Friday, July 20, 2012

Movie Review- The Dark Knight Rises

I'll admit... I have a slight preference for DC comics over Marvel, though my loyalties do keep changing from one side to another, as new comics, movies and animated series keep getting released from both the sides. When it comes to movies, Marvel has succeeded more in producing good live action movies, whereas DC has been more successful with its direct to video animated movies. While Marvel has worked in promoting and popularising most of its characters in an equal manner, from Punisher to Deadpool... Wolverine to Thor... Captain America to Reed Richards... Ironman to Hulk, DC has been focusing more on three or four of its characters, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman being the big three, followed by the Green Lantern Corps (Hal Jordan in particular).

Though Marvel has produced some wonderful Direct to video animated movies, DC hasn't been that successful with its live action movies, (Green Lantern being the biggest let down of them all). But they did have one particular franchise doing wonderfully well and that was The Batman movie series. So many directors have tried their hand at the Batman franchise, but none have had as much success as Christopher Nolan. We've had so many wonderful actors taking up important roles in many poorly written Batman movies. Jim Carrey's Riddler, Tommy Lee Jones' Two Face, Jack Nicholson's Joker and Arnold's Mr. Freeze have been some of the most memorable, though the movies in which these characters have appeared have been pretty ordinary. But all these movies did one thing really well, that was being loyal to the comic and animated tv series, when it came to the ambience and feel of the movie.

This is perhaps the one thing that was missing in Nolan's reboot of the batman franchise. When I first saw Batman begins, I was seriously disappointed with the camera used and the cinematography that awaited me. That was certainly not the kind of cinematography to be used for a super hero movie... that was the first thought in my head (though many did praise the cinematography). It was the sort of cinematography used to make depressing psychological thrillers or perhaps movies about the sick and the dead...well technically Batman Begins did have scarecrow, whose prime work was to mess with the mind, so I guess that was appropriate, but it did put me off from watching the movie fully, after the first few scenes. Also Nolan is known for his slow paced movies, a trait of the more serious cinema, and I was of the opinion that super hero movies had to be fast and exciting...one more reason that prevented me from watching the first movie in this series completely.

Then I got exposed to the second movie in this particular reboot series and that was the Dark Knight. Once again the slowness of the movie had a frustrating impact on me, during the first few scenes and also the dialogues spoken by the characters on screen weren't that audible. Then I got used to it and the more I saw the character Joker, the more I was mesmerised. Not because it was played by a great actor and that his ill timed death made everyone want to focus on his last portrayal on screen, but it was the dialogue and the screen play that impacted me. Joker quotes were always popular among Batman fans and Dark Knight had some of the best quotes there ever was. Acting too was wonderful by the late performer, but other than Joker and a couple of brilliantly made sequences in the movie, nothing else really impressed me that greatly, though my liking for the franchise had risen greatly, thanks to the amazing plot.

Batman franchise is one of those rare franchises in which the villains are more popular than the main superhero character himself and certainly the likes of Joker, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Penguin and Catwoman, are more liked by many, than Batman or Robin. The last of the movie in Nolan's series is no exception to this as well. Bane and Cat Woman have seriously stolen the show...


Firstly let's look at the title, "The Dark Knight Rises", that must in a way give an idea, what the movie is really about. The rise of Batman after his prolonged recluse? Well that sure is one way of seeing it...but the real meaning of the title can be truly understood only at the final scene...I am not going to tell you what it is, am I? As much as I want to...I am not going to...

I will however tell you what the state of Gotham is, after the events of the previous movie. Harvey Dent is dead and he is being mourned by Gotham as the greatest hero the city has ever had. An act called the Dent Act has been established, caging many notorious criminals in the prison, without parole. Batman, Gotham's regular guardian is missing and so is Bruce Wayne according to the public. Batman has been accused of many evil acts, that were seen from the second movie and all the crimes done by Harvey Dent have been blamed on the black knight.

We get introduced to the character of Bane, born in hell (assumed to be), now working towards raising hell in Gotham...that's the one line description of the massive ball of flesh, with his iron mask. His introductory sequence is one of the best in recent times and it has the same impact on the audience as the Joker intro in the Dark Knight. Selina Kyle's intro is rather mellow, till she shows her skill in stealing something valuable from Bruce Wayne's manor...more valuable (both to Bruce and to the plot of the movie), than originally thought and transforms into Cat woman.

Alfred Pennyworth is still trying to push his master, Bruce, now with beard and a walking stick, in a enclosed room, to go back into living his life in the outside world, who is still mourning the death of his beloved from the previous movie. We are also shown Commissioner Gordon, still doing his best to keep the streets of Gotham safe, without the cape and cowl of the dark knight, but with a gun, that batman refuses to use upon his enemies.

Finally we are introduced to a young officer, Johnny Blake, energetic and enthusiastic, to know about Gotham's missing guardian and also the billionaire, whose charity house has been providing money (but stopped over the past few years) for the orphanage where he grew up as a child.

The lives of all these characters are connected, when the city they live in, comes under a major nuclear threat, thanks to the clever planning and execution of one of Bruce's board members and the employer of Bane, who uses Wayne Corporation's own creation, a device used to provide sustainable energy to all of Gotham. I want to keep saying more, but trust me...it's a whole lot more interesting, seeing the unfolding of the plot on screen.

I have been in the past disappointed by the various gadgets and vehicles shown in the batman movies. Then I came upon the new Batmobile in the previous Nolan' movies and that made me want to puke even more, while most other people considered it the most awesome tech ever. It was cool when seen as a separate machine, but it did not fit the usual Batmobile description in other comics and movie series. In fact Christopher Nolan's batman franchise in no way satisfies the storyline and details in the comic series. So if you are a hardcore comic book fan, I would ask you to first get rid of the association between this reboot and the usual Batman stories in your mind. This is a separate series that has no relation to any other story, in movies, animated series or comics.

The bike is the best vehicle ever shown in any superhero franchise...that was my thought, till I saw the 'Bat' flying machine in the third installment. Batman costume too has improved from the previous movies (the ones with the bulbous head and diaper like cape), though very few changes have been made (guess even small changes bring in a great difference).

Cinematography in this movie is top class, so is the back ground score by Hans Zimmer. The soundtrack might not be too memorable when heard separately, but with the visuals, they create the required effect on the audience. Screenplay is tight and precise and the visual effects (though minimal) were exceptionally made.

As for the actors, we have Christian Bale as Bruce/Batman, Gary Oldman as Gordan, Anne Hathaway as Selina/Catwoman, Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Liam Neelson as R'as Ghul, Joseph Gordon Lewitt as Johnny Blake, Marion Cotillord as Miranda Tate and Tom Hardy as Bane. Now this is also a movie where several characters take up as much screen time as the lead character. The villains take even more and rightly so. This might seem as a list of actors, waiting for Oscar nomination and they have performed as they would probably be expected to...like fighting for an Oscar among themselves.

Tom Hardy, though has most of his face covered by the mask, reveals to Bale perhaps that all you need is the eyes to speak. Bale, though has been rather insipid in the previous two movies, has once again transformed into his usual best in this last installment.

Anne Hathaway in Latex, riding a bike with a raised derriere...purr....what else could one want...but she gives lot more to the audience through her performance. She isn't the only main female character...there is one another...and the most important character, for the twist in the plot...(must...not...reveal...head about to explode...kaboom!!!) nah...you'll know it when you see it...

I did not have any expectations when I went for this movie, the very first day of its release (yeah right...without expectations my ass)...well I did not expect it to be exciting like the avengers and I was of the opinion that it was going to be slow, being a Nolan movie...but it definitely was not. Thoroughly engaging and hair raising, though it might not be as visually grand and spectacular like other super hero movies of recent times. This is all about story and dialogues and Nolan has done it perfectly. Though many other critics have been rather harsh on this last movie in this series, I would advice everyone to watch it and make their own decision. Best movie of this year? I would surely bet on it...

                                                                                                          -A.Prashanth Narasimhan

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Big G (Ji) And S.Atan’s Big Conversation (A Short Story)


It was the middle of a day in the middle of a week and I was sweeping the floor in the lounge of the hotel Supraja in the wonderful city of Coimbatore, where I was paid to do simple cleaning jobs for a few hundred rupees each month. As a fourteen year old kid, it seemed a great way to make some extra money and I was very much grateful to my uncle Ramani, for having given me a job in the hotel that he co-owned, despite it being illegal for kids of my age to be employed.
My mother had one warning every morning, before she sent me to work
“Remember Jiddu, your uncle is taking great risk in making you work in his hotel. He gave you the job only because your father is not responsible enough to stick with us and run our family efficiently and we are running low on money, every month. Your sister has just completed her twelfth standard and we need to start saving some money for her marriage soon-“
Before she could complete with what she wanted to say, I, at my eager best, jumped up with another question.
“Why can’t Ramani mama, provide us with the money we need? He is your brother, right? And he does often cite that Appa left to some other city, without caring for us, leaving our family to be Mama’s responsibility. He says that he will do everything he can for us, in the midst of our relatives”
“Only in the midst of relatives” I heard her murmur. She always murmured when she did not want me to know or hear something, but I always did. Didn’t really understand why she did that. Then she raised her voice “Getting you a job is all he could do. We must not depend on others. Besides, wouldn’t you be proud if it’s your money that gets Bharathi akka married?” asked my mother, with wide, excited eyes.
“Of course I will...Anything for akka...But I hear that other people in the hotel earn more money than I do. I thought being one of the owner’s nephew, I could be paid more” asked I.
“That’s not going to happen with Ramani...that darn miser” murmured mother again. “Just do your job and God will take care of anything. If we really remain honest and do good things to the people around us, without worrying if they are good to us or not, God will certainly take care of us. So don’t worry if the people around you get paid more than you. At the end of it all, only people who do good things reach heaven. People who do bad things will burn in hell. Therefore, be good...”
  I have tried to remain good all my life, thanks to my mother’s advice or should I say warning. I have heard from my grandmother about how awful hell can be and she too, like my mother, always warned me to be good or that I will end up in hell, where I would have to suffer for all eternity. She had told me that there were demons there that fried you in oil, made you walk on fire, eat bugs and they also beat you up with large clubs and maces. I certainly did not want to end up there and was very much concerned about not making any mistakes that can get me stuck there.
Contrary to hell was heaven. I asked different people as to what heaven really was and different people had different ideas. My mother told me that heaven was filled with good people, who took care of each other and showered each other with love. Ramani Mama told me that heaven was a place full of money, expensive clothes, a gorgeous palace and an expensive car. My cousin Shiva, who was nineteen years old told me that heaven was full of beautiful women, who treated you like royalties and did whatever you wanted them to do. For some strange reason he giggled after saying this and I did not really understand why. So all these different descriptions of heaven from different people made one thing clear, it was the place that everyone wanted to be and the most pleasurable place ever. I certainly wanted to go there after my term on Earth.
My mother, during our difficult times, like when we did not have enough food to eat, or a place to stay during the floods and storms, used to say that we have to bear everything patiently and calmly, not losing our senses. She told me and Bharathi akka to think that all our sufferings will come to an end if we remained good and we’ll definitely go to paradise, if we faced all our problems, without making any sins. She promised that all our trials will soon end and we will have a wonderful place to be for all eternity. That sounded like good news, but she always cried after saying this. I still don’t understand that. Maybe she just said that to make us feel good? Or perhaps she knew that we won’t get anything good as promised at the end of it all? I did have a lot of questions.
While mother spoke of getting all the good things only after death, that too if we only prevented ourselves from going in any wrong path, there were many others who spoke of good things happening to people, within their life time, if they remained pure and noble here on earth.
My father’s childhood friend, Mr. Narayanan, often visited us to make sure that me, my sister and my mother were doing well, despite our father leaving us. For some reason he was very much sorry for our state and seemed like he wanted to do something for us, for the betrayal of his friend. He said that he was feeling guilty for what our father had done and Mr. Narayanan always wanted to do something to help us. But he was not a rich man himself and he had a family to feed on his own. He did give a few hundred rupees and some fruits and biscuits, every time he came to see us. But those weren’t the only things that he provided us with. He tried to fill in the shoes of our father, by doing his best to keep our hopes alive during our tough period, tried to inspire us and he wanted to always guide us in the right path.
I once asked him about heaven and hell and he said that those were two places that many felt that everyone went to, based on their deeds on earth. Mr. Narayanan was a more rational man and he did not want to fill my head with beliefs of something that wasn’t exactly proven.
“Look Jiddu, I don’t know if there is a heaven or hell. I can only say that life becomes heavenly when you are surrounded by good people and hellish when surrounded by bad people. Would you be happier in the midst of people, who don’t cheat you, who care for you and whom you can trust whole heartedly or in the midst of people who betray you, who scold you, who beat you up and ignore you completely?”
“Obviously with the ones who are good to me...But aren’t there all sorts of people in our life? I mean nobody can be termed absolutely good or absolutely bad...”
“That is true, nobody is absolutely good and absolutely bad all the time. But we should make efforts to remain as good as much as we can. Even if we do certain things that might affect the lives of the people around us, we must realise our mistake, apologise to the ones who got hurt by us and try to help them overcome the trouble that our action has caused. Realising one’s mistake and apologising for it is of utmost importance, Jiddu...”
“Does that mean if we do bad things, we will be forgiven if we just confess our mistakes and apologise? My English teacher Mariam in school, used to say that God will forgive everyone if they repented for their sins”
“Well...that is true, but that does not mean you can do something knowing that it is wrong and then apologise. We have to try as much as we can to not hurt others. If we do something, without our knowledge, at first, then if we realise our mistakes and correct ourselves, then perhaps you can be forgiven. Different religions tell different things, but I would ask you to not trust anything blindly. Try to question everything and try to find answers for yourself. For your question about heaven or hell, I can give you a simple story...”
”Imagine a guy working in an office.  He has a superior to answer to and he has a few subordinates whom he should administer well. Let’s say he has been given a particular work that he has to complete using the people working under him. If he is a miserable leader, he would yell at his subordinates, create panic in them, make them work under pressure all the time, scare them of getting them fired if they did not do their job well and so on. What would happen then? All the people working under him will naturally be in constant fear and tension all the time, they would mess up the work given to them, because of the pressure caused by the man they are working under and the quality of the work they do will certainly be poor. The miserable man would not be satisfied with the job and he would try to make his men rework over and over again, till the deadline ends. The job wouldn’t have been completed well even then and the man would have to submit the poorly made work to his superior as the deadline has ended. The poor work would make the superior unhappy and he will express his anger on the man, who in turn will show more hatred towards his subordinates. This does not stop here. The pressures of work will carry on to their house.”
“The subordinates will show their displeasure towards their wives, husbands and children, so will the man who was the reason behind everything in the first place. He will yell at his wife, parents and children, even when small acts of theirs annoy him in the simplest of manner. He will be thinking about how his work ended up being awful and he will focus his entire frustration and anger on his family. His children, having gotten scolded by their father, will be sad and disappointed. Their sadness will also influence the children who usually play with them. The wife of the man will show her disappointment from her husband’s behaviour on the other people she encounters, like the vegetable vendor who might demand a higher price than normal on that day, and this vendor having endured the woman’s rage, might go on to show his irritation on to his own family-“
“Yes, yes, I understand Narayanan uncle...” I had interrupted understanding where he was going with his story and a little annoyed myself seeing how lengthy Mr. Narayanan was with his story. He had this habit of drifting from what he wanted to say and my sister often used to refer to him as the one with the boring lectures. I found that quite insulting and a bit offensive. I liked the man and I always stood up for him. My sister had several other things to say about him as well, his long nose and blue eyes being another two things that she often teased about.
“You see, this is an endless cycle. So many people will be unhappy and upset because of the anger, hatred and displeasure of one man. So that single bad man has turned other people miserable as well and life for all these people becomes hellish. Whereas if at least there had been one person who had managed to be on their good side, when coming across a person with a bad mood, then that person could have changed everything in an instance. If the man’s father or his wife or his children, had managed to show calmness, patience and tolerance towards the man and the others who they had encountered, then the spread of anger, hatred and frustration from one person to another could have been prevented. The chain could have been broken. If the wife of the man had been strong enough to not let her husband’s negative feelings get to her and if she had been patient towards the other people she had come across, without spreading her husband’s frustration on to others, then she would not have been responsible for more people becoming miserable”
“If the man’s superior had been tolerant enough with his subordinates’ mistakes and focused on correcting them in a calm manner, instead of showing his anger onto everyone below him, the office too could have been prevented from becoming a hell. If the man, who had pressured his subordinates into making mistakes, had been more mature and wise in his dealing with the people under him, none of the others would have suffered. Without pressure, the people in the lower posts in the office hierarchy, would have done their job efficiently, the superior would have been content and might have even appreciated everyone, thereby making everyone happy and peaceful...Now that’s what I would call heaven. So see Jiddu, if we do remain good, we can create heaven right around us and if we are bad, we can be responsible for the establishment of hell. Maybe all the religions of the world meant this through their scriptures, but people might have misunderstood them and taken things too literal” said the long nosed Mr. Narayanan with a smile.
He did seem like he made great sense, but I was also frightened with the prospect of not getting a place in heaven, after my death. If there was no real heaven and hell and all those religious scriptures were really taken too literally, then where do we go after we died? This brought me a whole lot of scary thoughts and worries. Perhaps I should have focused more on what Mr. Narayanan brilliantly put forward to me through his lecture that was as long as his nose, rather than worrying about the literal heaven and hell.
So why am I telling about Heaven and Hell right now? There seems to be no purpose to this discussion right now, doesn’t it? Well I do have a reason. I have this great obsession about heaven and hell and I’ve always wanted to know everything about it.
As I was saying earlier, it was the middle of a day in the middle of a week and I was sweeping the lounge of the hotel I was working in. People usually came by in hundreds towards the weekends and a few dozens, towards the night on normal days. Noon on weekdays was perhaps the most deserted time period in the hotel. Hotel Supraja did provide lodging as well as food, but we were known more for our “high quality service” for people who wanted to stay, rather than our food. In fact, our food was awful. I myself ate the food that my mother usually sent with me from home. People ate here only if there was no other option. So even the usual office going folks who flooded the other hotels towards the lunch hours, were missing in our hotel. One of the owners (our hotel was owned by four men, including my uncle Ramani) Mr. Natrajan was the only one who spent most of his time in the hotel. The others had other businesses to deal with and they only appeared during weekends and on other special days, especially on that day every month, when they were to split the income generated by the hotel... which wasn’t that much.
Ramani mama had other works to attend to as well (A water plant, a small textile shop and a cycle service shop) and he was certainly earning a lot of money, though he always complained he never had enough to take care of his own family, let alone ours. No wonder my mother murmured a lot.
Mr. Natarajan was reading his newspaper in the reception, while there was only a handful of people coming and staying at the hotel at that time. Many of the other cleaners and bell boys had left to have their lunch in other hotels nearby, ignoring the food made by our own cook. Mr. Natarajan had often condemned them to not go to other places to eat, which might tarnish the reputation of our hotel, but they did not listen. They often lied to our owner of going out to other places, regarding our own hotel related businesses and Mr. Natarajan too came to understand that they cannot be stopped. So he started to pretend that he really believed what they were saying. He did bring his own lunch as well, but he did not eat it in the reception, where he usually spent much of his time in. He took his own food to the part of the hotel, which was to be the place where people coming in for food, were to be served, but this place was often deserted. He sat there and ate the food he had brought from home, often pretending that it was truly delicious and his own hotel had produced such fine food, hoping that a few passersby would think that the food from our hotel was really wonderful.
That day, he seemed to have already finished his lunch and was immersed in one of his newspapers. He did not speak that much to me and I often wondered if Ramani Mama had told him that I was his nephew. For some strange reason, I had the feeling Ramani Mama wouldn’t have told him, worrying about his own image in front of his partner. Mother always murmured about Ramani Mama often feeling embarrassed about his association with people like us, even though my mother was his own sister, me and my sister his own nephew and niece. Whether he told anyone in the hotel or not, Mr. Natarajan never spoke to me much about anything. He only gave orders now and again and did not ask me about anything. I had seen him often having conversations with other workers in the hotel, about issues other than that involving work, but never to me.
That day, there were just the two of us in the lounge and if there hadn’t been the newspaper there, I wondered if Mr. Natarajan would have had any other choice but to speak to me. It wasn’t as if I was desperate for him to speak to me, but I was kind of confused as to why he wasn’t giving me much importance... the kind of importance the other workers received. But then a thought occurred to me. Perhaps he wasn’t comfortable with a young kid like me working under him. Yes that must be it...
Mr. Natarajan was the kind of man who was very much afraid of the law and tried to remain as disciplined as possible, not because of his respect for the law, but his unwillingness to get into any trouble unnecessarily. I knew that Ramani mama and Mr. Natarajan had a heated discussion about having me working there. I knew that Mr. Natarajan did not want me there because of my age and that he preferred workers above eighteen years, so that he did not get into any trouble from the police or the children’s welfare association. But Ramani mama convinced him somehow and got me the job. I think he did not say that I was his nephew and hence he was trying to get me a job. He probably would have stated the poor condition of our family and tried to convince his partners to accept me out of pity and sympathy. Whatever it was I got the job, paid lesser than others and not talked enough by one of the bosses.
That day however, he had a single thing to say to me and that brought a big change to my life...
“You boy...” Mr. Natarajan called for me, with the telephone receiver in his hand, having just received a call in the large red telephone at the reception. “Are there any bell boys nearby?” he asked eyeing from above his counter.
I looked around in the nearby rooms and reported that there were none.
“Do a job for me, will you? I am not ordering you...just a small request...this is not a job really... just a help...” said the old man, with the bald head and thin glasses. Mr. Natarajan seemed a bit hesitant in giving me a work to do and he always was like that, when he wanted me to do something for him. He would raise his voice every time, when he was asking me to do something and he said every time that he was just seeking help from me and not ordering me. I think it was just to make others think that he wasn’t tormenting me, but was just requesting, so that nobody accused him of tormenting a little boy with so much work.  
“Go to room 108 and arrange the bed there, as well as clean up any garbage that might have been left by people who had been there before. We are expecting two guests to arrive there in a few minutes time. Can you do that?”
“I sure can, sir...” I took my cleaning brush, mop and a pail of water and headed to the room one hundred and eight. It was in the third floor of the hotel and there were in total one fifty rooms in the entire building. They weren’t too big, neither too small. They were not of the type seen in those larger five or seven star hotels in other parts of the city. Supraja was an ordinary hotel for middle income people. We rarely had richer guests, who came here having no other option, with other hotels nearby filling up on some instances.
I went to the room, opened the door with the key that I had taken from the lobby and started with the cleaning act. The room wasn’t too messy, except for a few cobwebs in one far corner of the room, which seemed to have been ignored by the previous visitors and a few boxes, biscuit and chocolate wrappers under the cot. But the bathroom was a bit messy with a lot of soap stains on the floor and the lavatory, a bit smelly. So I got on with the job of making the bathroom floor and the lavatory much cleaner than before, the way it was meant to be and it took a bit longer than I expected. I also did not have any food that morning, as mother had left home early to pay the electricity bill, leaving the job of preparing meal to my sister, who was a bit slow in cooking, as she was just starting to learn. I did not have the patience to wait and I hurried to the hotel, promising to eat her food towards the noon. I was supposed to have gone home for having my lunch, after sweeping the lounge, but with no bell boy or cleaners available nearby, Mr. Natarajan sent me to make the room one hundred eight, a lot more inhabitable. With no food for more than twelve hours including the previous night and with all the hard work of cleaning the bathroom, I got a bit dizzy and fell unconscious there.
I opened my eyes some time later, though I did not know how long it had been since I had come into the bathroom. My first concern was if Mr. Natarajan was going to think that I was not doing my job properly. I felt a searing pain in my head, thankfully there wasn’t any blood to be found. But I did find a large lump on my fore heard, below my hair and I started rubbing it, in the hopes of pushing the lump back into the skin, only to suffer more in pain. I heard voices coming from beyond the bathroom door, within which I was lying down. The door wasn’t locked, but it was closed tight, with only a thin opening visible towards the edge. I slowly lifted myself up a little and I felt the dizziness once again twirling me around. I knelt down back against the floor and slowly dragged myself towards the door, in the hopes of seeking the help of the men on the other side, in the room.
The voices grew louder as I neared the wall and I opened the door slightly, to widen the narrow slit between the door and its frame. I saw two figures seated in the centre of the room, on a couple of chairs and staring at something in between them. They were both men, one lighter skinned, with a thin beard and a bald head, the other dark skinned, white bearded and with a majestic structure, who my eyes seemed to be more attracted to. He had this amazing blue eyes, white beard that came down to his neck, curly white hair that was lush, vertical lines of wrinkles on the skin of his forehead, which seemed like an odd religious mark that many in my city used to wear, but really wasn’t. He had an amazing voice when he spoke and I certainly was mesmerised by the complete look of him.
The other lighter skinned bald man seemed more sinister and his ears had an odd shape, as if pointed towards the tip, though when focused upon closely, weren’t really pointed but only seemed so from the distance. His thin beard made him look handsome, but not in a good way. I really did not, till that day, think that there was a bad way of seeming handsome. His voice was more seductive and I could sense cunningness in the tone with which he spoke and in his dark, brown eyes, which also seemed to have a red tinge to it. The light skinned man seemed a lot older and more mature than the younger bald man, with the latter being more muscular and fitter. The two men clearly did not seem like they were from this part of the world. The kind of clothes they wore was different from what I’ve been usually exposed to.
“Must be from some far away nation” I whispered to myself.
 Not having been exposed too much to the lands outside my own country, or outside my own state in fact, I could not even describe the attire they were wearing, but they were certainly different from anything I had ever seen. For some reason I could not even state which language they were speaking, but I did understand every word of it...so they must have spoken in Tamil, as I do not know any other language...Well I did know a bit of English since I was taught about it at school, before my mother decided to not send me there anymore, but I cannot say I was really fluent in it. But I understood what the two gentlemen spoke and so I did not worry too much. The dizziness and the aching bump on my head, made everything around me a little hazy and confusing.
I did understand one thing somewhat clearly though. The two men were the guests who Mr. Natarajan had been expecting to arrive there.
‘But how come they did not notice me? The first thing most of the guests who came to the hotel did was to open the bathroom door and check the toilet and the showers. Didn’t these two gentlemen do the same? If they had, they would have found me lying on the floor and tried to alert Mr. Natarajan. Why did they not do that?’ I asked myself.
“So Big Gee, still busy with the good old job, are you?” I heard the bald man, asking the older, more divine looking gentleman.
‘Gee? As in Ji? They must be from the north of India’ I came to the conclusion, based on what I heard.
“Yesss...atan...pretty much so...” said the darker skinned man.
‘What did he call the other guy? Satan? Or was it ‘yes’ followed by Atan? Or is his name S. Atan? But do people really use initials every time they have a normal conversation?’ a lot of questions flooded by mind, but I decided that it was rather a petty thing to be dwelled upon and I came to the conclusion it must be S.Atan...’Weird name’
Both the men were still not seeing each other in the eye, but were staring at something else between them and I could not clearly see what it was, as the bald man’s body was obstructing my view of the object before him. But when he slightly changed his position in the chair, I was able to get a glimpse of some glowing ball like structure in front of him. It was bright and it seemed to...to...hover over the ground.
‘My God, what is that thing? How...How in the world is it flying? Wait a minute, is that really the world? The earth? A globe? The sort found in the principal’s office in my old school? But this thing is flying above the ground? How is it hovering? Is it some advanced machine? And there seems to be tiny objects moving over the earth like structure...What is that thing?’ My vision was still hazy and nothing made clear sense to me. I was even more puzzled than before.
I can see no more of that object, as Mr. S. Atan’s body once again obstructed my view of the hovering object.
“Aren’t you getting a little bored with the same kind of things happening over and over again?” asked Mr. S.Atan.
“Not really...you do make everything much more complicated and exciting with your interference, don’t you?” smiled Big Ji.
“I do, don’t I...It’s all for you to achieve what you really want to...” smiled back the bald man.
“And what do you think that is?”
“You know what I mean...you are the Big G for crying out loud...Don’t pretend you don’t know that I know what you want...”
‘What are these two men talking about? What is really happening here? I don’t understand a thing’ I was still kneeling down in the bathroom floor, watching the two men and the mysterious hovering ball in front of them, through the slit, between the door and the frame, eavesdropping on their big conversation.
“Oh really? Remind me of what I want, would you...” asked Big Ji still with a smile.
“I know your entire affair with the earth is to choose the right candidates...men and women who are worthy of a spot in your domain, ‘The Heaven’”
‘Heaven? Is that the name of some hotel?’ I thought to myself.
“Right you are...and also to get the right people to accompany you, in your lair, ‘The Hell’” said Big Ji back.
‘’Heaven and Hell’...Are they talking about the real heaven and hell? Or is that another hotel?’ Nothing still made any sense to me.
“True...but I preferred a place in your heaven, but you instead banished me to hell” said the bald man, his tone changing a little, showing great displeasure.
“Well I had given you a place, very close to me for a long time, but you instead chose to dethrone me and take complete control over the heaven and all the world together. I am not going to let that happen, am I?” Big Ji, showed no anger or displeasure, but just continued with his smiling.
“And so you chose to have these pathetic mortals by your side, instead of me? They are nothing compared to me. You know what I am capable of” said S.Atan.
‘Wait a minute...Is Mr. S.Atan, really ‘The Satan’? And Big Ji...is actually Big G, as in ‘God’?’ I was speechless and I was beginning to sweat profusely. This little revelation did not do too much good to my already poor, unstable, physical condition.
“I know what you are truly capable of...and hence I banished you to hell...” said Big G calmly.
The bald man lifted one of his hands in the air and closed his fist as if he was about to strike the man before him. There was a little shiver in his body and I was able to sense great anger in him. But soon Satan dropped his hand and heaved a big sigh, trying to calm himself down.
“Never mind...hell isn’t so bad a place to be...at least for me” Satan slowly began to laugh, in a very evil manner, the sort the villains did in movies...but only several thousand times, more scary. I was afraid that I was going to piss my pants, but then again I was on a wet bathroom floor, my pants and shirt already wet, with me having fainted there, a few moments back.
“Not only that, but you also do take great pleasure in meddling with the affairs of humans on Earth and I haven’t done much to keep you off, have I? So that is one more thing that is in your favour” said God.
“I know why you don’t restrict my presence in earth too much...You like what I do there, don’t you?” said Satan, once again letting out a short haunting laugh.
 ‘What is he talking about? God actually allows Satan to be in earth? What am I saying? Are these people really God and Satan? What is happening here?’ I could still not believe what I was witnessing. It’s just that it was all too much for me to handle, but there wasn’t much I could do, than wait there and listen more to the conversation between the two figures beyond the door. Not that I wanted to stay there, but for some reason I wasn’t able to get up and leave. It was as if I was watching a movie, happening right in front of me.
“What do you mean by that?” asked God.
“You always like to pretend that you do not know about anything, don’t you? I mean...you are omnipresent and omniscient...You just want me to say everything with my own mouth, don’t you? Very well...You always trusted your favourite creations, the humans, more than you trusted even your angels...until I showed you how untrustworthy humans can be. That really made you need me, did it not?” asked Satan.
I was still blank, unable to comprehend anything the two beings before me were talking about. But I decided to just stay there and listen to them nonetheless.
“I made you understand that humans cannot be trusted when I appeared as a snake before Adam and Eve...They were tempted by me and they failed...”
“Exactly...you tempted them and they failed...They wouldn’t have if you hadn’t tried to ruin their blissful life...”
“But I showed you that they were not flawless...You want someone to be loyal to you, then they have to be loyal to you no matter what happens around them...And I proved to you that mankind cannot be that way... through the very first humans you ever created...” said Satan proudly.
“But you failed the second time when you tried to do something similar...What about Job? You said that he will fail if he was deprived of everything good in life, but he did not and I proved to you that humans can be loyal to me even when they face a great number of misfortunes...” reminded God to Satan.
‘Are they talking about all those biblical stories that Madam Mariam used to tell us, in between our classes? I think I remember some of them...’ I tried to recollect everything that I had heard in the past.
“True...but that was a lone incident...We did try to see if humans can really be loyal to you, despite all odds, on several instances and tales of all our experiments have come in several religious texts all across the world over different time periods...Only our names change in each of those religions, but not the truth” said Satan.
“Truth according to me is that humans can be trusted and truth for you is that they can’t be...So which truth can I assume?” asked God, patiently.
“I still can’t believe that humans can be truly good...They can be led to do great sins with great ease and such weaklings do not even deserve a place as beautiful as earth. And you want to have many of them on Heaven, a place that was denied to me and several of my fellow angels” once again the bald being’s expression turned serious.
“You brought that upon yourself...If you had not tried to oust me, you still could have been in heaven-“
“I am not concerned about me being sent away from heaven...but I cannot accept humans getting a place there” interrupted Satan, angrily.
“Not all humans get there...you are there just to make sure of that”
“I want no humans there in heaven...Not even one of them. Those filthy, disloyal, pathetic, disgusting creatures...” I was sure that I saw smoke coming out of the bald creature’s ears when he said that. There was genuine anger in his tone and his face was red with rage. His eyes were really terrifying. “They do not deserve something that I am denied...”
“So you will continue to prove them to be worst than you? But you have had your failures in the past...Not every man or woman fall for your temptations” said God, not concerned or feared one bit, about the devil before him. Why would he be afraid, he is ‘The God’ for crying out loud...
 “Of course I’ve had failures and that is because of you... because of what you have done to those humans...what you have revealed to them...”
“What do you mean by that?” asked God.
“Once again...you and your pretensions annoy me a lot...You’ve made the humans realise that there is a place called Hell where they will suffer for all eternity if they sinned during their time on earth-“
I heard my mother’s voice when the bald devil spoke those exact words that my mother had said to me.
“-you’ve made them realise that I will be on earth tempting them in various ways and that they should not lose faith in you...”
“And your problem is?” God asked, looking mischievously at Satan.
“My problem is that you’ve warned the humans before hand through all those religious scriptures and even through moral advises among non-religious people. Our names may vary, the narration of our tale may vary, but the truth is the same in every religion in this world. Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism...whatever the religion might be and in whichever part that religion might be practised... the truth about us remains the same...”
 God seemed like he was truly pretending that he knew nothing, as he eyed innocently towards the monster in front of him.
“All humans know that hurting others physically, mentally or emotionally is wrong and that they will suffer for their evil deeds... That does not make our game fair...It just makes my work even harder than before” said Satan, angrily.
“Harder for you? Really? I thought you were capable of making even the noblest and greatest of men to falter...you take pride in it...”
“I do...I do take pride in it...but it’s just...just totally unfair...” said the fair men with clenched teeth.
‘Satan speaking of being treated unfair...now that’s...different’ I thought still hiding behind the door, listening in to their conversation.
“Do you not think that the humans will force themselves to be good, if they knew that there was someone out there to punish them if they did anything wrong? Do you not ever wonder if the humans will remain as good as they are now, if they came to know that there was no heaven as a reward for them if they remained pure and corruption-less? And even worse is the belief that good things happen to good people. I’ve observed mankind for centuries...Many make mistakes knowing that their actions will affect the people around them somehow, but they do not stop themselves. But once they commit the crime, they try to convince themselves that they were wrong and they then pretend to confess...Or they convince themselves mentally that they are really regretful, just because they fear that they would be sent to hell and not to heaven after their time ends, if they did not repent. In some cases, many people try to compensate for their sins, by paying money to temple and church administrations or feeding the poor...Let me ask you something...Would you really forgive someone who wants to just make up for his sin and not truly regret his action? Would you rather see someone who feeds the poor out of genuine concern for them or would you have people who do it just to fool the people around them and God Himself...that is you...”
“I can sense where you are going with this...but you know me...I would rather let you explain it in more detail” said God, once again with a pleasant smile.
“Humans won’t be as good as they are, if they are made to believe that there is no God to look after them, to judge them and to punish them if they committed any crimes or sins. They won’t be as good if they come to think that there is no after life and their term on earth is the entire term of their existence. I dare you to create such thoughts in humans and see how they behave...” challenged Satan.
I was somewhat able to understand what the devil was trying to say and I had very similar doubts, when I heard about heaven and hell, from all those people I came to talk with, about them.
“There are people who do not believe in me or in the concepts of heaven or hell...but many of those so called ‘Atheists’ still remain good...What do you have to say for that?” asked God.
“Well some of these men might not believe in God, heaven, Satan or hell, but they might have been thought that good things in life could only happen to people who do good things to others. What do you call that? Karma...Yes, you do good, you get good, you do bad, bad things happen to you...”
“If they do not believe in us, do you think they would believe in Karma? But I can understand that some of them might still be morally taught to remain good...”
“So do you agree that it is not a right way to judge people? Do you think even these people will remain good if they come to know that good things won’t happen to them if they just did good things to others. Make them realise that bad things might happen to them if they did or did not help others...then see how they will change...I know they will change...” said Satan, seeming excited now, having made his point. “Why do you even have these atheists in the world? I’ve wanted to ask you that for a long time”
“Whether someone believes in me or not, good people will remain good people. Atheists sometime have more sanity than people who believe me. Religions were created in this world to bring order and unity among humans, to give them some moral ground and make them come together in the celebration of festivals and rituals. But many changed these rules in religions according to their own personal agenda and corrupted all the religions of the world. What was created to unite people, started splitting them up and most awful of deeds began to be made by humans citing religion and me, in my various names and forms. The corruptions and flaws in religions made many people hate them and they also started hating me, as religion and God have been too closely associated. But I still believe humans can change their ways and there is an inherent good in them...”
“Nonsense...I believe something on the contrary. No matter how good they may seem, there is an inherent evil in them. People piss on the walls and at street ends in many parts of the world. Leave a picture of Jesus or Ganesha, or any of your other forms on the walls, they move away from there. These are your so called believers. They do not know that pissing on the walls or spitting on the road are not good acts on their own and they can lead to the spread of diseases, but they only stop doing it when they are threatened by your image. Fear of God takes precendence over common sense. This is just a simple act I chose for citing human hypocrisy. They speak of leading a moral life before other people, but receive bribes behind their backs and then use that same money to build temples for you, as a way of cajoling you. Humans speak of being good, pretend to be good, but their actions are nowhere near good. And you think they are worthy of a place in heaven. I am far better than any of them. I chose to oppose you face to face and I tried to take your position without working behind your back. But these humans, they are just fooling you...”
“So what do you think we should do? I can understand what you are trying to tell me, but you know that I am not going to give up on the humans and I know you are not going to get convinced that they are going to be good. So what do you want done?” asked God.
“Make the playing field more even. You spoke about atheists...you claimed that there are so many good people among them, who despite not believing in you, still try to remain, honest, noble and kind. I do not completely trust them, but I will accept their existence just for the sake of our argument. And then there are non believers who do all sorts of evil acts claiming that there is no God to stop them. And there are your believers and followers who try to remain good or pretend to remain good, despite doing evil acts in secrecy and convincing themselves to be regretful of them, just for getting a spot in heaven and not getting stuck in hell. Then there are others who might or might not believe in heaven or hell, but believe that if they do good things to others, good things will happen to them. These are the overall classification of people we have on earth. Let us play a little game. Make the world believe less in you. Create more people who will believe that there is no God to judge them. Make everyone think that there is no heaven and there is no hell. Their time on earth is their only opportunity to exist. Whatever they enjoy there, is the only enjoyment they are going to have and no matter how much they suffer, they are not going to have a paradise at the end of their suffering. Make them think that no matter how many good things they do to others, bad things will happen to them anyway. Then see what happens...”
“What do you think will happen?” asked God, with a serious look on his face.
“People will call all religious scriptures as fairy tales and they would call God, an imaginary being. They would not worship you, they would not think that they have someone watching over them and they would have no one to lean on to during their tough time. They would not patiently wait anymore saying “What has God allotted to you, will come to you eventually”. Many humans have remained patient through that belief, but when they are made to believe that there is no God, they would not remain patient anymore. They will think that life is very short and they have to get what they want and if they don’t try, they would never get them. And they would not hesitate to go to any limits. Without heaven or hell, they have nothing to look forward to and they will no longer try to remain good and care for one another. And with coming to find bad things happening to them despite doing good things to others, they would no longer care to do fine things to one another. Betrayal, treachery, violence, lack of concern for one another, rape, molestation, harassment, thievery, ruthless attitude will all be prevalent all over the world. Greediness and Selfishness will take more importance than love and affection. And that will prove to you that humans aren’t really what they try to portray themselves to be” said Satan with a smile.
“I still believe there will be people then who will genuinely love one another, help each other in need, look after their friends, family and fellow humans, be generous, show kindness and not give up on the ones who have gone on the wrong path. Forgiveness and acceptance of one another despite all their flaws will still be seen. I firmly believe that as they have a part of me in them” said God with a smile.
“Then prove it...Create the world that I described and let’s see who wins among us. But I am quite sure that there will be more men in my hell than in your heaven. Then perhaps there will be enough space for me to move back to heaven” smiled the devil back.
“I will have only worthy people in heaven, beside me...It’s not about the quantity, its about the quality of the human soul. Even if there is one pure soul to accompany me in heaven, I will be happy...”
Mr. Satan stared angrily at God, sensing His indirect denial of the devil in heaven.
“And I can prove there can’t be even one human, worthy enough to be there in heaven...” said Satan, standing up and leaning towards God. “Do you accept the challenge?”
God sat there calmly and eyed the being before him. It wasn’t the first time that such challenges were made between the two beings and God slowly stood up from his chair as well.
“You have my acceptance...From this day forth, the world will slowly change. People will start losing faith me in each day. Their association of me with various religions of the world will be the reason for their loss of faith in me. The flaws of religion will be highlighted more and that flaws would only make people believe that religion on the whole is just full of lies. When religion becomes a lie, a majority of the people will think that I don’t exist. With me not existing for them, there will be no heaven or hell either. And as you said, good and bad things will happen to all people all the time, but good things happening to bad people and bad things happening to good people will get more attention. The corrupted world leaders, who have done all sorts of evil deeds, will continue to win and prosper. Youngsters will go seeking sinful pleasures with my existence being disproved. Science, the way of understanding my creations will only prove the philosophical stories about the creation and functioning of the world in religion to be false. They would not understand that Science is just an explanation of how I’ve really made everything function and instead they would think that I don’t exist at all...For them, God will be the image of heroic beings, having weapons, showering rays from finger tips, flying in the air and making things happen with the snap of a finger. They would even go on to believe other beings that appear in their comic books, television and novels with similar characteristics and powers, but not in the real me with proper real powers that can be explained by science and not seen as magic...”
I stood there hearing everything that God was uttering and it brought great chill upon me.
“Humans would only go on to think that they need a happy life and not care of what happened after their death. And to get this happy life, they would start believing they can do anything...Getting a car, a house and expensive jewellery would mean more than getting a place in heaven. Doing things that would benefit them in their earth life would mean more than doing the morally right things...Survival of the fittest will be the motto of many...” said God and Satan began to laugh standing in front of Him.
“So do you agree, that the humans will fail as you just described?” asked Satan, seeming satisfied that he had won.
“Wait...I did not say that all humans will be of this manner...The collective psyche of mankind will be such. They would at least begin to think that way, but people who are genuinely good, will try to change this view of the world. They will try to stand up against the changing world and they will not worry about the material gains, but they will fight to establish a morally right world...”
“And you will help them succeed?” asked Satan, once again sensing something to be unfair.
“No, they will suffer the most...people who stand up against the immoral wave of human society, will suffer more than others who accept them...That’s not because I hate them, but because I want to see how much they could stand up and keep fighting...Lesser souls will fall easily, stronger, more nobler souls will continue the fight...and these stronger ones will take a place in heaven and they will be the ones to prove you wrong. And it’s in your hands to make them fail...the more challenges you give them, the more chances they will fail, but the ones who don’t, come to my heaven. And the failures of these people will only make others think that it is not necessary that people who do good things in life, will be protected from the bad...bad things might happen to good people as well, but it is how they handle them that matters...I don’t care if people believe in me or not, but it is how they conduct themselves that matter. An atheist who does morally good things is on any day more admirable for me than a believer doing bad things to fellow humans. I won’t interfere with your affairs anymore and I will give you more freedom to do what you want on earth...It is in your hands to collect as many members for your hell or prevent as many people from getting into the heaven, the entry of which was denied to you”
“Yes...yes I like what I hear” giggled Satan, rubbing his hands...
I did not like what I heard and my heart started beating faster. I was beginning to sweat greatly, due to the lack of proper ventilation in the bathroom or due to what I came to know from the big conversation in front of me. Whatever it was, I did not feel good and my dizziness was making my vision more blurry than before. I knelt there unable to do anything and I tried to get myself up, by holding on to the door handle. I slowly lifted up myself, but my head hurt real badly. My vision was getting hazier than before and I began to slip down. I tried to hold on to the door handle, but my hand slammed against the door, making a big noise, getting the attention of the people on the other side.
I fell to the floor and remained there helplessly. The last thing I remembered seeing was four pair of eyes staring at me from between the slit in the door. There were no emotions on the two faces that were staring at me and before I can think much, everything went dark.
 When I woke up I was staring at the ceiling of my own house and four heads appeared over me one by one, my mother, Bharathi Akka, Ramani Mama and one of my fellow workers Mani, from the hotel (who was nineteen years old).
“Jiddu, how are you feeling now son? What happened to you?” mother began to cry, as she saw me waking up. She got close to me, hugged me and kissed on my forehead.
“He must have slipped in the bathroom floor and fell down. Mr. Natarajan and the boy here had found him in one of the room’s bathroom floor” said my uncle Ramani, his stall structure seeming miles away from me, pointing towards my fellow worker from the hotel.
“Yes, I had come to the hotel, after having my lunch outside and Mr. Natarajan said that he had sent Jiddu to clean one of the rooms for the guests he was expecting and it had been a while since he saw Jiddu. So he sent me to find him and when I got to room hundred and eight, I found the room open and the bathroom door closed partially. And there he was on the damp floor, his clothes wet at places and his eyes closed. He had this big bump on his head and he wasn’t moving. I tried to wake him up, but he did not. I went out, informed Mr. Natarajan and he came to the room along with some of our other fellow servants and bell boys. He informed Mr. Ramani right away over the phone and we had thought of taking him to the hospital, but Mr. Ramani had told us to bring him home here” said Mani.
“Yes, hospitals these days try to take away every single penny their patients have, over simple issues. They would ask us to take unnecessary tests for a small bump on the head and will want Jiddu to stay in the hospital for days together, thousands of rupees for a single day of his stay...It was all unnecessary, so I asked him to bring Jiddu here and used our family doctor to just check him. It only cost us around a hundred and fifty rupees and the doctor announced that there was nothing to worry about, but he had just collapsed due to hunger and exhaustion...” said Ramani mama, trying to justify his stinginess and lack of willingness to spend money on me. He also stared angrily at Mani, who had ignorantly spilled everything out, including Ramani’s mama’s decision to bring me home.
“He did not wait long enough to eat my food and he did not come home for lunch either. What can I do?” my sister was teary eyed and I was able to understand that she was feeling miserable for me.
“It...Its alright akka...I am fine...Mani, did the guests in the room leave, when you went to room hundred and eight?” I asked the boy who had brought me home. I suddenly remembered what I had seen in the room that day and I wanted to know more about God and Satan there.
“What guests? Nobody came there...Seems Mr. Natarajan later received a call that they won’t be arriving till later in the evening...” said Mani the servant.
“What? What are you saying...what about the fair bald man and the dark skinned older gentleman?” I asked, not knowing if I should refer to them as Satan and God.
“There were no guests till I found you and brought you here. Maybe somebody would have come by now...”
“Then what about all the things I saw? The two men and the giant glowing globe, that hovered over the ground? The two men talking about heaven and hell, so on...”
“What are you talking about, son? Are you sure you are alright?” asked mother, concerned seeing me mumble about things that she did not understand.
“Nobody was there in that room, except you, Jiddu...you must have dreamt about it all...Just delusional from the bump on the head I guess” said Ramani mama...”but don’t make a big fuss over that...it happens...no need to go to any hospital for that...” added Ramani mama right away, worrying if my mother would want me taken to the hospital right away and that he would have to pay for it.
“Are you sure about that, Ramani? He doesn’t look too good...” asked my mother.
“He will be fine...Just let him rest for a couple days. I will inform Natarajan about his absence in the hotel. Let him rest and be there once he is all hail and healthy” said Ramani Mama and started walking out. “Bharathi, do get him the medicine he needs. Here is another hundred rupees, get what is required using this money. The doctor will always give medicines for three to five days...but a couple days’ worth medicine is enough. Doctors and pharmacists have these deals to give us expensive medicines for lots of dosages. Also do enquire the pharmacist if there is a less expensive equivalent for all the medicines written-“
Ramani mama walked away from the room, speaking to my sister and Mani left with him as well. Mother was sitting beside me, still crying holding my hands...My thoughts were still over the speech that I overheard.
‘Was that all a dream? Was I just imagining everything? Am I really delusional? Do people see such things if they really faint? I’ve never fainted before, so I do not know...But it was so real...Big G and S.Atan...God and Satan...whatever... heaven and hell, the changes in the world...the challenge between the two beings...’
Then I saw my mother weeping beside me and the poor condition of the house we were living in. I heard Ramani mama’s advises regarding money and medicine towards my sister and I also came to think that I might lose two day’s worth of wages if I did not go to work...then I came to think of heaven, hell, God and Satan once again... Was it all real? How could it not be real? It seemed so real and life like...Real or not...I did come to learn one thing that day...Man should be good in a natural and genuine manner, not because he wants to stay away from hell and go to heaven...nor should he pretend to do good things to please the people around him and make them think greatly of him... He should not do good things hoping for good things to happen to him...And he definitely should not stop doing good things even if bad things happen to him and if the people whom he helped turned against him. Only such people deserved to go to a place like heaven...if there was truly a place like that. Humans must however not remain without progress in life, thinking that God will give us everything, if we remained patient. We have to do what we have to do and then wait for the result to happen, based on God’s will. No use waiting for God to do something, without doing what we are to do in the first place.
‘I do not know if God is real or not...but for some people the knowledge that there is someone out there to look after them, does great things to them and gives them great comfort and confidence. But for some others, too much dependence on God, prevents them from going places and doing things that they are supposed to do. Sometimes men commit a lot of crimes using God’s name and sometimes there needs to be a check on these men...This is where atheists come in...We need as many atheists as we have believers...When mankind starts to lose its way, in the name of God and religion, atheists have to step in and explain something about rationality. But when people go away from the right path, without belief in God, believers should come to their aid and show them that their path is wrong, but they are not lost. There will always be someone looking out for them.
There are good things and bad things that can come out of both belief and lack of belief in God and religion. Our focus should however be on doing the right things, that is to care, love and show genuine concern for fellow beings and make sure that our actions do not affect anyone in a negative manner. Let me not worry if there is a God or not, if there is a heaven or hell, let me genuinely care for everyone around me and do good, positive things to everyone without really worrying if they are doing good things to me,’ I said to myself that day. That small incident in room one hundred and eight, put an end to my long term obsession with the concepts of heaven and hell. I did not care for those things anymore.
I rested for two days and then got to work on the third. Mr. Natarajan was kind to me and he did not cut any wages for the two days that I had not gone to work. He was a bit too worried for me...or perhaps worried that if he would get into any trouble if someone from the authority came to find out that an underage worker, in his hotel, had fainted and had to be carried away, right under Mr. Natarajan’s watch, just a couple days back. He asked me to not tell about me fainting to anyone outside the hotel and I accepted to not speak about it. I was glad that he did not cut my wages and I was happy that he was speaking to me much more than before.
“Take care of your health, son and remember, don’t tell anyone about what happened that day” he said every time he saw me, in the next few days. And that was more than enough for me to be happy, that I was not completely ignored by one of my bosses.
He even went on to lessen my work for a week, after my little fainting incident. He did not let me do any hard work and offered me free coffee every noon for seven consecutive days. He only allowed me to answer the phone, take down notes in his register, when he was away from the reception and asked me lead visitors towards their rooms, carrying light luggages of theirs. It was on one such work day, when none of my owners were at the reception, that I was handed down the responsibility of maintaining the register at the reception. We had a trio of visitors who had come to stay in our hotel and I had to fill the register with their details. I noted down their names, wrote the time and day of their arrival and their addresses, before handing them their keys and sent them with one of our bell boys.
I spent some time on the register and observed the details of so many people, who had visited us and stayed with us, having been written down over the past few months. I had never spent too much time at the reception before and had never gone through the register till then. It was then I thought to do something. I went back a couple pages and tried to see the names of the guests who had visited and who were to visit the day when I had fainted. I scrolled through the list of names and when I reached the bottom of the page, my heart stopped. It had the names
“Big G and Mr. S. Atan”
Time of arrival & departure, address and contact details completely incomprehensible...

-A.Prashanth Narasimhan

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Movie Review- Billa 2

These days, almost everyone turns into a critic and they all give detailed reviews on every movie they watch, in their respective blogs, face books pages and even through their tweets (not so detailed here). Nobody can question their authority and it is the right for every person to express his or her views on any topic they desire. Likewise I too have expressed my opinion on a movie that I came to watch this fine day- Billa 2 (2012). I do not have a Tux or a Blazer or even a rain coat to wear over me, I don't have a high chair to sit upon nor do I have the habit of sitting with my legs crossed. But I do have some experience watching Tamil, English and Hindi movies over the past two decades. So I do have some idea as to what to expect from where and when.

Billa 2 did surprise me when it came to my expectations on Tamil movies. Firstly, I am not an Ajith Kumar fan, nor am I a hater of the man. He is a good actor who has been part of more bad movies than good, but the good movies he has been part of, have made a lasting impression on the minds of Indian film goers. That is what truly catapulted him to the league of the top actors/stars in India. Though I am not a fan of him, I am surrounded by a whole lot of them and some of them recommended me to watch one of his movies Mangatha (2011). The way they hyped the movie and the kind of reactions they gave after watching it, prompted me to give it a try. I have this habit of not watching any movie that has a lot of expectations, with a star who has massive following (excluding Kamal Hassan). But with too many people praising the movie even after a week of its release, I decided to go and watch Mangatha (only for the sake of Venkat Prabhu, the director) and I was clearly disappointed. There were so many flaws in that movie and it had so many scenes taken from several western movies (not archetypes). The movie would have been good, if it had been an original idea and if several blatantly visible errors had been corrected, before it's release.

Now once again, another Ajith Kumar movie Billa 2 released a day back and so many of his fans came out of the movie theatres with their usual excited remarks and raves for the man, they so dearly loved and worshiped. One of my friends even insisted that we watch the movie right away, but I was a little apprehensive. I did not even want to reminisce Mankatha and I was worrying if the experience of watching Billa 2, would be similar to that. But I noticed that the movie was being made by Chakri Toleti, a man who produced a gem like 'Unnai Pol Oruvan' (though a remake of Hindi film 'AWednesday'). Also Billa 1 (another remake of the older Rajnikanth starrer 'Billa') was an excellent film, though there were a lot of scenes that were completely unnecessary. Billa 2 being its prequel, I decided to give it a try and was clearly impressed.

Firstly this is not a perfect film, it has its own flaws and errors, but I would like to point out the good things first. Where to start, but from the plot itself...David Billa, the all powerful and vicious Don that you get to see in Billa 1, begins as a Sri Lankan refugee in Indian soil. His parents are dead, his one sister is somewhere in Chennai and he is in a refugee camp, where humans are treated like animals by some evil men, who have their own agenda. His transformation from a simple refugee to a ruthless don, along with his acquaintance with several bigger crime lords is shown in the first half of the movie. The second half focuses on the changing relationships between Billa and the other villains in the movie and its consequences.

Ajith Kumar, Parvathy Omanakuttan, Bruna Abdullah, Rahman, Vidyut Jamwal, Sudhanshu Pandey, Manoj K. Jayan, Sriman and Yog Japee take up important roles in the movie, though none have as much screen time as the protagonist, which is quite understandable. I do not want to explain what role each has played and how important they are to the plot. They are for the viewers to see it on screen and understand. I don't want to ruin the fun. But Sudhanshu Pandey looks quite handsome and the intro of Vidyut Jamwal  is well done with a short, yet amazing stunt sequence. Everyone has done their job well when it comes to acting and there aren't many wrong things to be criticised about, at least on the acting front.

Many people criticized this movie for being slow, especially the first half. I however did not find it even a tad slow. If you have been exposed to enough western movies, you would not feel the story to be moving slow, but if you are someone who has been following only Indian movies with all its fast paced dance, song, comedy and irrelevant stunt sequences, then you might find this movie a bit bland, lacking all the above mentioned. In fact the story takes precedence over anything else in this movie, which is extremely positive.

Like every gangster movie, Billa 2 too has a certain structure about it and several archetypes can also be seen, like the central character taking up tasks that even experienced crime lords refuse to do, going to places where others dread to go, along with the presence of a lot of traitors, hot girls who expose everything...a bit too much...to the level of even ribs and bones (Parvathy Omanakuttan needs some Carb right away) and of course a lot of blood shed. Many Ajith haters even accused this movie to have been a copy of "Scarface", but I sincerely feel that they've refused to understand the concept of archetypes.

This movie also does not have a grand climax and catharsis, as usually seen in many Indian movies (many audience even complained of this), but here a grand climax is not necessary, but a smooth blending into the first part was what required and to a certain degree that was satisfied. Barring Rahman and Yog Japee, not many of the characters from Billa 1 were shown in Billa 2 and there could have been even more stress towards the end, by showing a few scenes from the first movie, thereby completing the link between the two movies (Like the final scene in Planet Tatooine in Star wars- Revenge of the Sith connecting to the earlier made movie Star Wars- A new hope).

Visually, this movie is a beauty. The cinematography (by R.D. Rajasekhar) is of top class quality, one of the best in Indian cinema. The screenplay is generally good, though in some places it could have been better. The visual effects and editing (Suresh Urs) are good and credit has to be given to the way the opening credits are made (reminded me a lot of the background images of loading screens in "Call of Duty" game series) and also the visuals of "Unakkulle Mirugam" song (one of the few songs that was understandable in the movie) is amazingly well done.

The background music is amazing and very apt, hair raising in certain instances, but the songs are not that memorable, nor are its lyrics understandable. The songs appear in rather odd instances (which is common in Indian movies), but its a good thing that most songs are cut short in the movie. It's like telling the audience that "there are such songs in the movie's soundtrack that needs to be listened to, but let us not allow it to ruin the movie". Yuvan Shankar Raja could have done better.

Now we can't conclude a review without pointing out the cons...Apart from the songs, one could point to the unwillingness of the protagonist to die, as a flaw in the plot. David Billa gets beaten up by a lot of cops with sticks, yet he keeps killing his enemies without even the slightest sense of pain. He gets knocked on the head, thrown down the stairs and loses a lot of blood, yet he does not die, but gets up a few seconds later to kill every person who hurt him. He gets shot in the chest (the very same place, where one of the villains, Coti (played by Jayan), got shot with a smaller gun and died instantly in the previous scene) with a large gun, yet he gets up, continues fighting, runs over long distances, climbs trains, hangs from helicopter, punches the villain, throws him off it and yet walks heroically towards the end. If anything Billa might even walk alive through a Nuclear Cloud to the beats of Yuvan Shankar Raja. He is like a cockroach who can survive through anything...

Finally Ajith Kumar, the man has to be praised for his work here. Unlike Mangatha, there isn't a place where you can spot Ajith Kumar trying to do something, out of his comfort zone. He played his character perfectly, showing emotions where necessary (which is in a few very instances) and performing stunts convincingly despite his age and a slightly overweight body. This movie will surely increase the number of fans this man has and this is certainly one more of his better movies.

I would not give stars or points to this movie. I will leave the rating to the audience, as tastes differ greatly. I would only request the audiences to be not biased, whether towards Ajith or against him. Judge and appreciate or criticise the movie based on its true merits. Please do not make rash comments without watching this movie and do not try to oversell or undervalue it. Hard work of so many people are involved and just because one actor is liked or not, the hard work and efforts of the other people involved cannot be ignored. So many good movies of the past have been failures due to biased views. Let the future ones not endure the same fate...
                                                                                                         - A.Prashanth Narasimhan

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Indian Cinema: The little details that are often forgotten.


A few simple things about Indian Cinema that are often not understood, forgotten or Ignored by followers of Indian movies, both here in India and elsewhere in the world. 

If you ask a foreigner, who for the very first time in his life, has come out of a theatre, having watched an Indian movie, he will have this baffled look on his face. He would give out this usual reply, that one can hear coming from the lips of a tourist, who for the very first time, has come to visit India. “It’s so colourful, extravagant, exotic and the people are so wonderful”. You clearly know that he hadn’t really enjoyed it and was in fact taken aback by what he had witnessed, completely contrasting to what he had usually seen and expected. “Why should we even bother about what an outsider thinks of our films (or our country)? Indian movies are meant for Indians and if we enjoy it, it’s more than a success” would be the usual reply from an Indian, loyal to his country and to his film industry...correction... industries.

Unfortunately however as is the case with everything else in the world, whatever the west does, is considered universal and the proper norm. They’re achievements are seen as yardsticks to measure the greatness of a work, from all parts of the world. I have a lot to say on this “Universality” of the west, but I rather leave it to Mr. Edward Said (Orientalism). One cannot deny that Hollywood and several other film industries from Europe have produced some great works in every genre possible and surely they deserve to be given the honour of the “Best” or “Some of the Best” to be more precise. But is it fair to judge Indian movies, with the same standards, that people use to judge a western movie? Indian cinema is a whole different ball game.

Before we get on with the differences between Indian and Western Cinema (apologies for putting all the individual film industries into one category) on the whole, we have to first understand how Indian Cinema is actually viewed abroad. Many people outside India, who follow Indian movies, tend to brand every movie coming from India as a “Bollywood” film. But for people within India, “Bollywood” refers to films coming out from the city of Mumbai (Bombay + Hollywood= Bollywood). But Mumbai isn’t the only place where movies are being made. We got the Tamil films coming from Chennai (Kollywood), Telugu films from Hyderabad (Tollywood), Malayalam movies from Kerala (Mollywood), Kannada films from Karnataka (Sandalwood), Bengali films from Kolkata (also Tollywood) and so on...

There are more than a dozen film industries, based in different states and cities of India, with their own languages and their own culture being portrayed (not to mention their own version of some “wood”). There are sections of people within the industries and outside, who feel that the terms like Bollywood, Kollywood, Mollywood and Tollywood are very degrading. They prefer to refer to their industries based on the language they use (like Hindi film Industry, Marathi Film Industry, Bengali Film Industry, Bhojpuri) or refer to by the cities they come from, like the Mumbai film Industry, the Chennai Film Industry and so on.  Since the films coming from Mumbai (We cannot forget the Marathi film industry, also based in Maharashtra, Mumbai being its capital) are in Hindi (the national language of India) it tends to have the most number of audiences compared to other film industries, therefore more money involved and has the potential to become more popular than works produced by other film industries. That however does not make it the industry producing the best of works. If we do study the success ratio of movie industries from across India, over the past few decades, the so called “Bollywood” industry has had several peaks and several troughs, whereas the regional industries have had a steady growth over the years. Catering to the diverse sensibilities of people from different backgrounds can be a tough prospect and that could be an explanation for the rise and fall of the Hindi Film Industry.  

The migration of many people from different parts of India, to other parts of the world, has lead to the increase in popularity of Indian cinema abroad as well. This can be understood with the increase in viewers of Hindi, Tamil, Telugu movies, in particular, from regions outside India. Indian movies did have some following in Eastern Europe, Middle Eastern and in several South East Asian countries for several decades, but not as many as we have today. Shah Rukh Khan, the “King of Bollywood” is recognised by non-Indians, even in places like South Africa, Australia, Germany and a few other places where you normally would not expect an Indian actor to be recognised.

The increase in popularity of Indian Cinema, in these places, far and wide, does not necessarily mean that these films are being viewed for all the good reasons. There are a few movies genuinely appreciated for their great cinematography, good sets, colourful costumes, melodious or catchy tunes, overall plot and so on. But there are a few dance sequences, songs and videos with stunts of certain actors that get popular, time and again, all for the wrong reasons, to be mocked and laughed upon. Many outsiders might even consider “Bollywood” movies (not really being specific if a particular movie is from the Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali film industry) to be a bit too unreal, with all its extravagant dances, songs popping up in rather odd instances, visual effects that are not as convincing as the ones seen in western movies and overall poor production quality.

The viewers however would not want to seem rude and when questioned in person, in front of a mike, they would try to give the whole “Exotic and colourful” routine. But the one place where every person would be more than willing to express his or her honest view is the internet. That’s where the true opinion regarding anything and everything can be received, despite the presence of a whole lot of trolls. Forums on world cinema and the comment section of you tube videos, give a somewhat real idea as to what people, who come from lands outside the Indian subcontinent, think about our films (there are however many Indians pretending to be foreigners, commenting on videos, trying to give out a feel that their films are getting really popular in faraway lands as well). But then again, their (people generally on the internet) comments do show a lack of understanding of how things really work in the Indian film circle.

First and foremost, movies of different languages do tend to have different number of followers. As stated earlier, the Hindi film industry has the most number of followers, followed by Tamil and Telugu movies. The presence of subtitles can mean that you don’t really need to know a language to understand the movie, but still when someone says that we are to watch a movie of a foreign language with subs, we would naturally have a bit of a hesitancy. We would not be as eager to watch a subtitled movie, as we would be to watch a movie of a language that we are really familiar with. Some people even consider the act of reading subtitles as a work and they prefer to avoid it. Some people even complain that all their concentration is on reading the subs that they are not really able to enjoy the other finer things on the screen.

Furthermore the English subtitles (let alone other language subs) really do not do justice to what is truly portrayed and conveyed in a scene through dialogues and lyrics. A song sequence in a Tamil movie, with all its poetic beauty and use of metaphors, simile and other word plays, tend to look rather retarded when roughly translated into English from the native Tamil lyrics. The same applies to dialogues in a powerful scene. A long dialogue in an emotional scene in a Marathi movie, expressing so many dimensions of a man’s feeling in the native Marathi, can be roughly translated in a line in English, leaving non Marathi speakers to sit rather impatiently wondering “What in the world are they talking about for so long. Are the subtitles really working?”

Dubbing of movies can work to some degree, but the body language and actions of people from different regions differ greatly. So the dubbing alone cannot make a film suitable for watching for people of all other countries. English movies work better all over the world as people from all continents have some time or another, witnessed the way of life of the west and are exposed to the body language of the people from there. Body language and reactions of characters in a movie is very important and what can be considered cool in one region, can be seen to be ridiculous in another. Also certain actions are acceptable in certain parts of the world, while certain others are not. Sex scenes are common in western movies and are not seen as something bad unlike in the Indian subcontinent, while beating of kids or women is common in Indian movies, but this is seen as something really wrong in western countries. The real moral right or wrong are not for us to judge, or at least in this text.

Language is just the first barrier, or what is considered to be barrier by many. Sure, some of the aesthetics of the language used in a movie is lost when it is dubbed or subtitled in English, but it still does not become completely incomprehensible. We’ve got bigger issues to deal with here. Audiences of International cinema cannot accept certain characteristics of a particular genre appearing in another completely contrasting genre. But in predominant of Indian movies, there is no proper classification of genre. There lies the main reason why a movie can be considered good within India, but poor outside India. This is the very same issue that makes the life of Filmmakers a whole lot difficult.

Indian cinema began with influences of theatre and street plays from centuries ago. In India, unlike the Shakespearean times, where actors performed without any particular costumes, or detailed sets, but started and ended with just trumpets going on and a dance jig, here everything was detailed, costumes and make up were so focused upon that they sometimes just blared at the audience rather heavily. Every play had to have its comic scenes, the serious scenes, lengthy, well crafted dialogues, songs with powerful lyrics and of course an engaging plot. Any of these missing in a play, would make the audience feel cheated and make them think that they have not been served for what they had paid. The same mentality carried over to people of later generations as well. They expect the same number of things from movies that their ancestors expected from street plays. They want the dance, the song, the costumes, the sets, beautiful performers and even more beautiful performances, the comedy routine, the stunts and the dramatic acting throughout.

Thus modern filmmakers tend to make movies with all these aspects, though the central theme of the story would not require many things that are being added to it. A science fiction movie based in the city of Chennai will have an abrupt song sequence with actors dancing in some far away land, like on the hills of Machu Pichu. A historic Hindi movie will suddenly have the actors singing in some remote deserted island in Europe. Not to mention the appearance of a whole lot of back up dancers out of nowhere. “Where did they come up from, all of a sudden? Why did they have a song when we are about to make an important discovery in the plot? Nothing makes sense here...” would be the comment from a person who is being exposed to Indian cinema for the first time.

There are also business motives here. It’s the songs from movies that get released first and the popularity of the songs can bring in more viewers to the theatres to watch the films as well. As for the dancers in the background, let us just say that more families are getting fed, thanks to the employment of these dancers. Of course their presence in dance videos do make the sequences more spectacular (this depends on their proper use by the choreographer), but there are instances when the song does not really require background dancers, but are used nonetheless.

Stunt sequences do often make a significant portion in Indian movies and there are instances when stunts are added for no apparent reason at all. There are a lot of Indian movies where the female lead stumbles upon a group of thugs, who tease her and harass her, only to get beaten by the heroic male lead, who appears in the next few frames to save the heroine. This regular scene can be seen in several movies even today and this particular sequence would have no connection to the main storyline. Dream sequences where the hero imagines dancing with the heroine or the heroine imagines singing with the hero is another regular in many Indian movies. These sequences are those that take these actors and background dancers to many foreign locations. “Why are these people in some far away land, when the story is taking place in India?” Well though Indians these days are found in almost every corner of the world, it still is not an easy affair for an average Indian to visit lands outside India that often. These people would love to be shown faraway, exotic locations within the few rupees that they pay for the movie. Of course this one feature of Indian films wasn’t really taken from stage plays of the past.

Speaking of money, people outside India, must understand that Indian filmmakers and producers do not have much money to deal with in the first place. Even though there are several producers who are millionaires and even a few billionaires, they aren’t going to invest in a trade that might not really fetch them a lot of money for certain. Most films fail in the Box office, while a select few succeed, making the “film business” a big gamble (like in any other part of the world). Successful Indian movies do bring in a lot of money after its release, but many people haven’t yet been able to figure out the success formula effectively. Even if that is figured out, we cannot forget the fact that even the most successful Indians films aren’t going to bring in money as much as those that the Hollywood films bring in. English being a language that is popularly used all over the world, Hollywood movies naturally have a larger following, from practically every part of the world, thereby a larger market. Even an average grossing Hollywood film can still bring in hundreds of millions of dollars. But Indian movies, due to the language barrier, tend to have comparatively smaller following. Even Hindi movies which have the most following in India do not fetch that large amount of money as a Hollywood movie. In fact the most successful Indian movie can still be at par with an average grossing Hollywood movie. One reason being the Dollar-Rupee differences. Another being the number of audiences these movies can attract and lastly the amount of money the Indian audiences pay to watch a movie.

While in the United States, a single movie ticket can cost around ten dollars, here in India, even the most expensive of theatres provide tickets for close to one twenty to one fifty rupees, (not even three dollars) while a majority of theatres catering to the middle or lower class people (who are the majority of Indian film goers) provide tickets for around a dollar. The most successful Indian movie so far 3 Idiots (2011) has grossed close to eighty million dollars (combining Indian and overseas ticket sales), but it is not every day that this kind of money is generated by Indian films. True that Indian films’ popularity has gone up several levels, in the past few years and it will continue to grow in the years to come. This would only put pressure on the filmmakers to make better movies with the increase (hopefully with better reception across the world) in resources. But still the lack of enough money can be stated as a reason for relatively lower production quality in India so far. But that is not the only reason why I have mentioned this here.

This uncertainty in a film’s success has prompted many directors and producers of the past, to take a safer path. Many producers are not art lovers or people who have ambitions of making great movies. They are there as businessmen and they want to make lots of money in quick time. These producers do tend to put pressure on directors to make a movie with a particular formula, which they think produces maximum appeal to the audience, based on the successes of past movies that have impressed many people and earned a lot of money. This often leads to similar kind of movies being made at different time periods. There are a few good filmmakers and producers who take the risk and change the trend, thereby getting successful having experimented with something new. This particular trend is then followed by other filmmakers and producers hoping to have the same kind of success as that movie which had tried new things. Little do these producers and directors, who go for a formulaic cinema, realise that the movie they tried to emulate succeeded because it did not emulate movies that came before it, but those people took a risk and tried to make something new.

This is one more reason why there are certain types of movies that keep appearing in different film industries at one particular time. Since I am more familiar with Tamil cinema, I can point out to the latest trend, that is seen in Tamil movies these days, that involving a village back drop, with little known actors, dealing with a very melodramatic subject, often focusing on the lives of poorer and downtrodden people and centering around the southern part of Tamil Nadu. Another thing that producers and filmmakers (who are more focused on money, rather than good quality work) often try to do, is to understand the mindset of the audiences. It is true that one must know their audiences well before producing a work for them. But are the audiences being correctly judged?

We in India have the habit of classifying audiences’ tastes and preferences based on the economic status, which is as wrong as the caste system. There is a general belief that people from a lower economic status enjoy the commercial type of cinema with all the above mentioned elements and richer audiences, having been exposed more to the world outside India and world cinema are loyal to the more “mature” artistic cinema. This is one of the silliest believes ever, as a person from a low income background can still admire and appreciate the intellectual films and a person from a sophisticated background can still only prefer the so called “Masala Movies” (One more way of referring to a movie that contains flavours of different genres combined into one, often making it seem completely ridiculous.)

But dividing films simply into two rough types is not a great idea either. What is an artistic cinema in the first place? Indian audiences have this thought that any film that does not focus too much on the songs or dance side of the film and concentrate more on the story is an artistic film. But dance and song are an art themselves and its absence can make the term “artistic” less relevant. Of course the way the plot is created, how dialogues are written and how the actors play their characters can all give meaning to the word artistic. But the real meaning of ‘art film’ refers to the focus given by the makers to particular subjects that might not be aimed at the mass audience, but focusing on a niche market, for their movies. Some people even think that any movie that is slow in its narrative and has absolutely nothing “entertaining” about it is an art film. Even some Indian filmmakers having been exposed to western art films, tend to make their films rather slow, thinking that these movies aren’t supposed to have a fast pace about it. But a good story does entertain and it is wrong to claim art films to be “dull, boring and not entertaining at all”.

Art films generally do not do well in India. Art films of course do not make as much money as other mainstream films, all over the world and that is understandable, but Indian art films have lesser success than even an average western art film, owing again to lesser number of audiences and the differing tastes between Indian and western audiences. But there are some really good filmmakers, despite the lack of proper revenue in art films, continue to make them and these few filmmakers have to be lauded.    

Some of the mistakes made by the Indian directors, producers and actors themselves have to be given some focus as well. I have already stated that most producers are only businessmen who hesitate to try out new types of cinema, but it would rather be unfair to accuse all the film producers in the entire country to be of this sort. There are productions houses and film producers who have been in the industry for decades and they do try their best to produce quality film and these sort of production houses and producers are far and few, though they do exist and they are the reason for good films being made. But are these few good films really catching the eye of the world? Sure the people from the film circle, all over the world, do get to come across these good Indian movies and they appreciate it often. Many Indian movies have also time and again won prestigious awards at various International film festivals, but do the common folk from across the world, come to know of these films. Somehow many foreigners (not just westerners, but people from all over the world) have the thought that Indian films are all about romance, dance and fight scenes with “over the top” performances. It’s because only such movies often get the attention of those people there, as only things that are odd, often get noticed.

Even within India, people from different parts of the country have different views on the various film industries. Many followers of Bollywood, might consider Southern films to be just about insane stunt scenes and fast beat songs (‘Apadi podu’ from Ghili (2004), one of the Tamil songs that became popular in other parts of India for its fast paced music and dancing helped in stressing on this false belief.) Similarly many south Indian audiences might consider Hindi films to be full of crying and mourning scenes and some people might even consider Bengali movies to be very depressing because of the sadder plots that many films from that industry are ‘believed’ to have. However all these views are completely wrong, as all industries produce all sorts of movies, but only the things that are not very common in their own industries or better done in other industries, tend to catch the eye of the people. Malayalam films in India are considered to produce more realistic cinema and several films have been appreciated for that quality, but they do not produce just realistic cinema and they do often dwell in fantasy genre as well. Telugu films are more popular for their myth based story lines, but they also do produce romance and action films as well.

So different film industries are misunderstood to produce particular type of films, though they all do produce several good and bad films in all sorts of genres and formats, even though nobody can clearly define to what genre a particular movie might belong. Some Indian film makers, often inspired by works from the west, tend to make those movies in their own language. In many instances they openly declare that they have been inspired and they are making it, while in a few instances, the makers do not reveal about their inspiration and these films often end up being criticised for Plagiarism. It is very much necessary for any filmmaker to check if the movie that they are planning to make has been made in some other country in some other language. If one is truly remaking a movie from some other country, care should be taken that the credit to the original creators are given and they are asked permission first, before the project is taken for production. Several Indian filmmakers have often been accused for copying concepts and not giving credit to the original movies, but this sort of cases do not mean that all Indian movies are copied from movies from other parts of the world.

Some filmmakers often adapt from movies or books created in some other country and they duly announce that the movie is just an adaptation, but even then some people might accuse these makers for having plagiarised. Kandukondein Kandukondein (2000) was a Tamil film, the story of which was inspired by Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The makers had formally announced that the movie was based on the book, but many haters of the director accused it of being plagiarised. The movie actually deserved credit as the director had done a great job in telling a story, originally based on a family from the Victorian England, in the aspect of a south Indian family of the twenty first century. The difference between a plain copied movie and an adaptation can be clearly understood through this movie. This difference is not fully comprehended by many Indians and they often confuse plagiarism and adaptation.

One more reason why Indian movies don’t make as much money as the western industries is piracy. Western movies too get pirated and its copies appear online and in black markets across several countries as well. But western studios also officially release their movies in DVDs and Blue ray disks, whereas most Indian studios don’t officially launch their movies in DVDs. Even though many people do download English movies from the internet, there are people who buy original DVDs and Blue ray disks from markets or download movies by paying for it on Netflix and other similar sites that provide proper print for a good amount of money, legally. Sometimes the pirated copies can also help in more sales of the original DVDs of movies, as many people, who have watch the pirated version of movies online, feel less satisfied because of poor quality (in some cases) or even so impressed by the movies, that they would want to own the original copy. This leads to increase in sales of original DVDs of western movies.

In Indian film industries, only certain movies are officially released in DVDs, but a majority of movies are not and this leads to pirated versions of the movies, getting flooded in markets across the country, which get bought by a lot of people, who want to own a copy in their homes. And in India, the concept of collecting DVDs is not as popular a hobby, as taken up by many people in the west. Sure there are hardcore movie buffs, who enjoy collecting good prints of very good movies, but it’s still a minority. Even they have to resort to pirated versions sometimes, due to the studios not releasing their movies in original DVD formats. Many people are just concerned with watching a movie for entertainment and they might not be really concerned about the quality or how and where they see it. If an entire family of seven to ten members can watch a movie for fifty to sixty rupees (just around a dollar) through pirated DVDs, they are naturally not going to spend thousands of rupees for the same number of people watching the same movie in a theatre.

But people these days are beginning to understand more about the hard work of the filmmakers and how the reward for their hard work, can be lessened, by people not watching movies in theatres and instead watching in pirated copies at home. Also more and more people are beginning to understand that no matter how good a television set or sound system you might have at home, it can never stand in comparison to the experience of watching movies in theatres with all its effects and of course with fellow movie goers, who can be equally excited as you are. Hence piracy has to be curbed, in the following years, for Indian movies to do better, and western cinema as well.

There are several things that Indian filmmakers have to work on as well, to produce better quality of cinema. One of the things to be remembered by filmmakers is to give as much importance to the back ground score, as they would give for full length songs. Many directors over the decades have created movies with songs that have become tremendous hits amongst the audiences, but not that great a background score. The background score is something that most filmmakers tend to undervalue. A good background score can make a movie much more exciting and can give a pleasant or a haunting feeling (based on the kind of scene the background score accompanies) to the audience. Many people tend to not focus on the background score when watching a scene and this makes many filmmakers think that it does not need much attention. But the background score does enter the audiences’ mind without their conscious effort and produces a great impact on their emotions.

Romance scenes with a pleasant background score can turn a movie much more memorable and make a lasting impression on its viewers, without their own conscious knowledge. A terrifying movie with a lot of horrific scenes accompanied by a haunting background track can create a sense of restlessness and fear in the minds of the audience and that is certainly the aim of a horror movie. An energising, inspiring tune, accompanying a scene where a sense of patriotism or heroism is to be highlighted, can make the audiences feel their hair raising on their arms. A suitable and impactful tune can create the perfect mood and ambience for a movie, making a greater impression on the movie’s audiences and move them to different worlds. Surely movies with good soundtracks are much more remembered and cherished than ones without it, even if the movies have a good plot to it.

Use of Visual effects and Animations in Indian movies is another thing that has to be given great attention. While Hollywood filmmakers first used these highly complicated programs, to make animations and visual effects, whose sole purpose, was to create on screen, things that cannot be achieved in real life (like exaggerated, gravity defining stunts or fantastical characters like ghosts, aliens or magical beings), some Indian filmmakers think that just using visual effects and animated characters in their movie, can make their movie seem highly advanced and of world class quality. Filmmakers in other countries tried to make the visual effects as real as possible, so as to not make the audience differentiate, what is real and what is not, on a screen. Whereas some Indian filmmakers, thinking that the audiences must know that they’ve used advanced technology and complicated software to create something extraordinary, often create works that appear quite obvious, that they have been created in a computer and not real. This sort of a mentality must change and more meticulous work has to be done on the animation and visual effects front in Indian cinema.

Indian film industries have been blessed with some really wonderful stunt directors and stunt men themselves, but are they being properly used? Many men have given up their lives over the decades while working on complicated stunt sequences and many more have been gravely injured. But all this hard work by all these stunt men go to waste, as many stunt sequences are poorly edited, often with unnecessary fast cuts or extremely slow shots. In many scenes the ropes and harnesses used aren’t properly hidden by people in the post production department and the stunt sequences appear poorly made, despite the stuntmen risking their lives doing it.

Dance sequences are something else that the people involved in it, put their heart and soul into, but the end product becomes seriously messed up by poor editing. As stated earlier, the dance sequences involve not only the lead characters, but also dozens and dozens of back ground dancers, who appear just for the songs and have no other part to play in the movie. The shoot of dance scenes can take days together and a lot of hard work is put into it, to make the dance sequences beautiful, pleasing and energising. The choreographers, along with the back ground dancers, spend hours together to work on the various moves and perform over and over again, to get the perfect output. But these videos, when they go for editing, are often trimmed or extended for different reasons. Many directors often end up having problems with the overall run time of the movie. They often choose song sequences and stunt sequences to cut down on a few seconds. This leads for certain great moves to either be completely deleted or made superfast to reduce the overall timing of the movie.

Sometimes the editor or the director might even think that a particular dance move or a complicated stunt is really extraordinary and the audiences deserve to see it more. So they slow down the particular dance step or stunt, to show the hard work and the skill of the performer, but this really spoils the fun, as the real charm is in watching it in real time. So the awesome quality of the dance step or the stunt gets reduced because of poor editing. Sometimes the filmmakers would have even run out of footages to complete a song, in which case they try to copy a particular dance step that has occurred at one part of the song and paste it in another part, when the song moves to a completely different stanza and music. There are plenty of movies where one can spot such misplaced clips in songs and dance moves not really matching the background beats for a few seconds here or there.

I can state one particular song from a Tamil movie, which ended up being one of the biggest jokes on the internet. The song ‘Kalloori Vannil’ from the movie Pennin Manathai Thottu (2000) became a super hit on you tube with over a million people having viewed it. But it did not get popular for all the right reasons. The lyrics of the song in Tamil were misinterpreted and its homophonic translation in English was made to seem rather funny and crude, bringing in laughs for many of its viewers. But that is not our concern here. People, who saw the video, also criticised the way the dance sequence was made. Sure the song was catchy and the people involved in the dance video were top class dancers, but there were several instances of bad editing, many dance steps made to seem faster than they really were and some even slowed down, some re-winded and some just misplaced. It was a total mess and more than the subtitles of the vulgar translation, it was the poor editing that caught my eye. Surely the choreographer must have been really disappointed after seeing the end product.

Many mistakes are also made while recording voices for the movies. Before shooting the movie, most international filmmakers get the script perfectly prepared, with dialogues and screenplay and not much change is made during the shoot or during voice recording. But many Indian filmmakers start with some basic idea, then make changes as the filming takes place and a lot more changes are made during post production works. Dialogues are often changed even after shoots and this can be seen in many movies as well, especially in comedy sequences. The actor would be seen saying a dialogue which was written during the shoot and while recording voices during the post production session, the dialogue writer and the director might have changed the dialogue. The dialogues heard on the final movie would be a lot different to what the actor’s lips seem to say. These sort of small mistakes are to be avoided as well. Changes can be made, but not too drastically and the change in dialogues has to synch with the lip movement that was recorded earlier.

Some mistakes made by new actors are to be stated as well. There are two main types of movies that often get made in the various Indian film industries, one being the commercial movies showing the male lead to be the most perfect, heroic character, who can overcome any problem that might come in his way, with a super human quality about him. There are exaggerated stunts, so called punch dialogues, cheesy romantic scenes and a lot more features that make the movie completely unsuitable to be considered serious cinema. Then there is the other type of movies that get made, where the main lead actor plays a more realistic character, without anything too “over the top” or “ridiculous” and “invincible about them”. The films of the first type might not work for all actors, but the second can bring in lots of praise and recognition, provided he or she performs it well. Every major star now, who do make movies of the first type are appreciated and followed, despite the unreal aspect of the films, because the people have already begun to trust them, love them and admire them, after having seen them play the movies of the second type (the more realistic) during the first half of their career. A Rajnikanth movie has all sorts of unbelievable stunts and makes him seem complete invincible, yet people don’t ridicule them, but accept them. That is because he has already proven himself as an actor, by portraying realistic characters with great performances in the first half of his career and has already entered the hearts of the people.

So even if he does unbelievable things in his movie, people are willing to accept them, appreciate him and even see him as a Demi-God. Whereas if a newbie actor, performing in his first or second film, tries to do the first type of film right at the start of the career, he would certainly not be accepted by the audiences, as they haven’t seen him do the proper roles before. These actors must first show themselves real, like the audiences themselves, the common man, by making the second type of movies in the earlier part of their career. When such an actor turns into a hero in the first type of the movies, in the later part of his career, people will naturally admire the transformation and feel that they themselves have transformed like the hero (whom they had began to associate themselves with, see themselves in, when he did movies of the second type), making them praise him to be a super hero. Many performers becoming ridiculed artists is because of them trying to show themselves as ‘Superior Stars’ even before they have proved themselves as ‘Proper Actors’.

Screen writers aren’t given as much importance as they deserve. Many Indian directors write their own stories and dialogues and sometimes screen writers are employed. But the common audiences assume that all the movies that they witness are written by the directors themselves. In many instances, in the case of big stars, even the directors are forgotten. A Rajnikanth or a Shah Rukh Khan won’t be as awesome as they seem on screen if it hadn’t been for the directors who portrayed them in that manner and it would not have been possible if they hadn’t gotten a good story, written by a good writer. Even powerful dialogues are credited to the actors sometimes by the audiences, when it is the writers who are to be appreciated for their creation. More recognition, money, fame and appreciation has to be given the to the screen writers as well, along with lyricists and dialogue writers.

India, unlike other countries, isn’t about monuments or history...or should I say, JUST about monuments and history. It is not a place where one can go and visit just for a few days, like people do in France, Italy or Germany. This is not the place where everything can be expected to be perfect and provide the ultimate satisfaction to the visitors...In fact it can please you more, if you are open to the ways of the local. India is about her people, her culture and her way of life. But there is no single Indian culture, it is in truth a blend of cultures, languages, religions and life styles. The real greatness of India can only be understood by people who make the decision to stay here long enough to understand the differences, the chaos and the confusion that exist and how despite them all, India remains as wonderful and as prosperous as any other nation can. By understanding the problems and flaws within the country, one can understand its greatness, seeing how it manages to survive each day and progress towards a better tomorrow. The order amidst the chaos has to be realised by the visitors to understand the greatness of India.

Like the Indian cities, languages, cultures, religions, Indian cinema too is greatly varied and one cannot appreciate its values unless one spends enough time to observe a series of Indian movies over different time periods and across different Indian industries and the challenges that the filmmakers from India face. The standards set to determine Indian movies can only be understood when one observes Indian cinema on the whole, with all its diversities and differences. Certainly the standards set by the Oscars, Golden Globe, BAFTA and other academies and film fraternities cannot be applied to judge Indian movies. One needs a better understanding of Indian cinema, its audiences, their expectations and the unique difficulties that Indian filmmakers have in making a good Indian movie that can appeal to the audiences of all sorts of backgrounds (locales, tastes, languages and cultures)

I’ve seen some articles on some Indian movies and their directors, written by various non-Indian writers, critics and fans stating that some top level Indian directors aren’t still as good as many other western filmmakers, but are still quite good enough to impress some western audiences. One particular review about one of Mani Ratnam’s films, by a normal film follower (like me) from one of the western countries had stated that “Mani Ratnam might not be as good as Coppola or Scorsese and he does add particular things to his movies that might not allow him to enter the same league as Spielberg or Cameron, but he is one of the top directors in India”. While that comment was meant to praise Mani Ratnam, it also in a way put him down compared to other top directors in the world. But I would like to state that a Coppola or a Scorsese, a Spielberg or a Cameron might make movies that might appeal to the people of the world, but still they wouldn’t be able to please people with tastes as diverse as in India and surely they won’t have as many obstacles as faced by Indian filmmakers. Sure many of their movies have run well all over India and they have been appreciated in the subcontinent by many as well, but the people who watched these movies were in fact a small percentage, a minor group of people spread across the country, who do recognise how western films work and appreciate the movie based on their recognition. To appreciate Indian movies, people from all across the world need to recognise how Indian films work as well and then make their judgements.

Coppola or Scorsese might never be able to please as many Indian followers as Mani Ratnam can across all states, languages and cultures. They would make good movies of International standards, no doubt, but they can’t make movies that can appeal to the varying sensibilities of the Indian populace. Being an Indian director means you first have to make a movie that can appeal to the followers of a particular film industry and language...not to forget the various expectations within the people of this particular language or industry. Then comes the even more difficult task of spreading the popularity of a movie among followers of various other languages and cultures of India, by impressing them with your work. Beyond this is the prospect of mesmerising the audiences from across the world, who knows very little about the culture from which the particular movie has come from.

Many Americans, English and Western audiences on the whole still consider Bollywood (which they think as all movies Indian) to be about dance, fights and songs. They still do not recognise the other finer aspects of Indian cinema. To appeal to the masses, you need song, dance, exaggerated emotion and fights, but to appeal to the critics and international audiences, you need to make realistic film. How can an Indian filmmaker work through all this? Also in India, good movies more often than not, don’t do well in theatres and make very little money, whereas the so called “Commercial” or “Masala” movies succeed in the box office, but get very little reception from the critics. Money and critical acclaim often appears inversely proportional. This sort of a problem, every filmmaker faces across the globe, but nobody suffers as much as an Indian filmmaker.     

So for a movie to succeed at the box office, also to receive critical acclaim and also to appeal to audiences of all the diverse backgrounds, the filmmaker has to work with great intelligence, talent and skill. He has a very little ground to work on, where he might slip to either side of the spectrum, the two ends of which seems to be money and critical acclaim.

And there are other filmmakers, who having been exposed to too many international movies, tend to make movies in India where the characters and their lifestyle seem much more similar to the west than to the people of ‘real’ India. Several Bollywood directors have been criticised for making such movies and almost thirty percent of the Hindi movies that have come in the past four to five years have been made in this fashion. But Bollywood filmmakers cannot alone be criticised for it, as such movies are being made in other industries as well, but more in the Hindi film industry. The stories and settings in such movies are completely different to what is really seen in India. The Indian audiences are often detached from such movies and there is very little they could relate to in such movies.

Many filmmakers think that to catch the attention of international audiences, they have to make movies with stories, like those seen in Hollywood movies, but little do they realise that it is the difference in the story and setting that makes audiences from across the world want to watch Indian movies. But this difference or uniqueness is not just about song or dance, but the original depiction of India and Indians in all their glory. Veteran Actor Kamal Hassan rightly pointed out in one of his interviews “The more ethnic you get, the more universal you become”.

The more we focus on India, her good, her bad, her culture and the lifestyle(s) here, the more attention it can gain in the international arena. So it is towards that one must work. Movies are not only to entertain, but also to educate and make people realise what is happening around us and in our country. The more successful one is in waking up the audiences to the truth around us, rather than to put them to sleep with all the imitation of the west, the more successful the movies will be among audiences of all backgrounds, all languages, all cultures, all classes and from all across the world.

We criticised the various branches of filmmaking so far, but we haven’t yet criticised the audiences. Yes, audiences too have several errors in them that need to be corrected to judge and criticise a movie in a fair manner. Star power is something that needs a great check in India. Every star has a large following for himself or herself and the fans of these stars try to oversell the work of the star they love, not really concerned if the work is good or not. Even worse is the act of trying to undervalue the works of other stars, who they consider to be competitors or rivals to the stars they love and support. The stars or actors in truth might not have any enmity towards one another and can even be friends, but the fans of the stars fight with one another as to who is superior. There are often arguments between a Salman Khan fan and a Shah Rukh Khan fan, a Rajnikanth fan and a Kamal Hassan fan, a Venkatesh fan and a Nagarjuna fan, a Ajith fan and a Vijay fan... so on, as to who is the superior among them. Sometimes the fan of one of the stars might try to create false rumours about the other star or his work, in the hopes of trying to show their own star to be superior. Such acts would only degrade the value of the star they are supporting and bring bad name to him or her.

Sometimes a good work can actually be wrongly criticised, just because the actor in that movie is not very much liked by fans of other actors, who might be rivals to him. The audiences should not really see who is performing and whether they like him personally or not. Instead the actor’s work has to be observed and appreciated in a fair manner. If the actor, who might be considered a rival to the star you follow, gives out a wonderful movie with a great performance, he has to be appreciated and given due credit. Every time you try to make a good movie seem bad by giving wrong reviews about it, just because it has a star that you might not personally like, you are only making a good movie not get a proper place in history that it truly deserves. And is it fair on the part of all those other people who have worked so hard in the movie, that is being wrongly criticised by fans of the stars, considered rival to the actor playing the lead in that movie? Just because of the hatred of people on one actor, the entire team gets a bad reputation and get criticised on. All their hard work becomes nothing. So audiences have to correct their attitude and give proper credit to good actors and their movies.

Lastly I want to mention that all the things mentioned here do not really represent or denote all the people involved in the Indian film fraternity. There are good directors, bad directors, good producers, bad producers, great actors, bad actors, good editors, bad editors and so on. Not all the fans of the actors mentioned here are truly unruly and not every issue discussed here points towards every movie made here. It’s for the readers to judge and identify to where and what the things mentioned in this text, really apply and that could be found only by proper observation. I’ve just tried my best to explain both to followers of Indian cinema within India and outside, about a few things that are not really recognised, but need to be recognised and understood, to truly comment and judge Indian movies.

After reading the entire text above, you might be wondering “What does the author of this text think of himself? Has he been part of a film project himself? Does he have degrees in various aspects of filmmaking? Has he achieved anything big in the film fraternity? Has he even met great directors and actors at least once in his life time?  Does he even have any experience, judging movies for a long time? What eligibility or qualification does he even have to judge the entire Indian film fraternity?

Well to put it simple, I am none of the above mentioned. But I am a simple, passionate follower of Indian cinema. I also do recognise the differences between the various film industries and the view of Indian cinema outside India. I can clearly sense what’s going wrong where and what can be done to make Indian cinema a lot better to what it is (they are) now.. As a simple fan and follower of Indian cinema I think I have the rights to express my opinion and I have done so to the best of my abilities. More can be added by more followers of Indian cinema, who recognise these and many more simple errors, flaws and mistakes that can be corrected to take Indian cinema to a whole different level. We are meant to conquer the world and more importantly, to conquer the hearts and minds of people across the world. If we can successfully conquer the hearts of Indians of diverse backgrounds with different tastes, we surely can conquer the world with all its diversities...
-A. Prashanth Narasimhan    

     

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