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Aspiring polymath since 1982

Watch Some Cinema Today

Being quite new to a city has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages mainly being the simple fact that everything you experience in terms of sound, sight, taste is coated with a thick varnish of newness. This sadly though doesn’t last as long as it should. For a person like me who usually finds himself pretty bored and that soon, its absolutely imperative to be able to find a suitable distraction. This is especially pertinent when one finds that there is nothing to do in the long wait between getting off work and sleeping. Our forefathers had hobbies, our generation has Tata Sky, mall tourism and the eternal question of “Where do we eat out today?”

This is how I found myself joining the membership program of BigFlix, an online as well as store-based DVD rental service started by the ubiquitous Reliance conglomerate. If you saw Wall-E and wondered which company would ever become like Buy & Large, well, Reliance would definitely be the top Indian contender. Anyways, the plans available seemed decent and pretty close to what’s being offered by competitors like seventymm.com and Catchflix. The only reason I went with BigFlix was that being a Reliance concern, I have the fond hope that they’ll throw a lot of money at the problem and build a gargantuan DVD library double quick.

I have no hopes that it will ever reach the breadth and depth of a Netfix but living in India, I’m willing to make a compromise for second best or third or fourth or well let’s just say that I hope they give it a good shot. From what little I’ve seen, I think they might be moving in the right direction. For e.g., the nearest BigFlix store near my place has the complete Merchant-Ivory oeuvre on the rack. Complete, I kid you not. Last week, my mind boggled at the sight of seeing Ingmar Bergman films in the rack next to Saw 2 and The Grudge. As an average Indian who still gets sticker shock on seeing DVD prices here, BigFlix and its ilk might be the best way to cop a feel at world cinema and not get burnt in the process.

Of course, for the tiny minority of us blessed (or formerly blessed) to be studying in the “elite” institutions of India and thereby doubly blessed by the presence of fat pipes to the Internet, such problems matter not at all. In less advanced institutes like where I studied, a small minority of us derived our sense of achievement from having watched (or having tried to watch) the entire IMDB Top 250 through the munificence of BitTorrent. In places like IIT, I have it from good sources that the levels of achievement are even higher, with attempts being made at the IMDB Top 500 and a very few intrepid souls even attempting to scale that lofty and distant peak named the IMDB Worst 100.

While I did have the fortune (and the curiosity) to have seen quite a number of movies over the years, there are still some that got away, quite like the cliched girl. Then there are some that I studiously avoided, after seeing the reviews on IMDB and their large groupie fan following on sites like Orkut and Facebook. For example, i gave a wide berth to the films of Wong Kar Wai, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders and similar others, because I did not want to become the cinematic equivalent of the Proust-spouting “intellectual” in the corners of parties across the world. I belong to the clique which studiously avoids all cliques.

Having then seen Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express after finally breaking my rules, all I can do is kick myself for not having seen as much of his work earlier as I could. The movie was amazing because it showed that cinema is not just about the story but about the presentation and imagery, the setting of mood, the right music kicking in at the right time. Parts of it were multimedia art with the colors, the motion, the music and the dialogue popping out of the screen, flirting with 3-dimensionality. It wasn’t the greatest story ever told but you could see how the imagination of the director had taken the narrative to the next level. I’ll stop gushing now.

On my menu yesterday was Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s Amores Perros or “Love Is Dogs”. Please refer above to kicking myself. Though I had steeled myself to the prospect of disappointment, in the end I was up till 2 AM watching. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu also happens to be the director of 21 Grams and Babel, both of which I have seen and which he directed after Amores Perros. The underlying technique that he uses in all three movies is that of following parallel narratives that come together or diverge from one single event and the consequences thereof. It’s to his credit that it never comes across as a gimmick and that it actually helps in moving the movie forward.

What I really loved about the movie was the moral ambiguousness of the characters. There is no black and white in the movie which is what makes it so real and believable. If there is any moral redemption, then its wisely kept off the screen. The characters in the movie are flawed and it shows some of them being able to rise above these flaws and how some are still victim to its demands. In the end, its impossible to pass a moral judgement on any of the six principal characters because the dilemmas, emotions, urges that they pass through mirror our own. It’s difficult to watch the movie without seeing shades of ourselves in it. Or maybe its just me being all anthropic about it.

As you can expect, I have setup my queue on BigFlix to keep supplying me with whatever it can offer in terms of world cinema as well as less mainstream titles. Once these get over, my plan is to wade through the Merchant-Ivory collection with brief respites for commercial films. My usual sources of cinema recommendations are IMDB and Amazon’s “You Might Also Like” for films on the lesser side of the commercial film spectrum and Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes for the ones on the other. One good source for documentaries is Kevin Kelly’s True Films website which I would heartily recommend. If there are any other good sources out there, do let me know.

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