Films & Feni: Bonding And Betrayal

Posted on November 24, 2008


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NOV 25, 2008 – IS THERE ANYTHING AS REASSURING ABOUT the future of the human race as the sight of people being angrily shushed as their mobile phones announce an incoming call in the middle of a film screening? Or people unafraid to walk into movie theatres alone, simply to enjoy the film in question, without feeling the depressingly social need to lean to someone by the side to whisper irrelevant asides? Or an audience member (who clearly kneels, every morning, at the altar of celluloid) suggesting to the girl who introduces each film that people not be allowed into the auditorium once the film begins? Or films being screened in their blessed entirety, without being cleaved in two at an arbitrary point, so an “Interval” card can be tacked on?

THE FESTIVAL’S OPENING FILM, PETER CHAN’S THE WARLORDS, was screened again the next day, and it played to four packed theatres at the same time. That makes it the equivalent, at least in these arty climes, of a blockbuster starring Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan as bosom buddies, with Aamir Khan as the wily antagonist. It’s easy to explain the rush. One reason is the top-heavy star cast, with Jet Li and Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro playing the trio of blood brothers who negotiate bonding and betrayal in 19th-century China. But more importantly, The Warlords is – to use a much-mangled qualifier – an epic, an astoundingly shot martial arts drama that commandeers (and deserves) every square inch of the big screen. If I could go back and watch it again, I would.

AMONG THE CINEPHILES SHAKEN BY THE BRUTAL BRILLIANCE of The Warlords was K Rajasekaran, HoD of Editing, FTII, Pune. I made the stupid mistake of asking him what he thought of the film, as an editor – a brain addled by too much movie-viewing can never be the fount of intelligent conversation: old Chinese saying – and he replied, with tremendous patience that you can never notice the editing of a film on a first viewing. After mentally slapping myself on the forehead, I embarked on the task of redeeming myself ever so slightly, by arguing that this was not always the case, but, yes, it isn’t possible to pin down cut points and transition points while the film is flashing before your eyes. And then he proceeded to explain the nature of his job and left me with barely disguised envy. Imagine a life wherein you do nothing but delve into the deep, dark mysteries of film, one frame at a time.

A COROLLARY OF THAT OLD CHINESE SAYING is that opinions formed about movies, in an atmosphere of too much movie-viewing, shouldn’t be taken too seriously – so can I not go on record when I say how irritated I was by the twee whimsy of Mermaid? Anna Melikyan’s Russian film begins with a fanciful image that’s going to scar the mind for years to come – let’s just say it involves the most pendulous pair of on-screen breasts since Fellini’s Amarcord – and the story keeps slipping into preciousness that’s at once richly imagined and hard to take. To make things worse, they paused the screening after ten minutes, so they could hand out bouquets to the director and producers (who walked in late), and the announcer invoked athithi devo bhava to remind us to not disrespect our guests. But everyone secretly agreed with the irate audience member, who yelled, “But what about the disrespect to cinema?”

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