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Thursday, May 30, 2013

steven soderbergh on the state of cinema

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On Ritwik Ghatak

Mr. Nair writes about the special relationship he shared with the legendary director Ritwik Ghatak:

Ritwik Ghatak
A Personal Note
By P.K. Nair
Ritwik Ghatak, is one, whom I had the highest regard as a filmmaker and film teacher. I would fondly refer to him as “the erratic genius of Indian Cinema” and place him in the company of such world masters as Alexander Dovzhenko, Luis Bunuel, Andrei Tarkovsky and Sergei Paradjanov. In fact, he mentioned to me once, these were the filmmakers who really inspired him. Groomed under the strong left wing ideology of the theatrical group IPTA (Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association) in the early forties, he believed in the pristine glory of “The Indian Melodramatic tradition” and when he switched to filmmaking in the mid fifties, he continued with its fine tuning and later lifted it up from it’s routine mundane usage to epic dimensions of cinematic excellence. His films are so rich in its cultural references , that its essential to familiarize oneself with the Indian myths, folklore and traditional concepts to unravel their significance. As a film teacher, Ghatak dispenses with the theory that Cinema is primarily a visual medium and Sound has only a secondary role. Though he accepts the need for realizing harmony in the audio visual experience, he would let the Sound to dominate the visuals at times, as a personal choice. His audio track is an integral part of the narrative and so rich in its content that no student of Cinema can afford to miss it. Who can ever forget the whiplash sounds in “ Meghe Dhaka Tara”?
Uprooted from his traditional East Bengal moorings in Dhaka, driven to the Calcutta metropolis for a livelihood, Ghatak was a victim of partition like several of his fellow artists. The impact of partition was so traumatic and intense, one gets the feeling he could never get it out of his system. No wonder “uprootedness” keeps on emerging again and again as a recurring motif in almost all his films.
Unfortunately, Ghatak did not get the recognition he really deserved during his lifetime unlike his illustrious contemporary, Ray. This had a negative impact on his phyche that led to his constant frustration and final disillusionment. He was perhaps the most misunderstood, misinterpreted and “unrecognized” Artist of his time. Out of all foreign critics only George Sadoul wrote about him after seeing “Ajantrik” at the Venice Film Festival in 1957. Of course now Ghatak has become the uncrowned “icon” for all film students in the country and film festivals abroad.
History has been a mute witness to Artists struggling to make their creations and not getting public acceptance, during their time, fading away in oblivion, unsung and unheard of. Realization of the importance of their contribution to humanity, dawns on us much later. Ritwik Ghatak was no exception. The generation that followed owe their respect to him as we happen to be the lucky beneficiaries.

MEGHE DHAKA TARA / The Cloud-capped Star
This is Ghatak’s most endearing and successful film from the public acceptance point. The tragic story of a young woman, who takes upon herself the heavy burden of running the household and looking after the welfare of her family members, at the risk of her personal happiness, love and career, ending up a hapless victim of her own large hearted magnanimity, presented by Ghatak in a highly emotion charged narrative, with mythical overtones and passionately critiquing the way we treat our daughters.
Neeta, the elder daughter of a lower middle class family, uprooted from East Bengal because of partition, living in a refugee settlement colony in suburban Calcutta, assumes the responsibility of taking care of her family – elder brother, Shankar, training himself diligently to be a singer, younger brother, a budding sports enthusiast, wanting to be a football player, the youthful younger sister who takes life easy, the warm hearted retired schoolmaster father, fond of quoting from world literature and the pitiable mother with a bitter tongue. Neeta manages to take care of the urgent needs of all members of her family, including that of her lover, Sanat, in pursuing his doctoral research in Physics, with the income she earns from her tuition classes.
When her aged father meets with an accident in a railway track, she is forced to discontinue her studies, and take up a routine secretarial job to keep the household running. She dismisses her lover Sanat’s criticism of brother Shankar wasting his time and latching on to her by assuring him of her firm conviction that he will be a great singer one day, and “ so do you, in your field”. As for their marriage, she asks him to wait till her commitments to the family are over. But his impatience draws him closer to the youthful charms of the younger sister, Geetha and he decides to marry her, letting down Neeta in the lurch. Though the schoolmaster father vehemently argues that the marriage should be “in continuation” to that of the elder daughter, he is forced to give his consent out of sheer helplessness. Shankar leaves the household in protest, and goes off to Bombay in search of his fortunes. Neeta’s worries keep mounting as her sportsman brother lands up in an accident in the factory he was working in and had to be hospitalized. She goes to Sanat for financial help as in between he had taken up a lucrative job. His pregnant wife accuses him of reviving old friendships.
Too much running around with all the strain and stress of the burden on her shoulders, lands up Neeta to a breaking point when she is diagnosed with TB. Not wanting to embarrass the family, she voluntarily shifts to an outhouse, keeping aloof from the family and continue with her daily life…Its only when the singer brother Shankar returns to the household after achieving fame in Bombay that the secret is revealed to the utter dismay of the family members. He immediately arranges to shift her to a sanatorium in Shillong. Later Shankar visits her in the sanatorium and we see her letting an old love letter written by Sanat, slip through her hands in which he has described her as a “Cloud-capped Star”. As Shankar narrates the happy developments back home, Neeta bursts out wailing “Brother, I want to live. I want to Live…”. As she keeps on repeating her words, the wailing sounds reverberate around the whole Nature as the camera swings around a 360 Degree pan. The film ends with Shankar at the wayside grocery shop as the amiable grocer, recollecting Neeta’s familiar walking in front of his shop, laments: “Does she deserve all the suffering that was her lot?” As Shankar looks away, we see another young woman from the refugee colony, stumbling and bending down to discover she has torn her slipper. She walks on dragging her feet.
Cultural references:
Neeta’s birthday coincides with Jagaddhatri Pooja, day (Durga Pooja). Jagaddhatri is the all pervading, all caring “Mother Goddess”. This may be one of the inner compulsions that provoked Neeta to assume the role of The Mother Goddess to her middle class family and thereby achieve a certain immortality through spiritual liberation. The underlying factor to all forms of “Spiritual upliftment” stems out of a long process of experiencing “Pain and suffering” as an inevitable route.
Neeta always wanted to go to the hills – the abode of Shiva (God of Energy)
She wanted her lover to be a Scientist, elder brother a Singer and Artist. And another brother a Sportsman. The desire of achieving excellence in the fields of Science, Arts and Sport, is a holistic approach to a healthy civilization and nationhood.
The filmmaker’s anguish is expressed eloquently in the whiplash sequences. In his critiquing, he does not spare either Neeta, Sanat or the family elders.
From the ‘Particular’ to the ‘Universal’. It’s not the story of one Neeta but that of many Neetas. Before the film ends, the next edition of the character is introduced. The cycle continues…

- P.K. Nair
15th December 2012

Original post via Celluloid Man

Friday, May 24, 2013

Boyle on Directing..

Danny Boyle has directed hit films in a wide array of genres—from the cautionary drug saga Trainspotting to the inspirational, Oscar-winning drama Slumdog Millionaire. In 2010, Danny Boyle enumerated his 15 Golden Rules of filmmaking exclusively for MovieMaker Magazine, just as 127 Hours hit theaters. His latest film, Trance, is still trolling around in theaters.

Danny Boyle

1. A DIRECTOR MUST BE A PEOPLE PERSON • Ninety-five percent of your job is handling personnel. People who’ve never done it imagine that it’s some act, like painting a Picasso from a blank canvas, but it’s not like that. Directing is mostly about handling people’s egos, vulnerabilities and moods. It’s all about trying to bring everybody to a boil at the right moment. You’ve got to make sure everyone is in the same film. It sounds stupidly simple, like ‘Of course they’re in the same film!’ But you see films all the time where people are clearly not in the same film together.
2. HIRE TALENTED PEOPLE • Your main job as a director is to hire talented people and get the space right for them to work in. I have a lot of respect for actors when they’re performing, and I expect people to behave. I don’t want to see people reading newspapers behind the camera or whispering or anything like that.
3. LEARN TO TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS • Ideally, you make a film up as you go along. I don’t mean that you’re irresponsible and you’ve literally got no idea, but the ideal is that you’ve covered everything—every angle—so that you’re free to do it any of those ways. Even on low-budget films, you have financial responsibilities. Should you fuck it up, you can still fall back on one of those ways of doing it. You’ve got Plan A to go back to, even though you should always make it with Plan B if you can. That way keeps it fresh for the actors, and for you.
4. FILM HAPPENS IN THE MOMENT • What’s extraordinary about film is that you make it on the day, and then it’s like that forever more. On that day, the actor may have broken up with his wife the night before, so he’s inevitably going to read a scene differently. He’s going to be a different person.
I come from theater, which is live and changes every night. I thought film was going to be the opposite of that, but it’s not. It changes every time you watch it: Different audiences, different places, different moods that you’re in. The thing is logically fixed, but it still changes all the time. You have to get your head around that.
5. IF YOUR LAST FILM WAS A SMASH HIT, DON’T PANIC • I had an obsession with the story of 127 Hours, which pre-dated Slumdog Millionaire. But I know—because I’m not an idiot—that the only reason [the studio] allowed us to make it was because Slumdog made buckets of money for them and they felt an obligation of sorts. Not an obligation to let me do whatever I want, but you kind of get a free go on the merry-go-round.
6. DON’T BE AFRAID TO TELL STORIES ABOUT OTHER CULTURES • You can’t just hijack a culture for your story, but you can benefit from it. If you go into it with the right attitude, you can learn a lot about yourself, as well as about the potential of film in other cultures, which is something we tried to do with Slumdog Millionaire… Most films are still made in America, about Americans, and that’s fine. But things are changing and I think Slumdog was evidence of that. There will be more evidence as we go on.
7. USE YOUR POWER FOR GOOD • You have so much power as director that if you’re any good at all, you should be able to use that to the benefit of everyone. You have so much power to shape the movie the way you want it that, if you’re on form and you’ve done your prep right and you’re ready, you should be able to make a decent job of it with the other people.
8. DON’T HAVE AN EGO • Your working process—the way you treat people, your belief in people—will ultimately be reflected in the product itself. The means of production are just as important as what you produce. Not everyone believes that, but I do. I won’t stand for anyone being treated badly by anyone. I don’t like anyone shouting or abusing people or anything like that. You see people sometimes who are waiting for you to be like that, because they’ve had an experience like that in the past, but I’m not a believer in that. The texture of a film is affected very much by the honor with which you make it.
9. MAKE THE TEST SCREENING PROCESS WORK FOR YOU • Test screenings are tough. It makes you nervous, exposing the film, but they’re very important and I’ve learned a great deal from using them. Not so much from the whole process of cards and the discussions afterwards, but the live experience of sitting in an auditorium with an audience that doesn’t know much about the story you’re going to tell them—I find that so valuable. I’ve learned not so much to like it, but to value how important it is. I think you have to, really.
10. COME TO THE SET WITH A LOOK BOOK • I always have a bible of photographs, images by which I illustrate a film. I don’t mean strict storyboards, I just mean for inspiration for scenes, for images, for ideas, for characters, for costumes, even for props. These images can come from anywhere. They can come from obvious places like great photographers, or they can come from magazine advertisements—anywhere, really. I compile them into a book and I always have it with me and I show it to the actors, the crew, everybody!
11. EVEN PERFECT FORMULAS DON’T ALWAYS WORK • As a director your job is to find the pulse of the film through the actors, which is partly linked to their talent and partly to their charisma. Charisma is a bit indefinable, thank God, or else it would be prescribed in the way that you chemically make a new painkiller. In the movies—and this leads to a lot of tragedy and heartache—you can sometimes have the most perfect formula and it still doesn’t work. That’s a reality that we are all victims of sometimes and benefit from at other times. But if you follow your own instincts and make a leap of faith, then you can at least be proud of the way you did it.
12. TAKE INSPIRATION WHERE YOU FIND IT • When we were promoting Slumdog Millionaire, we were kind of side-by-side with Darren Aronofsky, who was also with Fox Searchlight and was promoting The Wrestler. I watched it and it was really interesting; Darren just decided that he was going to follow this actor around, and it was wonderful. I thought, ‘I want to make a film like that. I want to see if I can make a film like that.’ It’s a film about one actor. It’s about the monolithic nature of film sometimes, you know? It’s about a dominant performance.
13. PUSH THE PRAM • I think you should always try to push things as far as you can, really. I call it “pushing the pram.” You know, like a stroller that you push a baby around in? I think you should always push the pram to the edge of the cliff—that’s what people go to the cinema for. This could apply to a romantic comedy; you push anything as far as it will stretch. I think that’s one of your duties as a director… You’ll only ever regret not doing that, not having pushed it. If you do your job well, you’ll be amazed at how far the audience will go with you. They’ll go a long, long way—they’ve already come a long way just to see your movie!
14. ALWAYS GIVE 100 PERCENT • You should be working at your absolute maximum, all the time. Whether you’re credited with stuff in the end doesn’t really matter. Focus on pushing yourself as much as you can. I tend not to write, but I love bouncing off of writing; I love having the writers write and then me bouncing off of it. I bounce off writers the same way I bounce off actors.
15. FIND YOUR OWN “ESQUE” • A lesson I learned from A Life Less Ordinary was about changing a tone—I’m not sure you can do that. We changed the tone to a kind of Capra-esque tone, and whenever you do anything more “esque,” you’re in trouble. That would be one of my rules: No “esques.” Don’t try to Coen-esque anything or Capra-esque anything or Tarkovsky-esque anything, because you’ll just get yourself in a lot of trouble. You have to find your own “esque” and then stick to it.
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