Friday, July 29, 2011

Shaitan - Movie Review

DISCLAIMER : This post is titled ‘Shaitan : The Review’ but as much as I have raved on about this absolutely fantabulous piece of art, I have also rambled a lot more on Bollywood and the inspiration behind insane shit like this. All this makes this an extremely long post (with no actual review!!! if you want the plot of the movie then just go read this), but for a work of genius as brilliant as this, nothing less would have been justified, this is my ode to these great artists. Don’t blame me if you fall asleep midway, I already warned you  ;-) , read on and do give me your 2 cents worth…

Chapter 1

When I was much younger and when we used to watch Hindi or regional language movies together as a family, I always used to ask my dad that how come in every movie the villain always loses and the hero always wins. I was pretty surprised by the fact that even an extremely brilliant, superbly charismatic & sexy villain cannot even get away with the smallest of crimes, how much ever smart he/she is, the hero always has the last laugh by the time its the climax of the movie. As I grew up I realized that this, apart from the intention of giving out a good social message, was also highly influenced by our cultural ancestry. Most of our films are still loosely based on the epic 'Ramayana', in more than one ways. As in 'Ramayana', the hero is painfully squeaky clean and always wins, there's always a villain who might be extremely accomplished and ingenious (like the ten heads of 'Raavan' is supposed to indicate mastery of ten different subjects, to be precise the 4 Vedas and the 6 Upanishads, moreover, he was a staunch devotee of Shiva and has supposedly received blessings and gifts directly from the lord himself), but how much ever skillful the villain is, he's always ugly, mean and he always loses. Hollywood was like a breath of fresh air, the industry in US was much more creatively, technically and morally advanced. The film-makers were experimenting with all kinds of crazy concepts and innovations, including the traditional stereotypes of villains and heroes.

Just look around us, or better look in the mirror. Can we see anybody that is anywhere close to perfection around us? Is there one person that we know who always does the right thing, or always upholds the morals taught to us right from childhood? Obviously it is not practical to be always honest and to always do the right thing. All of us, including you and me, have done, thought and will continue to do many things which contradict with the values that we are supposed to be upholding. Come on, get real, it need not be a murder or a robbery or a rape, but I'm sure all of us have at least done some small thing or the other, which we would not be proud to tell our mothers. But the evergreen Bollywood heroes are from another planet itself. for e.g. they will be in love with a girl for decades but the feeling of lust never crosses their minds, they don't even try to kiss!!!

Well painfully slowly, all that has changed now. Several leading actors of the day refused to play 2 defining negative characters of Hindi cinema, and the guy who did play those 2 roles, now rules the industry in such a way that he single-handedly overshadows the glitz and glamour of everyone else combined together. 'King' Khan's depiction of negativity in 'Baazigar' and 'Darr' redefined box-office formulas and threw away the typical stereotypes. Over the years, Bollywood has completely revolutionized itself. Initially it was run like any other business in India, in a shoddy family-oriented way. It was a skilled trade, like carpentry or fishery, and the tricks of the trade were passed on from generation to generation. Everyone, from the light boy to the superstar had some kind of hereditary connection to the film world and it was sealed shut to outsiders. Of course there were many exceptions to the rule, but not enough to cause a massive shift in ideology. Prodigies like Ram Gopal Varma (RGV) made major dents in the traditional thinking and inspired more new comers to experiment with all aspects of a film. Soon the scale of economics got so huge that Bollywood started attracting major foreign investment and when the Hollywood studios started pouring money, along with it came years of expertise which has transformed our movies completely beyond recognition. All of a sudden our camera angles, editing, sound recording, movie print and in general our story-telling were as good if not better than Hollywood movies. India has never been short of talent. Indians are extremely talented in many ways but creatively, we are on another level itself. A small town artist in India can and does create stunning logos etc. for companies, in fact on par or even better than the ones created by international advertising firms, the only major difference being that the small town artist might call it an 'emblem' and gets a few rupees, while the ad company calls it 'brand identity' and rakes in millions. Critically acclaimed film-makers, like RGV, make cinematic masterpieces, for a fraction of the budget of a Hollywood highschool comedy.

Chapter 2

The talk of bollywood town these days is that Anurag Kashyap is the new Ram Gopal Varma. An immensely talented maverick, Kashyap had a very troubled childhood, reportedly suffering 11 years of child abuse, which led to him dabbling in drugs, booze and cinema in order to overcome his trauma. Anurag Kashyap got his first major break when he co-wrote the script for the cult classic RGV flick 'Satya' following which he worked on a few major projects with RGV, Mani Ratnam (Kashyap wrote the dialogues for 'Yuva') and othersHis pre-Satya hangout buddies included RGV prodigy Sriram Raghavan (who went on to make the masterpiece ‘Ek Hasina Thi’ and ‘Johnny Gaddar’) and Shivam Nair (he made ‘Ahista Ahista’) amongst others. All these guys were insanely creative but also had an inclination towards the dark side of humanity.
They worked on different projects which included a docu-drama on a serial killer called Auto Shankar. Shivam Nair had oodles of information on serial killers and the likes, whereas Kashyap had loads of ideas regarding a movie based on his buddies who were members in a rock band. That’s when he got the idea to merge the rock band idea with the Joshi-Abhyankar serial murders (if you haven’t already heard about these murders, follow the link and get your blood curdled !!!) which resulted in the what is supposed to be Indian cinema at its best. Made in 2003, this movie was not allowed to be released, even with an 'A' rating, by the Indian Censor Board for the following reasons :

1. The film glorifies violence
2. It shows the modus operandi of a crime (killing of a police officer)
3. It shows excessive use of drugs
4. It has double meaning dialogues (with sexual undertones)
5. It has no positive characters
6. It does not carry a social message

In the original first draft of 'Paanch', the protagonist, played by Kay Kay Menon, was supposed to be imaginary, like Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) in 'Fight Club'. But the concept was too alien for Bollywood masala-formula producers and in order to get financing, Kashyap re-wrote the script several times and at later stages also included multiple songs bending to the demands of financiers. If released on time, 'Paanch' would have forever changed the future of Kashyap, Kay Kay and Bollywood. If you liked 'Shaitan' and Kashyap or if you are a serious art connoisseur then 'Paanch' is the movie to watch. It has been shown at various film festivals around the world and all those who have seen the film, are surprised it has been refused a certificate. People have been congratulating him on the film's realistic approach. Directors like Ram Gopal Varma, Govind Nihalani, Sudhir Mishra, Kundan Shah, Ketan Mehta, Aziz Mirza and Farhan Akhtar have liked the film and have hailed it as path breaking, but too bad for you that the movie is banned in India......or is it??? Thanks to online piracy and unrestricted communications using internet, it is now possible to do a lot of things that was not even fathomable a couple of years back. Click here to download 'Paanch', a movie several people are dying to see, but are not able to coz they don't have the good fortune to visit film festivals and coz they haven't heard about torrents and ;-)   

Chapter 3

'Paanch' was basically a story of 5 members of a rock band, set in an ultra-urbane landscape, with everybody doing massive amounts of drugs and other crazy stuff. The wikipedia article on 'Paanch' says :

"The story depicts what ambition, immorality, greed and angst, unmistakably the products of urban life, can do to an ordinary person. A little mischief for the sake of success leads a group of 5 wannabe rock stars to get entangled in a gory web of murder and betrayal. What follows is a shocking thriller of a story, supported aptly by some great performances, the best coming from Kay Kay Menon and Tejaswini Kolhapure. The movie has a great musical score by Vishal Bhardwaj. The songs, most of which Anurag Kashyap interestingly uses up in the first 15 minutes, are brilliant. So is the background music. Another high point of the movie is the cinematography, which impresses upon the viewer an aura of fast-paced urbanity juxtaposed with dark, ruthless bloodshed. There is a compelling tension and gloom that permeate the movie towards the latter half."

As you can see for yourself, this almost reads like a review for 'Shaitan' doesn't it? To say that 'Shaitan' is actually 'Paanch' with its edges roughed out would be an insult to the efforts put in, but it does have a lot of the same genetics as its controversial unreleased 'elder brotha'. 'Shaitan' was in fact already finalised and was set for shooting, even dates were booked for all the stars including the beautiful Kalki Koechlin (who is Kahyap's wife btw, and this is a major reason for him to be introduced to this project), and it was only at the eleventh hour that Kashyap hopped on board as producer. Basically all the reasons that 'Paanch' was banned have been eliminated, like introducing strong positive characters, avoiding excessive violence on screen time by actually shooting the murder scenes from less bloodier angles, sending across a strong social message etc. and at the same time all those features that made 'Paanch' a masterpiece have been improved on and incorporated in 'Shaitan', like crazy cinematography, riveting background score and amazing perfomances from the entire cast. The collaboration of Kashyap and cinematographer R. Madhi, who previously worked in major tamil films results in pure visual magic. By using several tried & tested tricks and by playing around with their creativity, they have given true movie buffs a real treat, and several scenes stand out like the breaking the beer bottle on the nosy pricks head and banging the shit out of him, the smoke coming out of K.C.'s mouth as he plays pool, the weird angles of being inside the bottle when they play 'dare', the angle from the point-of-view (POV for you porn lovers ;-)!!!!) of the ball when K.C. dribbles the ball on the bat, skillful and  extremely innovative use of high-speed cameras (so many of the scenes are shot so beautifully in super-slow motion, btw if you haven't already seen 'American History X' either commit suicide right now or go see it right away!!!! Its another cinematic masterpiece that has a lot of ground-breaking photography which is still very much contemporary though the movie itself was released in 1998!!!! Go see it!!!!) 

Chapter 4

Recently two events were caught in the eye of a 'gossip storm' in Britain. When Sanjiv Mehta bought the rights to the brand name 'East India Company' and when Ratan Tata claimed that the mindset of the workforce of the Jaguar Land Rover factories (the buying of which itself was another major controversy) was of laziness, the british tabloids called these events the ultimate moments of 'Empire strikes back', because after several hundred years of bossing around Indians, now they are getting bossed around, and this will continue the same way for the foreseeable future. 

Regionalism, communalism and differentiating based on caste, creed, sex etc. is a totally stupid emotion and will never be of any use in the long term and I totally DO NOT advocate this. But even though the more knowledgeable people acknowledge and practice this equality, there has always been a major bias in Bollywood against Southies. Even though South Indians have a major role to play in almost every aspect of Mumbai, the average Northie Mumbaikar is always a little too quick to discount this fact and embark on her/his mockery of everything south. The list of extraordinarily successful Southies is endless, from the greatest respectable dons of Mumbai Haji Mastan and Varadarajan Mudaliar (Dawood is just a money-power-slut hungry Pakistan agent ;-).....honestly go read the news mate, there is more than ample evidence to suggest the same), the greatest music director Asia has ever seen A.R. Rahman, the best sound engineer in India Resul Pookutty (if u don't already know him....he won the bloody Oscars for pete's sake mate!!!!!).....the list goes on, for that matter even Ram Gopal Varma is from Hyderabad and not a Marathi as many ignorant baboons have assumed incorrectly.

I usually try to go for a movie without reading or hearing anything about it. This means that I usually do not have much expectations from any movie and so am pleasantly surprised when the movie turns out to be awesome. I assumed from all the hype & hoopla that Anurag Kashyap himself was directing 'Shaitan' and since the opening credits rolled by alongside with visuals, I didn't clearly notice any of the names. But I was a little amused to hear the familiar sounds of the 'Chenda'  (a traditional percussion instrument used extensively during festivals in Kerala) during the opening credits. Moreover, the movie is peppered with references to the South, like the wife of the cop Arvind Mathur (played by Rajeev Khandelwal) is shown as a South Indian dance teacher and is played by Sheethal Menon (the wife of the director himself) and there are several instances when popular traditional South Indian instruments are used for the riveting background score, notably the 'Chenda Melam' soundtrack when Arvind Mathur metes out his own brand of justice when he throws a sex offender from a first floor of a villa. So when in the closing credits I saw that our malayali homeboy Bejoy Nambiar has directed this, one of the best Hindi movies of all time, and the crazy insane cinematography was directed by another Southie, R. Madhi, it was like a little 'Empire strikes back' moment. 

Now let's just go back to the first chapter of this post, where I mentioned that bad guys always lose and the good guys always win. Yes, 'Shaitan' is revolutionary , path-breaking and will soon be a cult classic, but due to Indian Censor board stipulations, but more importantly due to moral responsibility, the good guys still win and the bad guys still lose. The detailed discussion of why the good guys always win will require another humongous post, but that's for another day. In a totally out-of-the-box perspective, 'Shaitan' can actually be seen as an old-fashioned morality tale packaged in an extremely funky brand-new bottling.  Kudos to Bejoy Nambiar, Anurag Kashyap and the whole team for creating a true masterpiece.

And hey, thanks for reading ;-), your feedback is most welcome.

                   (Six out of Five Stars for Excellence!!!!)