Nov 28, 2008

Mumbai My Life

The horrifying terrorist attacks in Mumbai are still going on. Reaching 48 hours now. Many speculations, many stories, many emotions. One of the issues will be how the city is collectively going to process this trauma. This made me think of a movie I saw recently, Mumbai Meri Jaan (Mumbai my life, 2008) by Nishikanth Kamath.
I would say this movie is an Indian version of Crash. It revolves around the lives of different people that come together because of the terrorist attack on the Mumbai train on 11 july 2006. Over 200 people lost their lives then. The movie is original and touching in the sense that it is not so much about the blast itself, but about a few people dealing with its impact. At the same time it is a movie about the way media deals with these happenings. A big newschannel wants to cover the horrors and at the same time get the most viewers.
The movie opens with a speech of Nehru, who adresses the public about the awakening of India. In the context of the images to come the speech gets a different meaning. Maybe 'the nation' is not able to provide security for all. And maybe it is more the people themselves that have to learn how to live together. No one is going to do that for them. Mumbai Meri Jaan shows how the people of this mega-city struggle, but that human contact is possible.
In the light of the terror currently happening, Mumbai Meri Jaan is an important movie and could help the people in talking about their experiences. I wish the city inspiration for finding connections between people, instead of further clashes and divisions.
By the way, the title refers to the classis song Bombay meri Jaan from the movie CID. It already said that living in a big city is difficult, with so many material things and danger around. Apparently it can not be sung and shown enough...

Nov 14, 2008

Paper Flowers

Guru Dutt (1925-1964) is seen as one of the main directors from the golden age of Hindi cinema, the 50's. He was someone with the gift to make movies that were commercial as well as artistic, to use those two container terms. Besides being a director, he loved to play the main roles in is own films as well, in a style that perhaps reminds us of
Perhaps the most famous movie was Pyaasa (The thirsty one, 1957).
Dutt was not the most happy filmmaker though. This is best illustrated with his movie Kagaz Ke Phool (Paper Flowers, 1959).
We see Dutt playing the highly respected film director Suresh who is looking for a leading actress in the upcoming production Devdas (a movie that has been made 9 times in India so far). His marriage is broken, his daughter lives in a hostel. He only lives for the movies. After finding the girl Shanti, the beautiful Waheeda Rehman was his real-life muse as well, they start shooting. But in the meanwhile the two lost souls fall in love with each other. This is the start of a long slide downwards. Because of his love for her, he can't shoot the movie how he wants, and because of the show that must go on, he can't commit his love to her. His other movie is a big flop; he sees a furious audience leaving the cinema halfway.He gets fired by the production house, he loses the court case over the courtesy of his daughter, and Shanti is asked to leave by a third person who tries to save the movie. With 'bollywood hope' we assume that things will be allright, but they don't. Suresh gets more lonely, and Shantis trials of getting back to him fail. In the end we get back to where the movie started, an old man wandering through an empty studio. We now know the old man is Suresh, who wanted to visit 'his world' once more. The next morning he is found dead, sitting in the director's chair.
Kagaz ke phool is a movie about loneliness. We see a movie director wanting to infuse his work with pure passion, the love of a woman. But when passion becomes obsession, it is not unifiable anymore with commercial cinema, where roses are fake. Nothing more than paper flowers.
The movie is also clearly a movie about Guru Dutt himself. His love for Waheeda Rehman, and his actual broken marriage are well-known.
The movie shows his fight between wanting to make the greatest movie ever, and an industry that only allows for a certain amount of passion. Dutt must have seen himself as a dreamer, for whom there is no place in a commercial world. It is because of these thematics that this movie has to be watched even today.
And then there is reality again. Kagaz ke phool was a big flop, and apparently Guru Dutt could not take this. It lead to an even bigger depression than he was already in. Three years later Dutt was found dead in his room, with next to him the remains of pills and alcohol. Few say it was an accident.
His black and white movies are beautifully lit; stark contrasts that create gloomy atmospheres. It is this lighting that might also have reflected his thinking. When asked about the failure of Kagaz Ke Phool and the succes of another he said: "What is there in life, friend? There are only two things - success and failure. There is nothing in between." (
The following song illustrates everything above. We see the director in a push-and-pull scene with Waheeda Rehman. And to make things more intense, it is sung by Dutt's wife, Geeta Dutt. Can it be more intense?