Monday, 30 April 2012

Things To Do To Stay Interested in Your Thesis

Yes, this is a movie blog. Yes, this is a topic that is off the record,er... celluloid. However, this lately blossomed thesis of mine has been giving me sleepless days and worry-some nights( yes, it is the days that usually see me watching the original celluloid God intended for humans) and has, in fact, managed to consume and depress me so totally that I have even given up my one true love, film. Every moment I work on my thesis, I keep worrying about all the films I could have watched, possibly made, instead of making hopeless, impostor attempts at an academic career. Next week, on Sunday the 6th of May, I have two occasions coinciding quite mercifully on the same day. It is my 24th birthday and I have my first proper film school exam diverting me from the horrible reality of it. There must be very few non-nerdy, non-masochistic people who like having exams, buts lets just say that a film school entrance exam(diploma in film direction at FTII Pune) is far, far better than aging. I don't want to be one of those horribly boring cynics who are actually called depressing people because cynics are sexier. But look, I shall be 24, I have more than 5 gray hairs, I have the beginnings of a double chin and I do think my energy level is decreasing. I wouldn't be surprised if I turn senile before 40.

Therefore, I decided to write a sort of how-to article without naming it a how-to one because a) God, oh God, I don't want to be a how-to writer under my real name even if it gets me more attention b)no one reads this blog anyway so why would I want attention here and c)how many people in the world are stupid enough to write bloody theses if they are not interested in them?(ans: 1, myself).

So, here goes...

1) Pick a topic that pleases you and not the world around you. Writing theses is a bit like a marriage. Don't pick a partner according to the wishes of others. Pick one you wouldn't mind getting naked with. No matter how much the world discourages or mocks you(by world I mean only supervisors, pesky profs and fellow bright young things), I can assure you that a thesis can be written on the most obscure, nasty, perverted things you can think of. So, if you want to write a thesis on relatively innocent things like unicorns, go right ahead. Write what pleases you, not what pleases others.

2) Get a part-time job. You are not into academics because of the money. Yeah. Right. You are pursuing research because all you care about is knowledge and discovering things. Uh-huh. Sure. The real reason you are willing to spend your money or someone else's just for researching is so that you can have real money. The real reason you are unemployed till the age of thirty is because you want to travel on someone else's money, live in someone else's lodgings and use your money to buy an expensive car when you are 45. Which is all very good, but a job, or at least a part time one, is not just about the money. As a researcher, you need something to do that is adult, responsible, socially contributing, social by itself because believe me, researching is none of those. Being a penniless post-graduate at the bottom of the pay scale can be a marvelous place to be in. It is an experience much like falling in love for the first time. Don't miss out on the trials and tribulations of your first jobs. They might teach you much more that your thesis ever will.

3) Read books or go through archives not as if you are cramming before a test, but as if you are working at a gold mine. Oh, for heaven's sake, all that exam-taking and attending classes and having syllabuses are over and gone for good. The eternal student doesn't need to go through all that boring, quite unnecessary, nerve-wracking, nauseating, IBS- inducing shit again. We're not gonna take it. We are research Workers, not uniform-wearing students being scared of canes. I will read a book leisurely. If I find something irrelevant, I will skip it. If I find something interesting, I will make a note of it. But, I will not try to push a book down my throat. If I think its rubbish, I will throw it across the room. Researching should, if not anything else, bring back the pleasures of reading again to people who have become rather used to taking shortcuts and learning everything about nothing over their university years.

4) Write reflections on what information you are acquiring without thinking its a draft of the thesis. Of course, it IS a draft of the thesis, but you don't need to know that. The more you reflect on what you read(instead of just going on searching and searching) and the more you write it down will give you more conviction, solidify your impressions and your thesis will follow a growth arc much as your expedition towards reaching it has been.

5) Your research work is not the end of the world. Not getting a job is, of course, a business worth seriously worrying about but, please, research won't necessarily save you, or the world, from hunger. It ups your chances at things, it is a life experience and it helps annoy people because you can go around being pompous, but it does little more than that. Most inventions, discoveries, hypotheses have been made by non-academic people. Institutionalized voyages into thought and happenings have rarely ever broken ground, even though they can help fatten bank accounts. Therefore, it is not half as formidable as it seems. They say that an artist's life is much more romanticized than his work, but I think it applies more to the academic. Both have responsibilities towards making something original, but the artist does not have to bear the burden of coming up with something useful. No wonder it is art that is much more useful than academics. Most academic work is, in fact, as useful as gray, smelly socks. It is no wonder that we in the academic world call the text primary and the scholarship secondary.

6) A thesis is an argument, a singular idea of looking at things, not a 50,000 word or more book. If all writers thought in terms of word count instead of matter, we humans would have been much less admirable than we believe ourselves to be. Do not write your thesis just to cram it with stuff you have read, producing yet another scholarly book that claims to "succinctly" deal with everything else that is available. Scholars get boring not so much because of a show-offy vocabulary or gravity-defying convoluted sentences but because they rarely state anything by themselves that is not out of that self-contained box of being academic. Be bold. Be ferocious. In other words, be original. Be guttural. Just think for yourself, and please, please, have some mercy and write it down. It's gonna bear your name. Make it about you, you, you. What you think. What you feel about things. We all have a capacity to form a judgment by ourselves about anything we perceive. If we didn't have institutions like religion, politics or the keepers of knowledge shoving their do' s and don't s down our throats, we would all be a little less stressed. That is what is so attractive about artists. They have the innocence and cheek to choose what they want to believe and tell others. Stop trying to please everyone.

So, there you go. A little too ambitious for a blog that no one reads. But who knows? In this vast cyberverse someone just might come along wanting some inspiration to distract themselves from writing their thesis. Let me end by saying that, I don't do any of these things, but in an alternate universe, if I actually did do these things, I would be the next Da Vinci, Galileo or Lennon who all thankfully did not wait around for a thesis to get their ideas for the world going. 

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Hate Story entertains for all the wrong reasons

What do you do when you deliberately go to watch a film in spite of having little or no expectations of it? You may as well be proven wrong. I have been busy working on my thesis on performance theory, spending hours at libraries, feeling overworked and yet under-accomplished. So, when the offer came to watch something that would be totally uncharacteristic of my movie-watching self, I jumped at the lazy challenge and distraction. I never thought I would actually wake up with a determined purpose of watching a sleaze fest like Hate Story. The title, the tag line, the promos, everything didn't have to work too hard to inspire distaste in me. No, I am not a prude when it comes to skin show by Indian actresses. I, for one, enjoyed The Dirty Picture immensely, and would very much look forward to such films in the future. But, Hate Story is surely a let-down to this new Bolly trend started by Vidya Balan. Here are the reasons why.

The theme is about the only thing that works in the movie. In the only well-written piece of line in the entire film, Paoli Dam's character 'Kavya Krishnan' says that a man may turn a woman to her least vulnerable state by sexually using her, but if a woman decides to use her sexuality to get back at him, she might just turn out to be much stronger than him. The idea that a woman with blatant sexuality can be empowered instead of derided is, of course, the most provocative attack to Indian sensibilities. It is the best feminist weapon available. However, when such a theme could have found its best expression in a smart, crisp script, Hate Story just falls flat on all counts. A journalist who shows herself to be smart enough to expose huge business scams is stupid enough to keep going back repeatedly (in the name of love) to a man who is out to ruin her. She is too busy being smitten by her nemesis to care for the fact that he doesn't give a toss about her. And please, with no offense to what people's tastes of female attractiveness might be, Kavya's seduction of almost every who's who in the cement business is just boring, stale and obviously not good enough for them to leak vital information and  frequently give her jobs. Unless she was using a love potion, it is just plain incredulous.

Paoli Dam is not fit for the big Bolly screen. After seeing her in serious Bengali films, I would not question the fact that yes, she has got acting chops. Neither do I have a problem with her lack of inhibitions. However, I do have a problem with her stylist, her make-up artist , her fitness expert and her dietitian. She is all skin and bones in this film, looking more anemic than attractive, and her clothes are just ugly. The worst is her make-up. I am really fed up of people trying to 'defend' the dusky complexion even as they use layers of lighter foundation, but the problem is not as much with her foundation (which actually looks too many shades too dark) as with her lips. This is a Bolly Bhatt production for cinema's sake, its your job to make the 'heroine' look visually pleasing. More so in a film where you intend to make her seduce CEO after CEO. Even if Paoli wants to include serious Bengali and 'International' films in her repertoire, if she has to do a mainstream Bolly flick, she just has to look the part.

There is also the stereotypical friend, a guy who accompanies her on her exposes, but never has the courage to actually make it with her. Paoli's nemesis, a youngish, tallish guy who delivers the film's most repeated and painfully nauseating line "I f*** those who f*** with me" has a lost, constipated look on his face. Joy Sengupta is perhaps the only one in the cast who does well with whatever scant material is provided to him. The worst sequence in the entire film is the montage courtship of Paoli and her future nemesis. I don't think such bogus(which, coincidentally, is the best possible curse word Kavya can come up with) sequences have been shot in Bollywood films in a long,long time. Flowers, dancing, getting wet in the rain wearing a sari, having a gigantic diamond ring popped at you after knowing each other for about a week maybe, consummating the relationship in every position and place known to mainstream cinema, this is speed dating at its most ridiculous. This happens after about 20 minutes into the movie, a good time to walk out in case you do not have the patience for more incredible things to come.

This movie is best watched not with popcorn and fizzy drinks, but friends who are just naturals at sarcasm and talkativeness.


Saturday, 31 March 2012

Is film criticism(nit picking) necessary?

I have not written my personal movie blog for a very, very long time. I have to say that I do not have any special hopes for my movie blog. I don't particularly care about being read. In fact, I write it only because I feel I should. I would do anything to prevent the hours spent in front of an electronic screen. But, such is the way about watching videos, reading, listening to music, communicating in myriad ways that I have no real substitute to the computer. Of course, I am very sure I would be able to live, perhaps even more fruitfully, without it. I remember the curiosity and hunger of my growing years where having an Internet connection was absolutely the second most important thing necessary to fulfill your dreams of fulfilling yourself, next to a college education in a city. I remember learning entries off the Britannica Encyclopedia on figures such as Jack Nicholson because that tiny paragraph and black and white photo was all the knowledge I could possibly get on the brilliant and captivating actor. Not that I have a particular taste for celebrity gossip. I do admit that my fondness for this industry that regularly churns out the most famous people in the world does make me at least glance over a tidbit of their personal lives. But, blame it on my moral and principled education at a Catholic school which conducted itself in a secular fashion, I soon begin to realize as I glance over page three that I am engaging in something that is mean, cheap and altogether unnecessary.

Do I love movies for the glamor they possess? Well, glamor, even fame, can be quite different from feeding on celebrity culture. There have always been people who are well off or who have access to the temptations of the moneyed. Not everyone giving in to those temptations are moneyed, but it is in the nature of those temptations to call for all. A culture of envy and ambition. A culture that suffers the most by questioning or turning its back on its temptations. Yes, there is no ennobling of the soul, no display of moral character, no adherence to principles of goodness in frugality and dismissing glamor. Glamor is not a modern product. There has never been a time when pleasure had been at arms length to every member of the civil society. Nor will such a time come. Yes, I know that feeding on the lives of actors that are stars is intrusive, voyeuristic and leaves you with an uncomfortably excess amount of knowledge about something that makes no real difference to you or to anybody else. Yes, there are inspiring lives lived in the show business. These lives can teach you about the world you live in, new qualities to inculcate and emulate and even things you hadn't realized yourself. But does that mean there is possibly something to derive if a celebrity couple had been seen holding hands and walk out of a posh new club? Does such a piece of 'news' actually warrant a space in a paper or a website? What does it say about the people who actually buy the paper or go to the website and read the piece of news with ardent interest? Should we be judging them? Have we not been one of them more than we would like to admit?

I often imagine myself in show business, possibly as a guest in a chat show. This tiny exercise, starting out as a fantastical realization of my ambitions, turn out to be revelations of how lofty and yet vulnerable the life of a celebrity can be. I have the power to actually take a walk down a busy street or a ride in an overcrowded train and hate it, yet there are so many who can, perhaps never again, walk down a road or feel the excitement that is always part of a train ride. Am I feeling sorry for rich, successful people who can afford to have accidents without medical insurance? No, I am not. But there is a price to be paid for having the means to pay the price. In the building of a wise, moral character and an understanding of the human condition, it must be understood that even as we exist in a culture that thrives on a continuous watch and analysis of a few people who have been successful in a visual medium, we are all in the same boat called life. Thrust into this planet earth and having had no say in the matter, it is up to each of us to make something of our own existence and presence. It is better to be self-obsessed than to be obsessed with someone else who does not approve of your obsession.

I started this blog to discuss my love for movies and try my hand at writing about movies. I know this often ventures into nit-picking, looking for flaws or even creating them and yet trying to be fair and pointing out the good points too. If that is what constructive and balanced criticism is, is criticism even necessary? Do I really want to spend my life nit-picking on things that may even have delighted me for two hours? Much more delight that perhaps even a seemingly flawless bag of chips can provide. Some prefer the two to go hand in hand, but eating is only a pleasurable accessory to me when it comes to watching movies. I watch movies only for the sake of watching movies. I love the blissful concentration, the passivity, the spontaneous exercise of the emotions and the feeling of satisfaction it gives me that nothing else can provide all at the same time. Movies are grand in their make and humble in their purpose. They entertain so as to make money. What moral objection can you find in that?

I have not written for such a long time because I was busy feeling other things. Writing criticisms of movies is not what I felt like doing, and I must admit it is not a feeling I get too often. I love to know and understand pop art, but I'd rather not have much to do with analyzing or predicting its social consequences. It does not interest me. All I know is that my passion for pop art has been complete, never conflicted and bound to last me a good long time. In the world of movies, I am the most valued entity- the loving movie viewer.

Friday, 3 February 2012

The Descendants = Grace is Gone + Up in the Air

I am disappointed with The Descendants. It is a good serious film, every bit worthy of all the Oscar buzz it has been generating, but there is just too much going on. Too many strands in too small a premise. Clooney doesn't play a character too far in essence from what he played in Up in the Air. In fact, I am starting to believe that these characters resemble him somehow, though Clooney is never the kind of actor who would reveal too much of himself to the outside world. The similarities with Grace is Gone is in the basic premise itself- A father and two daughters dealing with the wife/mother's loss. The constant swearing by the kids starts from being funny to plain annoying. The film is too full of cliches. What woman would prefer Matthew Liliard to George Clooney? As far as the "descendants" bit go, it is an interesting theory of holding on to family inheritance that one has barely made use of, but the question is for how long. Sooner or later, real estate temptations will give in. Not that too many of us are familiar with what its like to own giant stretches of land and never know what to do with it. And if we did have it, would we have just left it like that? Is that really what the human mind is capable of conceiving?
The Descendants is also a very long film. A.O. Scott especially likes the film because of its pace, but I don't know whether the wait is really worth it. Because there is a neat, little, even cliched ending. When you go to watch a film, if it behaves like it has a semblance of a plot, you want to see that it is carried out till the end. "The Descendants" never figures out what it wants to be. Just like Clooney's character in the film.