F for Fireworks Wednesday (Chaharshanbe Suri)

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This time I have chosen a film that is not too heavy but more closer to home. It explores the eternal question of what is marriage? Is it lifelong bliss or does it come apart when the dreams we had woven when we first stepped into wedlock seem to disintegrate and crumble like a sand castle. Though I am calling it not too heavy this Iranian movie is  intense.

Fireworks Wednesday is an Iranian movie, which is an intimate and personal portrayal of a fast eroding sanctity called marriage set against the Persian New Year. As the story moves forward it also brings to the fore the strained gap between the upper and lower classes of Tehran. ‘Chaharshanbe Suri’ or Firworks Wednesday on one hand has the literal meaning as everyone is gets ready for new year with their fireworks and on the other it’s metaphorical, as the drama hit a crescendo just like the fireworks. The film is directed by Ashgar Farhadi, and stars Hedyeh Tehrani, Taraneh Alidousi and Hamid Farokhnezhad.

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Though the entire city celebrates the New Year, there is no respite for Rouhi. She has no holidays and has to come to work for her new employees . The movie starts with a young girl, Rouhi, riding the pillion of the bike. Her fiancé is dropping her off at her work place. Their casual, carefree and loving banter is endearing and full of love, not in a physical way though. She comes to work for a couple with a young son, a family waiting to explode. Rouhi finds herself to be a pawn in the couple’s endless confrontations, which conclude with a final scene of fireworks of New Year

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Mozde is the ever-depressed wife who constantly suspects her husband, Morteza, of having an affair with the next-door neighbor and a salon owner. She is driven to such a state of distraught and hysteria that she tries to listen to conversations at her neighbor’s house through the water pipes, of her bathroom, which seemingly acts as a voice carrier. The accusations and suspicions take such proportions that the apparently loving husband, going about with his business is forced into violence. Amazingly the viewers sympathize with Morteza. Even the neighbors find Mozde losing her mind and empathizes with Morteza.

In the midst of this imbroglio enters Rouhi and inadvertently becomes Mozde’s spy. Learning of her impending wedding her employer sends her off to the salon to trim her eyebrows. But this is only a façade; she wants Rouhi to spy on Simin the floozy, salon owner. Throughout the movie the viewer’s sympathy shifts from one character to the other unable to make a fix as to who really is the wrong doer.

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The movie passes no judgments as it unfolds. Until the end the viewer is left suspecting if the circumstances are the main villain. But we do get to know the reality. Morteza once caught has no qualms saying that he can cheat because his wife is not the best housekeeper. Well isn’t that how human minds work? When caught, shift the blame so that you are not responsible for the consequences no matter how dire it is.

In the end it is the story of a young, cheerful woman with a lot dreams, who sees the murky dissolution of a marriage – truth, lies and deception that the institute of marriage constitutes.

As the ground reality hits her, she goes back at the end of the day as a more matured woman, whose dreams are more practical. Her initial shyness and her conservative attitude also come off as her Chador comes off (because it is used for a different purpose by Mozde) at the end of the movie.

Fireworks Wednesday is a movie, which ha been seamlessly intertwined with the fireworks and celebrations outside that resonate the fireworks of family life and strife, inside.

I leave you with a scene of the movie.

E for (The) Experiment

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Will we look up in respect at an army march-past in sweat pants? Or will we even want to look up in reverence at nuns and priests who are very liberal? Does our perspective change when we look at the fire fighter without the uniform on?

The Experiment, (Das Experiment) is not a movie that will bedazzle any of you by its sheer technical brilliance but it will surely overwhelm you with the dark realms of human psyche that it explores. There are two aspects that the story highlights, first the inner self that takes over in  dire circumstances and second, how uniform changes our attitude.

The movie is based on the novel The Black Box that was inspired by the well-known ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’. It was an experiment in role playing and one of the scientists penned on its website “Our planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.”

I am sure you get the plot of the movie by the quote above. The Experiment is directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and has Moritz Bleibtreu as Tarek Fahd, one of the inmates and Justus Von Dohnanyi as Berus, one of the guards.

A makeshift prison is set up in a research lab and for two weeks 20 participants were hired to play prisoners and guards. Amongst the 20 there were 12 prisoners and 8 guards. The prisoners had to give up their rights and the guards were not supposed to use any violence against the prisoners. At the onset it’s a friendly game for which each would get 4,000 Marks (1700 USD) but soon the prisoners under the leadership of Tarek begin to defy the authority of the guards. Though the guards are role – playing and have donned fake uniforms, they feel their ego and power are at stake. Soon Berus, the guard who was laughed at for body odour, takes charge when he suggests that he had read somewhere that humiliation is the best way to subjugate and secure obedience. The prisoners are stripped naked and are pissed on, which rattles all of them. When Berus’s tactics become successful he becomes the unsaid leader of the guards yielding a lot of power.

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As is expected the guards become overtly sadistic towards the prisoners and the prisoners try to defy the guards at every instance and in a final showdown, two get killed, three of the participants are severely injured and the lead scientist behind the experiment along with Berus are booked for multiple homicides and unethical experiment.

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It is often said if your want to find out what someone thinks of himself or herself, examine the uniform well. Behavior, most often than not, is in sync with what we wear or the uniform we have on us. Two weeks is not too long a time and the 20 participants could have played their part and earned their money and gone home happy but they could not harness the the darkness we harbor inside us when provoked.

To answer the questions asked above,no matter what the circumstances, uniforms do yield a kind of aura of dynamism and vigour, fright and domination. We will never know how our own attitudes will change donning a uniform. We talk of millions of war crimes and look down upon the perpetrators in horror but are we sure we wouldn’t be one of them doing the same atrocious deeds had we be wearing those very same uniforms?

I leave you with the trailer of the film

D for Dogville

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You can love it or you can hate it but you can’t take a middle ground for Dogville. It is a potpourri of various aspects of story telling wrapped under one banner. Though, it is at once experimental and innovative, philosophical and absorbing, provocative and exciting, dull and boring, ugly and hell rising, gripping and mind numbing, yet in the end it remains a stupendous observation on human behavior.

The film has heavyweights like Nicole Kidman playing the character of Grace, Paul Bettany as Tom Edison, Patricia Clarkson, Stellan Skarsgaard and the list is endless. The movie offers no distractions of fabulous locales and poetic sceneries. The entire movie is shot on a sound stage where the street-plan, houses, even the dog and its resting place are marked by a white chalk. There are very few props like a bed, chair perhaps a table. The actors express opening of a door or stepping into the neighbor’s house since there are no doors or houses, even the barking of the dog is a mere sound effect.

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Chased by gangsters Grace comes to hide in this little town near the Rocky Mountains. The film is set in the era of the great depression and there is always a morbid mood lingering therefore. Then villagers are suspicious of Grace and are not willing to have her hide in their village but Tom, an earnest young man, persuades the villagers to give her a trial run before taking her in. Tom is taken in by Grace’s easy charms and is besotted by her, even the villagers start liking the pleasant Grace, she is almost like the sunshine in their lives and made them “smile like a prism of light”.

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However the relationship built with the seemingly decent and simple village folks that was increasingly pure and uncomplicated in the beginning becomes excruciatingly exploitative by the end. When wanted posters appear, the stake on Grace staying on is increased too. The very same “good, honest people of Dogville,” who provide her with a haven against the gangsters, lock her up, tie her to a bed and use her as the unpaid prostitute of the village. Even Tom, who is so much in love with her and is always on principally high grounds, succumbs to the villagers’ wishes and colludes with them. They used her till every shred of humanity was torn to shreds.

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In a shocking twist of events, we find that the gangster chasing Grace is no other than her own father. In her angst, pain and wrath especially at her own lover Tom and the family with kids, she passes an apocalyptic verdict that ends in violent brutality.

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Little did she know that such darkness resided in her – she, who was running away from brutality and violence of a gangster’s life.  Her inner hollowness, in the few days she spent in Dogville, alleviates with one dictate from her.

Dogville has been portrayed as America critics say, but it is universally true in any society that provides for the weak yet takes advantage of them in terrible ways. It makes us realize that human beings are capable of impalpable abomination, which is covered by seemingly polite façade. We find some sort of consolation and redemption when the narrator says “And if one had the power to put it to right it was one’s duty to do so – for the sake of other towns, for the sake of humanity. And not least for the sake of the human being that was grace herself.”

(I leave you with two  emotionally numbing scenes from Dogville)

B for Breaking the Waves

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‘Breaking the Waves’ is my all time favorite movie, and this Lars Von Trier masterpiece catapulted him onto the world stage as a writer-director to be reckoned with. Powerhouse performances by the actors Emily Watson as Bess and Stellan Skarsgard as Jan exquisitely highlight the dilemma of good and the bad.

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No other movie questions as poignantly and pointedly both the expansiveness and the limitations of religion – the inherent truth behind the seemingly virtuous and brow rising sinful code of conduct and the thin line between the profane and the pure. It at once jolts the audience physically, emotionally and spiritually, to question our age-old beliefs of morality and immorality. Nevertheless the brilliance of the film lies not in forming new belief systems but in questioning the ones that have been instilled in us by our religious institutions and their followers, in this case the Church and its puritanical and rigid priests.

The story unfolds in a remote village in Scotland where the dull and austere climate is reflected in the stony presence of the characters. Bess is a sweet young girl who hails from a rigid family whose only social engagement, as like all the other inhabitants of the village, is the gathering at the church. Their closed knit community is not too happy to learn about Bess’s choice of husband, Jan. Jan works in the oil rig and his jovial and fun loving nature is completely opposite to that of the villagers’ stone cold attitude towards most things in life. Its left unsaid as to why Jan is attracted to Bess, an unpolished village girl who is ‘not quite right in the head’. Perhaps it is just that attribute that brings him close to her. On the other hand Bess who has been raised under strict puritanical codes is all too keen to explore the mysteries of marriage and sex.

After a few days of blissful married life, Jan returned to the Rig. Bess went back to what she knew best – praying diligently in the church. She prays to God to bring back Jan as soon as possible and that he never leaves her side again. As is often said, be careful of what you wish for, her wishes were turned into a cruel travesty of fate when Jan returns after a near fatal accident that renders him paralyzed from head to toe. The tension goes up a few notches when Jan urges his newly wedded wife to have sex with another man and narrate it back to him. What motivates him to place such a deplorable request to the already traumatized wife is left to the audience’s imagination but the devoted wife never asks him why and he never bothers to explain.

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Bess’s love comes under microscope when such a demand is made. Driven by love and only his best interest in her heart, she does exactly what is told of her. Soon we see her as an apathetic hooker, a far cry from her earlier self. Yet she does not leave her pious ways. Her two-way conversations with God almighty are heart wrenching, where he tells her to do what is the best for her. Her church banishes her, the little kids throw stones at but she is unconquerable in her faith. She tells Dodo, her sister in law, “God gives everyone something to be good at. I’ve always been stupid, but I’m good at this.”

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The underlying truth was that Bess, fierce in her faith, believes wholeheartedly that her sacrifices will redeem Jan from all his pains and he will get better. As his condition deteriorates, she becomes even more desperate; she goes to the big ship, where even the prostitutes don’t dare to tread. The remnants of her being is torn and devoured in such a manner that she never comes back alive.

The ending is cosmic, where Jan gets cured, as Bess is lowered into her grave and condemned to hell as she had sinned. No bells toll for sinners (but then there are no bells in this Church). Jan steals Bess’s coffin since he knows that Bess’s entire existence was for his survival alone, and he would not have her final resting place next to condemned souls. Far away from land and in the mid sea he submerges her coffin into the waters so that she might finally get some peace. It’s the miraculous tolling of church bells at this instance that makes the audience numb. There are no questions left in the mind that even in her perceived sin she attained sainthood.

The film has many surprising revelations and a kind or raw power and an unshielded regard for the forces of good and evil. Its always easy for rational minds to wrap themselves around religious beliefs and look down upon another who strays forgetting that we are human because we have weaknesses and we are human because God made us bloodied from head to toe. Bess stands out because she cannot rationalize the way we do. She chooses to embrace her God, uncomplainingly and fearlessly, in the way she perceived him and as she unflailingly thanked him for “the greates gift, the gift of love”

I leave you all with the trailer of ‘Breaking the Waves’ 

A for Anand

 

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To kick-start the challenge I have chosen an Indian Blockbuster called Anand. It was released in 1971 and is still considered one of the landmark movies of Bollywood. The film starred the yester year superstar the Late Rajesh Khanna and the man who played the second fiddle to him became one of the biggest names in the movie industry not just at home but also in the land of movie paradise – Hollywood. He is none other than Amitabh Bachchan. Gulzar another stalwart of the movie industry wrote the dialogues for the movie.

The greatness of the movie lies in the fact that it cuts across time and generations and also the numerous languages and philosophy that exists in a huge country like India and yet retains its freshness in story and message.

The viewers  feel drawn to it is because it successfully brings forth the indomitable human spirit. That spirit that is impregnable, impassable, invincible and unbeatable in the face of death and destruction. The message that though death is inevitable and the final truth for all of us who roam the earth, it is the fear of death that kills us in our every waking hour.

Dr. Bhaskar, the oncologist, is often surprised by Anand’s carefree attitude even though he knows he has not too many days to live. He cannot fathom Anand’s indefatigable spirit towards life and its many adventures. The truth that the talkative and spirited youth Anand gets to know his learned doctor friend was yet to find out that “Zindagi badi honi chahiye lambi nahi” (Life should be big and not just long) Anand time and again underscores the pointlessness of living a long life if we cant enjoy each and every moment and experience the fullness  and richness of it.

But he too has his moments of blues when he reminisces his love who he left behind and that is portrayed through the  melodious song “Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaye”.

There are innumerable instances that tug at the heart strings and one such moment was when Anand and Dr. Bhaskar record their voices. It remains to this day one of the most memorable dialogues in Hindi Film Industry.

“Babumoshai, zindagi aur maut uparwale ke hath hai jahapana, jise na aap badalsakte hai na mein. hum sab to rangmanch ki katputlia hai, jiski door uparwale ke haath bandhi hai kab kaun kaise uthega ye koi nahi janta”

(Life and death is the hands of the supreme power and we are mere puppets in his hands playing our parts the way he wants us to. How and when we are called will forever by a mystery to us.)

Hence be happy and spread happiness and celebrate this indomitable and unconquerable human spirit.

I leave you all with some of the dialogues from the movie that brings forth the futility of being overcome by the fear of when the final curtain is drawn on us

A-Z

A-Z Challenge – Films: The power of storytelling

titanicStory telling has an immense power to change us from within and without. This is true especially when you see it unfolding before your eyes, either it breaks your beliefs or it strengths them. There have been movies across the globe that have rattled us, blew us away, made us sit up, cry, laugh, scared us and also made us take notice of the seemingly obvious that we have been blind to.cinema paradiso

ingrid BergmanI have since my childhood had been enamoured by movie, magic and as we Indians say ‘masti’. What better way to reach out to the millions than telling a story through films. The pain of the unrequited love, the trauma of the second world war, the bigotry of religion, the heart rendering emotions of relationships, the bitter sweet truths of life, all brought out on the silver screen within two to three hours and each having the potential to bring about a change in the viewer and the society at large.

The willing suspension of disbelief that makes us live in a different world full of romance,intrigue, suspense, mystery, adventure is not just  a  powerful tool to change us but also a powerful tool to help us forget our worries and escape into the land of dreams. In the A-Z challenge I hope to portray the influence films have had in our lives and the influence they will continue to have. How they make and break stereotypes and how they knock out on the one hand and reinstate our opinions and impressions of the ways of this world, on the other.

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I wish to make the readers discover a whole new paradise from my eyes and my point of view and I hope it is an incredible journey of discovery and rediscovery for all of you out there.

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Yes I am one of the late entrants as I was in two minds about the time I could dedicate. But what the heck I now know its always good to give it your best shot and never say never again.

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