May 042016
 

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(image source : here)

Facebook tells me, it is Star Wars day.

This is how mythology begins. Wait a thousand years, and see it being transformed into a religion, replete with a ‘God’, good and evil, heroes and villains, and most importantly, an organised clergy that helps perpetuate it.

 

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And, it has already begun.

There is a Temple of the Jedi Order that is the main stay of the ‘religious’ movement. it defines itself as follows,

Jediism is a religion based on the observance of the Force, a ubiquitous and metaphysical power that a Jedi (a follower of Jediism) believes to be the underlying, fundamental nature of the universe. Jediism finds its roots in philosophies similar to those presented in an epic space opera called “Star Wars”. It is a religion in and of itself.

The Jedi religion is an inspiration and a way of life for many people throughout the world who take on the mantle of Jedi. Jedi apply the principles, ideals, philosophies and teachings of Jediism in a practical manner within their lives. Real Jedi do not worship George Lucas or Star Wars or anything of the sort. Jediism is not based in fiction, but we accept myth as a sometimes more practical mean of conveying philosophies applicable to real life.

There are, of course,  the 21 maxims of Jediism.

All in all, it has aims that are quite noble, and it doesn’t ask too much of its followers. Which possibly explains why people are choosing it in many countries. New Zealand, Great Britain, Australia, Canada to start with. In Turkey, students are demanding that the Jedi Temple be allowed on University Campus’, along with Mosques.

Any religion that has Han Solo as a defender, and possibly a future icon to whom believers offer prayers, cannot be too bad. I am not quite sure how future followers will deal with Jar Jar Binks, or with the Ewoks; but, i can see Chewie having a pride of place, as would R2D2 and 3PO.

In centuries to come the Great War between the Sith and the Jedi will go into mythology as a religious war.  The Battle for Endor will have ballads written for it, and Darth Vadar would possible be part of the holy pantheon (as opposed to the unholy one). There will be a cult of the Emperor, and other Sith Lords; and I can see  orders devoted to both, and religious wars will continue. It is human nature to fight. People will fight about this too. But, for now the religion remains mostly harmless, and kind of goofy.

My favorite story on this comes from Wikipedia,

In 2008, 23-year-old Daniel Jones founded the Church of Jediism with his brother Barney, believing that the 2001 UK census recognised Jediism as a religion, and that there were “more Jedi than Scientologists in Britain”.[10] In 2009, Jones was removed from a Tesco supermarket in Bangor, North Wales, for refusing to remove his hood on a religious basis. The owner justified Jones’s ejection by saying, “He hasn’t been banned. Jedis are very welcome to shop in our stores although we would ask them to remove their hoods.Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood.

All in all, it sounds like good fun, and a joke gone wrong (or right, depending on your point of view).

Apr 182016
 

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I can’t remember if I saw, the original Jungle Book on television, or in the cinema hall. But, i remember watching it the first time, with complete delight. I loved the characters – Bagheera, the panther who is Mowgli‘s guardian angel in the jungle, Baloo – the sloth bear who had nary a care in the world; the vultures like the Beatles, and of course, the George Sanders voiced Sher Khan – who was as menacing as a Disney film would let him be. Since the first viewing, i have seen the film many, many times – along with the other Disney favorite, Dumbo – and cried buckets of tears each single time, when Mowgli approaches the prone form of Baloo.

The 2016 adaptation of Jungle Book is not a fun and frolic run through the jungles, like the earlier avtaar. It is a film for a grittier, more violent world – where nothing is what it seems.

The story remains the same. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) , human cub, brought up by a pack of wolves, has to be returned to the ‘man village’ before Sher Khan (the man-eating tiger)  kills him. Bagheera volunteers to do the needful.  Along, the way there are many adventures and old favorites return in a new avtaar.

Scarlet Johansen as the python Kaa is quite fantastic

Christopher Walken plays King Louie, with the kind of manic psychoticness that only he can bring to a role. The sheer insanity of the character reminded me of Marlon Brando’s outing in Apocalypse Now‘my ears have ears’ he tells a stunned Mowgli, as he asks the man cub to share the secret o the red flower (fire) with the monkeys.

But, as with the original film – it is Bagheera (ably voiced by Ben Kingsley), Baloo (Bill Murray, thankfully toned down) as the stern dad and mad uncle figures, who provide the contrasts in ‘good’, the boy’s role models. Hopefully Mowgli will grow up with Bagheera’s moral compass and Baloo’s sense of fun.  The interplay between them, is a flavour carried forward from the older film (and the book)

Sher Khan (Idris Elba, as the menacing predator/stalker), is chillingly focused. His pathological hatred towards humans in general, and Mowgli in particular, have driven him over the edge. It is from this precipice of insanity that you see the character unraveling. In his mind, he is fighting the righteous war. Killing humans before humans kill him (and all of them). And, his rage at being thwarted is chillingly brutal.

Neel Sethi as Mowlgi is entirely believable. There were parts you think – God how did his parents allow him to run around with wild animals, till the rational part of the brain tell you – CGI. Given that a child of his age was in a green screen environment, his performance is quite superlative.

The real star of the show is the breath taking CGI. The jungle looks real. The water buffaloes, the hedgehogs, the python skin, the python, look real. The tiger is all together real. The bit where Kaa is trying to hypnotise Mowgli, and you have a shot from Mowgli’s eye level, the python in full glory – you find yourself retreating into your seat.

As entertaining as it was, it was also educational. I got more on understanding wildlife from this film, than through a series of animal world features.  You appreciate how strong a tiger’s legs are, in the sequence where you see Sher Khan’s legs in fully muscular, sinewy glory,  you understand, how they can kill.   the minute observation about animal movements, have been well researched and recreated by the CGI team. This is possibly as close to a real world experience of a jungle and animal life that most kids are going to get (most adults too).

It is not just that, it is also the simple appreciation of the natural habitat and weather patterns.
There is a scene, almost at the beginning, where they show the impact of lack of rain, on the forest. The simulated ‘time lapse’  CGI in describing this is awe inspiring. I think that any school going child, watching that scene, would have learnt more from the 1 minute or so sequence, on drought and it’s impact on forests, than the way it is taught in schools today. The sequence where the monsoons begin, in full glory, and it’s impact on the forest – it is seeing it in a 30 second scene, that makes the power of nature seem all the more real.  The sequence of the water buffaloes stampeding through the countryside, in their quest for water, while Mowgli makes his escape from Sher khan (possibly the best sequence in the film). It would be so cool to teach kids about migratory patterns of animals looking for water,  through a sequence like this. I seriously think it is a must watch for children, it works on multiple levels.

Is it violent? About, As violent as a discovery channel film on how tigers hunt for prey.

I am going to end this one, with an absolutely fabulous rendition of “Wanna be just like you”, by a rasping Christopher Walken

Mar 272016
 

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All in all, it wasn’t quite as bad as the critics made it out to be. Definitely worth a watch on the big screen.

The film is set some 20 years after Batman first picks up his cape and cowl. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is a darker Batman than the one’s we have seen before. He brands criminals with the bat symbol (that leads to their death in prison); he is coping with the death of a Robin (killed by Joker); and he drinks more than he should. Also, he is sure Superman (Henry Cavil) is upto no good, and has God like plans to dominate the world.

Superman is conflicted – why he is conflicted is never explained in this film (i guess one has to brush up on Man of Steel to figure it out). Maybe he is getting over the killing of Zod or maybe he is figuring his relationship with Lois Lane; but, there is certainly a tortured hero air about him. And, both he and his alter ego Clark Kent have begun taking interest in the work of Batman .

Lex Luthor is the most irritating Bat Villain I have seen in eons. He makes Danny De Vito’s Penguin (who i loathed) seem tolerable. Jesse Eisenberg plays Luthor as a cross between Mark Zukenberg and the Joker. And everytime he was on screen, i had this terrible urge to slap him.  Oh, and Lex Luthor unleashes Doomsday – and all those of you who are comic book fans know what happens next. 

Wonderwoman though she is never introduced as that (rather as Diana Prince, her alter ego) has stunning screen presence. Gal Gadot wears that ridiculous costume with such nonchalance, that you barely notice that she is wearing a single piece swimsuit with lots of metal sticking out.

The film has more dream sequences than a Hindi movie – and most of it is about people getting killed.

My problem with the film, is that you needed to know comic book continuity to get a lot of the stuff going on. Be it the death of Robin (the costume in the bat cave with Joker’s epitaph); or Diana Prince ; or even Lex Luthor’s relationship with Superman (or indeed with Bruce Wayne). Also the allusions to the comic book universe are there – there is a stunning dream sequence, where a rebel Batman is fighting a Superman who has taken over the world (Red Sun), or the interruption of Flash warning Batman (one of the  crisis books, i forget which one). There are heavy costume influences from the Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller)

Ben Affleck makes for a good older Batman. I can see Christian Bale’s Batman growing up to be this. Henry Cavil is better in this than in his first outing as Superman. Jeremy Irons makes for a rather scruffy Alfred. Amy Adams as Lois Lane – is a plot device, when ever the plot gets stuck, she is rescued by Superman. Holly Hunter is wasted. Jesse Eisenberg was dreadful (and i am being kind).

My other problem with the film is that it takes itself too seriously. Once you set up a hero to be a God or as near a God as possible, it possibly strips the fun part of being human from it. It will help if comic books feel like comic books, and not like a Shakespearean Tragedy. i kept wanting to shout at the screen “lighten up, it is a comic book, superhero team up”. Seriously, directors of Batman movies should take inspiration from Grant Morrison’s style, not Frank Miller. So much angst gets overwhelming.

But, was it a bad film – not by any stretch of imagination. It held together well.  It was enjoyable, and I am looking forward to the Justice League and all the other films that will follow.

Looks like it is Darkseid up next or Brainiac – Lex Luthor’s final promise. And the Justice League. Should be interesting.

Mar 102016
 

My brother got me to watch this lovely 5 minute clip, on his mobile. A talking head. No flashy camera movements. No overwhelming music. Nothing. Just incredible story telling. I watched on, because i wanted to know what happened next. What is it about?

‘HUMAN’ is made of aerial images and interviews. Close up shots captured people around the world who tell their life stories looking directly into our eyes, without any outside element disturbing their word. There only is us and them, words that touch us, move us, make us think. The picture tells us nothing about their lives. Shot against a black background, they all appear on an equal footing. Whether we talk about war or about the meaning of their existence, only their words, their tone of voice, the musicality of their language and their faces speak for them. This is the strength of ‘HUMAN’.

I looked up the clip, and it is part of a series of 200 unique stories that look at what make us human. I look forward to chunk on the remaining 199 (in small doses). I am also going to look up the work of the director of this film, Yann Arthus-Bertrandhis journey seems fascinating. Watch this clip. it is less than 5 minutes, and it will make you feel good about being a human being… This is the promo

The full film is here

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Oct 112015
 

There are men. and men. and men. I can go as far as to say, that each man is a unique specimen, replete with his own set of idiosyncrasies (as is each woman).

However, as far as popular fiction is concerned there are two types of men – the nice men who are your best friends, who are there no matter what; and there are the bad boys – who you, unfortunately, fall for – and that is a long road of tears and battles. And, generally the kind of men we remember in books and screen are the latter. If i asked you to name 5 nice men in fiction – you possibly will be stuck after the first. Who is the guy Scarlett O’ Hara falls for, but never marries – would be your response. And, then there would be a blank. Because, after all, nice guys finish last (atleast in the fictional romantic stakes). In real life, i would guess that nice guys score much higher than the messed up heroes from films, simply because a film gets over in 3 hours, and jhelofying a romantic hero will take the rest of your life.

I am not quite sure when the narrative of a brooding, dark, sullen male became either the gold standard or the mould in which all other romantic heroes were written. Look at Mills and Boons. an entire business built on an obnoxious specimen, who hooks a post teenager (almost young enough to be his daughter). And then reforms because of her love ie., becomes less obnoxious.

Today on Amitabh Bachchan’s birthday, i couldn’t but help look at him as the romantic hero, especially in those films that he was also the angry young man. Do you really want such a man in your life, is the question ? Do women really believe they can transform such men ? Do such men really exist?

I wrote about his best romantic roles in films – the angry young lover

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