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Some Ramblings - Vedam
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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A movie is not an abstractionist painting, forcing the viewer to make something out of the unrelated shapes, random strokes and chaos, unless it is specifically intentioned that way. A movie cannot be a suggestive piece of art, making its audience fill in most of the blanks for themselves, so as to make it meaningful, unless designed to be so. A movie doesn't work on innuendos, sly references and oblique connotations, particularly when the underlying theme aspires for greatness, unless it chooses to be so. That is the primary difference between movies and other expressive arts, that it chooses a point of view and presents it view, rather forcefully, with camera placements and editing choices, compelling the viewer the see what the director chooses to show and looking where he points his finger to. Compare that to a painting, or a sculpture or a written piece of text, where the viewer is in the control seat, free to choose his point of view and free to make his own meaning and judgment from that view. Perhaps, it is a handicap that movies are cursed with, for having stolen the best from all the other arts, that they cannot enjoy the free flowing nature and interpretive spirit of those other mediums, and therefore are rigid in structure and forced to follow a certain path, in order to validate/vindicate their existence/stance. Here is a small exercise - take a newspaper and try to string a common thread through all the headline items of the day. However much everybody is connected to everyone else in the world even in the remotest way possible, at least theoretically, there still are huge chasms, gaps and blanks in that inter-connectivity that can only be bridged and explained with randomness and pure coincidence. While the chaotic elements work just fine while expressing life in other mediums - the squiggly lines in painting, the innuendos and implicitness in sculpture and literature - it is poison to the movie medium, and using chaos as a pretext to make sense of a movie is pretension at worst. And ironic it is, when the director who put his honest/best foot forward trying to explore the meaning and purpose of life with 'Gamyam', got completely lost struggling to string a pattern through the randomness in the same.

What is the movie about - a simple, yet important question, that would shake up the foundations of the movie demanding a valid answer. Every movie, escapist or realistic, needs to get that question answered from its creator. And the delightful paradox is, while escapist movies have great clarity about themselves, it is the realistic ones that end up looking confused, when things do not go right. Coming back to the question, the writer needs to answer to himself that question, before putting pen to paper, as to what the movie should be about. A simplistic explanation that it is about a slice of life explained through a series of vignettes is laughable as it can get. In the multiple threads crisscrossing the movie (with a fine touch that one of the characters is a weaver, in charge of stringing a pattern through disparate strands), an underlying theme, however feeble it is, emerges about redemption - the struggle to set things right in the face of need, greed and prejudice. And seemingly random elements unrelated to the central theme - the kidney story, the prostitute saga, the rock band thread - nudge the main theme (need and hate) on the path of virtue and righteousness? That is one HUGE leap of faith, and untethered suspension of disbelief that the writer incorporates to lend some shred credibility and respectability to his work. It would have served right, had he identified a single trait - need, greed or hatred - that cuts across all sections of the society, and moved his pieces along that single direction, in order for his redemptive thread to have appeared genuine, heartfelt and natural. Instead it comes across as forced, fixed and false, by relying too on his ends to make some sense of the means.

O'Henry, the master of melancholic twisted endings, is obviously the inspiration for all such multiple threaded stories that rely on the transformation angle. Here is an example - A petty thief, out of the jail after a long stint on a litany of small crimes, gets accustomed to the life inside the clink and therefore gets weary and afraid of the life outside, so much so that he would do anything to get back into the prison. And so he goes about stealing an umbrella from a restaurant, snatching a purse from an old lady, causes ruckus at the town square, for none of which, to his frustration, he gets caught and sent back. And one day, passing along a church, he hears the angelic hymns of the church choir, gets spellboud by it, realizes the error in his ways, and vows to reform his life from that moment on, all the while relaxing on a private lawn at a residence nearby. And the police promptly come in, arrest and send him back to the slammer for violating a 'Tresspassers will be prosecuted' sign posted on the lawn. Here none of the items, however far-fetched and random, do not feel out of place, as the transformation and realization arc is so strong that everything adds up. But when the movie tries to rope in every headline grabbing element in the recent times - the modus operandi of the terrorists, in the Mumbai massacre, targeting the hospitals, the righteous activism of the self-proclaimed torch bearers of the culture, the underbelly of organs trade and prostitution rings - and tries to incorporate/force them in the redemptive theme, it cannot but appear as though the maker was making it up as he went along, as against having a clear cut path and even a clearer idea of what he was trying to say, in the first place.

Seriousness and profoundness cannot be forced on anything - be it a movie or a work of art. A maker should never ever set off to make a 'profound' film, as those tags are an after-effect, not the motivation. 'To say something profound' is the worst mission statement for a movie; the characters, the depth of the writing, the underlying theme have to make it profound, and not the other way around. When seemingly random things happen in life to alter its course at every step of its way, well, it's life, when seemingly random things happen in movies reflecting the unpredictability of life, well, it's lame...and lazy.

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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