kinocow

the grass is always green on the screen

Budget Devarakonda and his chutney

Middle-Class-Melodies

The past decade of Hindi film has seen the resurgence of stories set in small towns of India capturing demographics that seemed distant from the Bollywood grandeur expected in the 90s. Stories started having ordinary characters with a strong dose of realism that otherwise dreamy film industry has long forgotten. Masaan, Mukti Bhavan, Titli and even to an extent Gangs of Wasseypur stand as shining examples for this new epoch that bring Hindi cinema inline with global consumptory preferences while still being deeply rooted in local cultural milieu.

This could be that the economic demographics of a filmgoer have changed drastically in past 30 years, as the average Indian in a city gets more prosperous, stories of smaller towns have more appeal. With the proliferation of internet and Over The Top (OTT) platforms the film going demographic that earlier was categorized in to A, B and C centersp[1] has been now atomized. Film has become democratic in its reach and a consumer in South Delhi has the same content choices as someone in Tirunelveli. This makes the larger than life Bollywood masala films archaic especially when they are competing for eyeballs alongside Narcos and Stranger Things.

The Telugu film industry has been largely absent from this movement. Considering that only a few film families control the production, distribution and exhibition of films, stories became stagnant as the producers turned risk averse. The actors who come from the same families have macho/saint images carefully curated from years of making the mass masala movies. The script of a Telugu film hasn't changed since the mid-90s and it reflects in the reviews of popular film websites, the rating for most movies hovers around 2.5 to 3.5 on a 5 point scale. This stagnation has been changing in the past five years where college educated engineers started making stories that shared their ethos combined with the deep pockets of tech capital. [2]

With the OTT platforms making firm inroads into the production and distribution market there is an appetite for bringing newer cultural elements before the cinematic lens. Middle Class Melodies adds to the growing roster of indie Telugu films that hint at a changing industry practises and a shift from focus from the metropol to the smaller cities and towns of the Andhra/Telangana region.

Middle Class Melodies does not have much of a plot so to speak, the story meanders around a lot of characters before it reaches its conclusion but it's not an anthology either. At different points it is different things, once it is about Bombay chutney and at another a romance between side characters that goes nowhere. Not that this meandering is unwatchable, the freshness of the movie comes from this zigzagging through different characters. It feels like the director Vinod Ananthoju approached Amazon Prime for a webseries and got the budget for a full length film instead. His characters populate the tribulations faced by the Indian middle class (poor/lower middle class from the Western standpoint) which he uses to evoke a nostalgic emotion. The lost Teluguland of Guntur is both real and dreamy at the same time.

The only grouse I have with the film comes in the form of the lead actor, Anand Devarakonda whose only merit of being an actor is being the brother of Vijay Devarakonda whose back-to-back hits of Pellichupulu and Arjun Reddy propelled him to stardom. Anand Devarakonda has neither the nuance nor the charisma of Vijay and is in the film solely for being a cheaper semblance of his brother. Perhaps this level of nepotism is required to attract people to the screens in a culture that's still into hero worship and it is saddening to see that even OTT platforms have to resort to this desperation. In a way, Anand's non-charisma aids his character's loserdom. Most people without the means remain as pale imitations of their aspirations and Middle Class Melodies gets that right.

[1] – A,B and C centers represent the class of people watching the movie. “A” center refers to the educated or class audience in big cities, “B” center is the audience from smaller towns or from stand alone theaters and “C” center audience are the mass audience or in popular parlance the kind “that leave their brains behind at home”. This segregation is arbitrary and overlaps the caste divide often.

[2] – Aided with the rise of Youtube and Facebook. Social media opened the world wide open and for the first time showed that people can aspire for the world while still staying in India. Early Silicon Valley kitsch of “believing in oneself”/“passion” became buzzwords that still dominate the current young Telugu filmmaking generation.

(Streams on Amazon Prime)

#MiddleClassMelodies #Tollywood #Review #Telugu

“When luck suck everybody fucks”

Ludi

Anurag Basu's latest Netflix release Ludo is a case of Bollywood romanticism done right. It is a reflection of what it means to be Indian, from the narrative of the ideal husband drilled into women to the spiritual lens through which the country comforts itself. A game of ludo that the characters populate, color coded and navigating through the game with pure chance.

If you have seen Anurag Basu's Barfi! you know what you're in for. Basu's uses his directorial powers with a lot of responsibility, there is never a moment where your brain is not figuring out the permutations that the scene has to offer. The kitsch involved involving the child actress is forgiven by the meta-narrative which further liberates the movie from any narrative misgivings. Discussing the meta-narrative would mean divulging spoilers but it relies on classical Indian philosophical inquiry to push the story forward.

Take the case of Ugly, another film that runs on the plot line of interwoven stories revolving around a missing child, the police and opportunistic people that try to profit from the proceedings. The film by Anurag Kashyap has irredeemable characters populating a story with no hope. The discretion of the meta-narrative is dependent on the viewer. The judgement of the characters is upon the viewer's discretion. Ludo's meta-narrative solves this problem making the story palatable and approachable for subsequent viewings.

Throughout Ludo I was wondering how much of a delight it would've been to watch it in the kinos, it's the kind of of film that warrants buying popcorn and dream about movies in themselves. It is sad that the colloquial paisa vasool (“bang for the buck”) has to happen over a Netflix subscription over the box office. Talking about meta-narratives and then Covid.. the picture goes on.

(Ludo and Ugly stream on Netflix)

#Ludo #Netflix #Bollywood #review

Expectations vs. Reality

Blue-Valentine

I was under the impression that Blue Valentine was a musical after confusing it with La La Land. For the first 20 minutes I was waiting for Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) to break into song and dance. But Dean and Cindy are in no mood to dance. Their marriage is melting, Cindy is passive and Dean does not understand why. How did this couple even get together?

The interludes from six years prior paints a different picture – Cindy goes through an unplanned pregnancy with an abusive boyfriend and Dean is smitten by Cindy in their first meeting. Cindy ignores Dean initially, but a chance meeting on a bus brings them on their course to destiny.

Blue Valentine works on contrasts. It is the earlier iteration of the Marriage Story , where the juxtaposition of the past over the present gives us the colour book and the colours. Blue Valentine gives the viewer a voyeuristic insight into noticing the “red flags” in the romance that preclude the downfall. For a film that tries to explore the depth of a relationship as time passes by, the breakdown of the marriage works if there is a believable element of love that preceded the union.

The tap dance scene outside the bridal store serves this purpose. Dean and Cindy cannot see the end yet, they have to still fall in love but for the audience the dramatic hinge rests upon this act of falling in love. The scene is combustible, it has these two raw, imperfect strangers who need each other. Dean because he is smitten and Cindy because she's pregnant with someone she doesn't trust. It lets them be without the pressing problems that wait in their adult lives. The tap dance scene can also be termed childlike in the context of their relationship because what follows after is the stuff of Agony Aunt columns. The child in a relationship grows up, the problems that force Cindy to fall in love are far removed.

This effervescent two minute scene gives meaning to the tragedy that follows. We are propelled to fill in the blanks and involve our judgement to the failing marriage. The film offers no overt narrative support but it pulls us into it through the imperfections the characters create, giving us a chance to self-reflect about our own personal tragedies. I was a bit sullen that it wasn't a musical but it is whatever it takes to make you feel.

#AnatomyofaScene #cinema #American

or the lost art of watching cinema

Cinema Amnesia

I recently watched a two hour movie over a period of a week, decimating it to the point of watching single frames at any given moment. It didn't help that the movie was not interesting, but still I took it upon myself as a challenge. Such a viewing misery would have been unfathomable a few years ago, when I trained myself to watch four movies a day without losing steam. I find this similar to my book reading habit that fell off the cliff with the advent of the internet and I do not find these behaviours to be an anomaly but a sign of things to come.

We have forgotten how to watch movies. We have forgotten the very act of seeing. It has been normalized now that we always have a screen where we can see something, all the time. This continual engagement demands that we are not bored at any given instant. Along with this came the idea of constant choice where we can customise what we want to watch and when. Scroll through a video to get where we want – the action bits, the money shots and the tugs of aggression and emotion. Social media became more interactive, delivering dramatic sequences that have been keeping us engaged for more than a decade now.

Watching a movie now is a matter of singular occupation for two hours. We are not watching one movie, our choice always has another on backup. The economic cost of streaming the next movie on Netflix, YouTube or your favourite pirate viewing site is next to nothing – unlike watching a movie in a kino, where there's a high entry cost and we are left with only one perspective of choice made by faceless humans. This leaves us with the question, is a trip to the kino worth the 8 euros I am paying for a movie?

With endless choice also comes the problem of endless selection. Gone are the days of a singular recommendation or a collective euphoria over a show. Content has become disposable and goes stale faster than your average news cycle. Netflix's early proposition of endless choice came with its own pitfall – the moment it stops offering its consumers the choice, they will leave the platform. This spin of choice has to be constant or even overwhelming to lull a customer into a state of constant monthly spending. This is in contrast with earlier iterations of film viewing where one had to go to the kino or buy physical copies of films or even pirate them online, which gave access to content one piece at a time. This attached more value for a movie, which results in a more concentrated approached to the act of viewing.

”(1925?) The TALKIE opens its doors to theatre which occupies the place and surrounds it with barbed wire.” – Robert Bresson

I am not complaining that cinema is in some kind of post-capitalistic fugue, it has always been the balm of the industrial masses and it is here to stay. This does not mean that the current form it assumes is immune to criticism, it serves the same function as stress shopping or yoga does after a long day's work. It makes one forget about the immediate reality and gives the right amount of dopamine ping to work for another day and then another. In this respect cinema loses its status as an art-form and becomes a crutch to escape from everyday reality. This crutch is formless and shapeless, except that it has to have a moving image that ticks the right boxes. An extreme form of this manifestation can be seen the status end-titles are given on Netflix: they are an afterthought in the production mill of content. The hundreds of faceless people are stripped off responsibility for the convenience of speed. The byproduct is that most movies on streaming platforms come and go without having any effect on us whatsoever. The yesteryear cinematic spectacle is now transformed into an endless looped GIF to be shared on a social media site of your preference.

This is not saying that cinema is in danger. It is – the pandemic disrupted our very act of collective gathering before an image on the screen. Content is now hyper-individualized, once we get a taste of this it is hard to go back. But I see hopeful signs as kinos around the world open up and new releases slowly make inroads into our colloquial language. The days of the art-house cinephile might be coming to an end as the theatres can only host big-budgeted Hollywood crowd pullers to sustain their revenues. Though I hope a self correcting mechanism will rise organically which helps bring the art of watching back into vogue. Distanced from capital, cinema is one of the truly collective meditative experiences that creates a sense of community without demanding anything in return. Or maybe dream will never manifest and Tik-Tok becomes the fractured reality model we want to consume. Cinema becomes the bastion of a few, sinking in a sea of choice.

#film #philosophy

A film by Aki Kaurismäki

Pay for the flat two months in advance, cash. File all notebooks and books, seal and pack them. Put them in the street corner where the free clothes and old books overflow from an ageing hippie's window. Be unseen, make no friends. Have a tape for company, singing John Yager's “Benson, Arizona”.

Benson, Arizona, blew warm wind through your hair My body flies the galaxy, my heart longs to be there Benson, Arizona, the same stars in the sky But they seemed so much kinder when we watched them, you and I

Remember the idea you once heard on the U-bahn? The idea that the easiest way to die is to drink two bottles of high grain Finnish vodka and sleep naked on a cold street? The alcohol will easen the hypothermia and one dies in the hotness of the cold. Have no papers what so ever, they are shattered and scattered all across small rest stops in Sweden and Norway. Cancel all accounts, stuff all your pockets with small change and feel rich. So much paper, maybe give some homeless guy a 100 and a bottle of champagne. Talk to him (or her), ask how he moves. Friends receive post-dated letters, cryptic enough to validate a disappearance but not distant to accommodate the fear of death. Burn all certificates, flush them down the toilet. They are a chain – a tether to concepts sold to you, and us. Ridding of all official documentation is the destruction of the social self, home is nothing but an illusion. There never was a home outside of us, just a constant search for one. The tape recorder creaks the same song on loop.

Buy tickets with your spare cash. Be kind to the clerk, be kind to anyone you meet. Give them a genuine human interaction, that is to say don't be an ant. No fake hellos and goodbyes. Drink with merry in bars with bad music and worse patrons, let the beer overflow in preparation for the vodka singes. Bathe in cold water, soak but don't dry. Every experience is in preparation for the final one – know that you are time and time projects the whole universe in you, 13.6 billion years if the current view is to believed. A name is the first employ of funneling personality. Name yourself anything else, Fish is a good suggestion. Dry on the Nordic shores, salted through frozen waves. There's the mermaid Ice Queen sitting somewhere in a costume. Go out to find her, in places where the language is the final diffusion of silence into emotion. A long dinner table covered in red tablecloth, plastic flowers wilting. Cook your chicken in the embers of your accumulated love. One final dusk, reds, dark violets and pluming clouds. Fall in love at every opportune moment. The cadaver if eaten by a wolf will bear the little symbolism of your existence. If there is luck the body will not be incinerated in some drab Norwegian morgue. Make paperwork easy, talk to the Syrian refugees. Dip yours fingers in sulfuric acid just when the drowsiness from the vodka is electrifying your nerves. You will pass out in the cold, dark night of the winter.

Why are you on this journey? Physical desires can be within reach but what about when searching for something that is not there? Where to reach out to if there is only stale air from previous attempts? Questions ask questions in infinity. There is peace in the silence of the mind. A nameless alcoholic that has be duly disposed off. This is the end of an animate story. Do not be afraid, shut your door behind you with no afterthought. Remember, there is no light in the polar shadows.

The tape recorder creaks with the stuck cassette:

Now the seasons flick on by
like seconds on this ship.
An' I take another pull
from the flask that's at my hip. The mighta-beens and the never-weres can drive a man insane. So-I think I'll stay out in the Void 'cause Benson's not the same.

#film #philosophy

Music is essential from scene setting, it enhances and adds a solid landscape for mundane things like a person walking to the profound matters of the heart. Great music when merged with a good visual story can alter the non-film reality because music is more subconscious than the way we perceive narrated information.

Living through the day is a narrative experience, one that involves conversations, transience and the Hero journey. We walk into stories and continue existing ones. It is in this perspective that music comes in, it creates a richer alternation to the one that already is. It changes the view without changing the context, so that the execution of the story is not botched.

It is in this indelible context that music can change how we look at life itself. Having periods of time attributable to a certain shape and form of music. It needn't come from speakers alone, the birds, the sound of tires, rustling wind and jackhammers all lend the same aesthetic quality as well tuned studio production.

Music, when viewed through film also juxtaposes multiple asymmetric visions into one – it's almost invariable to not imagine the opening scene of Apocalypse Now when I see a ceiling fan while while lazing on a hot Indian summer afternoon, the images of cinematic violence flash along with Francis Ford Coppola's visions of Vietnam – a feat unified by the dreamy mix of The End by the Doors. I also associated this montage with my dreams of Varanasi, where I sat by the Ganges and saw the sunrise after wandering in the nights with the outcasts and the holy drunks. It was the same intro piece of music that I first heard in a friend's apartment in Bangalore, while going through a rather hard breakup. The song now has travelled with me for years, along the way accumulating film and real history. In my mind's eye it has its own progression – a movie of its own. When I watched Apocalypse Now in a Parisian kino last year, the opening had the same profound effect as the first time I watched on my computer a decade ago.

In this sense, music helps build a dense world of references where the images inspire further moments but are still connected by the same, unchanged beat. The experience of seeing the opening of Apocalypse Now has my own progression as a person etched onto it, effecting the rest of the film and what happens when I come out from the kino. A world where city scapes are painted by Vangelis' score from the Bladerunner and the Metro tunnels are haunted by Thomas Bangalter's Irreversible urban techno trauma.

Music in film helps forming a complex image through an additional layer of stimulus that also works the other way – images have their own musical composition hidden in the folds of their action. This meshing between both the senses bridges the border less world between film and reality, making the world an extension of one's mind's eye. As long as there is music and there is a will to dream, we are all making movies beat by beat and frame by frame.

#film #music

a song connected to an image(s) a person drained of capacity looking up a pedestal

A poet vs the other: the other is a toxic slurry of color while the poet is just a receptacle

calm choke hold, a strong hand. there's no-one to breathe, the air-con's turned off for both profit and conservation

the show’s over and it smells of popcorn that couldn’t go anywhere, droppings of cheap entertainment

#kino #cinema

“I'm Not Sure Anybody Even Knows What It Is”; “You Can Call It A Germ, You Can Call It A Flu”

Parasite kinocow

I watched the movie thrice, streaming it twice because I thought it wouldn't be the breakout hit it would be. Bong Joon-ho is a perennial favorite, from the first time I watched Memories of Murder thanks to Tarantino. I went into the kino confident of scribbling a few intelligent views but all my aspirations were shot down within the first minutes. I went in to be immersed in a cinematic experience and I found myself drowned by force instead. Drowned with the same force as the subterranean house of the Kims is flooded with sewage and along with it all their aspirations of climbing up the economic ladder. Climbing: which the poor Kim family does up and down the Korean metropolis, into basements, sub-basements and when they connive and trick, into the manicured lawn of the rich Park family.

By the main entrance of the apartment building I grew up in India is a small room the size of a single bed. It has no windows and from what I assume, no drainage. I never stepped foot inside that room though I lived there for over ten years. It was the watchman's house — in which four people lived, a family mirroring my own. When we first moved in there I remember becoming friends with the watchman's son, he introduced me to his friends, and over one summer we played cricket every evening. It made my eleven-year-old self-confident in the new surroundings. We both looked at each other as equals but slowly the drift happened, in part engineered by both our parents.

“Don't hang around with the wrong sorts” was a common diktat in my house. This was also common in other households whose children I hung out with. The Marxian quote of birds of the same class flocking together was something I grew up with, it never occurred to me as something wrong or out of place. That is how things are, were and have been. The watchman's son was uncouth and manner less, he had no education, and he hung out with the wrong sorts. He had no innocence while at the same age I was brimming with it. He had no chances and no chance to have those chances, while I was given many even with repeated failures. His life was a non-starter from the beginning.

Their room has no sunlight and if there is a strong rain there is a possibility that the room gets flooded with sewage water. The beds for the family spill over into the parking lot of the apartment complex, where there is no inkling of privacy, ever. Whenever I used to come from my late night sojourns, I used to tiptoe around these beds as if I were a thief. Here I was, hoping I wouldn't wake the watchman up. The lines were blurred, and we didn't know who was the watchman anymore. Was it the wife or the daughter or the random people who used to hang out at their place? The people in the apartment started complaining about the strangers loitering by the entrance, how dare they destroy the calm of the beautiful apartment they own? From the POV of the flat owners, the watchman couldn’t have a social circle, he had to be chained to servitude.

This small room by the entrance isn't an anomaly, but by design. It was the call of the city for the villagers whose farms have dried up and access to education and health was non-existent. It was the promise that the city would look after them but in the gentle irony that followed, it is they who look after the city. The work itself is precarious, there are no contracts and no promises, there might be kicked out at any moment — just a step away from homelessness at any point. “They” are the dirty ones, the low castes, the poor and the people who have to sit on the floor and shouldn't eat from our plates. “They” shouldn't have the same rules and privileges than us, it is a social contract that's driven by need and is accepted by both parties without discussion.

Mr. Park is not so far away when he notices Mr. Kim's smell on the couch in a pivotal scene in the film. The Kim family might look and act like they come from an appropriate status to serve the Parks, but they cannot hide the smell of their poverty. They can make fake certificates and conjure testimonials for things that never were, but the smell of richness that is beyond them and one they cannot even notice. Watch Parasite if you haven’t already. It’s a story spanning multiple generations in two families that are separated by the invisible hand of money and power. A story of masters and servants, where the masters don’t assert and the servants have illusory freedom. A story that reflects the wishful thinking behind our ignorance of income inequality and our myopia beyond our social bubbles. Parasite made me think of the family living under ours for almost two decades now and all the other families that I haven’t seen. Sometimes I go to the movies to sleep and on rare occasions I go to the cinemas to wake up.

#review

or Thelma & Clyde learn about intersectionality

Yo, I was going to this movie thinking it was a rap comedy or something. I remember watching the trailer a few months ago but I didn't retain much of the information but I wanted this movie to be a comedy. The posters were also misleading, making it look like a cool-ass movie about these really hip people, but no. I see a group of women come from the previous screening and start crying after they plop themselves out in the sofa next to my table. I didn't really get their agony in German but it was something to do with the movie and this experience only raised my cortisol levels during my viewing.

Daniel Kaluuya repeats his Get Out act (or is his acting range limited?) with aimless staring and insecurity his major character traits. Jodie-Turner Smith is a revelation in her role, I went from hating her to liking and falling in love with her character in a matter of half-an-hour, which is both a feat of the writing and the acting. The characters are all relevant and feel real though some minor logical frustrations can be attributed to the dysfunctional trigger-happy American police system. Other logical frustrations however can only be attributed to the stupidity of the characters though the writing is sympathetic to the viewer's intelligence, so they can be excused.

There are intermittent scenes of comic beauty that liven up the proceedings and a delicious sex scene between the two leads which sadly is wasted because the movie wants the characters to be more poetic than they are. I understand the temptation, it is also is about race insecurity in the US but these characters were anything but. If the myth-making was to be the focal point of the story then some development in that direction would've been welcome though that part is left for the fade-to-black pause afforded to the audience.

The women from the previous screening cried for a moment, and then they left after having brief goodbyes and cracking jokes on their way out. If the net emotional effect of the movie can be boiled down to around five minutes — why be so preachy about it? Leaving the broader strokes the story aims for and focusing only on the main characters leads to a better viewing experience. I for most part was hoping that the characters would have a happy ending, having an old friend for dinner, perhaps with some Chianti and fava beans on a distant Cuban beach. In my version they still are, shot with the same skill as the rest of the film, listening to rap music and having some steamy sex.

That is the real power to the Queen and the Slim.

#review #American #cinema #berlin

... or Odenwaldschule on optical cocaine

Sex Education

Sex Education Season 2 is here, released on the 17th of January — a Friday, to suit your binge-watching needs. All eight hours of your time expended for the pure pleasure of see beautiful people worry about their sex lives and other dramatic tropes. Everything is perfect: the screenwriting is in top form, the characters are all well etched for a nominal viewing, the cinematography lulls you into thinking the show is better than what it is but the greatest achievement of it all is that Netflix hides in the background without once making its presence too imposing on the screen.

I don't pay for a Netflix subscription, my partner does along with four other people for a sum of €3 a month. That's a paltry sum for enticing me to binge-watch for hours, the economics don't add up in the end. So for the quantity of content I get for the price point, I must be fed absolute visual junk to while my time away before the start of another day as a productive member of the society.

This is my general gripe with almost all of Netflix's shows these days, they have an interesting hook and after a few episodes they plunge into private label factory produce with stock characters, story arcs and music choices. The writing usually is top-notch, following all the rules of an efficient drama but this perfection in everything lends a sterile viewing environment where the sense are numbed for the lack of any challenge.

Sex Education has an interesting premise but when viewed away from the binge-watching euphoria, it is nothing but shallow. It feels like a fictional version of the Odenwaldschule, where everyone sleeps with everyone else and no real studying seems to happen at any given point. Everything is focused around sex for the students, teachers, the headmaster and even the plumbers and shopkeepers in this fictional village. There is no sport, no classes and no other aspect of teenage life that demands attention, the most popular things to do seem to be a visiting a Sexual Councillor, either real or fake.

The sappy character arcs can be seen episodes away, giving enough time for one to cook, to take a nap or check the occasional Reddit post. The show doesn't demand any serious attention as it's not made to start a conversation but rather to serve as a primer for an awkward small talk incubator at a work lunch or an excuse to have that Netflix account running for one more month. Sex Education is all those sappy Saas-Bahu soaps but with a greater budget. The idea is just the same, to be hypnotized for a little while and go about the day without thinking much. While I'm unconsciously entertained, I am not going to sign-up for Netflix anytime soon.

If you're looking for something memorable and consuming only a fraction of your time, I recommend Napoleon Dynamite from which this show invariably draws a lot from. But if you just want to look at pretty people having a cornucopia of frivolous sex problems, then enter the black box and get some subliminal Coke advertising in the process.

#SexEducation #review #Netflix

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