I congratulate Nitin Kakkar and Sharib Hashmi for their dedication.

It is evident.

Though I speak neither Hindi nor Urdu, I was able to watch.

And understand.

I needed the subtitles.

But sublime emotions may be mutually intelligible across cultures.

What a film!

-PD

Rocky [1976)

Here we have a great film.

From an actor with whom I was so lucky as to work on one occasion.

Sylvester Stallone.

It was an honor.

And yet, I didn’t really get it.

That this movie, Rocky, was so central to the American dream.

But it’s more than that.

It’s the backdrop of Philadelphia.

The streets.

The eggs.

The meat.

The iron gates you gotta kick open.

And the screenless door you gotta reach around.

It’s the machete stuck in the wall.

And the black leather jacket to hang over the handle.

The knife stabbed into the wall.

And the black fedora that hangs on it.

But most of all it is Talia Shire.

To offset the brutality of boxing.

A shy soul.

In kitty cat glasses.

It’s the pet store.

The failed jokes.

The parakeets like flying candy.

And Butkus the dog.

You know, I don’t hear so well…because I got punched too many times…taking my best shot at music.

And so I’m a bum…but I got into the arena for a good 15 years.

And those final four…when I was a contender.

When I met Sylvester Stallone.

I was standing next to greatness.

A great actor.  A great figure in film history.

We are taught to denigrate our American movies.

That they could never be as good as the French.

But the American films inspired the French.

It was Truffaut and company took Hitchcock from novelty to pantheon.

But it’s shy Talia.

Telling a story.  A real love.

Getting up in years.  And maybe she’s retarded.

Maybe he’s dumb.

But to him she’s the prettiest star.

And he perseveres.

However many rounds it takes.

Because fate has called him to one woman.

Why does he fight, she asks.

It’s a big obstacle.

For Rocky and Adrian to overcome the awkwardness of their collective insecurities.

For them to communicate.

But it’s such a beautiful story.

Pithy.  Gritty.

When Pauly throws the Thanksgiving turkey out into the alley.

It’s dysfunction.  Dysfunction everywhere.

Abusive meat packing desperation.

Always an ass pocket full of whiskey.

And just a favor to the loan shark.

I can break thumbs.

But you don’t wanna do that.

The protector.

In the world of crime, but not of the world of crime.

Poor, simple icebox.  Some cupcakes.

Never enough beer.  Anywhere.

And the genius of spectacle comes along.

Carl Weathers.  Like Clyde Drexler.

Reading The Wall Street Journal.

Like Trump…thinking big…and juxtaposing entities.

To speak to the sentimental.  Sentimental.

Because you don’t wanna be known as a whore.

It’s that reputation.  A hard lesson.

Big brother to a little sister.

You don’t wanna smoke.

Make yer teeth yellow.

Breath rotten.

But you gotta work.

To stay in this game.

Train.  Train.  Train.

And maybe you get one shot.

It all comes down to this.

Burgess Meredith like Rod Marinelli.

The wisdom of hard knock cracks.

But we like ice skating.

$10 for ten minutes.

A date.

A tip.

When you give life back to a prisoner of home.

When you give love to a lonely fighter.

Misunderstood.

Rough around the edges.

Desperation of poverty Pauly.

Makes us all a little crazy to be so trapped economically.

But God has called you to greatness.

And will you answer that call?

Can you imagine the career?

Is anything at all clear?

We only know tenacity.

Fighting till the very end.

Hospital and next day Pentagon basement.

Be an expert for your country.

So many skills needed for a nation to flourish.

Trust.

Go the distance is not just Field of Dreams (another great sporting film).

Going the distance.  Till the very end.  Tour of duty.

God, please get me back home.

We’re so close now.

You’ll have to cut me so I can see.

“When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez” and you only want to hear her say “I love you”.

And she you.

You made it.

You lost by decision.  But you proved it to yourself.

That you could go the full fifteen rounds with the best.

The best and brightest.

That you could be the shy, awkward bum to overcome.

Don’t say that.

You’re not a bum.

We want.  Need.  That positive reinforcement.

When the whole world tells us we’re losers.

You won by keeping going.  Every day.

 

-PD

 

British Sounds/See You at Mao [1969)

Bloody fucking bollocks!

I’ve wanted to say that for a long time.  I’ve said it before.  But it looks better in writing.

It has a sort of permanence to it.  Yet we never know.

Why the non sequitur expletive?  Because this film is a brilliant expletive deleted.

Long ago…in a galaxy…in OUR galaxy, as a matter of fact,

there were some clever blokes (?) who called themselves the Dziga-Vertov Group.

Chief among them, of course, was Jean-Luc Godard.

But it is telling that he wanted his celebrity subsumed by something greater than himself.

Ach, Gott!  Fuck this.  I have caught myself slipping into a routine voice.

A routine voice will tell you nothing about this film.

And so we come to the crux of this experiment:  struggle.

Film is a struggle between images and sounds.

In a Godard film, even images struggle amongst themselves in a feeding frenzy.

It is a manifestation of a mind trying to process the unfathomable complexity of the world.

In the film under review, it is especially the sounds which cannibalize one another.

But this is not new in Godard films.  Always, ALWAYS…there is a plethora of content.

Like a honey ant ready to explode.

[                                                      ] Space left intentionally blank.

Analogous to paragraph.

If you are thinking poetry,

you are not far off.

We miss the mark daily.  It is not a Christian confession.

There is not a way to look over the summary to this film on Wikipedia.

In that sense, I am offering a service.

Yet, I am giving you a very subjective, personal impression of this film.

I write film criticism which strives to harmonize with each individual film under consideration.

In other words, each film must be reviewed differently.

There really isn’t, despite a tendency to the contrary towards generalization, such thing as

a film like all the rest.

Yet I have my patois.  My schtick.

Take it or leave it.

Only know that the message is under continually scrutiny.

Self-criticism of film criticism in a controlled system seeking to explain it all.

If you are looking for the answer to the question,

“Who’s in control?,”

the answer is,

“No one’s in control.”

I’m sure my friends at the CIA will agree with me on this.

To clarify, I have no friends at the CIA (that I know of).

Speaking sequentially and descriptively with deference to “plot” is useless here.

We have lost the plot.  [Thank God!]

And so a guitar can change he world.

And some extremely-advanced students can change some Beatles lyrics (months after The White Album was released).

You must struggle in the mud.  Mud and blood.  Le sable et le sang.  Rimbaud.

I failed miserably.

And she was hoisted into the air on a Panavision boom.

Nude ascending a staircase.

This just in…THREE LEVELLERS SHOT BY CROMWELL IN BURFORD…

ORIOLES DEFEAT WHITE SOX IN BOURGEOIS VACUUM

Ah,…now I am weeping for the revolution…or for the auteur.

But the auteur has given us a lasting oeuvre.

Was Truffaut’s only English-language film Fahrenheit 451?

It matters.  Here.  …et ailleurs.

I am weeping for the old auteur…before he’s even gone.

And next I will view but not review.

Solely my own experience.  To remember where I started.  (which is basically where I am at this very second)

I have not moved an inch.

It is essential to see British Sounds.  To hear British Sounds.

As an English speaker.  In April 2015.  You won’t even need the Italian subtitles.

They are telling us we are losers.  THEY they.

I have no message.  “Too many messages.”  –Harry Partch

I am just floating on the waves of free association.

Go on:  call me an amateur.

A lover , not a fighter…who didn’t claw his way up to gargle in the rat-race choir.

He lives.  Let me check.

He lives.

Regardless.

And we have no way of communicating with our fellow man.  The life sucked out of the 21st century.

This is by design.

“Separation is the alpha and the omega of the spectacle.”  –Guy Debord

I present the conspiratorial view of history applied to cinema.

Paranoid nonfiction.  I have never read Dick.

Quicker than you can say Jack Robinson.  The difficulties.

Such a quintessentially British euphemism.

The Troubles.  Northern Ireland.

We know nothing.  It’s not as easy as shot/reverse/shot.

It’s like the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ).

KGB calling it a CIA false flag.

Need we remind the perceptive reader of world history that Dr. Ewen Cameron was being paid by the CIA to carry out hideous psychiatric experiments at the Allan Memorial Institute on the grounds of McGill University in Montreal as part of Project MKUltra over a period of time which overlapped with the activities of the FLQ? That is established fact and not a conjecture with which the KGB had any connection.

And so the question becomes, as Godard and co-director Jean-Henri Roger ask, [to paraphrase] “Is Marx the best weapon with which to confront the situation before us?”

Baltimore is haunted by the past (capitalism).  China is haunted by the present (vestigial communism).  In America there is no present moment (minus the times when reality erupts within the spectacle).  In China there is no past.  Not really.  It is forbidden.  Communism requires the primacy of the present moment.  History is history.  Gone.  Capitalism requires the continuation of the past.  Inheritance.  Both suffer from the status quo.  Capitalism is no longer capitalism…and communism is no longer communism.  The great irony is that monopoly capitalism and totalitarian socialism are no longer easily distinguishable (if they ever were).  Why more people don’t seek out the power elite of this two-sided conspiracy coin is beyond me.

Fear.  Fear prevents us.  Only the dispossessed have what is called courage.  Rage.  Courage.

-PD