Archive for the ‘Films’ Category

Tree of Life

Art often becomes a victim of it’s own genre’. Of the very fashion or new trend it created. and then becomes resistant to change. Film does the same. For too many years it has been stuck in ‘meaning’. While meaning is essential to the viewer, surely Art provokes the viewers to explore meanings for themselves. Through the experience of the Art. So does the Artist give meaning before he/she gives experience, or does the experience of Art come before meaning ? Is experience derived from meaning, or is meaning derived from experience ?

I met Terrence Mallick the evening before the film premiered at Cannes. Without realizing who I was speaking to. I said ‘Tree of life’ was the one film I was looking forward to. He said ‘Come armed with patience’.

I did not need to. From the first moment I caught on immediately that the film maker was asking me to experience, and let meaning evolve out of that experience. If not while watching the film, then later the next day. Or the next. He was offering me his experience and asking me to interpret it my way.

And what an amazing experience. From the birth of the Universe, to the human like instinct of the dinosaurs. That amazing shot of the dinosaur at the beach trying to understand it’s wound, caught as it is between being amphibian to reptilian. Did Malick intend that ? I don’t know, but the shot made me cry for the dinosaur, because somehow, the director had burrowed inside my mind to relate human behaviour to evolution. To an understanding of ourselves as we moved to who we are in evolution. To the tree of life.

I actually wish people would not say this is Brad Pitts best performance. It is a terrific performance. But to say that takes away form the film. For that character is not supposed be seen in context of the individual. He is as an integral part of the dynamics of the Big Bang and the incredible moment where the dinosaur considers crushing the the baby dinosaur under it’s giant claws. What was going on in it’s mind when it decided to leave it alone.

And when was the last time I seriously wondered about the imaginative process of a dinosaur ?

And Jessica Chastain, as an embodiment of all that is nurturing in the Universe. That the Universe in itself is nurture. And in nurture lies creation. In creation lies destruction. The acceptance of the death of her child so gently by the film is the acceptance of the nurturing quality of the film.

So beautifully potrayed by the final scene on the beach. Like a final movement in a symphony. That all of life, all of birth, all of death exists in a single moment of eternity.

The Tree of Life is Eternal.

Thank Terrence. Thank you for reminding us that we are stuck in ‘plot’. That for the art of cinema to survive and continue to be meaningful, it must first destroy it’s narrow minded desire for meaning. That like the Universe it needs to die and be reborn to be eternal.

Lars Von Trier : Nazi ? Artist ? Free Thinker ? Should have he been banned at Cannes ?

I am inundated by the press asking for my views on the expulsion of director Lars Von Trier from the Cannes film festival for his remarks on Hitler and being Nazi. Probably because of being on the Jury of the festival last year. This is such a sensitive issue that any remark reported out of context could spark off controversy. So here is my point of view :

a. It must have been a painful decision for the festival. I know the people that run it well, and nothing is held in higher esteem than the creative freedom of the film maker. However the remark was made outside a film on a public forum provided by the festival, and created a media furore. As such the festival had to either own or disown such controversial remarks made by Lars. Obviously they could not own them, and were duty bound to protect the goodwill of the festival that has been generated over generations.

b. Lars is one the most significant director’s of our generation. His talent and vision has caused us all to question some of our more fundamental beliefs and has got him two trophies at Cannes it self. Whatever people say about him, his sheer force of talent will bring audiences back. I believe Lars was irresponsible in the way he took on the journalists. Even if he was provoked. Every human being is entitled to free thought and speech. I am sure somewhere Lars was trying to make a point about trying to understand what thoughts lay under the whole philosophy of Nazi’sm. But he stated it badly, and to a world where the fear of such events repeating themselves are very real. If you are a public person, on a public platform provided to you by a culture, you must be respectful and cognizant of that culture. You cannot, as Lars did, treat your own influence lightly.

c. However a world that does not explore or confront it’s history is condemned to repeat the horrors of the past. Lars should not be vilified by the media for admiring (say) Albert Speer’s sense of order in his architectural design. If Lars is fascinated by underlying Nazi philosophies and wishes to explore them, he should not be condemned merely for that.

d. My own view on the whole chapter is that Hitler unleashed a horrific side of human behaviour. It not just about being a Nazi or Jewish. Its about one human being and another. It stands as a stark reminder of our own dark sides, yours and mine, and how little it takes to be provoked to lose all sense of being human.

e. Which leads me to my final and perhaps most controversial answer to the questions to the press. The world is, and has been since the Second World War full of Hitlers and pogroms and death camps and inhuman genocide. The world stood aside and watched. Is standing aside and watching. More than that, is often supporting directly or indirectly such genocide. One man’s war is another man’s genocide when civilians are being slaughtered.

The world is right to condemn Lars Von Triers, provided it stands up and condemns all genocide that is happening in whatever name.


Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told’ at the Cannes Film Festival.
On saturday night 14th May, in a Gala red carpet event at the Lumier Theatre, Cannes film festival will screen the documentary I produced along with  UTV and directed by Rakeysh Mehra and Jeff Zimbalist.   It all started with my conversation with Thierry Fremaux about the fascination of people with Music, Song and Dance in Bollywood. And  his desire to find a film that he could show in the main section.We decided  to make one. A documentary.  Here is what I wrote for the Cannes brochure :
“We love it. We hate it. We see it as regressive. We see it as modern. We need it to breathe it to feel alive,  and yet complain about it’s polluted air. Some say its melodramatic. Others call it Mythic. Some say it is the only culture that holds India together. Others say it is the greatest corrupting influence on Indians and would banish it from our shores. Some say it gives identity and individuality to 25 million Indians that have left her shores and who’s third generations that are still addicted to it.
It is certainly disconcerting sitting in the mansion of a young Indian entrepreneur in the Silicon valley that just sold his company for over $ 5 billion and see his third generation immigrant family weeping over the latest melodramatic Bollywood film.  Or celebrate their new found wealth dancing together to it’s songs. Even more disconcerting is me filming in Morocco with Heath Ledger and having hundreds of Moroccan people arrive at my set in the middle of the desert thinking I might be shooting their favourite form of entertainment.
A love a affair between almost 2 billion people  worldwide  that has lasted over 70 years, and not only refuses to stop. It keeps growing. Embracing it’s most important, it’s most vilified, it’s most loved element.  The song and dance.  The music. No Bollywood film needs to be called a musical. It needs no such excuse. It just is one. Regardless of the genre’.
How does Bollywood reflect the changing history and moralities of the largest and youngest democracies in the world ? Film makers, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Jeff Zimbalist try to analyse Bolywood and give up. Or give in. To it’s overpowering beat and sensuality. Preferring to give you an experience of Bollywood  for or you to decide.
For how do you define a love affair  ?
“Shekhar Kapur”

Are Oscars a true representation of world Cinema ?

Of course every one loves the Oscars. And would love an Oscar too. So would I. It celebrates film as no other event does. It gives you international exposure as the whole world tunes into what is becoming a huge TV event. It increases both the profile and box office potential of the film, and of course your personal profile too.

But is it a true representation of the best in Cinema in the world ? I would argue that they are becoming less and less as the world markets look more towards their own home grown Cinema, and as International film makers explode into a new creativity that largely goes unnoticed . 85% of the world cinema in any case gets clubbed into one category. Best Foreign Language Film. Unless the film has got huge box office attention in the US market.

I have been on the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival and also the London Film festival last year and have just come back from Berlin. Some of the films that I saw were absolutely explosive. Not just in the stories they tell, the use of cinema in telling these stories, but also in the performances that left you gasping. They represent a state of being that is so real that it gets into your skin without you realizing it. You do not get up applauding a performance. You just walk away with a complete understanding of the emotional psyche of the person and environment. As if it was yourself there in the film. Not through very snazzy editing techniques or the se of technology. But through the sheer simplicity of the performance, the story telling and the use of Cinema.

There are three films I would like to mention here that you absolutely should not miss if you get a chance to see them just for the sheer power of the performances :

‘Nadir and Simin, a Separation’ from Iran. which just won the Golden Bear at Berlin. Directed by Asghar Farhadi.

‘Poetry’ from Korea, directed by Lee Chang-Dong. Was in competition at Cannes

‘Screaming Man’ a film based in Chad, directed by Mahamat Saleh Haroun. Who is from Chad but lives in France. Was also in Competition at Cannes.

‘How I spent my Summer’ from Russia by Alexei Popogrebsky, which got the top prize at the London Film Festival.

Will write about the films in time,


Love, trust and faith in directing

Beyond words, sounds. Beyond a blink, a sigh, a smile, a touch, a frown. Is there communication in absolute silence and stillness ? Is there communication in a sense of being ? Beyond just the simplistic scientific ideas of thought transfer and telepathy ?

I have often felt such strong communication in the presence of absolute Love and trust. Not with just vague ideas of words like ‘Hey I love you” thrown at each other , but love and trust that is focussed, active and eager at that moment. Which when combined together seem to bring our deeper selves out from our assumed physical containment, into an energy that mingles and entangles with each other. And that mingling leads to something more ethereal, more harmonious and ideas so limitless that words and gestures could not have conjured up.

I often do that when I direct. I ‘sense’ rather than speak about my relationship with actors. I actively try and create a sense of trust and bonding of love not only with my actors, but with everyone on the set. When the actors are performing, I am loosing my identity into them and creating so called ‘energy fields’ around the set so we all become part of a harmonious ‘moment’ urging for something to be created beyond ourselves but also through ourselves. And often in response they are doing the same.

Not only in my experience with actors like Cate Blanchet , Heath Ledger, Geoffrey Rush and Naseeruddin Shah, with whom I have had experiences where our souls have had the courage to be ‘naked’ in front of each other for that moment, our senses acutely alive to some deeper and often unknown aspect of ourselves in each other, leading to a performance where in hindsight you wonder in awe where and how it evolved so unpredictlably but yet so beautifully.

But also with musicians like Nusrat fateh Ali Khan and A R Rahman. With Nusrat most of the communication was done by him looking into my eyes and singing with tears flowing from both our eyes, having been transported to a realm higher than ourselves. I have been blessed by moments when such people that have trusted and loved me too.

Often producers have felt insecure that I do not look at the ‘Video Monitor’ judging the ‘shot’. I cannot. How do I trust a moment of absolute faith and maintain a connect of love and faith with my actors through a machine ?

But of course such love and trust is possible only after huge amounts of thought and dialogue between my actors and composers and scriptwriters. Before trust comes, there must be understanding. But at the moment of ‘creation’ it all has to be let go into the search for something beyond all that was said and discussed, into something unpredictable.

It’s the essence of all creativity, a huge sense of focussed discipline, followed by a complete letting go. Into moments of absolute faith.

Directing is so much like living. Love , trust and faith.

What does it take to become an Actor ?

This is a question I am often asked and want to answer it as truthfully as I can

You must want to be beyond the needs of being accepted as being glamorous and beautiful. Looking for acceptance from other people is to put yourself at the doorstep of unhappiness. Acting is not an indulgence. Do not do it unless the passion is for the art of acting, even if that is expressed through stage, and no matter how small the exposure is – even street theatre. The passion to express stories through the process of acting should be paramount rather than aspiring to live and emulate the lives of the people photographed in the Bombay Times. Do not be led by falsehood. I am presenting to you the answer to the question “what does it take to become an actor” – not what does it take to become a star. For that there are enough people teaching acting in 3 months.

Acting takes incredible discipline. You body is the instrument through which you express yourself, like a violin is the violinists instrument. It takes years of discipline to create mastery over your body and voice. It takes years of introspection and hard work to learn how to use the inherent emotions in you, to be able transfer them seamlessly to your mind and emotion and from there seamlessly to your body and voice. The discipline and riyaz of an actor is no less than that of a classical dancer.

Moments of absolute truth are the most satisfying moments in any art, and the only way you know them, or recognize them, are because you feel closer to something infinite, some power beyond yourself that seems to be in control of your emotions, you body, your heart, your mind.

Those are the moments to aspire to and just a few in your lifetime will make you a true artist.

You asked me a a question about the art of acting I assume and not the commerce. The second I know nothing about and do not care to. You go to the Gym, get great pictures taken, discover your best angles, and go to parties to network. Get a six pack or a great body and go to photographers that know how to exploit those assets and then later photo shop them into perfection. Being attractive on the outside may be important , but the art of acting is to be attractive on the inside.

Did George Mallory ‘conquer’ The Mother Goddess of the World ? Everest.

George Mallory and Sandy Irvine disappeared a few hundred meters from the summit of Mount Everest in June 1924. In doing so they created the most enduring mysteries and myths of mountaineering. Did they get to the summit before the clouds covered them from the view of his comrades following them through binoculars from a lower camp ? Especially Mallory, for not only was he leading, but also because he is reputed to be the greatest climber the world has ever known. And if so, then Everest was ‘conquered’ long before Hilary and Tenzing did in 1953.

75 years later Mallory’s amazingly preserved body was found by another expedition. He had obviously fallen. Yet the mythology surrounding Mallory created even more of a mystique. Did he fall on the way up or the way down ? His body was lying in a strange position, almost supplicant to the peak. Like he was prostrating and praying to ‘Chomolungma’ – The Mother Goddess of the World – as the Tibetans call it.

So when I was asked to make a film on George Mallory by Julia Robert’s film Co, that was the first idea that struck me. I have been a sort of amateur climber myself, always attracted to the sheer immensity of the mountains.

Why is it that when faced with an immensity that threatens to challenge our own sense of individuality on this planet, something that threatens to make us feel small, our instinct is to challenge and conquer it, rather than sublimating itself to it and thereby being part of it ? One an act of incredible ego, ambition and violence, the other an act of letting one’s ego drop, of letting the individuality go. A great act of Love actually.

We talk of ‘Man’s conquest of Space’. Of the ‘Conquest of Everest’. And of course have just come to terms with the horrendous consequences of our attempts to “conquer’ nature on our Planet. Is a religion or a faith, for example, a conquest of people’s minds and hearts, or is it an embracing through love ? These are the thoughts and questions that drove me to consider the film. After all, why do a film unless it is a journey of discovery of yourself ?

I have no doubt that ambition and the desire to conquer was how Mallory understood his need to pit himself against Everest again and again. he went there three times. At a time when no one had used oxygen for climbing before, and there was none of the sophisticated mountaineering gear we have today. If you look at pictures, you would think they were climbing in tweed jackets and trousers! But underneath ambition and the need to conquer, was there an underlying need to discover one’s identity ? A need to discover who we are really, beyond the idea of being individual ? After all Mallory had just come back from serving in the First World War, and when you see so much needless death and destruction around you, your own place in the Universe must come into question.

When Mallory got the summit, if he ever did, did he feel a great sense of conquering, or did he finally find himself embraced by the ‘Mother Goddess of the World’ ? Did he finally sublimate himself to the immensity and become one with it ? Did he, perhaps, discover that which he was searching for all his life ?


Green Zone the film and the truth about Iraq

I just saw Paul Greengrass’s Green Zone, which says it is inspired by Rajiv Chandrasekharan”s ” Imperial life in the Emerald City”. Which is a terrific book. The film may have been inspired by something in the book, but Matt Damon’s character was certainly inspired by the character in Bourne Identity.
Cinematically brilliant (like the Hurt Locker), but when will Hollywood stop trivializing something as serious as the stunning loss of innocent lives in Iraq. Do we have to have a brilliant directors like Paul Greengrass (remember Bloody Sunday) make a carefully and obviously plotted action film disguised as serious cinema ?
Want to know the truth ? Watch carefully this video from Wikileaks. It is disturbing.

Hurt Locker and a Prophet

I guess my impressions of Hurt Locker was colored by the brilliant ‘A Prophet’ I saw the same day.
Was Hurt Locker good ? Of course it was. It was well shot, modern and created a lot of tension in the four (or is it five) sequences that the film is built up of. Was the performance good ? Yes, adequately good. But if you look at the performances in ‘A Prophet”, Hurt Locker did not really get near.
Good film Hurt Locker, yes. But is it outstandingly the best film of the year ? No. Despite the predictable script Avatar is. Because I saw in it the film makers vision, heart and belief. Did Hurt Locker really give me an insight into the minds of the young American Soldiers in Iraq ? No. It was the adrenaline addicted bomb demolition Hero I have seen so often disguised in two scenes, one in the shower with him crying and the other in the helicopter where his friend is blaming him for almost getting him killed.
I guess part of my reaction was the way the Iraqi’s are shown. Each one of them was a potential terrorist. If one is making a serious film about the Iraq war, then we carry the responsibility to attempting to discover some of the reality of it.
My vote for Avatar as best film of the year. For it believes in a future with hope, without meaning to be something other than that.

Kaminey catapults Indian Cinema in modernity beyond Tarantino

The greatest thing about Vishal Bharadwaj’s kaminey is that you cannot work out why it is working. You cannot work out why you are laughing amidst the ugliness of violence in perhaps India’s first real dark comedy. And why in the final moments of the film with the brilliant background song by Vishaal himself, you finally get the point of the film. With Violence all around you, you sense innocence caught in the crossfire of unnecessary violence. And finally you come away with a great sense of the pointlessness of it all. It’s terrific.
Yes the cinematography is great, as are some of the performances, the script and the editing. But it is ultimately a director”s brilliant vision of the world that is playing through. Vishal better think hard about how to surpass this one. Hidden also in the credits is Sabrina Dhawan, who also wrote what I think is Mira Nair’s best film – Monsoon Wedding, which also had the same pattern of many stories being told separately and that finally come together in a great emotional revelation.
Did Vishal have to use the idea of stuttering and stammering with the main character though ? It was a little over done and the only thing that harked to a more traditional form of comedy in Indian films. The film could have done with a little less of that.
Kudo’s to Ronnie Screwvala and his team at UTV for backing a director’s vision. No one could have read the script of Kaminey ( or DEV D for that matter) and found a commercially successful film. They are taking chances and winning. Both films – and especially Kaminey were risky films and are hits.